True Blood – New HBO show gets viral

True Blood - new HBO Vampire show

New for the upcoming fall 08 tv season is the HBO Vampire series “True Blood” .  This series has been generating considerable buzz over the past few weeks because of a massive viral marketing attempt.

The funny thing about True Blood is that it has not even aired yet (the firs episode will be on HBO September 7).  Read on to hear how the viral campaign has lead me to watch the show before it has been broadcast legally.

WARNING: The following description of True Blood may be offensive.

Honestly, the show itself is quite graphic and perhaps distasteful, but I feel that I should review it so others may hear about it, and avoid or watch accordingly.  Do not read on if you do not want to read potentially disturbing or offensive content.

Viral Marketing is something I am quite interested in, and have been looking into it further since I have been working at Blue Sky Sessions doing internet marketing sorts of things.  It is an absolutely great way to get people buzzing about a product, and is especially effective when run cross medium, meaning on television, internet, print, etc.  Viral marketing is just plain fun.  Some of my favorite viral marketing campaigns have been for Lost, one of my favorite TV series, and the Comedy Central Mooninite invasion.  So whats so viral about True Blood?

True Blood - Vampires are "out of the coffin"

Image from HBO true blood site

So two days ago there I was at my local blockbuster picking up the next disc of Jericho (my current favorite tv show, wait for review later), when I spotted the disc for True Blood sitting on the counter with a “Free Rental” hand drawn sign on it.  The disc jacket looked exactly like the image I am posting on the left here, and I must say that the fangs were what drew me to have a closer look, never mind the freeness.  I have a certain interest in vampires, and vampire mythology in general after watching many movies, and reading Bram Stoker’s classic “Dracula”.  I am not one who claims any affinity with Vamps, just they are more interesting to me than elves, orcs, and so on.

Anyway, after inquiring about the disc I was told that it was the first episode of a new HBO series about vampires, and they were trying to get the word out so I decided to take BB up on the whole “Free rental” thing Evan though it seemed a bit strange.  Sarah is decidedly not a fan of the horror genre, so I decided not to expose her to True Blood and instead opted to watch it with another friend – and I sure am glad I made that choice, but for reasons different than the scare factor…

The True Blood review…

The back story is that following the recent Japanese invention of synthetic blood that is “potable” to vampires, the undead have come “out of the coffin” and are living in public along side humans.  The show is set in an out of the way part of Louisiana swamp country, a small town of unknown size that is isolated – this town has yet to see its first resident Vamp.  That all changes when one shows up at the local watering hole, and the telepathic waitress Sookie is strangely attracted to him.  I won’t provide any spoilers, however I will say that it did have quite the “draw you in” cliffhanger at the end that has left me holding my breath to see the outcome.

That said, my opinions of the show are quite mixed.  From watching the first episode I can say that they make no attempt to disguise this as a broadcast friendly show, it is nowhere appropriate for the network audiences.  If this were a movie it would carry a R rating for sure due to the sexual content.  This included a lot of innuendo, nudity, and graphic vampire sex.  All of this was not a welcome addition to the show in my opinion.  The show could have been done in a much more tasteful way, the sex and nudity added nothing to the plot and frankly turned me off to the series a bit.  Now I have never had a subscription to HBO, so maybe that is just what is expected from a show on that network, but it felt more to me like they were making the statement “We are HBO,  We do what we want!”

Overall I am interested in seeing more of the show, but I hope that the explicit is not going to be a continual focus.  The main attraction for me is the setting.  A seedy small town in swamp country Louisiana, with interesting accents and all, has very high potential for a vampire flick.  How the vampires are portrayed is an important part of vamp flicks as well, and so far my opinion of True Blood’s vamp implementation is somewhat negative.  The vampires do not have the sort of cool factor from Underworld, and are portrayed as being weak relative to the Moonlight vamps.  Weak / undistinguished vampires are not likely to keep my attention for long.  The show just does not seem to be nearly as appealing as something like Moonlight by comparison, so I don’t know what kind of future it has.  Moonlight was just a lot more approachable, less abrasive, yet it met an early end.

Andrew (my friend) was of the opinion that it is not possible for humans and vamps to co-exist…  Make of that what you will.

About the viralness…

While watching this promotional copy of  “True Blood” I have to say that I found the distribution method quite strange.  The dvd had a HUGE hbo watermark covering most of the screen, and intermittent warning messages about how the copy of the episode was “for home use only” and “do not copy or distribute”.  This seemed quite similar to some of the pirated movie screeners I have seen from various nefarious sources in the past, so it begs the question – did HBO really want this to get out? Did they really want people to see it or no?  I have never seen such a “free rental” situation before in all my years renting movies, so what is the deal?

After looking into it farther, there have been other strange (viral) marketing techniques used for True Blood.  Apparantly a very early release of the pilot episode (was this what I saw?) somehow, magically showed up on p2p networks a considerable while ago.  Additionally there have been a LOT of viral web sites that have cropped up surrounding True Blood such as the “Tru Beverage” site, and the BloodCopy site.  I have never seen a viral campeign like this crop up before a tv series has launched, and I have to say that I am impressed.  See an account of the overall campeign at True Blood on Wikipedia

True Blood review: [rating:3]

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