Win the creator of Time in the season 1 finale and face criticism from his heroes
Max Borenstein is living a dream. the Godzilla vs. Kong screenwriter grew up in Los Angeles, watching the Showtime Lakers and cheering Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar; decades later, he is the co-creator and showrunner of HBO Buying Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty. But nothing can prepare you for facing criticism from your idols.
Based on a sportswriter Jeff Pearlmanthe book Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley and the Los Angeles Lakers dynasty of the 1980s, the hit drama — which has already been greenlit for season two — is also a major flop, at least according to many who have chronicled. Abdul-Jabbar wrote a scathing essaywhile the lawyers of Jerry West, Hall of Famer and former Lakers coach and general manager, has demanded a retraction, apology and damages for the actor’s alleged “false and defamatory portrayal” of West Jason Clarke, as an “uncontrollable, intoxicated rage addict”.
In a recent statement, HBO came to the defense of Borenstein and company:winning time is not a documentary and was not presented as such. However, the series and its portrayals are based on extensive factual research and reliable supply, and HBO steadfastly supports our talented creators and actors who have brought a dramatization of this epic chapter in basketball history to the screen.
winning time concluded its first season with Sunday’s “Promised Land,” in which the Magic-led Lakers ended their own first season with an NBA championship. To talk about the finale, detractors and the future, we went one-on-one with Borenstein.
Vanity Lounge: When I do these season postmortems with showrunners, it’s often, “Oh, man, how did you come to this shocking conclusion?” But, here, any die-hard NBA fan or any human with Google knew the Lakers won the 1980 title. So how did you make sure it wasn’t disappointing?
Max Borenstein: It’s twofold: it’s making sure it’s not disappointing, and it’s making sure it’s not disappointing, because that’s just the beginning of the story. I think people know the outline of this story from the 30,000 foot perspective, but that’s the same way you know the outline of an adaptation of a great novel or Shakespeare. Just because you know what doesn’t mean you understand how or why. And it actually frees us up so that we can still have surprises for the audience, because there’s a lot of things that people don’t know, like about the Jack McKinneys of the world that have been forgotten.
People tell most sports stories specifically because they have an ending. The model is, you win, you lose. In our case, we are doing something different. We’re telling an epic that’s in the world of sports, but in many ways it’s really about what happens next. Right from the start, you meet characters who are entering a second act in their lives, or who are hoping that they will find a second act in their lives. Jerry West, pat riley– these were guys who won, then the end of the sport came and they looked into the abyss wondering, “Now what? So hopefully we can dramatize the episode in a way that surprises and engages, while delving into those core questions where you realize that winning itself is complicated and nuanced.
I’m interested in your pacing both this season and the show. What was it like planning for the first year, knowing you have over 10 years worth of content to work on what probably won’t be more than 10 seasons of a show?
I don’t know if we’ll have 10 seasons, but I know how many seasons it would take to get it right. Precisely because people can go to the Wikipedia page and find out “what happened”, there’s no point in making a show that just recreates those events and throws in a few jokes and takes you through the decade in a few years. By definition, if you’re spending your real estate moving through time that quickly, you can’t get deeper into the characters or the experience, and those were the things that were the most exciting and interesting to me. It became clear early on that the interesting version of this story needed to be slowed down – and there’s still a lot going on this season. Each episode is full of incidents, murders and pregnancies! [Laughs.] While nostalgia is a lovely aspect of making a show about a time period that people remember, if that’s all you have, then you’ve got a pretty shallow pool. It’s a great American epic that deserves a romantic approach.