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Why Has True Blood Been So Successful?

In 2008, vampire pop culture exploded paving the way for a niche for successful and aspiring authors, television series, and movies. The Twilight series launched in November, giving birth to a whole new level of fandom and the term, “Twihards.”

The other major game changer that year was the premier of the highly anticipated True Blood series on September 7, where 1.44 million viewers tuned in to see what the media hype was all about.

The dark supernatural soft porn drama eventually dominated HBO with their southern accents, graphic violence intertwined with excessive blood, vampires, witches, shape-shifters and werewolves.

We're sexy and we know it!
We’re sexy and we know it! (Collider)

True Blood was refreshing for viewers because the show had the ability to push the bar and boycott the standard PG-13 rating that ensnares most pop culture network hits like The Vampire Diaries and Supernatural. The series has successfully increased and maintained their ratings for six consecutive years.

Nielsen Ratings USA
U.S. Nielsen ratings for True Blood. (Wikipedia)

It is speculated the series will return for its final season on June 15, 2014, premiering with an episode titled, “Jesus Gonna Be Here.” HBO, itself, has yet to confirm the premiere date, so fangers make sure to stay tuned!

So now the question is, what has contributed to the success of this iconic vampire series? I think at this point the producers are playing it smart, and cashing out their chips while they are on a winning streak.

As viewers, we have all seen too many efficacious franchises dragged into the depths of ratings hell, desperately clinging onto a dwindling audience as they suck dry the advertisers before the inevitable cancellation. It ends up leaving a bad taste in your mouth and when a show overstays its welcome, viewers get bitter, resentful and forget the good times they had in the beginning.

In reality, it ends up doing more harm than good for reputations of the actors, producers, and network; however, the major challenge the writers face is concluding the series in a way that viewers feel is satisfying, believable, and worthy of the their time commitment over the years.

I don’t know about you, but I personally felt totally cheated and let down by the series finale of Dexter. The concept of a serial killer with a conscience working in a police department as a forensics blood splatter analyzer was mint!

The series had plot twists and turns, an obscene amount of blood and gave the viewer a first-hand look into the mind of a vigilante killer. I loved this series, put in so much time watching every episode and in the end (spoiler alert!) they drown him while he drops his clinically brain dead sister into the sea for his last compassionate act.

"Did someone call housekeeping?" Dexter
Did someone call housekeeping? (Dexterama)

You think Dexter is dead, when just before the closing credits he randomly shows up as a lumberjack. I remember my response at the end was basically, “What the fuck?” I don’t envy the True Blood writers at all on this one; they have a complex task ahead of them to win over their viewers, yet tie everything up neatly in a bloody red ribbon.

So why has True Blood been so successful with their fans? Why do viewers keep coming back season after season? Here’s my top five suggestions:

5. Alan Ball Gave the Show Life

Some of you may think it has something to do with the books written by Charlaine Harris’s “Southern Vampire Mysteries,” which True Blood is based upon. I disagree: I think the TV series’ creator, Alan Ball, is the mastermind that brought the True Blood to life, immensely surpassing the reader’s and network’s expectations.

His tweaks and elaborations to the storyline and introductions of new characters that differ from the novels are what brought the show into its own. Also, I am not being morbid here, but let’s face it: watching someone get seduced and then torn to shreds by a vampire is much more visually stimulating than just reading about it.

Alan Ball was the creator of another acclaimed HBO hit series called Six Feet Under, which aired from 2001 to 2005. Some of you may not know Alan Ball left True Blood at the end of season 5 to pursue a new project on Cinemax called Banshee. You could attribute the slight drop in ratings for the start of season 6 to Ball’s departure.

Or, it could be the fact that Russell Edgington (Denis O’Hare), finally met the true death.

Killing off the 2,800-year-old vampire king of Mississippi, who was one of their most iconic malicious bad ass vampires to date—only to die after ODing on fairy blood—was disappointing. As a vampire, Russell oozed with charisma, eccentricity, and had the balls to do what everyone else only thought about.

Russell Edginton, "Why would we seek equal rights? You are not our equals."
“Why would we seek equal rights? You are not our equals.” (True Blood Wiki)

And to rub salt in the wound, Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer) drinking Lilith’s (Jessica Clark) blood and getting reincarnated as “Billith,” just took things over the top in the form of a sticky bloody naked mess. I will let you decide on this one yourself.

4. Vampires and Humans Go Together Like Sliced Bread

One of the aspects that is so appealing about True Blood to viewers is the fact that humans and vampires coexist in a society where most movies and series keep their mythical existence a secret.

It is the ultimate fantasy world for vampire lovers and enthusiasts; where even intimate relationships can be formed with the supernatural. Keep in mind most humans in Bon Temps have knowledge that only vampires walk among them; the residents would probably have a shit if they knew werewolves, shape shifters, faeries, and witches were added to the mix.

For the storyline in True Blood to work humans are a necessity, and we are not just talking as a part of the food chain or fuck toys. The show accentuates blood, graphic violence, and gore with a hint of romance, as opposed to one of their competitors.

The Vampire Diaries caters to romance and drama with a splash of blood on the side. You have to admit the concept of Fangtasia and bottled Tru Blood is pretty convenient and enticing from a vampire’s perspective. Living in a society where you can pick up a four pack of bottled synthetic blood at a local bar or store is pretty ideal.

As a vamp, if you are feeling frisky just head out clubbing, pick up some eager tattoo covered mascara wearing Goth donor and end up having your midnight snack in the bathroom stall with a side of sex. What more could a vampire ask for?

3. True Blood‘s Marketing Team Is Brilliant

When you are talking marketing, the team behind True Blood has their shit together! They incorporated a 4 month live campaign before the show launched with digital and traditional advertising mediums teamed up with massive social media exposure.

Instead of focussing on the actual show before its release they appealed to the target demographic by endorsing the synthetic blood drink showcased in the series “Tru Blood.” They simulated a liquor advertising campaign through print media including an actual website, Tru Blood Beverage, where consumers can view news, product descriptions, drink recipes and the biggest money maker of all, “marketing swag!”

In case you are not familiar with this concept, I am referring to branded merchandise that consumers wear, basically giving you free advertising while creating product awareness, and looking hot in the process.

True Blood Print Advertisement
Tru Blood advertisement. (AdPulp)

In the beginning, True Blood wove my favorite social medium Twitter into their grand marketing scheme by creating an account called “BonTempsGossip” to provide their target audience with updates for new episodes. This proved a unique way to keep people on their toes and on a more personal basis with the show, until Twitter exploded with True Blood fans flooding the twitter verse full of spammed crap and role playing handles.

You got to love how many people have assumed the identity of their favorite True Blood character for role playing purposes on Twitter. No offense, but how hot and heavy can you get with a 140 character limit? Come on people, seriously?

“Anyone up for a swim?” (Season 4 True Blood promotional fountain)
True Blood season 4 promotional fountain, Romania. (On the Ground Looking Up)

The icing on the cake was hiring the Campfire Agency, which was started by the two people who created the The Blair Witch Project.

On May 21, 2008, the agency mailed black envelopes accented with old school authentic red wax seals to prominent people of the horror community including bloggers, magazine columnists, film critics and writers. Basically, the agency enticed and prompted the audience to create the buzz for the show themselves through word of mouth, message boards, websites, and social media platforms.

I am barely scratching the surface on this brilliant marketing execution so check out the case study below and brace yourself for amazement!

2. Hot Vampire Sex!

I cannot remember how many times my other half walked into the room and his mouth would hit the floor when he saw what I was watching. Until I explained the show was called True Blood, he kept asking if I was watching porn!

Sex is a major selling factor for this show, and not just old-fashioned sex scenes, but full on hot vampire sex with heightened senses and some kinky blood drinking going on. These vampires get creative in the bedroom and do not just stick to the usual carotid arteries if you catch my drift. Hell, you even get the occasional threesome and some domination tossed in to mix things up a bit!

Over the last six seasons, HBO has pushed the envelope into the beyond and now there is no turning back!

Maryann Forrester (Michelle Forbes) held lawn parties that ended up in full blown orgies with town folk parading around naked, stoned and fucking their brains out.

When Nora (Lucy Griffiths) was originally introduced, she and Eric (Alexander Skarsgård) get down and dirty in a railway car in a hot passionate sex scene that would get anyone hot and bothered until you find out Nora is actually Eric’s sister.

I know we have basically only covered vampires here because that is what we do at Vamped, but one scene deserving a mention while sticking to the theme of hot sex is in the season 6 opener where Alcide (Joe Manganiello), the werewolf pack master, has a threesome in the woods with two hot she-wolves.

The pack master and first bitch in command dominate an eager she wolf desperate to move up the pack ranks and is more than happy to play the game. At least the writers let them stay in human form otherwise it would have been a kinky episode of Animal Planet from the National Geographic channel going on.

“You! Get your ass over here bitch!”
You! Get your ass over here, bitch! (Pop-Break)

The three characters we cannot ignore are Bill, Eric and Sookie (Anna Paquin) for obvious reasons; especially since they have been around the block quite a few times together, when they are not busy fighting the forces of evil and dealing with all the drama in Bon Temps.

We did have to wait until season 4 to finally see Eric and Sookie hook up, but it was worth the wait, snow and all.

To make it more fun once a vampire has drank your blood they develop their own personal GPS for you and can keep tabs on you. Once a human consumes the sweet taste of “V” they have uncontrollable erotic dreams about the donor, which make for steamy sex scenes for us the viewers.

As an added bonus, humans also get heightened senses making sex oh so much better than average, and if they have enough “V” they get really high too. We are all familiar with the crazy trips that Jesús (Kevin Alejandro) and Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis) had when they had a “V” party for two.

Now if you didn’t hear what happened on the season finale from season 6 you must have been living in a bubble. HBO actually surpassed even their limit and I am not talking about sex, but full frontal male nudity. Yes folks you get to see Eric Northman’s twig and berries to blunt!

"Sunscreen anyone?"
Sunscreen anyone? (TrueBloodNet.com)

He was definitely the talk of Twitter, bloggers and fans for quite a while after the episode aired. Girls, before you make a dash for YouTube to see Alexander Skarsgård in all his naked glory, note you must sign into a YouTube account because the clip is only available for adults.

1. Hot Actors!

Every successful television series usually has a common denominator: hot actors! Unless you have an obscenely bad storyline, it is pretty hard to screw up a show with gorgeous actors and hot sex scenes in every episode.

"Vampires are hot! Need we say more?"
Vampires are hot! Need we say more? (Us Weekly)

True Blood definitely has variety to keep audiences paying attention with: Alexander Skarsgård from Stockholm, Sweden; Ryan Kwanten from Sydney, Australia; Stephen Moyer from Essex, England; Sam Trammell from New Orleans, Louisiana; Rutina Wesley from Las Vegas, Nevada; Deborah Ann Woll from Brooklyn, New York; Kristin Bauer van Straten from Las Angeles, California; Joe Manganiello from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Anna Paquin from Winnipeg, Manitoba.

The one actor I don’t think should be included in this list is Anna Paquin, but because she is a main character I feel obligated to give her a mention.

It is not so much her looks that bother me, it is more her acting skills. She immediately reminds me of Kirsten Stewart from the Twilight movie series.

I actually thought the Twilight movies were okay; not fabulous, but I do not think they deserve all the hate.

The major mistake of Twilight was casting Kirsten, someone with no acting skills to play Bella, when so many other actresses could have filled her shoes better. I feel the same way about Anna Paquin.

She pulls off the role, but I just cannot wrap my head around how everyone in the show is drawn to her like pigs on shit. Even Warlow a 5,542 year old vampire faerie hybrid claims he was been waiting for Sookie his entire existence.

I know faeries apparently smell good, but come on, just because something smells tasty does not mean you want to eat it, the packaging counts as well.

Anyway, True Blood has definitely done their homework and knows their target market, thus the reason for more eye candy for the ladies then men. Their marketing campaigns are constant, innovative, edgy and in sync with what the vampire pop culture craves.

From a fan’s perspective and a business standpoint I can honestly say the equation for HBO’s True Blood was calculated bang on and as long as they keep their shit together this final season, it should send the production into the history books as one of the top vampire shows to grace our television screens for this generation.

It looks like Erin Chapman, Vamped‘s co-administrator, has certainly gotten over Vampire Diaries! She also runs the site’s Tumblr and Twitter accounts. Check out her website, too.

Written by Erin Chapman

Erin is Vamped’s Co-administrator. She is the owner of Vampire Classifieds and Horror Classifieds. She has 2 turtles; has 15 piercings and 5 tattoos; loves turtles and walking around in bare feet. She has a degree in marketing and sales and has been in the industry for over 12 years. She lives in Vancouver, Canada.

3 Comments

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  1. Hey Erin, this is a highly detailed and thorough analysis! I enjoyed your analysis. I was just doing a simple google search to investigate the amount of sex portrayed in TV and, very interestingly, a report found that:

    The first part of the study was conducted during the 1998-99 television season and found 56 percent of shows contained sexual content. The study covered 1,114 shows from several prominent networks, including Fox, HBO and Lifetime. Sexual content was defined as including depictions of sexual intercourse, intimate touching, passionate kissing and physical flirting. — Source: http://www.apa.org/monitor/may01/sexualtv.aspx

    This is only for the period of 1998-99, can you imagine what that number would be today? Sex sells, a lot, and HBO would be considered to be “permitted” sex-viewing, not to be compared to the 4am sessions on porn.com. It’s as if these broadcasts say that it’s “acceptable” that you can watch something as obviously pornographic during the daytime vs. overt pornography. I’m 100% positive that the percentage of sex has increased in TV series now and that it’s become a standard, that sex would be considered a viable solution to a show’s problems. If viewership for one episode is majorly curtailed because they didn’t have sex enough, then they can always put in more time for sex in the next episode and it’ll be alright, because that’s what the public supposedly wants.

    Sex sells, but sex is cheaper than a story. As much as I can admire the marketing campaign, the actor’s prostitution, sex and nudity have become an acceptable alternative to a prospective and provocative, engaging storyline.

    When I seen the trailer for True Blood back in 2008, I knew it’s probably going to be another perversion so I didn’t even bother to watch it and I don’t think I will XD hahaha. I don’t know, these shows drive me crazy, so I focus on shows that have more story than sex, because I know it’s tougher to devise plot vs sex, haha.

    Mind you, I don’t have problems with sex, on the contrary 😛 It’s just really really fuckin’ boring. If you’re gonna watch porn, just go watch porn, what’s the point of being idly teased, LOL

    Great work Erin! Loved the read, keep it going

    Much love,
    Sufi

  2. I so want to drive a well sharpened stake through Charlaine Harris’ rotten heart – as well as these other chick-lit ‘writers’.

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