At first glance of the word "studded" in this article's title, you might have thought it was referring to how horses have become the new good luck charm mammal of entertainment on TV and movies of late. HBO's horseracing drama "Luck" and the movie "War Horse" obviously progresses that idea. But "Luck's" dream cast also tells us much about how A-list movie stars are honing in on cable projects to a point of reviving true event programming.
Event programming is a concept we haven't heard about in a long time. If you were able to go back in time to a three-network universe eons ago, you'd find an A-list star on ABC, CBS, or NBC on a nightly basis. They were usually guesting on a variety show, a dramatic miniseries or even a steady, weekly series.
Television, in its first 25 years, was a major attraction for many of the biggest stars in the world. The reason was because they knew it was a major threat to movies and had to level the playing field. These A-list appearances were typically mere one-shot guest appearances, with more extended appearances being held off until the network miniseries era began in the 1970s.
"Roots" in 1977 truly brought the concept of the epic miniseries with so many A-list stars, you couldn't count them all. Even if the cameos were a mere five-minute walk-on as a figure of history, the networks understood the exulted feeling of a true televised event. Ultimately, however, having too many stars all at once created a canceling out effect.
Network TV then experienced its decline in the late 90s and 2000s with the end of the miniseries and big names mostly staying away from network mediocrity. You'd still catch an A-list star doing a one-shot appearance on a Top Three sitcom or drama on the major networks. It was during a time when HBO was individually starting to resume a pattern of thinking in more epic terms.
Those interested in the inner mechanics of television would, I'm sure, love to sit at a pitch meeting for an HBO project. The pitch for "Luck" was undoubtedly started with one attention-getting statement: "Let's make epic television with as many A-list stars as we can afford." No doubt it's usually followed with a "maybe they'll work for cheaper if they really love the script."
Chances are, the latter is what drew Dustin Hoffman to HBO's "Luck", as with other notable names Nick Nolte and Michael Gambon. With such hopes developing for TV, you'd think the old, established networks would take a wild chance on a similar epic project. The obstacles are obviously an inability to be creatively free without the obstruction of censors.
It's not that it still couldn't be done on the over-the-air networks. HBO, however, has created a major chasm between themselves and networks monitored by the FCC. The expectation is there now for event series and miniseries with the same dialogue and situations you see in a movie theater. Except, this time, HBO is consistently utilizing brilliant writing that theatrical movies no longer have.
If HBO keeps progressing, the Emmys will eventually become the new Oscars. It also paints a whole different problem of expectation for ever-increasing major cable events with bigger stars charging movie-caliber fees. In that regard, a cable pitch meeting selling something big may have to think a little smaller to avoid A-list stars canceling one another out yet again.