HBO's abrupt cancellation of Luck was a long time coming if you ask the folks at PETA.
But now, the animal-rights advocacy group says it has obtained newly leaked memos that allegedly provide the strongest evidence yet that equines used in the horseracing drama suffered abuse at the hands of their handlers.
E! News has the scoop on what ultimately turned out to be a losing bet for the cable network.
PETA filed a new complaint last week with the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office that included internal documents it obtained from a whistleblower who had access to the American Humane Association. An AHA representative was reportedly on set during Luck's first and only season as part of the organization's efforts to oversee the treatment of the horses.
And what it outlines are some pretty stunning allegations out the gate against the production and its trainer, Matt Chew.
Among them, the AHA found that horses were underfed to save money, with one of them an alarming 300 pounds underweight, and that sick horses were utilized in filming. The report also alleges that improperly trained or unprepared horses were used in racing sequences, endangering both the jockeys and the animals themselves, and that the animals were routinely tranquilized to keep them docile.
Additionally, PETA says the AHA intel includes accusations that Chew tried to deceive the organization's representatives by giving false names to horses in order to prevent discovery that the animals were unfit to race. Not only that, but sick mounts would allegedly disappear from the set without explanation, prompting a warning to the trainer that he could be charged with neglect.
All of these revelations, says PETA, point to potential violations of not only AHA guidelines but also state anti-cruelty laws, and the animal-rights advocacy group is demanding the D.A. investigate.
The news comes on the heels of HBO's parent company, Time Warner, releasing its first-quarter earnings report in which the media giant took a whopping $35 million hit when it pulled the plug on the Dustin Hoffman–led vehicle.
That decision was made in March not long after HBO renewed Luck for a second season and a third horse reportedly had to be euthanized—this coming after two steeds died due to injuries sustained on set.
"These documents appear to reveal what Luck executive producers David Milch and Michael Mann have repeatedly denied: that horses were mistreated and endangered on a daily basis," says PETA senior vice president Lisa Lange in a statement. "HBO says today it lost $35 million with the cancellation of Luck, but the horses paid a much bigger price. The authorities can take action now to send a message that cruelty to animals for the sake of 'entertainment'—or for any reason—will not be tolerated."
According to PETA, while AHA's officers supervising the set urged the organization's top brass to recommend to producers that Chew be fired, it did not know whether executives actually did so, or whether authorities were alerted about the animals' allegedly dangerous environment.
In a statement to E! News, HBO says: "The safety and welfare of the horses was always of paramount concern. While we maintained the highest safety standards possible, working closely with American Humane Association to review and improve protocols on an ongoing basis, it was impossible to guarantee no further accidents would occur. Accordingly, we reached the difficult decision to cease production."
A rep for the AHA's L.A. branch was unavailable for comment, but a spokesman in the AHA's Washington office told the The Washington Post that the group couldn't comment on specifics because it hadn't yet seen PETA's complaint.
PETA rep Wendy Wegner tells E! News they will not be releasing a copy of the complaint or the supporting documents they filed "in order to protect the whistleblower and give law enforcement the opportunity to properly investigate the case."
D.A. spokeswoman Jane Robison tells E! News that they can't confirm as of press time whether they're looking into the matter, noting that prosecutors would normally wait for a probe by Los Angeles Animal Services or another governmental regulator to report its conclusions first.
"We don't take the lead," Robison says. "If there's already somebody looking into it, we would wait."
—Additional reporting by Claudia Rosenbaum