Former DePauw professor is force behind new HBO series

Friday, January 10, 2014
Hollywood film stars Woody Harrelson (left) and Matthew McConaughey are coming to the small screen when the new HBO dramatic series "True Detective" -- written by former DePauw University professor Nic Pizzolatto -- debuts Sunday at 9 p.m.

A new cable TV series being heralded as HBO's next great drama is the brainchild of a former DePauw University professor.

"True Detective," which debuts Sunday, Jan. 12 and features major motion picture stars Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, is the creation of Nic Pizzolatto.

The 37-year-old Pizzolatto was an assistant professor of English at DePauw when he shifted career gears, moved to Los Angeles in the summer of 2010 and tried his hand at script writing.

After leaving DePauw, Pizzolatto wrote two episodes of the AMC network series "The Killing." While on the DPU faculty, Pizzolatto's acclaimed novel "Galveston" was published, and he has since sold the screen rights to that novel to Paramount.

However, his big splash in Hollywood looms as "True Detective," an HBO series for which Pizzolatto is not only the creator, but executive producer, sole teleplay writer and even "show runner."

The Los Angeles Times says of the new series, "'True Detective' represents a bold creative risk even on a network known for its ambition."

Meanwhile, Dave Walker of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, has predicted "'True Detective' is going to be HBO's next great drama."

Pizzolatto was born and raised in New Orleans through age five, Walker notes, before growing up in Lake Charles and attending Louisiana State University.

After bartending in Austin, Texas, and attending graduate school at the University of Arkansas, Pizzolatto had teaching positions at the University of North Carolina, the University of Chicago and DePauw.

"I'd always had plans from the first time I'd talked to an agent from Hollywood," he told the newspaper, "I was going to ask how you break into this business, and particularly cable-TV writing, because in television the writer stays in control, which is what the concept of show runner is.

Nic Pizzolatto

"It's one of the reasons why the kind of serious adult drama you used to see in the films in the '70s and even '80s, and especially the independent movement of the mid-'90s, those sorts of artists I think are migrating toward TV slowly but surely. For the last 10 years, I think American television has beaten out American movies in terms of overall intelligence and depth. So it was a form I was really interested in."

In July 2010 Pizzolatto wrote one spec script for an existing show, then three scripts for a series he invented, one pilot and another pilot, which was "True Detective."

Pizzolatto told The Los Angeles Times he was scribbling away one day in his Moleskine when he "began to hear the voice of Cohle" (McConaughey's character Rustin) in his head.

"It's one of those things that happens to writers if you work diligently," he explained. "A character who's been living inside you for a long time, you just suddenly find a vehicle for them to live."

"I had about 90 pages of novelistic material on 'True Detective,' and the way the novel was broken out, it was these two guys' voices, our two detectives, Hart and Cohle, switching the baton of the story between them. I also thought it could work really well as a two-man play. And started thinking maybe this could really work well for television, with all the time-shifts and everything."

The scripts he wrote were good enough to get Pizzolatto network meetings right away.

"And then as soon as I took a round of meetings," he told Walker of the Times-Picayune, "I have a lot of job offers, and I took a blind pilot deal with HBO."

In the meantime, Pizzolatto was hired for the staff of the AMC show "The Killing" and learned a lot about being on-set and in production.

"I was in the writers room, and the show runner let the writers come up to be on-hands producer on episodes, so I learned a lot there. But after the series aired, I was really dissatisfied by it, ultimately. It might just be my more novelistic bent, but seeing how television got made, I thought I could do it better. Not better than the show, but I thought I should be working on my own vision, if I can make it happen."

The powerful pairing of McConaughey and Harrelson for "True Detective" came together early in 2012, the one-time professor said.

"I had just seen 'The Lincoln Lawyer,' and I knew that Matthew McConaughey had just done 'Killer Joe,' which is a play I liked a lot," Pizzolatto said. "And I just had a feeling that if he was into doing something like that, he might be into doing something like this. He responded really strongly to the material. Woody Harrelson was already on our list as a man to approach.

"Having Matthew, getting Woody was that much easier, because they're friends. Once we had the two of them, we were ready to take it out. I pitched it to every network in town. They had a real nice bidding war, and HBO ended up winning that."

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