HBO and True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto are breaking their silence about accusations that the writer plagiarized some of the dialogue in his critically-acclaimed hit series. The series’ creator has been accused of directly lifting phrases from various authors—particularly cult horror novelist Thomas Ligotti—when composing the philosophical musings of Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey).
First, HBO issued a statement on the matter: “True Detective is a work of exceptional originality and the story, plot, characters and dialogue are that of Nic Pizzolatto. Philosophical concepts are free for anyone to use, including writers of fiction, and there have been many such examples in the past. Exploring and engaging with ideas and themes that philosophers and novelists have wrestled with over time is one of the show’s many strengths—we stand by the show, its writing and Nic Pizzolatto entirely.”
Pizzolatto also gave a statement more directly denying the plagiarism charge. “Nothing in the television show True Detective was plagiarized,” the writer said. “The philosophical thoughts expressed by Rust Cohle do not represent any thought or idea unique to any one author; rather these are the philosophical tenets of a pessimistic, anti-natalist philosophy with an historic tradition including Arthur Schopenauer, Friedrich Nietzche, E.M. Cioran, and various other philosophers, all of whom express these ideas. As an autodidact pessimist, Cohle speaks toward that philosophy with erudition and in his own words. The ideas within this philosophy are certainly not exclusive to any writer.”
Pizzolatto has previously noted that Rust’s musings were inspired by various works of literature, including Ligotti’s. Thomas Ligotti Online founder Jon Padgett, however, claims that Pizzolatto only acknowledged the debt his work owes to Ligotti “under pressure.”
“Usually I would give any kind of writer who appeared so praising of Ligotti the benefit of the doubt,” Padgett wrote, “but I knew how deep the plagiarism issue ran, and I had no illusions that Pizzolatto suddenly and coincidentally wanted to talk about Ligotti after already having dozens and dozens of opportunities to do so before.”
Pizzolatto has defenders outside of HBO as well. As Slate’s David Haglund countered, “With fiction, plagiarism does not come down to whether or not a writer is willing to acknowledge what he or she has borrowed from someone else. It comes down to how that borrowed material is used—and True Detective creatively borrows a lot of material from many different sources.”
Hillary Busis contributed to this report