HBO places its bets on new series 'Luck'

2011-12-10T07:00:00Z HBO places its bets on new series 'Luck'BY GAIL PENNINGTON • Post-Dispatch Television Critic >

With any luck, HBO will have a new hit in "Luck," a horse-racing drama from David Milch ("NYPD Blue," "Deadwood") starring Dustin Hoffman.

Is it any good? Couldn't say.

HBO will 'sneak peek" the premiere of "Luck" at 9 p.m. Sunday, following the season finale of "Boardwalk Empire." After a seven-week gap, the series arrives Jan. 29, for a total of nine episodes.

HBO has so far revealed only a few trailers; no still pictures from the series are available. Critics will receive all nine episodes next week, HBO promises, but not in time to review the premiere — er, sneak preview.

Giving viewers an advance look isn't intended so much to cut critics out of the loop (although that's a familiar trick by movie studios with a loser on their hands) as to whip up excitement for the show via word of mouth and social media.

With the television landscape more crowded than ever, sneak peeks are becoming an increasingly popular marketing tactic.

In spring 2009, Fox debuted "Glee" with a single episode, requiring newfound fans to hang on until fall.

The stunt worked so well that Fox planned the same thing for "Terra Nova" but couldn't get the effects-heavy drama ready in time. Instead, the pilot was 'sneaked" in July at San Diego Comic-Con before premiering in September.

NBC reached out via Twitter to potential fans of "Grimm," sending out a code that allowed them watch two weeks before the official premiere in October. For people willing to leave their homes, the pilot was also screened in theaters in 10 cities.

ABC streamed the pilot of "Once Upon a Time" via this fall. Fox made "The New Girl" available before its premiere for free download on iTunes, streaming on Hulu and cable On Demand. The CW offered free "Hart of Dixie" downloads on iTunes.

While the broadcast networks look to increase tune-in by getting people talking about their shows, premium-cable networks have another incentive for previews: giving potential subscribers a chance to sign up — and making them want to.

In 2009, HBO offered the "Bored to Death" pilot free via Showtime put the entire pilot of "Homeland" on YouTube this fall.

HBO's "Luck" is already much anticipated because of its bloodlines. Milch is one of television's great, eccentric minds, whether he's turning a police procedural ("NYPD Blue") or a Western ("Deadwood") into something completely fresh, or going way out into left field with a drama about a Christ figure ("John From Cincinnati").

Milch, whose real-life passion is horse racing, is joined in "Luck" by film legend Michael Mann, who serves as executive producer. The series promises "a provocative look at horse racing — the owners, gamblers, jockeys and diverse gaming industry players," according to HBO.

The pilot, written by Milch and directed by Mann, "took our breath away," HBO said in July 2010 when the series was first announced.

Hoffman stars as a gambler, fresh out of prison, who gets interested in the horses. Nick Nolte plays a trainer, with the cast also including Dennis Farina, John Ortiz, Kevin Dunn, Richard Kind and Jason Gedrick.

So "Luck" was creating its own buzz even before trailers started trickling out in September. The sneak preview, HBO hopes, will build on that.

Does the buzz-creating strategy work? Maybe. But a recent study by advertisement-buying firm Optimedia US, reported in the Wall Street Journal, found that buzz and ratings don't correlate. In fact, one of this fall's shows with the most buzz, NBC's "The Playboy Club," was one of the first canceled.

And sneak-peek tactics can backfire, too. In August 2010, ABC offered "No Ordinary Family" free for the first 50,000 people to ask via Twitter. They bit but were apparently let down by the show itself, and ratings plunged.

Also that season, Fox offered sneak peeks of its drama "Lone Star." It was canceled after one episode.


When • Preview at 9 p.m. Sunday; premiere Jan. 29

Where • HBO

More info •

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Gail Pennington

Gail Pennington

Post-Dispatch television critic Gail Pennington watches bad TV so you don't have to. Visit Tube Talk for news, schmooze and occasional rants about everything television.

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