First of all, let’s agree that viewer opinions regarding the second season of HBO’s True Detective have been conflicting, at best. Some of us thought it was a damn fine show, and no amount of grimacing Rachel McAdams memes are going to change that. But, if we’re being honest, the voices of the naysayers outweighed those of supporters, because the people who hated it really, really hated it. Much like Vince Vaughn—spoiler alert—stumbling through the desert, they claimed, the show was already dead, it just didn’t know it yet. Obviously, someone at HBO had to make sense of this critical and commercial misstep, and that someone is Michael Lombardo, HBO President of Programming. In a sprawling interview with The Frame, he wants the world to know that if and when something’s a failure—and he’s not saying True Detective season two was a failure, mind you!—but if it was, well, some of the blame might just fall on HBO’s shoulders.
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.”
So part of the problem, it seems, was that HBO produced a TV show, and then wanted the guy who wrote the show to keep doing that on the same time frame as other shows. The natural response would be, “That is called the regular TV schedule, boo fucking hoo,” but honestly, given that Nick Pizzolatto writes the whole thing almost single-handedly, some leeway does seem fair. And Lombardo really does want to do that HBO thing of giving its creators the space they need, which is why he thinks this past season suffered creatively.
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.
Reading between the lines, Lombardo is saying, “Yeah, we know, this season wasn’t as good as the first one, but it’s our fault,” which is both a generous way to take the blame and also a bit of a backhanded compliment. And that’s why you’re not going to be seeing a scheduled date for True Detective season three any time soon. “I’d love to have the enviable certainty of knowing what my next year looks like,” Lombardo concludes. “I could pencil things in. But I’m not going to start betting on them until the scripts are done.”