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How Basketball Saved Billions A Ton Of Money

"Billions" may be a show about luxury, but it still has to find ways to save money from time to time.

The Showtime original drama focuses on the bitter rivalry that emerges between powerful U.S. attorney Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti) and hedge fund manager Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis). After Chuck discovers Bobby's illegal activities, Chuck attempts to prosecute Bobby. The two characters are both held in high esteem within their respective professional worlds, and as a result, "Billions" sets most of its drama within the kind of spaces where some of the world's most powerful legal and financial figures often appear.

The series has also, at times, investigated the backgrounds of the two characters, shedding light on where Chuck and Bobby began and how they ended up where they are by the time viewers meet them at the start of "Billions." Although it might not seem like it at first, some of the show's backstory scenes are as difficult to make as those that take place in the expensive or exclusive locations where Chuck and Bobby typically associate during their workdays. In one case, the showrunners found a way to maintain authenticity at a fraction of the cost.

Billions used basketball to cut down production costs

In the fourth episode of its fifth season, "Billions" sees Damian Lewis' hedge fund king, Bobby Axelrod, embarking on a trip down memory lane. He returns to the town where he grew up and reflects back on the journey he's made from his modest childhood to the luxurious lifestyle he's acquired as an adult. The sequence, notably, shows Bobby participating in a loose game of street basketball with Savion Williams (Akili McDowell), a young boy living in his hometown neighborhood. But that's not quite how the scene between Lewis' Axelrod and McDowell's Williams was supposed to go.

"Billions" co-creators Brian Koppelman and David Levien revealed during an episode of the "Behind the Billions" podcast that the scene was originally written with Bobby and Savion sitting on a rooftop together at night. However, that setup ended up being too costly of an idea, as it would have required attaching safety harnesses to the actors. The harnesses would then need to be removed in the editing stage of the episode. Instead, Koppelman and Levien reimagined the scene as a conversation happening between the two characters as they shoots some hoops on the street.

While the original version of the scene might have been more visually pleasing, the basketball aspect of Bobby and Savion's conversation adds a looseness and street-level quality to their conversation that ultimately works well. In other words, the scene feels authentic and happens to be cost-effective. That's just the kind of profit margin that Bobby's whole team on "Billions" would appreciate.