Following True Detective’s disastrous second season, no one knew what the show’s future looked like.
Between the time the second season finished in 2015 and now, there have been a slew of rumors and updates surrounding True Detective’s continuation. The most recent, a comment from HBO’s head of programming, Casey Bloys, seems to suggest it may not be dead after all.
“I don’t have anything on paper yet but I know there are some ideas going back and forth,” Bloys said at the Television Critics Association, as reported by Variety. “I don’t want to rush it. I don’t want to do anything just to get it on the air.”
Not rushing a third season is the safest call the network can make when taking into consideration the poor critical reception it received. After True Detective’s tremendous first season, which became one of the most talked about shows in 2014 and led to an Emmy for director Cary Fukunaga, the second season was viewed as a total letdown. In its review, Variety said, “Although generally watchable, the inspiration that turned the first into an obsession for many seems to have drained out of writer Nic Pizzolatto’s prose, at least three hours into this eight-episode run.”
Despite those failings, however, Pizzolatto signed an exclusive deal with HBO in November 2015. Under the new contract, Pizzolatto agreed to work on a number of series and projects for the network. One of the first questions raised was whether this confirmed True Detective would be renewed for a third season, but Entertainment Weekly confirmed that at the time, there were no negotiations between Pizzolatto and the network to continue working on the series.
A few months later, former head of programming at HBO, Michael Lombardo, told The Frame one of the biggest failures was pushing Pizzolatto to hit an air date without giving him time to focus on the series. Lombardo said unlike the first season, which Pizzolatto had been working on for quite some time, the second season was rushed to ensure it would be available as part of HBO’s summer programming in 2015.
“I take the blame,” Lombardo said. “I became too much of a network executive at that point. We had huge success. ‘Gee, I’d love to repeat that next year.’”
By this point, HBO wasn’t saying no to True Detective definitely, but there were some rules Pizzolatto had to abide by if they went forward with another season. HBO would hire a staff of writers for Pizzolatto to work with and have someone come in as a showrunner. Pizzolatto would retain an executive producer credit on the series, but he effectively wouldn’t run the show.
Things remained up in the air until May 2016, when HBO confirmed that Lombardo was stepping down as head of programming at the network after more than 30 years. Casey Bloys, another executive at the network, was promoted to head of programming. Bloys, who made a name for himself developing a number of comedies at HBO, including Silicon Valley, Divorce and Eastbound and Down, didn’t say anything about the future of True Detective, but the question was still circulating.
At a conference in July 2016, Bloys confirmed that True Detective was still very much a part of HBO’s DNA and the network wasn’t ready to say goodbye to it just yet. Citing the second season’s impressive numbers — more than 11 million viewers on average per episode — Bloys said HBO was exploring different options for a third season.
“We’re open to someone else writing it with Nic producing,” Bloys said, as reported by Indiewire.
Bloys added Pizzolatto didn’t have a particular direction for where he wanted to take the series at the time and was busy with other projects.
Based on Bloys most recent statements and Lombardo’s exiting remarks, it’s clear the network has learned its lesson when it comes to series like True Detective. Neither Pizzolatto or HBO are rushing to throw a half-baked attempt at a third season on the air, and it’s not just True Detective that the network is taking its time with. Westworld, one of the network’s most popular shows last year, won’t be returning until 2018. Both network executives and showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy have said they want to take their time figure out where the series was going and give it as much attention as possible.
So bottom line, what does this mean for True Detective? It’s more than likely going to come back, but it won’t be the same series that people remember. Although actor Matthew McConaughey said in December he would return for a third season if Pizzolatto was running the show, there’s pressure from HBO to bring on more writers, a different showrunner and give the series a more organized structure. If True Detective does return, and it won’t be before 2018 or 2019 at the earliest, it probably won’t be anything like we’ve seen.
The first two seasons of True Detective are currently available to stream on HBO Now.
Update: On March 27, Entertainment Weekly reported that a third season of True Detective was being worked on, but nothing official had been ordered by HBO. Creator Nic Pizzolatto has reportedly written two episodes of the third season, with Deadwood creator David Milch on board to serve as showrunner and executive producer.
While HBO hasn’t confirmed anything, the network has said before that it was very interested in keeping the anthology series alive in some way. The main concern, according to former executives and various reports, was leaving Pizzolatto as the showrunner.
Polygon has reached out to HBO for comment.