With True Detective, which aired the third episode of its debut season on Sunday night, HBO returned to the police drama genre for the first time since the 2008 conclusion of its wildly acclaimed series The Wire, which ran for five seasons starting in 2002.
But while The Wire never pulled huge audiences, instead attaining its longevity based on on viewer "buzz" and almost universally rave critical reviews, True Detective has been an instant hit for HBO. The series premiere January 12 drew the biggest rating in three years for an HBO launch and pulled in 6.3 million viewers across all platforms, including repeat airings, on-demand and online via the HBO GO streaming service, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Part of that is due to True Detective's big-name lead actors, Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, both veteran movie stars. The Wire relied on unknowns and talented but obscure TV character actors — as well as local Baltimore non-actors often taking minor parts.
But another significant factor driving the show's popularity is the gripping writing of True Detective series creator, 38-year-old former University of Chicago literature teacher Nic Pizzolato, who has penned every script for the eight-episode debut season.
Now HBO has inked Pizzolato to a new two-year deal, which would appear to indicate that, though no official announcement has yet been issued, a second season of True Detective is a slam dunk, according to Deadline.com.
But like the plotline of the series itself, the story of True Detective at HBO has a twist. The second season will feature an an entirely new cast and setting.
"If we got to do it again, the setting would be a major character, along with our leads," Pizzolato said. He added that the setting would be somewhere "you wouldn't normally set a television show."
Both Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson have already said they will not return for a second season of True Detective.
Pizolatto, who stunned the TV industry by landing a major HBO deal just two years removed from his academic teaching job and with almost no television experience — he worked on two episodes of the A&E gritty police thriller The Killing — also said that the series is likely to shift themes and tone from season to season, for as long as HBO allows the show to run.
"There could be a season that's much more of a widespread conspiracy thriller," he said. "A season that's a small‑town murder mystery, a season where nobody is murdered and it's a master criminal versus a rogue detective or something."
True Detective Season One stars Harrelson and McConaughey as mismatched Louisiana state police detectives in 1995 struggling to catch a bizarre serial killer who practices horrific occult rituals on his victims. But like its HBO predecessor The Wire, True Detective uses the police procedural format as a way to explore wider themes.
"I think you can take any genre, and it can be revitalized by the appearance of unique characters and by allowing that genre to try on affects not associated with that genre," Pizzolato told The Chicago Tribune. "But also, if one of the chief aims of (True Detective) is an investigation into these two lead characters, then it seems natural to adopt the form of an investigation itself."