True Blood Is Ending, Y’all

Sudsy vampire drama set to expire in 2014

That’s a wrap for HBO’s True Blood, Alan Ball’s Southern-fried follow-up to Six Feet Under. The show, less an adaptation of than a riff on the series of novels by Charlaine Harris, will end in 2014, the network said, after seven seasons of bloodsucking, sex and bloodsucking during sex.

The show has been one of the flagship properties for HBO’s linear TV service as well as its streaming app HBO GO, which allows subscribers to watch recent episodes, movies and library content on multiple platforms.

“True Blood has been nothing short of a defining show for HBO,” said Michael Lombardo, the network’s head of programming, by way of announcing the final run. “Alan Ball took the books by Charlaine Harris, assembled a brilliant cast led by the magnificent Anna Paquin in the role of Sookie Stackhouse and crafted a show that has taken its many devoted fans on an unforgettable journey.”

The final 10-episode season will air in summer 2014.

A show that embraced its own sizable camp factor from the creator of one of the most lauded highbrow dramas of the aughts, True Blood garnered early positve reviews, at least once the initial shock wore off. Critics praised the series for having politics on its mind and for the authenticity of its Southern setting (True Blood is also a poison-pen letter to the Atlanta-born Ball’s roots).

In less intellectual terms, the tabloid swirl around the relationship between the two leads—Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer—intensified as the on-screen couple became an off-screen item and then married in 2010, and the show’s round-robin sex scenes (graphic even by HBO’s standards) kept viewers of all genders and preferences … interested.

True Blood wasn’t a hit out of the gate—only 1.44 million viewers watched the premiere—but big buzz begat higher ratings. Toward the end of Season 4, True Blood had reached a high-water mark of 5.53 million viewers.

(Ball left the show at the end of the fifth season; the showrunner is now Brian Buckner.)

As the storylines and supernatural characters became increasingly outlandish, the audience began to wither like a vampire exposed to sunlight. Last month’s Season 6 wrap drew 4.14 million viewers, the smallest turnout for a finale since the inaugural season closed out in front of 2.45 million viewers.

After two consecutive seasons of reaching nearly 5 million viewers per first-run episode, the show over the last few runs seemed to fall out of favor. (The most recent 10-episode season averaged 4.24 million viewers, down from 4.67 the year before.) While ratings are largely academic to the non-ad-supported HBO, the decline in True Blood’s buzzworthiness is not insignificant for a network that attracts plenty of subs with watercooler chatter.

True Blood became a calling card for HBO GO (and now for broadband in general), to the extent that one of the show’s actresses (Kristin Bauer van Straten) did a stunt for an MSO in which she shows up at the house of a cable subscriber who complains that his connection is “always buffering during the best part of True Blood.” HBO started publicizing its ratings numbers “across all platforms,” claiming 12 million viewers for the third season on average (including the HBO GO watchers) and 10 million for the most recent season.

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