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Writing for TV: True Detective Pilot

Writing a script for television is one of the most challenging tasks to accomplish. On top of needing to write a practically flawless script, it all depends on the script readers' approval of your script. Even if a script gets picked up, it still has a ways to go until production. Whether it's finding the right crew for the job, actors, or a budget for the show.

The vast majority of television shows are canceled shortly after they debut. It's a monumental creation for any writer, and it's always tricky to judge what might click and won't. Some of the best shows of all time were denied time and time again until they finally got the chance they deserved.

With this subject in mind, what makes a television script suitable? More importantly, how does a television script become an iconic show? The only way to thoroughly learn how to create a perfect television script is by viewing other scripts from popular television shows.

One of the most iconic shows in recent television history is True Detective. Although each season follows its own anthology series, the first season of True Detective will remain as one of the most popular and groundbreaking shows of all time.

Let’s take a quick look at True Detective’s pilot script and how it grabbed an audience as soon as it aired. More importantly, how a production company gave the show the green light when it was only a script.

Photo credit: Sky Go

Continued Tone

The story of True Detective is a sad one, to say the least. Anything involving the story of a serial killer is bound to be a dismal-tale, and True Detective embodies the menacing overtone throughout its entire story.

Whether you’re reading the script or actually watching the show, you get a sense of the menacing presence throughout the show. There isn’t a piece of dialogue or tonal piece that isn’t embodied in the continuous tone of the show.

Of course, not every script needs to be strict with its tone, but having a show that's all over the place tone-wise isn't ideal. Use True Detective as an example of how you can a style or tone for your script and utilize throughout your script.

Whether it's dialogue, scene direction, or the plot, all of these characteristics should share a similar piece to one another. It's important to individualize characters from one another. Still, they should be a different representation of the same motif of the story.


True Detective is built on conflict. Not in the sense of a pure adrenaline rusher, but internally and externally, it’s a slow build with moments of pure action throughout its entire script. Even with the two main characters in Marty and Rust, their history is a clear representation of conflict from the start.

Having the two main protagonists share a common goal, but are burdened with previous failures and conflict makes the story a lot more compelling and exciting. It makes sense for any script to be filled with conflict, but doing so in a unique way makes a script stand out.


You're aware of the non-linear storytelling approach to the show for those of you who have seen True Detective. However, it's important to note the use of flashbacks in the story itself. The flashbacks aren't used in a spoon-feeding method, but rather an ideal component of the story.

Most script-writers will strictly use flashbacks as a way to fill time or explain something in the script. Although True Detective certainly uses flashbacks to explain previous endeavors, the flashbacks in the script only add to the story, rather than explain something. It’s important to note the difference.


Upon viewing the script for True Detective, you'll notice the immense detail throughout it. Writers are conflicted about how much detail is enough for a script, but it's always essential for any great story. Some writers might argue less is more, whereas others argue for a more in-depth picture painted in their head.

True Detective takes the approach of having an abundance of detail. Not to the point that it’s a burdensome read, but that we understand the tone, story, characters, and dialogue clearly. With or without the visual representation in front of us, we can easily understand the story of True Detective.


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