Genre: TV Pilot – Cop Procedural
Premise: (from IMDB) The lives of two detectives, Rust Cohle and Martin Hart, become entangled during a 17-year hunt for a serial killer in Louisiana.
About: This was a huge spec pilot that went out that a lot of networks were bidding for, with HBO finally winning. It stars Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson and will premier this Sunday. Creator Nic Pizzolatto is an award-winning novelist and short-story writer. He’s an author of the novel ‘Galveston.’ Originally from Louisiana, he taught literature at several universities, including the University of Chicago, before going into screenwriting in 2010. His only other credits are writing a couple of episodes for, what sounds like, the exact same show, in Fox’s “The Killing.”
Writer: Nic Pizzolatto
Details: 52 pages


I remember when this show first sold. There was a TON of talk about it, the kind of talk usually reserved for some super high-concept spec sale or a new Christopher Nolan movie. I read through the description of the show several times, trying to figure out what the big deal was, but as far as I could tell, it was just another procedural.

I guess it did have Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson involved, two established film stars, and since you don’t usually see that in a TV show, it was worth noting. But I was still trying to figure out why the trade sites were going batshit over this thing. I felt like I was missing something. Uhhhh, so it’s a procedural about detectives trying to catch a killer? Haven’t we, um, seen that before? Well, with the script in hand, it was time to find out what all the fuss was about!

True Detective begins oddly. Former Detective Martin Hart, 56, is being interviewed about a couple of things, his relationship with his old partner, Rustin Cohle, and an old case he was involved in 20 years ago, where a young woman was killed and posed as an angel.

Most of that discussion, strangely enough, centers on Cohle, who appears to be a weirdo to the tenth degree. There are some people on this planet who don’t believe in God. Cohle is the thousand times multiple of that person. He buys and reads dozens of books to help define his belief, how we’re all a bunch of meaningless nobodies floating inside a meaningless construct of time and space. Your typical upbeat stuff!

Anyway, we’re soon interviewing Cohle as well, getting his thoughts on that old case with the dead woman posed as an angel, but more so Hart and Hart’s thoughts about him. An inordinate amount of time in True Detective is spent on Hart’s thoughts on Cohle, and Cohle’s thoughts on Hart’s thoughts on Cohle. Sounds exciting right? Well it isn’t!

While we do eventually begin talking about the most interesting part of the story, the dead girl posed like an angel, the description of her and what they think happened to her is actually quite brief. Instead, the writer decides to make the centerpiece of True Detective a visit Cohle made to Hart’s house for a family dinner. Cohle doesn’t like being around people, so he gets wasted beforehand. We assume this is probably some insight into a huge drinking problem Cohle has or the beginning of some major event that caused a fracture in their friendship, but it’s neither. He just comes over. He’s drunk. And he talks to Hart’s wife and kids. Wow, way to build up something that goes absolutely nowhere!

In actuality, this entire pilot, where nothing happens, is a setup for one line, the final line, the only line in the script that actually gets you excited. Unfortunately, BECAUSE it’s the last line, it gets you excited for an episode to come, not the episode you just watched, where you feel beyond gypped that you just spent an hour of your life watching/reading. (Spoiler) That line is when Rustin Cohle says to the guys interviewing him: “It’s started again, hasn’t it? The killing. Him. And how can that be possible, when we got the bastard in 2000?”


So how is it that a script/show like this can get so much heat, and land on such a quality network like HBO, when its pilot is so subpar? GREAT QUESTION! I’m trying to figure that out myself. But I’d like to venture a guess. Cohle is an interesting character. I mean, I wasn’t interested by him. His bleak depressing persona actually kinda put me off. But his whole extreme philosophy about how life is meaningless along with the crazy attention to detail he has for investigating murders – I can see an actor wanting to play that role. And in writing, that’s really what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to create characters so compelling that actors can’t NOT want to play them. That’s exactly what happened, with suddenly hot Matthew McConaughey coming on. He legitimized the project, which gets a known actor wanting to play opposite him (Harrelson), and all of a sudden everyone’s saying this pilot is genius, when in reality, it’s simply a well-known actor wanting to play a challenging role. If I were the head of HBO and someone came to me with a shitty pilot that Matthew McConaghey was attached to, I’d probably buy it too.

And I hate to use that word – shitty – but come on. The majority of True Detective is people talking about each other! That’s never ever interesting. I think the biggest faux pas the script commits is that it masquerades as something deep, when in reality there’s zero depth. The writing is dense, with thorough descriptions of characters and events (such as the way the dead angel body is posed), giving the illusion that we’re dealing with something profound here. But it’s all a magic act. Description is boring. Remembering old times or people when they were younger is boring. If your story is devoid of conflict or drama, then you don’t have a story. And there is ZERO conflict/drama in True Detective.

The only real thing the script has going for it is the unanswered question of “why the fuck are we interviewing these guys?” I admit, that was the only thing I was looking forward to – the answer to that question. But not because the story did a good job making me want to know. Because I was dying to find some kind of point to what I was reading!

If this had showed up in my Inbox for an Amateur Friday slot, I would’ve been positive it was from a beginner. It takes good writers ONE SCENE to set up who their characters are. Not 20 pages! And the whole dead angel girl isn’t even original. It feels like every other setup for a serial killer. So I guess I’m not surprised that Pizzolatto is fairly new to screenwriting. I mean maybe he goes into actually telling stories in future episodes. But this episode was one big boring setup where nothing happens.

[x] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: As David Mamet has often said, one of the most boring things you can write is a character talking about another character. There is nothing inherently interesting about it. Since this entire pilot is based around people talking about other people, it’s pretty easy to see why it doesn’t work.

  • fragglewriter

    HBO aired a behind the scenes look at this show last month. I was surprised to see McConaghey acting in a series. Before I watched the behind the scenes, I was only going to watch the show because he was in it.

    Since the script is 52 pages, I’m guessing the slow storyline is because it’s the pilot episode and with HBO, as opposed to a network show, you can do a slow build up, but that’s just my opinion.

    Harrelson’s character seems boring, but looking at his acting career, he chooses great roles, so his character might develop more as the episodes air.

    Catching a serial killer seems boring for me as I can only tune in so much to catching one criminal. That why I like Law & Order compared to The Mentalist (I gave The Mentalist 2 episodes).

    Maybe the conflict will be with the department/Internal Affairs instead of between the two partners.

    I would love to take a look at this script eMaiL: fragglewriter at yahoo dot com

  • mulesandmud

    Just for a second, let’s be insanely optimistic and assume that there is an elaborate long-form drama being built here, one whose mythology is dense and unique and whose complexity with grow progressively with each episode.

    It still doesn’t make up for a lack of anything substantial or unique in a pilot script.

    I love a good slow burn, but that’s because it’s a huge roll of the dice. How little can I show while still keeping people interested? How much can I tease? It takes real craft to command attention that way, though; too much coyness and there’ll be no one following when you finally get to the end of the road.

    Television has really embraced the simple idea that if your story promises big reveals to come, then people will watch. It’s a time-honored setup, but the payoff, making people feel like what they learn has been worth the wait, is the harder part of the equation.

    I hope that True Detective has something worthwhile waiting for down the road. The title, at least, suggests it might push deep enough into the cop character that we find something new/exciting there.

    If not, the buzz over this gets even more baffling.

    • Linkthis83

      From my experience, HBO does a good job of finding shows that deliver when it comes to payoffs. Maybe they’ve taken a chance on this project that they haven’t before, but I trust them enough to give us something worth investing our time.

  • Linkthis83

    HBO has proven that they don’t need a McConaughey or a Harrelson to create awesome TV. I’m guessing that there is a bigger STORY contained in here that they want to tell.

    You may be absolutely right about the pilot not being much of anything, but it’s probably worth this one subpar episode to set the stage for something potentially awesome.

    I’ve really liked the roles McConaughey has been taking lately too. I especially liked him in Mud. While that movie didn’t deliver the impact I was hoping it would, I still appreciate the film that it is. And he was great in it.

    Harrelson almost always delivers so I hope these two can make some more HBO magic.

    • Linkthis83

      Congrats to the downvoter. Got me in under 3 minutes. Well done, laddy. You must’ve been perched in that tree for a long time ;)

      • fragglewriter

        It was me.

        I hit it accidentally as I was aiming for the up vote. I clicked it again to remove it, then clicked the upvote :-)

        • Linkthis83

          Haha. Sorry for my quick reply, J.

          I had noticed it and was really impressed. LOL.

        • John Bradley

          Haha that’s funny, I imagine how excited some people get down voting. It’s probably a rush.

          • fragglewriter

            I guess that’s the sensitive side of us screenwriters. We hate bad reviews LOL

          • John Bradley

            I’m definitely sensitive lol I get upset cause I can’t tell who downvotes my comments!

          • fragglewriter

            That might be a good thing because we’ll be too busy attacking each other instead of reviewing scripts.

          • John Bradley

            Seriously? Can’t believe that got down voted!=p

        • gazrow

          Did you also “hit it accidentally” when you up-voted the pathetic attack on one of this week’s AOW writer’s because he is aged over forty?!

          • fragglewriter


            I up vote comments when I agree with more than half of what the writer said, so even though I didn’t agree on the attack, I agreed on the other half.

          • gazrow

            So if you agree with more than half of what a writer says – You’ll still up vote it even if it includes an ageist, racist, sexist or homophobic attack on a person?

          • Ian

            Give it a rest, Gazzer.

            grend’s always acting the expert round here dishing out dodgy advice like don’t structure your screenplay or go ahead and write long scenes.

            Now we learn he’s a noob who’s only written two screenplays in his entire life.

            So it turns out most of what he says here is either justifying his own inexperienced script choices or blaming Hollywood for why he didn’t make it.

            Guy who tells fellow writers he’d make them suicidal if he had a chance to criticize their scripts gets none of my sympathy.

          • fragglewriter

            Do you have a problem with me or my voting? As I remember, this is America.

          • gazrow

            I feel like the Michael Douglas character from Falling Down “Wait, I’m the bad guy?!!”

            Firstly, I don’t have a problem with you fragglewriter (I don’t even know you).

            I simply took issue with the fact that a guy submitted his script to Amateur Offerings Weekend and was subjected to this:

            “hasn’t your generation stolen enough from the younger generations already? $17 trillion and counting. That is what the older generations have stolen from mine and ones still to come. Your generation and the one previous have done what amounts to the most absurd dine and dash in the history of mankind. So take your ridiculous free meal but don’t take the amateur friday as well.”

            Maybe I was wrong for thinking this was an unwarranted attack on a fellow writer who was just hoping to get some feedback/exposure on his script? Maybe I was wrong for questioning why you chose to upvote a review that included the above?

            If I hurt your feelings I’m truly sorry. Like you say, this is America, so freedom of speech and all that.

            So let’s draw a line under it and move on. :)

  • Kieran ODea

    Well this is disappointing. At least the review was entertaining. I’ll still watch it one sunday

    • gazrow

      “Well this is disappointing.”

      Not as disappointing as the attack you made on the over forty AOW writer!

    • Zmanx

      What’s your email?

      • Dan J Caslaw

        Methinks Kieran would do well not to post it here, or else gazrow’ll be filling up his inbox with angry messages ;)

        • gazrow

          Actually, I have no interest whatsoever in knowing his email. Why would I want to converse with such a narrow-minded person as him?! :)

    • Malibo Jackk

      A society is measured by how it treats its dogs, cats,
      and people over 40.

  • TruckDweller

    I’m hesitant to read this pilot before seeing the piece. I’ve heard similar complaints to yours about the pilot script, Carson, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting to see the series. For what it’s worth, generally each season of Boardwalk Empire starts off with a slow burn episode where only the pieces are established. The second episode generally is the one where you see where the pieces might be headed. So HBO has primed me for being willing to sit through one slow episode provided the payoff is big enough.

    Anyway, while everything you say in your above review may be right on the money, I’m still hoping you live to regret tearing it apart. And that’s one of the many reasons I love this site.

  • John Bradley

    I have read a handful of scripts from writers who are transitioning from a novel/short story writing background, and from what I have read the transition seems to be quite tough for them. The set ups always take too long and descriptions too bloated, because they are used to having time for long set-ups and are encouraged to give detailed flowery descriptions. Screenwriting is really a unique form of writing and I appreciate it more when I see accomplished novel writers attempt to write one because it seems to rarely be anything good.

  • JKA

    Carson I love that you call it like you see it in such an amusing manner. I too would be frustrated with being teased along only for the payoff to be something that should have been made clear in the first 3 minutes of the episode. Is it possible the entire series storyline is brilliant? Is the entire season reasonably developed when a pilot is picked up, or is it developed afterward?

  • Andrew Parker

    Obviously the pairing of Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson is exciting. The chemistry between the two will be better than any RomCom that came out in the last twelve months.

    But what sets this script apart is structure. There was a discussion on the Amateur Weekend thread of what is the more important role of the screenwriter — to provide structure or deliver great dialogue? I think for comedy, it’s more dialogue. For drama, it’s structure.

    And the present-to-past time leaps this takes is something we haven’t really seen before (at least not that I can recall on tv). Setups/payoffs galore are possible.

    Another cool thing is this is a limited series. We don’t have to watch 8 million episodes to see who Red John is, like we did with “The Mentalist”. And it’s not a BS limited series like “Under The Dome,” which got picked up for another season with the exact same characters and continuity. No, this one will have new characters and location, but same structure (past-present) if it goes another season (which it will).

    Yes, I would have liked more to happen in episode 1 considering this is a short season show. But I think the pace kinda deliberately patterns itself on the south, where it’s just a slower way of life. “Scandal” this is not.

    • davejc

      “There was a discussion on the Amateur Weekend thread of what is the more important role of the screenwriter — to provide structure or deliver great dialogue?”

      I was a participant in that discussion and just so I’m not misquoted, I said that the biggest contribution a writer makes to the final product is dialog. That’s just the reality of the industry. I never said it was the most important.

      If you asked me what is the most important aspect of a spec script, I would say, and I think Carson would agree, it is Story, the ability to tell a great story.

      After that I would say character, the ability to create memorial characters.

      After that I would say, pacing, which is what you might call Structure.

      And only after that would I say dialogue.

      But here’s the reality of the world we live in: If you are a writer and you can write great dialogue, you are in high demand.

      If you can’t, you still might sell a spec, but after that…


      • Andrew Parker

        That’s fair, Dave. Appreciate the clarification.

        TV definitely is a different beast than movies. You have to churn out either 22 episodes (network tv) or 13 episodes (a lot of cable shows) per year. So structure in the pilot episode is almost more important than what happens, since the structure will likely guide all future episodes.

        TV is small but memorable moments, most movies now are big and memorable moments. My guess is Carson’s brain is wired to look for big moments, and there just aren’t any in “True Detective”. His taste is probably altered by reading too many screenplays per day.

        I would guess Carson’s head might explode if he ever read the “Mad Men” pilot.

      • Linkthis83

        The first thing I care about in any script is the STORY. Then I look at all those other things to see how it was used to TELL the STORY.

        But I think you already know this Dave, so I’m really just saying it for the article. And to acknowledge that I agree with you.

  • Bob

    JUst…. STOP reviewing TV. You are utterly clueless. You might as well be reviewing the latest specs of Boeing’s new airplanes — unless you’re an aeronautical engineer on the side and actually understand that — but when it comes to television, you clearly have no idea what you’re talking about other than as an outside observer.

    Because seriously — As pilots go, with or without McShirtless and Woody — this is a great script and a great setup to a season arc — which is exactly what a serial pilot is supposed to do. And if you had an inkling of how to mentally translate the written page into what it might look like onscreen, you’d know this was a pretty damn solid piece and when the puzzle is assembled into an actual TV show — it’s gonna be great.

    • filmklassik

      Bob, when you say to Carson, “STOP reviewing TV,” aren’t you really just telling him, “STOP having opinions I don’t agree with”?

      You dug this project, he didn’t, who cares? Who. Cares. What difference does it make?

    • Matthew Garry

      It’s no use to simply call someone “clueless” or order them to stop doing something. That’s an opinion someone might agree or not agree with, but it doesn’t sway minds and it doesn’t add extra information.

      You say this is a great script and a great setup, so obviously you have a different perspective. Carson didn’t like it, but he gave his reasons. You must have your reasons for thinking about it positively too.

      Please make an argument for it and write down where Carson is wrong in his evaluation of this TV pilot (show us he’s clueless when it comes to reviewing TV, don’t tell us), or why you think “true detective” is a very solid effort. That way everyone can benefit, especially since you allude to being an “inside observer.”

  • mulesandmud

    I can sign on for cautious optimism. HBO has earned it, for sure.

    Still, why kick off with a stack of serial killer/cop cliches, regardless of whether you’ve got brilliant ideas down the road? Even the final throw is pretty old hat for that kind of story. Better to put some of the meat up front than fill us up on potatoes first, no?

    • Linkthis83

      Sometimes I like to see cliches in the hands of real capable entities. After all, the ones who are successful at creations ultimately create the cliches.

  • Murphy

    Not going to read this as I am really, really, really looking forward to watching it.

    I think people who write of tv shows based on one episode are nuts, I have so many friends who gave up shows after the watching the pilot and I can never understand why.

    I always give three episodes minimum to make a decision whether to stick out, and sometimes, if a show is an older one I am going to catch-up and it is critically acclaimed I even give it more than a season as there are often huge changes in tone and direction after the first season. Justified springs to mind as being a show that would have been easy to give up on after the pilot, or even the first season, but has turned into a brilliant and highly entertaining show.

    I cannot see this failing. Of couse it may, even HBO gets it wrong sometimes (The Newsroom!!). But I am really excited by this show and will give it at least three episodes.

    • Linkthis83

      I wasn’t as invested in the 2nd season of The Newsroom as I was the first. I almost completely bailed on Breaking Bad during the 2nd season (sure glad I hung around for the rest).

    • Cfrancis1

      I agree. Word on the street is that thus is gonna be really good.

  • paul

    Maybe the actors responded to the pitch….and just wanted to act in a violent serial killer thriller… before a script was written.

    I felt the same way about “Mob City”—slick trailer…but once you watch it, you’re like why is Frank Darabont attached and all these actors…. it’s a bad parody of past gangster movies.

  • Zmanx

    Read this and really liked it a lot. A LOT. On par with another excellent character study from HBO – LUCK (rip) . I loved it way more than the “The Leftovers” another upcoming HBO series.
    TD reminds me of something of another writer who also comes from the world of novels – the great Cormac McCarthy (and no I did not hate the Counselor : I LOVED IT * over time this film will be looked upon for the masterwork it is, trust me*)

    Anyways back to True Detective: it’s a beautiful tone poem/ character study worthy of a novel. I can’t wait to watch!

    • Exponent5

      I am late to the party on True Detective, as I have just finished watching Ep. 3. I wanted to say I am a huge McCarthy fan also (loved The Counselor, even though it was flawed) and I also noticed right away the similarities to McCarthy’s work in Pizzolatto’s script. The difference, I think, is that McCarthy’s lines pontificating on philosophy have a tendency to come across as pretentious onscreen, whereas Rust’s lines in TD are ridiculously pretentious, but you get Woody’s reactions calling him out on it all the time – making it actually very funny. Woody gets to say what the audience is thinking – that Rust is full of crap. I am thoroughly enjoying it…LOL. I hope to binge-watch the rest of the season over the next couple days.

  • UrbaneGhoul

    Certain actors can make talking about other characters interesting to watch. Remember those scenes in the Under Siege movies where people would talk about how badass Steven Seagal’s character was? No. Okay. I’ll check it out, nothing else for me in January.

  • klmn

    I wonder if there’s any connection to the old true crime magazine of the same name.

    • klmn

      OT. Out of curiosity. I followed that link to the home page and found this.

      Click the left side of the page, then

      Read the article titled Caught Up, if you want to be amused or perhaps horrified.

  • ximan

    A serial killer who kills a young woman and poses her as an angel???

    That sounds a LOT like part 1 of the “Red Riding” trilogy! (Which was awesome, BTW)

  • JW

    Can I just ask the question no one is asking, if this script wasn’t that good, how on Earth did it find it’s way to an A-lister in the first place? Where did this guy come from that he just writes this ‘slow burn’ without a name and all of the pieces just fall in place?

    • Malibo Jackk

      According to McConaughey —
      “I read two episodes, and it was hot shit.”
      (Could be a stock answer.)

      My guess for the real attraction — they’ll only be used for the first year.

      • JW

        My point was, in order for it to get to McConaughey there is a wall of other people guarding the pearly gates. I’m wondering what they saw in it that made them think it would be his thing. It likely has to get through about 3-5 people before it even lands on his nightstand. With C’s visceral distaste of the material, I’m wondering where the disconnect was.

        • Malibo Jackk

          Apparently the script got noticed by HBO first. Then by McConaughey’s agent. And then they met with the writer and director in Austin to talk it over.
          So how did it catch HBO’s attention? I can only guess that the CONCEPT of a series with changing players, caught the attention of the writer’s agent and he sent it to HBO who liked the idea as well.

          Carson may have only seen the pilot.

          • Exponent5

            Pizzolatto has balls the size of Texas the way he stuck to his guns and refused to sell it without any input or alterations. BALLS.

  • ChristianSavage

    That Mamet quote has always bothered me a little.

    Great moments can be conjured from one character talking about another.

    Some of my favorite examples:

    Silence of the Lambs – Before Clarice walks down the hall of murderers for the first time, Dr. Chilton tells her all about Lecter, including the gruesome way he attacked a nurse: “His pulse never got above 85, even when he ate her tongue.”

    Tombstone (Kurt Russell version) – Wyatt Earp asks a dying Doc Holiday why the villain Johnny Ringo became a heartless killer:

    Wyatt: What makes a man like Ringo, Doc? What makes him do the things he does?

    Doc: A man like Ringo has a great big hole, right in the middle of him. He can never kill enough, or steal enough, or inflict enough pain to ever fill it.

    Wyatt: What does he need?

    Doc: Revenge.

    Wyatt: For What?

    Doc: Bein’ born.

    Children of Men – There’s a lovely scene where Jaspar (Michael Caine) tells the pregnant girl, Kee, about why Theo (Clive Owen) lost his faith in miracles. Theo overhears the whole thing:

    Jaspar: Chance (Theo’s son). He was their sweet little dream. He had little hands, little legs, little feet. Little lungs. And in 2008, along came the flu pandemic. And then, by chance, he was gone. You see, Theo’s faith lost out to chance. So, why bother if life’s going to make its own choices?

    The ‘Lambs’ dialogue was a great way to build anticipation in the audience. Because Lecter’s portrayed as an inhuman monster, it’s almost a surprise when we meet a courteous and witty gentleman. And because we know what he did to that nurse, it makes his creepy charm all the more intriguing.

    The Tombstone scene revealed the devastating truth about a major character.

    In the Children of Men scene, a couple fun things happened. Not only did we get to hear Theo’s most personal story, we learned that Theo would’ve never told that story himself. And, the scene became a lot more interesting because Theo’s friends talked about him, while he was eavesdropping. If a scene shows a guy eavesdropping on two people talking about him, that alone is enough reason to say Mamet’s not entirely right.

    You can get away with a character talking about another character, if the dialogue builds anticipation for meeting that other character for the first time.

    You can also get away with it, if your dialogue reveals a character’s deepest truth or flaw.

    And, it works if the character either wouldn’t reveal the information himself, or if he overhears what the other characters are saying about him.

    As with any rule, it can be broken if it pushes the story forward, or provides deeper insight for your characters.

    • Poe_Serling

      Those are some great examples, Christian. The exchange between Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday is a classic for sure. Like you pointed out, it offers a rare peek into Doc’s own tortured psyche in such a clever, roundabout way.

      One of my favorite and most memorable pieces of dialogue involving ‘one character talking about another character’ comes from Jacques Tourneur’s classic I Walked with a Zombie.

      Here the character of Rand is telling another person about is his half brother, Paul:

      RAND: ‘That’s Paul’s great weapon – words. He uses them the way other men use their fists.’

      Short and sweet… and it summed up the Paul character to a T.

    • Malibo Jackk

      The Third Man
      Half the movie is spent talking about Harry Lime, before we even meet him.
      It’s a favorite devise for creating anticipation.
      (Heard it said they had to film without Orson Welles because he hadn’t shown up.)

      Orson himself said he once appeared in a play in which his character was talked about but did not walk on stage until just before the curtain for intermission.
      — And everybody commented on his marvelous acting.

      • Poe_Serling

        Speaking of Welles… I just recently stumbled upon this short film Return to Glennascual. It’s kind of an eerie mix of The Twilight Zone and One Step Beyond.

    • Odogg32F

      That scene you reference in SILENCE OF THE LAMB is a transitional scene, telegraphing (advertising)… I don’t think that’s what Mamet is talking about. That scene moves, you don’t have two characters sitting at a Starbucks talking and going on and on with exposition…

      Also, Dr. Chilton has a simple goal, to impress Clarice. In the end he doesn’t, she blows him off.

    • kenglo

      I loved the scene where they first crossed paths –

      Look darlin’, Ringo. They say he’s the fastest gun alive. Should I hate him?

      You don’t even know him.

      yeah, but there’s something about him. Something about his eyes. They remind me of …me! That’s it. I hate him!

      The script reads like a book….awesome script.

      • ChristianSavage

        Tombstone has to be one of the most quotable movies of all time. So many great lines. And Doc Holiday is arguably Val Kilmer’s best role. I haven’t read the script yet, but it’s definitely on my list. Glad to hear it’s a good read!

    • carsonreeves1

      Like anything, I think it’s okay in moderation. It’s when it dominates the narrative or becomes a crutch that it’s a problem.

  • Odogg32F

    Sounds like one of those projects that provide good
    characterizations that actors line up for… I read the first 10 pages and it
    seems to be setting up the series.

    In my UCLA class we were instructed a pilot s/b written as
    if it is the six episode so as not to include so much backstory. Producers want
    to understand what a typical episode would look like. For the most part I think
    MOB CITY was able to accomplish this while revealing more over the following

    This project reminds me of THE KILLING and LOW WINTER SUN. I
    loved both series, but they both got cancelled because they are character
    pieces where the focus is on the dynamics of the relationships.

    Most people when they sit down in front of their big screen
    want to be ENTERTAIN. I love MAD MEN, but I can’t find one person I know who
    watches it, but I have plenty of friends who watch WALKING DEAD (how many
    entertaining ways can you kill a zombie).

    HBO will provide support because of the big names involved –
    they need big screen actors to continue the migration to prime cable.

    One final note, I wanted to write a spec on BOARDWALK
    EMPIRE. I was informed stay away because no one in Hollywood will want to read
    it. The HBO marketing machine ensures it gets nominated for awards. I’ve stayed
    with the show (huge Steve Buscemi fan), but again I don’t know of anyone who
    watches it.

    I tend to agree with Carson it won’t be a big hit, but HBO
    will make sure it feels like one. Niche audience much like THE KILLING. And I
    will be part of that niche audience.

    More Mamet:

    “The job of the dramatist is to make the audience wonder
    what happens next. Not to explain to them what just happened, or to ‘suggest’
    to them what happens next.”

    “The main character must have a simple, straightforward,
    pressing need, which impels him or her to show up in the next scene.”

    • filmklassik

      Great wisdom from David Mamet, who subscribes to the Aristotlean theory that PLOT TRUMPS CHARACTER (he has written as much in his essays).

      Actors, however, do not agree with this. And neither, frankly, do many readers and viewers.

      In other words, I might agree with David Mamet, and YOU might agree with David Mamet, and Aristotle himself might agree with David Mamet… but plenty of other people do not.

      They’re wrong though.

      • Matty

        All of you are wrong.

        Plot is absolutely, no argument, inseparable from character. They are one and the same. In Aristotle’s “Poetics” (and amazing and IMO essential read for any writer), he considers plot more important than any other element of drama. Including character. He is wrong. Plot does not or at least should not exist without character. If it does, it is without substance. The only way to elicit emotion (which is what Aristotle insisted is necessary, and it is) is to have a story with a beginning, middle, and end (as Aristotle noted, in the most basic terms) that is driven by character. The plot choices that move the story (and therefore the characters) from the beginning to the middle to the end, are inseparable from the characters themselves. The characters determine each and every line they speak, each and every plot change.

        I love Mamet, but I have a problem with the way he approaches film: he essentially views actors as vessels to deliver dialogue. To me, that is wrong. Actors exist to become characters and interpret dialogue. It also explains why I have never absolutely loved a performance in a Mamet-directed film.

        But my ultimate plot is that plot neither trumps character, nor does character trump plot. They are entirely equal, one and the same.

        • Malibo Jackk

          I understand why they say Einstein was wrong when he said — “God does not play dice.” (Even a genius can be wrong.)

          But what is your source for suggesting that you know more about drama than Aristotle and Mamet?

          I don’t mean to bring grendl into this but I think he said something similar — that there is no such thing as plot driven and character driven works, but that they are the same. I’m curious, who is teaching this, if I might ask?

          • Matty

            My source for suggesting I know more about drama than Aristotle or Mamet? I’m not suggesting I even do. I’m saying I disagree with them on this particular point. So I don’t need a source for that. If I did, that’d be like saying you need to cite a source because you don’t like Mamet’s “Heist” (or any film of his). It’s an opinion, nothing more.

            No one needs to “teach this.” However, many people do teach that character is plot, plot is character. McKee is one of them, if you insist on a “source.”

            I shall pose you a question: can you explain to me what a plot driven film is versus a character driven film? Can you cite one example of each?

            I am not asking to be argumentative or insulting in the least, I’m asking to further understand where you’re coming from so that I might be able to explain my side better.

          • Malibo Jackk

            Aristotle is a source. Mamet is a source. So I was asking what your source was.

            You mention “many people” and McKee. I don’t know who “many people” is so I can’t comment. I do know who McKee is and I also know what some well respected professional screenwriters have said about him. (Not going to go into that at this time.)

            I tend to prefer going to the horse’s mouth. For me, that means I’m more interested in hearing what professional screenwriters have to say. And I hadn’t heard any espouse that theory. That’s why I asked.

            You asked me for examples. I agree with those offered by filmlassik.

            “Plot driven” and “character driven”, I believe, are terms that are generally understood by the industry. Pull out a copy of THE SCREENWRITER’S BIBLE and look for yourself.

            .I’m here to help. Hope that works. If not, so be it.


          • Matty

            You don’t need sources to have an opinion. This is art, not math. There is no one answer. It is my opinion that character and plot are inseparable; they are the same thing. In film, for every person who has an opinion about something, someone else has the opposite opinion. And that’s great.

            Yes, “plot driven” and “character driven” are terms that are generally understood. My reason for asking you what you think they mean is to get you to think about how different they truly are. Or, if when it comes down to it, you can’t actually separate them. That’s all.

            For me, it is this: every film has a plot. Almost every film has at least one character. The plot does not exist without the character, the character does not exist without the plot. If so, they are inseparable, and by extension (because of the way they exist together) they are one and the same.

            What people really mean, in the industry as it is understood, is that “plot driven” tends toward “high concept” and “character driven” tends toward the opposite; a film not easily summed up in a couple sentences. But to me, those are arbitrary terms to quickly describe the mass perception of the film/script. I have no problem with that, I even use those terms myself in that situation. What I disagree with is saying one is “more important” than the other. Or “trumps” it, or whatever.

            I hope that makes sense to better explain why I disagree with this analysis.

          • Malibo Jackk

            Sorry but
            these terms are actually discussed in black and white in THE SCREENWRITER’S BIBLE.

            But you choose instead to say “What people really mean, in the industry as it is understood …”

            What you’re doing is avoiding the actual definition. Putting your spin on it. And calling it your opinion. (And saying you don’t need a source to have an opinion.)

            That doesn’t make sense to me.
            But hey… I could be wrong.

          • mulesandmud

            Matty is being too contrarian, but you’re being too semantic. The Screenwriter’s Bible is not an actual bible, a holy text whose words are set in stone. And even if it were, it would be open to interpretation. Terms like ‘plot-driven’ and ‘character driven’ are used with much flexibility in the industry, depending on the context.

            The line between plot and character becomes gray in many places, usually moreso as a result of strong writing. The two are more complimentary than oppositional. Mamet and Aristotle would both agree, in different words.

          • Matty

            I’m not really being contrarian at all, I completely agree with what you just said.

            1) The Screenwriter’s Bible is not a bible. It’s no more “correct” than McKee, yet Malibo dismissed McKee

            2) I even said ‘plot driven’ and ‘character driven’ are flexible terms, open to interpretation.

            3) I also said they were complimentary, not oppositional.

          • mulesandmud

            You certainly aren’t being contrarian toward me, and I find many of your points extremely valid as well. Hence, I agreed with you.

            I think that by opening your discussion with ‘All of you are wrong.’, and then making aggressive (and interesting) critiques of two canonical storytelling philosophies, you opened a door for the kind of nitpicking argument that Malibo brought to the table. I suspect that he was reacting more to the posture of your comment than the substance.

          • Matty

            Fair enough. I only said “All of you are wrong” as a sort of similar response to filmklassik’s “They’re wrong though.” But yeah, fair enough :-)

          • MaliboJackk

            Sorry you think I would waste my time nitpicking.
            It sounded to me like a rehash of an argument that grendl
            had sometime ago, and that’s why I was curious that it was
            popping its head up again. That argument seemed to be settled when Carson stepped in, so I was wondering where this was coming from.

            It is the substance that concerns me. If professional screenwriters were talking in this fashion, I would want to know about it.

          • MaliboJackk

            Matty, I hate to be drawn into silly arguments, but it happens.
            I thought if I pointed out somethings it might help.
            So I only offer the following in the same spirit.

            !.) I think I addressed this in my reply to muleandmud.

            2.) “open to interpretation” rightly or wrongly is a weasel phrase.
            3.) The definition in The Screenwriter’s Bible is not stated in terms of “complimentary vs oppositional”. It states that one “favors” plot: the other “favors” character.

          • MaliboJackk

            Are you serious? Do you really think you’re informing me that it’s not a bible set in stone?
            Do you really think I think it’s impossible for a script to have a great plot and great characters?

            I think what I would say is that professional screenwriters would be more likely to agree with the definition it gives — not because it has Bible in its title.

            As for McKee, I’m well aware that many amateurs are enamored with gurus because they think they hold the key to great screenwriting. But I also listen to what professional screenwriters say. And it would be so easy for them to advise young screenwriters to buy his book and attend his seminar. But when his name comes up, that’s not what I hear.

          • mulesandmud

            “Do you really think I think it’s impossible for a script to have a great plot and great characters?”

            Am not sure where this comes from. It’s not something that either Matty or myself suggested.

            As for the rest, it is a fair opinion, and you are welcome to it, of course. Many pros would agree with you; others would not.

        • filmklassik

          Well I am “up-voting” this for the intelligence with which it is written and not because I agree with it. Because I don’t — not entirely.

          Often overlooked in the “plot vs. character” debate is the fact that the proportions of each element will vary according to the story that you’re telling. It’s almost like a martini. So a movie like DINER or THE BIG CHILL may have a character vs. plot ratio of 6:1 while a movie like DUEL, DIE HARD or SPEED will have the reverse.

          And for many stories, yes, the ratio is very much 1:1.

          But to repeat: The proportions of the cocktail will vary according to the dictates of whatever genre you happen to be working in, and the individual story that you’re telling.

          This applies to TV as well, to some extent, and so a show like the original LAW & ORDER, say, or an anthology show like THE TWILIGHT ZONE will be much more plot-driven and much LESS dependent on depth of character than a show like (for example) FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS.

          • Malibo Jackk

            Would give DIE HARD more credit.
            Some have suggested that what makes it memorable
            is its attention to minor characters. How many great characters do you remember from that movie?

          • Matty

            See, I don’t think there is a ratio at all. It doesn’t vary. It’s not plot vs character. They are one and the same, thus they cannot vary, they cannot be at odds (“versus”).

            What you’re talking about is perception of plot and what the word means. There isn’t any less plot in DINER than there is in SPEED. And there isn’t any more character in THE BIG CHILL than there is in DIE HARD. There may be MORE characters, but that’s an irrelevant number, especially since you can’t put a number on plot, and this isn’t math.

            Every line that is spoken in a film, every action that occurs, every reaction that occurs, etc. is determined by character. A story, each scene and structure progression from beginning to end should be inevitable. Because of that, you can’t separate the two concepts.

            Anyway, just my opinion.

  • Paul Clarke

    “… it gets you excited for an episode to come, not the episode you just
    watched, where you feel beyond gypped that you just spent an hour of
    your life watching/reading.”

    Worked for Lost.

    Seems to be a side effect of battling reality TV where that’s commonplace. The Walking Dead does it too. The most exciting part is the sneak preview of next weeks episode. It’s viral television, hooking you in like an addiction. As opposed to something like Breaking Bad which never felt the need to do this as you simply felt good enough from watching the episode.

  • Matthew Garry

    Unfortunately, no reviewed scripts are available on the site itself.

    What sometimes works (especially for older scripts) is simply using Google; As a search request type in ‘”NAME OF SCRIPT” screenplay pdf’, or some variation.

    If you really can’t do without, you can post a request for it with your email address in it. Sometimes there is a dedicated thread for such requests, so adding it there increases the chance people will take notice of it. I think it helps though if you’ve been active around here for a while, but there are guarantees you’ll receive it either way.

  • Rick McGovern

    Looks like you should have reviewed my pilot instead lol =P

    • kenglo

      I’m reading yours now!

      • Rick McGovern

        I was actually kidding lol it’s in no shape or form ready to be reviewed. It’s more of an outline of thoughts in script form.

      • Rick McGovern

        I was actually kidding lol it’s in no shape or form ready for a review. It’s actually more of an outline of thoughts in script form.

  • charliesb

    From the trailer for this show, it seems to really be focused on mood. The writing may be slow and plotting but with the right visuals it can still make for a very engaging show. I cite Hannibal for reference. Without the Fincher/Tarsem/Lynch esthetic, that show would borderline sleep enducing.

  • craze9

    Anyone have a link or a pdf of this pilot? Much appreciated!

    craze9 AT

  • Cfrancis1

    Okay, so I just watched the first episode. First half hour was good but a little slow. Really picked up in the second half. The performers helped to amp up the entertainment value, especially during some of the more exposition-y scenes. McConaughey is relishing the hell out of his role.

    Goes to show that sometimes good acting and directing can really help flesh out weaknesses in a script.

  • DD

    finally watched this last night. It was really f’in good. The cinematography and acting were excellent. The story was cool. Don’t be a hater, Carson. Give this a shot!

  • joel

    So three episodes in and this is the best show on tv.

  • Christopher Phillips

    I just watched the first three episodes. Amazing show. I haven’t been able to read the pilot, so I can’t comment on that. However, the acting, the story, and cinematography just come together in a great way to create a lot of magic on the screen. Louisiana is almost a character of its own right in the story. There’s an amazing vibe that just pulls you into the story. Brilliant work all the way around. There’s a deeper subtext going on here that we are only just scratching at in the first few episodes.

  • Mike

    Just watched the fourth episode – “Who Goes There” – where Rustin infiltrates the biker gang. May be the best hour of television I’ve seen in 5 years, period, the end. That last set piece – the raid – my jaw was literally just hanging open.

  • RyanMFB

    This is a great script, and has become an amazing show, even from the first episode. This is a spectacular failure on the part of the reviewer. Whoever wrote this review has literally proven, without a doubt, that they wouldn’t know a good script if it fell into their lap. Take advice from this person at your own risk.

  • carsonreeves1

    Dry depressing story-less writing isn’t my thing, no matter how it’s dressed up. I stand by this review 100%

    • Tom Broadhurst

      Story-less? Maybe the writing is just beyond you and with people now saying that they wish they had seen this production in a cinema and has some of the best “character development” seen on TV I put it to you that you have a very narrow ability to appraise complicated concepts. I’m also a reader, I read, review and write screenplays and I think reading your review of TD says something clearly and should to all aspiring writers following this blog…don’t follow it, don’t look for insight…go your own path.
      Stand by it 100%…you’re 100% wrong
      I’ve read the exact same pilot and I cannot for the life of me understand how you couldn’t think…what happens next?

      • carsonreeves1

        I agree Matt M.’s character is interesting (as is stated in my review). The rest of this pilot is garbage. The whole thing revolves around a visit to someone’s house wrapped around 20 minutes of backstory-infused talking-head interviews. Essentially the most boring possible way to tell a story.

        I like my movies and shows to show, not tell. That’s something pretty much all the greats agree with, as I’m guessing you’d agree with as well.

        I suggest you check out The Returned. That’s a great slow-burning TV show that actually creates suspense, has some mystery, and tells a great story.

      • jariax

        I like how you tell people not to follow, and to go their own path, and then you continue to get irate because Carson dared to go his own path by disagreeing with all the critics out there. How dare he have a dissenting opinion.

        Some great irony. Well done.

  • carsonreeves1

    I’m not watching the show because I hated the pilot. I did say at the end of my review, however that the cliffhanger was good and therefore may set up some good stuff for future episodes.

    Look, I don’t know how much you read the site, but I hate overly depressing nihilistic stuff. So I’m sure that’s coloring my opinion and possibly not allowing me to see some of the stuff that other people are seeing. I’m sure there are genres and types of stuff you hate, and no matter how well they’re written, you still hate them. Maybe that’s what’s happening here, I’m not sure. I tried to watch the pilot to see what I was missing, but felt the exact same way as when I read the pilot.

    And I agree with you – TV is the new cinema. But this show isn’t for me. There’s some interesting writing here. He creates an intense unique world. Matt M’s character is strong. But I thought the storytelling was lazy. I just hate long blocks of on-the-nose voice over., which I think this pilot was full of. I’d rather the world and characters emerge organically and through action. Doesn’t mean I’m right. It’s just a preference.

    • Tom Broadhurst

      Okay agreed…but you are missing out..but maybe I’m biased as I know the guy who is filming it and he’s a very talented DOP. Thats said the writing is A1 and also being a reader/writer/producer/director I’ll say to everybody here…write the thing that challenges you…and challenges the audience…don’t write by the numbers…nobody is looking for that…everybody I work with wants the crazy out there thing..the unseen. And TV is providing that. There wasn’t voice over in the pilot…it was characters being interviewed, introducing a scene and then that scene was played out with dramatic intensity…if you haven’t seen episodes 4-5 you really are missing out. They really do show…not tell

    • Marginal Man

      This was done for a specific reason that only
      Pays off if you keep watching.

      Episode 4 and 5 are worth watching as stand alones.

      The narrator is unreliable as what actually happens veers much from what they say happens.

      They have it more on the nose in the set up to misdirect you when they change it up.

  • carsonreeves1

    I think people believe I should be, but I stand by it 100%. I thought the writing in the pilot was awful. I can’t speak for the following episodes because I haven’t seen them, but this one didn’t work for me at all.

  • Skid Marx

    Holy Shit that exchange was some great writing!

  • E Robb

    “The majority of True Detective is people talking about each other! That’s never ever interesting.”


  • Raul

    Anyone been watching this show? It’s actually amazing

  • Mike

    Just finished the series and I think I am ready to call it: This is one of the greatest television shows I’ve seen in the past 10 years. I was left moved, in tears. There is so much to unpack here, and so much that demands a second viewing. But that final scene… it is a master class in thematic and emotional pay-off. As a amateur writer I can only dream of writing something this great.
    “Well, once there was only dark. You ask me, the light’s winning.”

  • Tomboy Tarts

    As a budding screenwriter who’s worked in the business in Asia for quite awhile, I think one of the things I’ve noticed are these formulas for writing and how everyone wants a formula. What I admire about Nic is that he took the plunge and broke the rules. I’m amazed that HBO was willing to even ‘go there’. Not every story has to set a character(s) up in one scene. Where’s the fun in that? The success of this story is its ‘slow burn’ effect and we need that aspect of storytelling to return. Enough of the ‘these are the rules’ thing coz they don’t work with every story. A writer must stand by their own voice, create their own storytelling style so there is no ‘formulaic’ dead writing which we’re seeing a lot of in Hollywood export material.I really loved this show and I’ve been re-watching each episode at least 4 times to experience that slow burn. It’s a real character study like Breaking Bad – something we have not seen in films/shows for a long time. Good on the TD team and congratulations in advance when they clinch their Emmies. :D

  • Exponent5

    One thing you cannot do as an actor is turn bad writing into good acting – you really can’t. The acting is good because the writing is good. I just finished Ep. 3, so I’m not all the way through the series yet, but Pizzolatto has some utterly terrific lines in this, and has done a masterful job of realistically capturing certain voices in this.

    I think the fact that Pizzolatto has shown not all screenplay rules are true all the time proves quite a lot. Everyone says “just talking is boring” – well, not in this case, that’s for sure.