HOLLYWOOD—This week our Leaders in the Art goes to the creator and producer of “True Blood.” Alan Ball has been credited with reviving HBO, if not outright saving the network from a constant decline in the ratings. The “True Blood” fever pitch is strong, not just in the U.S. but internationally. Each week I receive e-mails from fans in Australia, the UK and even Israel stating how much they love the show and the wonderful characters that Alan Ball has brought to viewers.
Characters like Tara played by Rutina Wesley and Jason played by Ryan Kwanten may be supporting players, but you can count on Mr. Ball putting them front and center at some point every season, and that’s what makes his style of writing and producing so accessible to his viewers. The man who is also known as a television genius seems to know his viewers and how to give them exactly what they want, and is able to see better than anyone in the entertainment industry how to excite viewers. Surely there are others, like Bradley P. Bell who helms “B&B” and filmmakers like Clint Eastwood, James Cameron and Henry Jaglom, who know their core audience and know just how to press every button to entertain, engage and tantalize their viewers with so many surprises they feel like it’s Christmas morning watching their shows and films.
Season two of “True Blood” was in my humble opinion so great on many levels. The demonic force known to viewers as a maenad, played by actress Michelle Forbes as Maryann was defeated not just by the Christians, mind readers and shape shifters. The vampires even joined in to hasten her demise. This speaks volumes today when you realize we are in a war against a radical enemy that can only be defeated if others join in to fight them, not just one nation. Alan Ball however doesn’t delve into all the political posturing he could easily fall into and other producers and writers unsuccessfully try.
By keeping his show strictly entertaining without trying to preach any agenda, he’s managed to bring in over 12 million loyal viewers each week to the series that fans have created message boards, Web sites and Facebook pages to celebrate the cult classic TV series. Fans do banter and bicker like all families do over who their favorite characters are. It’s 50/50 usually between Eric and Bill, played by Adonis Alexander Skarsgard and handsome Stephen Moyer respectively. Though fans are totally in love with Tara and Jason as well. Sure they get on the viewers nerves at times. When Jason was a member of the mega-church that was seeking to destroy the vampires and Tara stupidly went back for her boyfriend Eggs who was under Maryann’s evil spell, fans were yelling at them at the time. However, fans still were flatly rooting for both characters and that’s to the credit of the genius who created characters that can transcend race, culture and even religious differences in order to cheer on the best within our world.
For those who never heard of Alan Ball prior to 1999, he was the writer of the hit film “American Beauty.” I wasn’t a big fan of that film, but two years later Ball created an enormously popular and critically acclaimed series on HBO called “Six Feet Under.” The edgy drama pit siblings who both worked at the family mortuary against each other. Leave it to Alan to find a way to make such a depressing business fascinating and interesting. He did so on that series much like “True Blood” by creating characters that fans became acquainted with and became invested in their happiness. He manages to make his viewers invested in the leading men and women as Alfred Hitchcock was known to do in his films. Unlike “Seinfeld,” “Six Feet Under” and “True Blood” are shows about something. If there is one lightning rod that causes some of Alan Ball’s critics to dislike him, it’s probably his stance on gay issues. He’s openly gay and tends to integrate many gay characters into his shows, and gives them real-life situations and that makes some people uncomfortable and they ultimately decide they hate him and his shows. “Truebies” as he has coined “True Blood” fans know that television is far more entertaining with Mr. Alan Ball than it is without him. HBO’s decline was not only halted but it’s ascension back to the top spot is here because of Alan Ball’s genius for knowing what viewers want and bringing on characters and actors who can accomplish all he tries to bring to television and films. Ashley Jones recently summed it up best. Ashley recently told Canyon News, “He’s a genius. I’ve been very lucky to work for Alan [Ball] and Brad [Bell]. It’s every girl’s dream in this town to work for them both and they make you work hard and become better at your craft. I really loved playing Daphne. The only thing that took work was the hours of makeup putting the scratches/scars on Daphne’s back,” said Jones.
Season three of “True Blood” is currently in production.
Photographs Courtesy: Alan Ball on set, Rutina Wesley as Tara and Ryan Kwanten as Jason all by HBO Productions.