Is ‘True Detective’ HBO’s Next ‘Game of Thrones’?

Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey star in the first season of True Detective. Source: HBO.

When True Detective returns for its season one finale tonight, I expect on the order of 3 million viewers to tune in. The show is shaping up to be the next Game of Thrones in HBO's lineup.

If I'm right, it would be a nice win for Time Warner (NYSE: TWX  ) . HBO accounted for 16.4% of the company's revenue and 27.1% of operating income in 2013. Adding another large-scale hit should improve those figures as viewers tune in to cable and on-demand programming in increasing numbers.

But is True Detective really on par with Game of Thrones? Not yet, but there are startling similarities when you compare season one data for each program:

Season 1 High
Average Viewers
Rotten Tomatoes

Game of Thrones

3.04 million
(ep. 10, "Fire and Blood")

2.52 million

83% fresh

True Detective

2.64 million
(ep. 6, "Haunted Houses")

2.15 million

88% fresh

Sources: Wikipedia, Rotten Tomatoes.

At its current pace, True Detective seems not only destined to break the 3 million barrier tonight, but to add to its tally in future seasons as Game of Thrones has.

There's just one problem with the comparison, and it's a biggie: True Detective is an anthology. McConaughey's Rustin Cohle won't be back for season two, and there's no reason to expect Harrelson's Martin Hart to be back, either. Instead, writer and showrunner Nic Pizzolatto will dream up an entirely new and twisted detective tale for a new cast.

Warner and HBO are betting that audiences will tune in to season two for more of Pizzolatto's storytelling style. With Game of Thrones, executives (rightly, I think) expect audiences to tune in to learn the fates of Tyrion, Dany, Jon, and all the other lovely and loathsome inhabitants of Westeros.

Therein lies the risk. HBO's prior hits -- and so many other shows like them -- prove that character-driven momentum can carry show a long way. Think of James Gandolfini's Tony Soprano, or Norman Reedus' Daryl Dixon from AMC Networks' The Walking Dead. Hart and Cohle may have us in their grip now, but they'll be gone after tonight's edge-of-the-seat finale. As a fan of Pizzolatto's scripting and a Time Warner investor, I'm hoping True Detective doesn't disappear along with them. 

The final episode of season one of True Detective airs tonight. Sources: HBO, YouTube.

Now it's your turn to weigh in. Have you been following the show? Leave a comment below to let us know what you think about HBO's strategy with True Detective, and whether you would buy, sell, or short Time Warner stock at current prices.

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  • Report this Comment On March 09, 2014, at 8:31 AM, filipekslick wrote:

    Is it the next Game of Thrones? I don't know about that, it's success came primarily, like the writer stated, from its star power. That said, I personally think it's a better show than GoT. I like GoT, but I'm not one of the big fans, it's serviceable entertainment and that's about it in my opinion, whereas True Detective is one of my favorite shows in just eight episodes. I have a feeling that season 2 may not be as popular though, if they don't have the star power as they did this time around. Though, I would love if China Mieville were to do writing chores for a season. With all the referencing to weird fiction in this season, why can't they actually get into some true new weird in a later season, while keeping it a detective story?

  • Report this Comment On March 09, 2014, at 12:42 PM, disconnexions wrote:

    It's going to be hard to top this season of True Detective, but it can be done. They can probably get two (or three) top actors to be on the show next season since a lot of actors will want to work with HBO and will trust the writers.

    As good as Matthew and Woody are, they are just the cream of the crop of what Hollywood can offer. Imagine if HBO could get Ed Norton, Denzel Washington, Billy Bob Thornton or Sean Penn to do the show? That's not out of the realm for a show with this type of buzz..

  • Report this Comment On March 09, 2014, at 1:51 PM, TomNicholas wrote:

    True Detective is a great show. IF they can attract other Big Name Stars (and the writing, etc. stays at the present calibre) it could work. Look at American Horror Story- works every season. As for GOT ,I's a fantastic fantasy setting and story AND if you have read the books( I have read them al so far) it's even more interesting to see ow they play out n the screen. So far, Have not been disappointed but I know there are thrills and chills to come that I really anticipate. Heck, Matin hasn't even written the next book yeBUT they already have a planned ending for the show. You figure that out. Hope it's as good.

  • Report this Comment On March 09, 2014, at 2:52 PM, CrowBar wrote:

    Look at FX's "American Horror Story" and their success. With "True Detective's" first incredible season under their belt, HBO will have no problem drawing viewers for a new storyline in the 2nd season.

  • Report this Comment On March 09, 2014, at 2:57 PM, PAJohnDoe wrote:

    Another problem with the comparison: THEY'RE COMPLETELY DIFFERENT KINDS OF SHOWS.

  • Report this Comment On March 09, 2014, at 4:02 PM, ecmark00 wrote:

    Using views is not the best way to compare two good shows on HBO. HBO has a very limited amount of viewers. Hitting 3 million only means you have produced a very good show.

    Using Blu-Ray and piracy numbers are a much better way to compare the show.

  • Report this Comment On March 09, 2014, at 7:52 PM, bomberobob wrote:

    True detective is a great show without the lame hollywood crap that is on regular tv

  • Report this Comment On March 10, 2014, at 12:46 AM, jasonveraSC wrote:

    I have yet to watch TD, I just moved and my HBOGO account wasnt working so well on my laptop so was waiting for TV, but to the reason I watched GoT was cause I love fantasy settings, to say will TD will be the next GoT is like saying Godfather is the next Star Wars----yes they both gross a ton of money but they are two completely different audiences. If TD is as good as they say Id rather them compare it to the Sopranos

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Tim Beyers

Tim Beyers first began writing for the Fool in 2003. Today, he's an analyst for Motley Fool Rule Breakers and Motley Fool Supernova. At, he covers disruptive ideas in technology and entertainment, though you'll most often find him writing and talking about the business of comics. Find him online at or send email to For more insights, follow Tim on Google+ and Twitter.

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