The Frame recently sat down with HBO’s President of Programming, Michael Lombardo, in an interview to discuss , but not limited too, his feelings regarding the panned second season of True Detective.
“I’ll tell you something. Our biggest failures — and I don’t know if I would consider “True Detective 2” — but when we tell somebody to hit an air date as opposed to allowing the writing to find its own natural resting place, when it’s ready, when it’s baked — we’ve failed. And I think in this particular case, the first season of “True Detective” was something that Nic Pizzolatto had been thinking about, gestating, for a long period of time. He’s a soulful writer. I think what we did was go, “Great.” And I take the blame. I became too much of a network executive at that point. We had huge success. “Gee, I’d love to repeat that next year.”
“Well, you know what? I set him up. To deliver, in a very short time frame, something that became very challenging to deliver. That’s not what that show is. He had to reinvent the wheel, so to speak. Find his muse. And so I think that’s what I learned from it. Don’t do that anymore.” -Michael Lombardo
I’ll be frank; The second season of True Detective was nothing more than a mundane and cliched mess of a follow up to one of the best dramas on TV. As someone who was obnoxiously obsessed with the first season (sorry to everyone I yapped at ad nauseam over the course of the season) I had understandably high expectations for it’s sophomore year. Were my expectations slightly too high? Yeah, probably, but what was delivered was so far and below the bar that, it’s predecessor had set, it what we received was shocking. Even on its own, True Detective season 2 had all the elements of a mailed in crime drama; an uninteresting (I’d go so far as to say down right boring) murder mystery aided by a lack of a unique setting, compelling characters, and a plot that amounted to little more than “who dun it”. The conciseness of the first season was also missing, with this seasons abstract approach to delivering twists and turns seemingly done to mask a simplistic plot, which in turn resulted in simplistic resolutions to dissatisfying plot points. Every week I hoped that something interesting would develop, and every week I was continuously let down.
I began to formulate a laundry list of possible reasons behind the differentiation between season’s quality. At the top of my list was that it seemed as if Pizzolatto wasn’t given enough time to fully develop a new case, and Lombardo’s interview confirms that. Considering the amount of time Pizzolatto spent developing the first season, it’s a shame that he allowed himself to be put in a situation that would demand a similar success the following year. Imagine spending years developing and writing a novel and it becomes an instant hit. Reviews are unequivocally positive, critics praise your ability to tell a concise and uniquely engaging story. Well done. But due to your success a publisher offers you a contract to write two more novels, being released one apart from each other. Pretty daunting , right? Unless you’re a Stephen King or Dean Koontz, publishing an original quality piece of writing every year doesn’t seem plausible, and rarely doable. Yes, most television shows premier new seasons every year, but those shows have the fortune of building upon preexisting characters and a developed world. With True Detective, every season is a separate case, with different characters and unexplored worlds.
Fortunately, the future looks brighter for Pizzolatto as he’s extended his contract with HBO through 2018, giving him time for another season of True Detective – Lombardo has stated that it’s up to Pizzolatto if he wants to do another seasons- or to develop another series for HBO. In the end, I don’t blame Pizzolatto. I blame the shitty situation his success lured him into. The immediacy for capitalizing on a prior success can lead to a quantity over quality dilemma that can lead to oversaturation and ultimately disappointment amongst fans and critics alike. It’s a bold move for Lombardo to throw himself under the bus, but while he claims he doesn’t consider True Detective season 2 to be a failure, the mixed reception from fans and critics seemingly caught his and HBO’s attention.