More bad news for HBO's now-canceled "Luck."
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has filed a new complaint with the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, the California Veterinary Medical Board and the Pasadena Humane Society alleging severe mistreatment of horses on the set of "Luck," based on a series of documents the organization says it obtained from an unnamed whistleblower.
According to PETA, horses on the set were deliberately underfed to save money, sick horses were used during filming, other sick horses disappeared from the set without explanation, improperly trained horses were used during racing scenes and horses were regularly tranquilized. PETA is not releasing the documents -- which it says include emails, complaint forms and notes taken after incidents on set -- to the press.
The organization says the treatment of horses was supervised by trainer Matthew Chew. It alleges that American Humane Assn. officers urged AHA executives to recommend Chew's removal from the production, but there's no evidence that any action was taken.
While there had previously been various allegations of animal neglect on the set, PETA says these documents are the proof.
In a statement, HBO said, "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."
It was certainly a costly decision. In Time Warner's earnings report this week, the company listed a $35-million "impairment" related to the cancellation of "Luck," which had just begun filming its second season despite low ratings.
The series, starring Dustin Hoffman as a mobster looking to control Santa Anita Park in the Los Angeles area, saw a number of animal deaths during production, with two horses euthanized during the first season and a third during the second season, which finally spurred the show's cancellation.
[Updated, 5:48 p.m. May 3: American Humane Assn. Chief Communications Officer Mark Stubis says, "Our folks are really vigilant and throughout they were consistently focused on the welfare of the animals. After the surprising and dismaying second accident, we demanded a number of protocols that would reinforce our already strict guidelines... If there was a horse in the morning that appeared sick or medicated, they were pulled and not allowed to be used in filming."
As to PETA's allegation that calls for trainer Matthew Chew to be removed from the production were ignored, Stubis says, "We did recommend [to the production] that a movie trainer be used and not a horse trainer."]
-- Patrick Kevin Day
Photo: Nick Nolte in "Luck." Credit: HBO