10 Sharp Facts About True Blood

John P. Johnson/HBO
John P. Johnson/HBO

Set in fictional Bon Temps, Louisiana, Alan Ball's True Blood—which ran on HBO from 2008 to 2014—deals with vampires trying to acclimate to living among humans, often with violent results. The Japanese invent Tru Blood, a synthetic blood beverage meant to satiate vampires so they won’t seek out real blood. (That doesn’t work out so well.)

Ball, creator of Six Feet Under, based the show on Charlaine Harris’s The Southern Vampire Mysteries books. Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) is part fairy and part telepathic human, who falls in love with a 173-year-old vampire, Bill (Stephen Moyer). (In 2010, Moyer and Paquin married.) Sookie's also drawn to Eric (Emmy Award-winner Alexander Skarsgård) and shape-shifting werewolf Alcide (Joe Manganiello).

Also along for the ride to battle vampires and other fantastical creatures are Sookie’s dimwitted brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten); Sookie’s boss, Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell); and her friends Tara (Rutina Wesley) and Lafayette Reynolds (Nelsan Ellis, who sadly passed away last year). 

The show debuted on September 7, 2008 and became a sensation—so much so that in 2010, Paquin, Moyer, and Skarsgård posed naked, covered in blood, on the cover of Rolling Stone. After 80 episodes, the show concluded on August 24, 2014. True Blood blended sex, violence, and humor in a way no HBO show had done before—thus becoming the network’s highest rated show since The Sopranos. Here are 10 things you might not have known about True Blood, on its 10th anniversary.

1. A TRIP TO THE DENTIST INSPIRED THE SHOW.

Creator Alan Ball had to get a root canal and showed up 30 minutes early to his appointment. With time to kill, he visited a Barnes and Noble across the street and saw Charlaine Harris’s book Dead Until Dark, the first in a series of 13 novels. “The tagline is, ‘Maybe having a vampire for a boyfriend isn’t such a bright idea,’ which made me laugh,” Ball told Emmy TV Legends. “I’m from the South, Charlaine’s from the South. It had a very authentic Southern feel to it. It’s this great mix of drama and comedy and horror and sex and violence and social commentary. She walked this line that was so incredibly entertaining that I couldn’t put the book down.” He read three more of her books in the series and thought it’d make a good TV show. At the time the book was under option to be made into a film, but when the option expired, Ball jumped at the chance. He filmed a pilot and two more episodes, and HBO green-lit the series.

2. ANNA PAQUIN “AGGRESSIVELY” PURSUED THE ROLE OF SOOKIE.

Anna Paquin in 'True Blood'
HBO

Ball hadn’t considered the naturally brunette actress for the role, but one day Oscar-winner Anna Paquin’s representatives called the show’s casting director and said she wanted to audition. “And I said, ‘Really? That doesn’t—huh. She wants to do this?’” Ball told The New York Times. “Because at the time Anna was dark-haired, and certainly her body of work didn’t lead me anywhere near Sookie Stackhouse. But she aggressively pursued it.”

Paquin welcomed playing a part that she described to The New York Times as being “about as radically different from me and a lot of the work I’ve previously done as you could possibly come up with.” In an interview with Rolling Stone, Paquin explained how people saw her as too serious. “But it only takes one person with a little bit of imagination to go, ‘You know, pale-skin girls with brown hair can also be blond girls with a fake tan,’ and presto change-o, makeover. It’s not rocket science.”

3. CHARLAINE HARRIS WAS MORE INTERESTED IN PEOPLE THAN VAMPIRES.

“I didn’t want to write about being a vampire,” Harris told Vanity Fair. “I wanted to write about people who were interacting with vampires. I thought it would be fun to write about a woman dating a vampire, so I imagined what kind of woman would do such a stupid thing.”

Bon Temps is a city in Northern Louisiana; Harris picked that region to avoid Anne Rice’s territory. “My thinking was that Anne Rice had done such a great job with Southern Louisiana, that I would take the part [of Louisiana] no one wanted,” Harris said. “Her works were groundbreaking and very innovative and I thought it would be fun to kind of rappel off of them.”

4. HARRIS USED THE VAMPIRES TO COMMENT ON GAY RIGHTS.

Deborah Ann Woll and Stephen Moyer in 'True Blood'
Jaimie Trueblood, HBO

Harris published Dead Until Dark, the first book in the series, in 2001. “When I began framing how I was going to represent the vampires, it suddenly occurred to me that it would be interesting if they were a minority that was trying to get equal rights,” Harris told the New York Post. “It just seemed to fit with what was happening in the world right then.”

However, Ball didn’t agree with her. “I have a hard time seeing the vampires as a metaphor for gays and lesbians,” he told Rolling Stone. “Just because the vampires on our show are, for the most part, vicious murderers and predators, and I’m gay myself, so I don’t really want to say, ‘Hey, gays and lesbians are basically viciously amoral murderers.’”

5. ALAN BALL THINKS THE SHOW IS ABOUT “INTIMACY.”

While developing the show for HBO, the network asked Ball for a one-sentence pitch for what the show was about. “I thought, ‘Oh, dear God, what am I going to say?’ I said, ‘Well, ultimately at its heart, it’s about the terrors of intimacy,’” he told The New York Times. “Which is an answer I just pulled totally out of [nowhere] at that moment. But I do think that actually, there is some truth to that. That is kind of what it’s about.”

In 2012, Ball told NPR he thought the show was about “how we deal with our primal desires. How do those elements of our psyche manifest themselves in a world where monsters were real?”

Chris Bauer, who played Andy Bellefleur, added his two cents on what the show was about. “How do people in that amount of space get along with each other when they are people with really different beliefs, life experiences, [and] philosophies?” he told Vulture. “It’s like two species trying to get along, even though externally we look the same. That's where all the racism, all the homophobia, all the sexism, all the diminishing-others-for-their-differences comes from. It's so applicable.”

6. RYAN KWANTEN DOESN’T THINK JASON IS “DUMB.”

Ryan Kwanten stars in 'True Blood'
John P. Johnson, HBO

In an interview with Vulture, Ryan Kwanten was asked, “What are the challenges of playing someone that dumb?” He responded with, “I see him more as simple than dumb … He can get away with some of the things he does because of that innocence. Whereas being dumb, you don’t really get sympathy for that. He was originally based on a couple of people I knew, but it’s turned into his own beast now.”

7. ALEXANDER SKARSGÅRD DIDN'T ALWAYS ABIDE BY THE PROPER NUDITY PROTOCOLS.

To keep partially covered up during sex scenes, the show's female actors wore thongs while the male actors had to wear socks on their private parts. But Alexander Skarsgård bucked the trend during the season six finale. Eric is sunbathing on a snowy landscape in the mountains of Sweden, but the crew set up a green screen and filmed it atop a parking structure in Hollywood. “And it was a very hot day, so I didn’t need the sock,” he told Vulture. At the end of the scene, Skarsgård gets up from his chair and reveals, well, everything, so to speak.

“I don’t want a sock around it, that feels ridiculous," Skarsgård told Rolling Stone. "If we’re naked in the scene, then I’m naked. I’ve always been that way.”

8. RUTINA WESLEY WAS OKAY WITH DYING. 

Rutina Wesley and Kristin Bauer van Straten in 'True Blood'
John P. Johnson/HBO

During the fifth season, Tara becomes a vampire. At the beginning of the final season, HBO threw no punches when they killed her off in the premiere episode. Wesley didn’t mind, though. “I think it’s great,” she told Entertainment Weekly. “I think somebody had to go. To have a main character right off the bat go, that’s gonna bring everybody into the show. It’s like, ‘Okay, and the show has started.’ This is the final season. We can’t all make it to the end.”

9. DENIS O’HARE USED HISTORY TO CREATE HIS CHARACTER’S BACKSTORY.

Russell Edgington, a.k.a. the King of Mississippi, is a 2800-year-old vampire. O’Hare researched that era and decided to make him a Pagan Celt. “They are just wild people,” O'Hare told Film School Rejects. “They have a very different relationship to everything in terms of nature and in terms of their own belief system. I just love that. That kind of helped make him just a different kind of character.”

10. JOE MANGANIELLO GOT HIS JOB WITH HELP FROM A BLOG.

Joe Manganiello in 'True Blood'
John P. Johnson/HBO

Fans of Harris’s book had a blog in which they listed who should play certain characters, and some people suggested Joe Manganiello for Alcide. Manganiello stumbled upon the site, read the books, and told his agent he wanted to audition.

“It had been my dream, since I was a little kid, to play a movie monster and a werewolf,” Manganiello told Collider. He posted the blog posts to his website, and someone who was friends with a True Blood casting director saw them. “I guess he was out at breakfast with one of the casting directors and the waiter came up to their table and the casting director said, ‘Oh, wow, that waiter would make a great werewolf, if only he was an actor.’ And, this guy said, ‘No, you know who’d make a great werewolf? This guy,’ and he pulled up my picture and showed it to him.”

Joe auditioned for a different werewolf part. “I wound up being brought in a second time for that other werewolf character, and then they wound up bringing me back in for Alcide.”

12 Festive Facts About A Christmas Story

Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

Which Oscar-winning star wanted to play Ralphie Parker's dad? Which actor went on to have a seedy career in the adult film industry? Can you really get your tongue stuck to a metal pole? On the 35th anniversary of A Christmas Story's debut, here are a few tidbits about the holiday classic to tide you over until TNT's 24-hour Christmas marathon.

1. JACK NICHOLSON WAS INTERESTED IN PLAYING RALPHIE'S DAD.

Though Jack Nicholson was reportedly offered the role of The Old Man Parker, and interested, casting—and paying—him would have meant doubling the budget. But director Bob Clark, who didn't know Nicholson was interested, said Darren McGavin was the perfect choice for the role.

2. IT OWES A DEBT TO PORKY'S.

What does Porky's—a raunchy 1980s teen sex comedy—have to do with a wholesome film like A Christmas Story? Bob Clark directed both: Porky's in 1982 and A Christmas Story in 1983. If Porky's hadn't given him the professional and financial success he needed, he wouldn't have been able to bring A Christmas Story to the big screen.

3. RALPHIE SAYS HE WANTS A RED RYDER BB GUN A LOT.

For anyone keeping count, Ralphie says he wants the Red Ryder BB Gun 28 times throughout the course of the movie. That's approximately once every three minutes and 20 seconds.

4. THESE DAYS, PETER BILLINGSLEY SPENDS HIS TIME BEHIND THE CAMERA.

Peter Billingsley, a.k.a. Ralphie, has been good friends with Vince Vaughn since they both appeared in a CBS Schoolbreak Special together in the early 1990s. He doesn't do much acting these days, though he has popped up in cameos (including one in Elf, another holiday classic). Instead, Billingsley prefers to spend his time behind the camera as a director and producer. He has done a lot of work with Vaughn and Jon Favreau, including serving as an executive producer on Iron Man (in which he also made a cameo).

5. YES, YOU CAN GET YOUR TONGUE STUCK ON A PIECE OF COLD METAL.

Mythbusters tested whether it was possible to get your tongue truly stuck on a piece of cold metal. Guess what? It is. So don't triple dog dare your best friend to try it.

6. ONE OF THE YOUNG ACTORS MOVED ON TO A CAREER IN ADULT FILMS.

Scott Schwartz, who played Flick (the kid who stuck his tongue to the frozen flagpole), spent several years working in the adult film industry. In 2000, he turned his attention back to mainstream films. His most recent role was as "Disco City Hot Dog Vendor" in the 2017 TV movie Vape Warz.

7. RALPHIE'S HOUSE IS NOW A MUSEUM.

Next time you're in Cleveland, you can visit the original house from the movie. It was sold on eBay in 2004 for $150,000. Collector Brian Jones bought the house and restored it to its movie glory and stocked it up with some of the original props from the film, including Randy's snowsuit.

8. THE IDEA FOR THE FILM CAME TO BOB CLARK WHILE HE WAS DRIVING TO PICK UP A DATE.

Peter Billingsley, Melinda Dillon, Darren McGavin, and Ian Petrella in A Christmas Story (1983)
Warner Home Video

Director Bob Clark got the idea for the movie when he was driving to pick up a date. He heard Jean Shepherd on the radio doing a reading of his short story collection, In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, which included some bits that eventually ended up in A Christmas Story. Clark said he drove around the block for an hour until the program ended (which his date was not too happy about).

9. IT PARTLY INSPIRED THE WONDER YEARS.

The Wonder Years was inspired in part by A Christmas Story. In fact, toward the very end of the series, Peter Billingsley even played one of Kevin Arnold's roommates.

10. YOU CAN STILL BUY A RED RYDER BB GUN.

The real Red Ryder BB Gun was first made in 1938 and was named after a comic strip cowboy. You can still buy it today for the low, low price of $39.99. But the original wasn't quite the same as the one in the movie; it lacked the compass and sundial that both the Jean Shepherd story and the movie call for. Special versions had to be made just for A Christmas Story.

11. THE LEG LAMP CAN ALSO BE YOURS.

Peter Billingsley and Melinda Dillon in A Christmas Story (1983)
Warner Home Video

While we're talking shopping: you know you want the leg lamp. Put it in your window! Be the envy of your neighbors! It's a Major Award! You can buy it on Amazon (there's a 40-inch version, as well as a 20-inch replica). If you're not feeling quite so flamboyant, they also make a nightlight version.

12. IT SPAWNED A TRIO OF SEQUELS.

A Christmas Story led to two little-talked-about sequels. The first one was a 1988 made-for-TV movie, Ollie Hopnoodle's Haven of Bliss. Jerry O'Connell played 14-year-old Ralphie, who is excited about his first job—as a furniture mover. Of course, it ends up being awful, and it might make him miss the annual family vacation at Mr. Hopnoodle's lakeside cabins.

My Summer Story, a.k.a. It Runs in the Family, debuted on the big screen in 1994. Kieran Culkin plays Ralphie, Mary Steenburgen is his mom, and Charles Grodin is his dad.

And in 2012, the direct-to-video sequel A Christmas Story 2 picked up five years after the original movie left off, with Ralphie attempting to get his parents to buy him a car.

An earlier version of this story appeared in 2008.

10 Timeless Facts About The Land Before Time

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Five years before Jurassic Park roared into theaters, a gentler, more meditative dinosaur film endeared itself to audiences of all ages. Initially met with mixed reviews, The Land Before Time is now regarded as an animated classic. Here are 10 things you might not have known about the Steven Spielberg-produced film, which arrived in theaters 30 years ago.

1. IT WAS CONCEIVED AS A DIALOGUE-FREE MOVIE.

Gabriel Damon and Candace Hutson in The Land Before Time (1988)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

In the mid-1980s, executive producer Steven Spielberg began toying with the idea of a Bambi-esque dinosaur film. “Basically,” he later said, “I wanted to do a soft picture … about five little dinosaurs and how they grow up and work together as a group.” Inspiration came from the “Rite of Spring” sequence from Disney’s Fantasia (1940)—a scene in which prehistoric beasts wordlessly go about their business. At first, Spielberg wanted his own dinosaur characters to follow suit and remain mum. Ultimately, however, it was feared that a non-verbal approach might bore or confuse the film’s intended audience. As such, the animals were given lines.

2. DIRECTOR DON BLUTH WAS AN EX-DISNEY EMPLOYEE.

Don Bluth grew up idolizing Disney’s work, and began working for the studio in 1955. Over the next two decades, he did various odd jobs until he was brought on as a full-time animator in 1971. Once on the inside, Bluth got to peek behind the magician’s curtain—and disliked what he found there. “I think [Walt Disney] would’ve seen that the pictures were losing their luster,” Bluth said. Frustrated by the studio’s cost-cutting measures, he resigned in 1979. Joining him were fellow animators Gary Goldman and John Pomeroy. Together the trio launched their own company, Sullivan Bluth Studios, and began working on The Land Before Time in 1986.

3. OVER 600 BACKGROUND PAINTINGS WERE MADE FOR THE FILM.

Most of these depicted beautiful but barren wastelands, which presented a real challenge for the creative team. As one studio press release put it, “The artists had to create a believable environment in which there was almost no foliage.” Whenever possible, Bluth’s illustrators emphasized vibrant colors. This kept their backdrops from looking too drab or monotonous—despite the desolate setting.

4. LITTLEFOOT’S ORIGINAL NAME WAS “THUNDERFOOT.”

This was changed when the filmmakers learned that there was a triceratops in a popular children’s book called Thunderfoot. Speaking of three-horned dinosaurs: Cera evolved from a pugnacious male character called Bambo.

5. THE FILMMAKERS HAD TO CUT ABOUT 10 MINUTES OF FOOTAGE.

“We compromised a lot with The Land Before Time,” Goldman admitted. Nowhere was this fact more apparent than on the cutting room floor. Spielberg and his fellow executive producer George Lucas deemed 19 individual scenes “too scary.” “We’ll have kids crying in the lobby, and angry parents,” Spielberg warned. “You don’t want that.”

6. “ROOTER” WAS INTRODUCED AT THE URGING OF CHILD PSYCHOLOGISTS.

In Bambi, the title character’s mom dies off-screen. The same cannot be said for Littlefoot’s mother, whose slow demise goes on for several agonizing minutes. Naturally, there was some concern about how children would react to this. “A lot of research went into the mother dying sequence,” Pomeroy said. “Psychologists were approached and shown the film. They gave their professional opinions of how the sequence could be depicted.” Thus, Rooter was born.

One scene after Littlefoot’s mom passes, the wise reptile consoles him, saying “You’ll always miss her, but she’ll always be with you as long as you remember the things she taught you.” Sharp-eared fans might recognize Rooter’s voice as that of Pat Hingle, who also narrates the movie.

7. JAMES HORNER DID THE SOUNDTRACK.

The late, Oscar-winning composer behind Braveheart (1995), Titanic (1997), and Avatar (2009) put together a soaring score. Along with lyricist Will Jennings, he also penned the original song “If We Hold On Together,” which Diana Ross sings as the end credits roll.

8. THE ACTRESS BEHIND DUCKY PASSED AWAY BEFORE THE MOVIE’S RELEASE.

Judith Barsi’s career was off to a great start. By age 10, this daughter of Hungarian immigrants had already appeared in 70 commercials and voiced the leading lady in Don Bluth’s All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989). For The Land Before Time, Barsi voiced the ever-optimistic Ducky, which was reportedly her favorite role. Then tragedy struck: In July of 1988, Barsi’s father József murdered both her and her mother before taking his own life.

9. IT HAD A RECORD-SETTING OPENING WEEKEND.

From the get-go, The Land Before Time had some stiff competition. Universal released it on November 18, 1988—the same day that Disney’s Oliver & Company hit theaters. Yet, for a solid month, Bluth gave Oliver a box office beating. The Land Before Time enjoyed the highest-grossing opening weekend that any animated film had ever seen, pulling in $7.5 million to Oliver & Company’s $4 million. Since then, of course, The Land Before Time has long been dethroned; today, Incredibles 2 (2018) holds this coveted distinction with a $182.7 million first-weekend showing.

10. THERE ONCE WAS TALK OF A LAND BEFORE TIME STAGE MUSICAL.

“The time has come for dinosaurs on Broadway,” the late theatrical producer Irving Welzer told The New York Times in 1997. Emboldened by the recent cinematic success of Spielberg’s The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1996), Welzer expressed an interest helping Littlefoot, Cera, Ducky, and the rest of the gang make their Big Apple debut. Soon, however, the idea faded.

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