The pop culture graveyard is full of television shows canceled way too soon. Freaks and Geeks, Sports Night, Agent Carter, and High Fidelity are among several to suffer a premature death. Unfortunately, Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty has joined that sad fraternity.
Whenever a network abruptly pulls the plug, the viewer experience is awkward. At least with Sports Night, in a meta move, Aaron Sorkin ingeniously wrote the end of the real show into the fictional one for an uplifting conclusion. Winning Time wasn’t afforded that luxury by HBO. The original ending of Season 2 was scrapped for a clumsy alternate ending that was wholly unsatisfying.
The original ending focused on despondent Magic Johnson, physically and emotionally exhausted, in uniform sitting in the locker room shower mourning the 1984 NBA Finals loss to the Boston Celtics. That scene was clearly done with a 3-season story arc in mind of how the Lakers bounced back to win it all in the following season. But unless another network swoops in to save the day soon, we’re never going to see what that was supposed to look like.
Last month, Winning Time executive producer Kevin Messick told Vulture: “I think the plan is this: If the universe wants more Lakers, the universe knows where to reach us.”
If you're not watching the HBO series WINNING TIME, then get started.— Hunter Crowther (@HunterCrowther) September 7, 2023
Adrien Brody as Pat Riley has brought some memorable lines, but this scene in last week’s episode was the best damn scene in the series.#WinningTime #WinningTimeHBO pic.twitter.com/Q617bhNb2p
The clock is ticking. If there’s to be a third season of Winning Time, the decision will need to be made soon. Actors age. Writers and producers get involved in other projects. It seems unlikely that you could let longer than a year pass by without getting the gang back together. Shows can have a second life on other networks. Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Nashville, and Scrubs are a few examples.
Winning Time might be a special case because the show only needs a third season with the cast as we know it. If Season 3 is successful, you could reboot it years later with a fresh set of actors to depict a different Lakers dynasty, such as the Shaq-Kobe teams. But for now, let’s consider what needs to happen for Winning Time, Season 3.
There probably needs to be a shift in tone and direction. While Season 1 was applauded by critics and viewers, Season 2 didn’t connect with audiences in the same way. It wasn’t as funny and focused more on conflict. It was still quality TV, but sometimes changes can re-energize a show.
Scene from Winning Time of Larry Bird and the Indiana State Arena. Or at least what they think the Indiana State Arena looks (looked) like. pic.twitter.com/RFfBOFLhUS— Tom James (@TJamesIndState) August 21, 2023
Adam McKay, one of the brains behind Winning Time, understands what works and what doesn’t. He was criticized for the show being too cartoonish in Season 1. This past season, he might have overcorrected, which took some of the fun out of the drama. You can’t please everyone, and Winning Time is probably at its best leaning into the McKay-isms.
Season 3 would also have the advantage of having all the main characters set. You don’t need to fill out a long backstory or spend a lot of time on character development. We know who everyone is and their motivations. Season 1 and Season 2 had to tell us more about Magic, Jerry Buss, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Pat Riley, Jeanie Buss, Larry Bird, etc. With less exposition, this should give the writers more freedom to explore.
HBO made a business decision to cancel one of its more fascinating shows. And in the process, that left open many questions. Winning Time was based on Jeff Pearlman’s book Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s. HBO has already optioned Pearlman’s Three Ring Circus, which focuses on the Lakers of the 1990s and 2000s.
Whatever happens in the future, we need more Winning Time. We need Season 3. Hopefully, another network will be smart enough to give the basketball drama another shot.