"If he wants to do another season, I said the door is open," HBO president of programming Michael Lombardo said at TCA in defense of True Detective and its creator Nic Pizzolatto. "We'd like to do another season of it." Lombardo's defense of the show came on July 30, a couple days before the seventh episode of the second season ("I think you need to watch the entirety of it," Lombardo also said).
Yet here we are, three days past the 90-minute, largely disappointing season finale and almost two weeks past Lombardo's apparently wholehearted endorsement, and the fate of the True Detective series is still hanging in limbo. The #TrueDetectiveSeason3 hashtag hasn't gotten off the ground yet, and there's a chance it might never.
By the end of the critically and commercially successful first season of True D, it was mostly a given that a second season was in the works. Though HBO didn't confirm season two until they officially announced the cast and the plot synopsis in September, six months after season one ended, the network had signed a two-year contract with Nic Pizzolatto way back in January, which more or less guaranteed a follow-up. With just four months left on that previous deal, and with True Detective banished to the doghouse by most critics, there's no longer such a guarantee.
HBO almost never delays in renewing their shows. Of the network's current shows, only the lesser known The Comeback (which had been revived 9 years after its first season was canceled) and Getting On had to wait until after their most recent seasons were finished before receiving an order for another season. And maybe even more telling, Ballers and The Brink, the shows that premiered this summer in tandem with True Detective, both got second season orders after their third and fifth episodes, respectively. Those are shows that bring in considerably less viewers than True D.
They're also shows that get talked about way less than True Detective, which makes HBO's seeming hesitance to renew it more perplexing. See, because HBO is a network that viewers have to pay for, it doesn't really need to worry about or make their money off of ratings—more important to the network is critical praise and accolades ("The network with 126 Emmy nominations") and buzz. The more awards, the more buzz, the more people who want to sign up. It's hard to argue that there are any shows more buzzed about than True Detective, and HBO never really shies away from negative buzz (What up, The Newsroom?), but the public backlash to season two of True Detective may have gotten so loud that HBO is reconsidering its stance.
The fact is that HBO's comedy programming is in a much better place than its drama, which it used to be able to hang its hat on. Long gone are the days of The Sopranos and The Wire—besides Game of Thrones, HBO's drama programming is currently pretty barren, and is pinning its future on up-and-coming big splashes like sci-fi thriller Westworld and David Simon's pilot about the porn industry. This side of HBO's programming needs to be built back up—so is it worth giving True Detective another shot at the risk of Nic Pizzolatto throwing up another brick?
If you ask me, True Detective is going to come back for a third season. The way the show owns the conversation when it's on the air—good or bad—is just too tempting for HBO to pass up. But I think we've seen the end of Nic Pizzolatto's autonomy. The success of the show's first season was partially due to director Cary Fukunaga's participation in all eight episodes. Not only did having one director through the entire season help give the show a united tone and feeling, but there's also a sense that Fukunaga was able to fight back Pizzolatto's worse instincts as a writer, or at least mask them. Without anyone to check him, we got season two, a mostly bad mix of genres, heavy-handedness, and over-seriousness. So expect to see another director sign up for a full season and team up with Nic P, or expect to see a few more writers pitching in. Basically, expect to see HBO make moves in an effort to guarantee True Detective returns to its first season form.
That's probably what they're trying to convince Nic Pizzolatto to concede to right now. He has the aura of a bear though, so I wouldn't be shocked if he kept his suit on and let True D die in the desert. After all, he has said before that he only wants the show to go three seasons: "The job is exhausting to begin with, but it's doubly exhausting and I'm writing every episode. I can't imagine I would do this more than three years," he said at the Banff World Media Festival in June 2014. So for now I guess, keep those fire #TrueDetectiveSeason3 tweets in your drafts.