Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in Nic Pizzolatto's "True Detective"
HBO Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in Nic Pizzolatto's "True Detective"

HBO brought a raft of star power to the opening day of the winter Television Critics Press Tour (TCA) Thursday afternoon, presenting Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, stars of the brooding Louisiana-set crime series “True Detective,” which premieres Sunday, along with Mark Ruffalo, Julia Roberts and Taylor Kitsch from the cast of HBO movie “The Normal Heart” and quite a few others.

The premium cable channel introduced five new series, a new high for an HBO session at the semi-annual gathering of the nation’s television press. It also announced a date “Game of Thrones” fans have been clamoring for – Sunday, April 6, when the Emmy-winning fantasy series will return for its fourth season.  The slate of new shows that will premiere now through summer includes two dramas, “True Detective” and “The Leftovers,” two scripted comedies, “Silicon Valley” and “Looking,” and a satiric, topical comedy sketch series starring John Oliver. Each will premiere between now and Summer. (Review here.)

Harrelson and McConaughey said the closed-end nature of “True Detective” –  eight episodes and done – made it easy for them to commit to a television project, even with busy film careers. “We didn’t know when we got the script, where it was going to land,” said McConaughey.  “I was just responding to quality. I read two episodes, and I said, ‘I’m in.’ It was like a 450-page film script, and it was finite – we didn’t have to be available to be back next year.” 

“Nic Pizzolato wrote a phenomenal script that you couldn’t put down,” added Harrelson.

The brooding, cinematic show, about two backwoods detectives caught up in investigating a bizarre murder, tells a story spanning 17 years. Asked how he pulled off that long arc as an actor, Harrelson got laughs when he said, “Uh, I just took off my wig.”

Pizzolatto, who worked on the writing staff of “The Killing” while waiting for “True Detective” to be mounted at HBO, said he favors the closed-end format. “I like a really good third act,” he says.  “I like the idea of telling a self-contained story.”  The saga came to him while he was steeped in police research for a novel.  “I started writing in the voice of Rust Cohle (McConaughey) first.  He just emerged fully formed.  I realized the story I wanted to tell was better suited to a tv show.”

Of the show’s off-the-beaten track setting in Louisiana’s backwoods and swamps, Pizzolatto said, “I think there’s an end-of-empire thing happening in places like that in America that is more interesting to me than the cities.”  

Next up was the live-action comedy “Silicon Valley” from executive producers Mike Judge (“Office Space” and “Beavis and Butthead” and Alec Berg. The show, which debuts in April, focuses on a group of young social misfit programmers. When one of them comes up with a potentially game-changing search algorithm, he’s caught in the middle of a ludicrous bidding war. “When we started doing the research, the craziest stuff we could think of was not half as crazy as what we actually found,” said Berg.  “At the same time, these guys really are changing the world, so we can’t just dump on them.”