Nothing panics the fans of a show quite like the departure of the creator. That's just what's happening at True Blood, where creator Alan Ball is leaving after five seasons, but the show goes on. As he tells Laura Sullivan on weekends on All Things Considered, he feels some nostalgia, but he's ready.
"I feel like the show is in very good hands, and I look forward to watching it next year. I just look forward to not working as hard. I've been a workaholic for a long time, and I'm sort of looking at that and addressing that and seeing what exactly was behind that that wasn't healthy and maybe trying to just sort of open up some space in my life a little bit."
One thing fans might miss is what Ball acknowledges are periodic nods to politics or religion — Sullivan mentions a sign hanging on a church reading, "God Hates Fangs." Ball says it's certainly the case that there could be parallels between the unwelcomeness of the vampires and the unwelcomeness that gays and lesbians still feel at times. But Ball says it's not really about arguing politics.
"For me, that's mostly just window-dressing that makes it contemporary," he says. "I feel like if the show was 50 years ago, it would be civil rights; if it was 100 years ago, it would be women's rights." What does he think the show is about? He says True Blood is ultimately about "how we deal with our primal desires. How do those elements of our psyche manifest themselves in a world where monsters were real?"
That's not to say sexuality of all kinds isn't a real part of the show. While Ball says he feels no obligation to include gay people in every show just because he's gay himself, he says that in this case, it makes sense. "In a Southern Gothic world, you're going to have some gay men and women. You know, just because that just feels organic."
For Ball himself, growing up gay in the South — in Marietta, Ga., specifically — had its difficult moments. "I will say that the environment I grew up in was not the most progressive."
Even coming out to his own mother wasn't a simple thing. He didn't tell her until he was 33, though he'd realized he was gay in his early 20s. And what did she do? As he describes it, she "grabbed her head like it was going to fly off her body." And what did she say, specifically? " 'Oh, God has dealt me some blows in this life. Please don't tell anybody in my family until I'm dead, which won't be much longer now.' " He pauses. "I started laughing at that point, because it was like, 'All right, that's farce.'"
But things got better. "I've got to give her credit," he says. "She was born in 1913, and it's difficult for somebody born in 1913 to, I think, immediately embrace their child. It may not have been immediate, but she definitely did embrace me." He goes on to say, "Telling her was the single best, most positive step I took toward mental and emotional well-being, and I've never regretted it."
LAURA SULLIVAN, HOST:
If you're just joining us, this is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Laura Sullivan.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SULLIVAN: "True Blood" is the most watched series on HBO today, averaging more than 12 million viewers per episode. In the history of the network, it's second only to "The Sopranos" in popularity. "True Blood" is based on the "Southern Vampire Mysteries," books by Charlaine Harris, where vampires, werewolves, fairies and humans all live together in Bon Temps, a fictional small town in Louisiana. And it centers around a waitress named Sookie Stackhouse and her vampire lover, Bill Compton.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TRUE BLOOD")
STEPHEN MOYER: (as Bill) May I ask you a personal question?
ANNA PAQUIN: (as Sookie) Bill, you were just licking blood out of my head. I don't think it gets much more personal than that.
SULLIVAN: When Alan Ball decided to turn the book series into a TV show, he knew that he wanted to maintain the spirit of the books and remain campy and fun, a show that never takes itself too seriously.
ALAN BALL: Occasionally, if you look, there may be a little nod to American politics or the place of religion in our culture or things like that. But it's never 100 percent serious. I feel like when I read these books, they were entertaining. Every chapter would end with a cliffhanger. I would go to bed thinking, I have a 6 o'clock production meeting in the morning - I was still working on "Six Feet Under" - I'm just going to read one chapter. And I would get to the end of that chapter and I'd be like, what? And then I'd read three more.
SULLIVAN: You know, what you're saying here about sort of the religious undertones, some of the social undertones, I'm thinking about in the opening montage when you see the church with the sign that says no fangs allowed.
BALL: What the sign actually says is God hates fangs.
SULLIVAN: God hates fangs. That's right.
BALL: Yeah. It's very easy to look at the show and see like a metaphor for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender communities struggle for assimilation as being a big part of what the show is about. For me, that's mostly just window dressing that makes it contemporary. I feel like if the show was 50 years ago, it would be civil rights. If it was 100 years ago, it would be women's rights. I do think it is about how we deal with our primal desires. You know, how do those elements of our psyche manifest themselves in a world where monsters were real?
SULLIVAN: Hmm. One of the characters is Lafayette, which is played by actor Nelsan Ellis. And Lafayette is one of the most interesting and funny characters. You know, he died early on in the books there.
BALL: Yeah. He died at the beginning of the second book.
SULLIVAN: When did you decide that you were keeping Lafayette around?
BALL: The first day he worked on the pilot. Because he's so amazing, and he's such a special force. And usually, I'm not a big fan of actors who improvise, because a lot of them are not very good at it, but he just started channeling Lafayette. And I just sort of felt instinctively, like, OK, let's just stand back. Just point the camera, just let him go.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TRUE BLOOD")
NELSAN ELLIS: (as Lafayette) Is there a problem with my burger?
CARRIE PRESTON: (as Arlene) Just a couple of drunk redneck, that's all.
ELLIS: What did they say, Arlene?
PRESTON: He said the burger might have AIDS.
ELLIS: Excuse me, who ordered the hamburger with AIDS? Do anybody got a problem with that?
SULLIVAN: Lafayette is a- he's a very confident openly gay man on the show.
BALL: Lafayette, he's had to fight his whole life. He's an odd mix of shaman, street walker. He's definitely an interesting character.
SULLIVAN: I'm curious, as an openly gay man yourself, how important it is for there to be characters that reflect somehow your experience.
BALL: I don't feel as a gay man I have to put a gay character in every single thing that I work on. However, in a Southern gothic world, you're going to have some gay men and women.
SULLIVAN: You were born in the South yourself.
BALL: I was. I grew up in Marietta, Georgia.
SULLIVAN: When did you come out?
BALL: It took me a while. I mean, I realized it in my early 20s, but I didn't really tell my mom until I was 33. And she grabbed her head like it was going to fly off her body.
SULLIVAN: Oh, no.
BALL: And she said: Oh. God has dealt me some blows in this life. Please, don't tell anybody in my family until I'm dead, which won't be much longer now. Which, OK, you know, I started laughing at that point, because it was like, all right, that's sparse. And I got to give her credit. You know, she was born in 1913, and it's difficult for somebody born in 1913 to, I think, immediately embrace their child. It may not have been immediate, but she definitely did embrace me. And telling her was the single most positive step I took towards mental and emotional well-being, and I've never regretted it.
SULLIVAN: This season of "True Blood" is your last. And the show is going on without you.
SULLIVAN: Is it hard to walk away from a show that's still running?
BALL: Yes and no. I mean, there's an emotional component. You feel like, but that's my family. That's my baby. But I feel like this show is in very good hands. And I look forward to watching it next year. I just look forward to not working as hard. I've been a workaholic for a long time, and I'm sort of looking at that and addressing that and seeing what exactly was behind that that wasn't healthy and maybe trying to just sort of open up some space in my life a little bit.
SULLIVAN: That's Alan Ball, the creator of the HBO series "True Blood," which ends its fifth season tomorrow night. And this season marks Ball's last with the show. Alan, thank you so much for joining us.
BALL: Oh, it was my pleasure, Laura. Thank you.
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SULLIVAN: You're listening to NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.