Big banner ads all over Comic Con are advertising Tru Blood, the fictional “synthetic blood nourishment beverage” that serves as a blood replacement for vampires in Alan Ball’s new series, True Blood. Eerily convincing, they serve as a clever reminder of the show’s ARG, which also includes a vampire dating site and a blog. Naturally, with all this great marketing and with Alan Ball’s name behind it (not to mention Charlaine Harris, who wrote the Southern Vampire Mysteries books that the series is based off of), there’s a great deal of hype for the show, which documents the world of Sookie, a telepathic waitress, and her relationship with Bill Compton, a vampire. In the world of the show, vampires have the ability to co-exist peacefully with humans due to the development of the existence of synthetic blood, but some humans still (justifiably) regard vampires as dangerous creatures who have the capability to kill humans easily, and the desire to do so for pleasure.

I had the privilege of attending the True Blood panel today and learned a lot from Ball about his vision for the series. Vampires have experienced and extremely favorable resurgence in popular culture recently, and comparisons will unavoidably be drawn between this series (debuting in September) and Twilight, being released a few months later. Ball’s version of vampires will be a fresh take that distinguishes itself in the following ways:

1) Avoiding Vampire cliches - Asked, “What vampire cliches will you avoid?” Ball responded glibly, “Blue light, contact lenses, and opera music.”

2) Vampire fangs – Vampire fangs in the show don’t grow larger at will; they retract and click down “like a rattlesnake’s fangs.” The more realistic elements of the vampire mythos were meant to draw attention away from the physical mechanics of things and more towards the characters and their relationships.

3) Vampire sex – As Ball explains, “In the world that Charlene has created, vampires are now a part of the culture. They are mysterious, exostic, sexy creatures and there are humans from both sexes of all sexual persuasions who really want to hook up with vampires. They’re called ‘fangbangers’ and apparently, as Charlene made very clear in her book, sex with vampires is really kind of great. One would imagine if you’ve had a few hundred years to learn how to please your partner and you still had the body of a 25-year old person, you’d be kind of a hot catch, apart from the biting part.” Ball also hinted that the show would contain gay characters, “both human and vampires,” which may be interesting and promising given the accolades Six Feet Under received for its frank depiction of gay relationships.

4) Vampire blood – Interestingly, in the show’s reality, vampire blood is a very volatile drug. It affects people very differently, as some people can “ride the wave,” while others have a more immediate physical reaction. It’s a gamble when you take it, as it can drive you insane, but It can also be a powerful sexual enhancement drug. Its effects also depend on who you are, and what vampire the blood came from.

5) Tru Blood – When asked “Are there any plans to make Tru Blood into a real drink,” Ball responded “Yes. It’s going to be a combination of V8, valium, vicodin, and viagra.” Was he joking? You decide.

Not too long ago, a rough version of the pilot leaked onto the internet, containing unfinished scenes and the presence of one actor/actress who appears to have completely been replaced. I had a chance to watch this rough cut prior to Comic Con and I have to say I wasn’t terribly impressed. In a series where so much of the audience is expected to suspend their disbelief, it seemed a bit of a stretch to have the main character, Sookie, also be telepathic (an ability, Ball told us today, whose origins will not be explained in the first season); consequently, the show just seemed a bit too wacky for me to really relate to, its interactions too outlandish to have any emotional impact. But as I’ve been told by my colleagues on the /Filmcast, don’t judge a show too harshly based on the pilot alone. Alan Ball is a capable guy and I’m definitely willing to withhold judgment for another few episodes.

I was intensely curious as to why Ball chose this project and discovered that a large part of it was serendipity (Ball admitted at the panel that he discovered the books by accident, finding them in a book store while waiting for a dentist appointment). But as for how much the series is related to his previous work, Ball explained that after Six Feet Under he was really tired of people talking intensely about their problems and contemplating the fact that we all die. “I wanted to do something fun,” Ball said. “I’ve had more fun working on this series than I’ve had doing anything else in my career.” Hopefully we will feel the same way watching it.

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