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'True Blood' Loses Alan Ball: Why It Doesn't Really Matter

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Feb 28, 2012 | 12:41pm EST

True Blood Alan BallNews broke late on Feb. 27 that True Blood showrunner Alan Ball was likely stepping down from his post at the steamy HBO drama after the fifth season. Early Feb. 28, the series’ managerial changes were confirmed, causing many fans to wonder what the still unconfirmed sixth season of True Blood may hold without the hands-on participation of its fearless leader. While Ball will still watch over the series, there will be one less guiding hand in the sexy cookie jar. And worry all you want, TB fans, but everything’s going to be just fine.

Let’s back up a minute here. Obviously, Ball is an important part of the True Blood fabric. He’s been running the show since day one and were it not for his vision, it wouldn’t be the sexy, salacious romp that continues to enthrall today’s HBO viewers. But now that the series has fully established its identity and made it past the Season Four hump, it’s a safe bet that Ball’s able staff could certainly put his (soon to be) five years of direction to good use. As they saying goes, give a man a sexy vampire, get a great episode about a sexy vampire; teach a man how to write a whole series about sexy vampires, he can write a series about sexy vampires. Or something like that. 

But in all seriousness, True Blood is settled on its path and unlike HBO’s more critically beloved dramas like Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones, this supernatural series is more about escapism than grand questions and high-minded dialogue. Barring some radical, sexually conservative shift amongst the remaining members of the series’ crew, you can bet they’ll still figure out ways find werewolves, vamps and fairies in their birthday suits – and in a few compromising positions to boot. 

And then there are the numbers. While the events on the most recent season of TB made some fans groan for simpler days (when witches and magic fruit didn’t take screen time from sensual supernatural couplings), its ratings were stronger than ever. Season Four hit at a high point with an average of 4.97 viewers an episode – that’s more than double the Season One average. Plus, the series hit an all-time high on Aug. 21, 2011 when the ninth episode of the season, “Let’s Get Out of Here,” drew 5.53 million viewers. If anything, Ball is setting his team up with one hell of a golden goose to get them through the winter of his absence. Once again: it’s going to be just fine. 

Okay, that’s not quite enough proof. We’ve seen too many shows take a nose dive when their founding fathers took indefinite sabbaticals – ahem, Larry David leaving Seinfeld in 1996 was a major detriment and Aaron Sorkin’s absence from The West Wing writers’ room after the fourth season was certainly palpable. How can we possibly think that True Blood will be “just fine?” 

True Blood Eric SookieThere’s the matter of drastically different qualities amongst these examples: True Blood’s real draw is its premise, whereas with The West Wing and Seinfeld, dialogue and story (or lack thereof) required a lot more heavy lifting from the behind-the-scenes team. Then, there’s the very recent example of AMC’s The Walking Dead, whose visionary showrunner and creator Frank Darabont was cut loose midway through production on Season 2. The news broke quickly and fans were in an uproar – how could we go on without the wisdom of Papa Frank? But as soon as the series premiered, it was obvious that the show really could go on. The Season 2 premiere shattered previous records for AMC (and TWD’s first season), with a whopping 7.1 million viewers. And when the second (Darabont-less) half premiered on Feb. 13, the series broke records yet again with 8.1 million viewers. Chalk it up to a killer brand and premise if you will, but it’s obvious that Darabont taught his underlings well: the second half of the season is simply fantastic.

In his statement to The Hollywood Reporter, Ball expresses a similar level of faith in his remaining staff, “Because of the fantastic cast, writers, producers and crew, with whom I have been lucky enough to work these past five years, I know I could step back and the show will continue to thrive as I look forward to new and exciting ventures.” And extrapolating from The Walking Dead’s success, it would seem that with Ball taking a backseat to work on his upcoming projects – Cinemax’s Banshee and HBO’s Wichita True Blood will continue to titillate audiences. And fans should count themselves lucky; at least the series will still enjoy his guiding hand; he’s simply graduating to the guardian angel of vampire coupling, if you will.
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