The vampires are getting hungry on the set of True Blood. The cast of HBO’s lusty drama is in an L.A. graveyard’s chapel, gearing up to shoot a pivotal showdown between a fang gang of bloodsuckers searching for their kidnapped leader, and the stake-wielding members of the evangelical anti-vamp Fellowship of the Sun church. Caught in the middle is the show’s lead vampire, sensitive soul Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer), who’s trying to keep his human spitfire of a girlfriend, Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin), from getting slaughtered. But just when it seems like the battle is about to rage, it’s time for lunch. At midnight. ”I work at night,” says Moyer. ”Our vampires are not like the Twilight vampires, those p—–s who can go around during the day.”
Moyer may only be teasing, but he has a point: True Blood, now in its second season, is nothing like that chaste teen-vamp blockbuster. Adapted by Six Feet Under‘s Alan Ball from Charlaine Harris’ best-selling novels, the violent, sexy, and debaucherous show — set in Bon Temps, La., a small town struggling to find the normal in paranormal after vampires ”come out of the coffin” to live, party, and hump among them — is decidedly for grown-ups. The action centers on Sookie, a bar waitress who reads minds and falls for 173-year-old vampire Bill when he ambles in for a bottle of Tru Blood, the synthetic plasma that keeps vamps from having to feed on humans. Soapy, icky, and deliciously sticky, Blood is now a hit: Sunday’s 9 p.m. airings average 3.7 million viewers (up 85 percent from last season), and the audience rises to 5.2 million when you factor in the 11 p.m. repeat. Pretty impressive for a show that looked undead on arrival when it debuted last September.
First met by critical pans, the over-the-top, supernatural Blood was a jarring surprise for fans of Ball’s earthbound American Beauty (for which he won a Best Original Screenplay Oscar) and Emmy-winning Six Feet Under. Not that Ball cared. ”I don’t read anything that’s written about my work. It just seems incredibly narcissistic,” he insists, sitting in his L.A. office. The series premiere attracted only 1.4 million viewers, but one week later HBO took a gamble and renewed the drama for two more seasons, having seen how the writers found the right tone by episode 5. Slowly, Blood began building a cult following — the finale pulled in 2.4 million viewers — and word of mouth only intensified after a little movie called Twilight kicked off a nationwide vampire craze in November 2008. Blood‘s season 1 DVD has been in the top five for TV-on-DVD sales since hitting stores in May, and the show is currently HBO’s highest-rated series. ”Vampires work for a very specific demo,” says HBO president Michael Lombardo. ”It skews female. But True Blood is [attracting] young men, young women, older women, older men. It defies all of those expected truths about the vampire genre.”