BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- Alan Ball raised the dead for HBO's funeral home-set drama "Six Feet Under." Why shouldn't the undead get their turn?
Ball, who also wrote the film "American Beauty," returns to the premium cable channel with "True Blood" (9 tonight), a new series based on the Sookie Stackhouse novels by author Charlaine Harris.
He got the notion to make the books into a TV show when he was running early for a dental appointment and tried to while away time at a Barnes & Noble, where he first encountered one of the books in the series.
"About midway through the second book I thought, this might make a good television show, because you just want more of this world and these characters," Ball said in July at an HBO news conference.
TV shows about vampires go far back in the medium's history, at least as far as "Dark Shadows" (1966-71). Ball said he's never seen "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" or "Angel," perhaps the two most critically acclaimed TV series to feature vampires. His vote for the best vamp movie ever goes to 1987's "Near Dark."
"I'm not really a big vampire fanatic," he said. "I've never read the Anne Rice books. ... I wanted to approach the supernatural not as being something that exists outside of nature but something that is more deeply rooted in nature, perhaps more so than our physiological perception apparatus is equipped to perceive."
In "True Blood," it's been two years since vampires first "came out of the coffin" and announced themselves to the world after a synthetic blood was developed. Now they no longer need to dine on humans.
At Merlotte's Bar in Bon Temps, La., psychic waitress Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) hears the thoughts of patrons while her smitten boss, Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell), looks on. Sookie's life grows more intriguing with the arrival of Bon Temps' first vampire, Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer), who catches Sookie's eye.
Earlier this summer before a visit to Pittsburgh for a book signing, Harris said she had previous offers to turn the Sookie stories into films.
"The idea wasn't new to me, but when I found out it was Alan Ball, I was very excited," Harris said. She's happy to let him take the characters and do what he will with them. "Alan doesn't tell me how to write my books, and I don't tell him how to write scripts."
The first season of "True Blood" is based on the first book in the series with some additional stories added to give secondary characters enough to do.
"It is very important to me to be true to the spirit of Charlaine's world because I think it works," Ball said.
One of the obvious metaphors in "True Blood" is vampire rights as a stand-in for gay rights. But the executive producer said it's not just about one minority group.
"Part of the joy of this whole series is that it's about vampires, and so we don't have to be that serious about it," he said. "However, they totally work as metaphors for gays, for people of color in previous times in America, for anybody who is misunderstood and feared and hated for being different. Because of the cultural climate that we exist in today, it seems they are a metaphor for gays because of gay marriage and gay rights and that kind of thing.
"But I think it's a bigger metaphor, and at the same time it's not a metaphor at all. It's vampires."
First Published September 7, 2008 4:00 AM