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Q&A: 'True Blood' Showrunner Brian Buckner Spills on Season Six

'If we lose somebody, we're going to stop to grieve them, and try to tell the human side of these supernatural stories'

June 10, 2013 1:55 PM ET
 Rutina Wesley, Anna Paquin, Lucy Griffiths true blood
Rutina Wesley, Anna Paquin and Lucy Griffiths in 'True Blood'
John P. Johnson

Remember the good ol' days, when all 175-year-old vampire Bill Compton wanted was an invitation into telepathic waitress Sookie Stackhouse's home? The True Blood story lines seemed so simple five seasons ago when we were first introduced to the supernatural community of Bon Temps, Louisiana.

But as the fifth season roared to a close last summer, Bill, consumed by power and greed, slammed down a vial of Lilith's blood and was reincarnated into a creepy vampire-god hybrid that the interwebs dubbed "Billith," with ex-girlfriend Sookie and vamp frenemy Eric Northman bolting faster than you can say "hoecakes." With the sixth season of the sexy HBO drama set to premiere Sunday, we checked in with executive producer (and creator Alan Ball's showrunner successor) Brian Buckner for the lowdown on what's in store for our favorite Southern-drawling bloodsuckers, werewolves, shape-shifters, faeries and, yes, humans.

So what can we expect from this new season?
Well, thematically – and I want to be fair to all seasons past – I feel like we do so much running and killing that we very seldom stop to speak to the importance of life. So we will have an episode this season that's entitled "Life Matters." We're trying to remind people that the lives of these human beings and of the vampires here in this small town of Bon Temps, they mean something. So that if we lose somebody, we're going to stop to grieve them, and try to tell the more human side of the supernatural stories we're telling. That is sort of my mission statement.

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Without giving away any spoilers, what secrets of the new season can you reveal?
I can tell you, because I believe it's already out there, that you will see both Steve and Sarah Newlin, in a meaningful way. [Pauses] One of our principal characters will not make it all the way through the season. In television, because of the pace of what we do, who these actors are, they inform the characters that they're playing. Because Anna [Paquin, who plays Sookie Stackhouse] is changing in her life – because she's a mother now – we're trying to make a more grown-up Sookie, a less naive Sookie. A Sookie who knows when she needs help and isn't always saying, "I can do it myself." And a darker Sookie, honestly. Someone who's a little bit more eyes-open to the world and self-aware.

Now that we're in the sixth season, how do you keep this story fresh and riveting?
Change. I'm not going to say what the changes are, but it's a big deal. Everybody loves the show, but actors don't want to play the same scenes anymore, and writers don't want to write the same scenes anymore, and so literally shifting things up. And pivoting people around – on this show, other than when we have table reads and premiere parties, a lot of these actors never work together – so the way I look at it, if we can shift the paradigm, and some of the relationships within the show, there are all these sort of new avenues to go down. Jason has basically never played a scene with, like, Pam, right? So there's all these pairings, and my job, and the job of the writers is to change the lanes that we've been driving down for six seasons. The answer is, because we have all these characters, I think it's very easy to stay fresh – you just have to be mindful about doing so. So that's the kind of thing that we have to be aware of and get back to a little bit of our soap opera roots and remember that romance matters in the midst of all the plot we do.

Along those lines, would you say that the Bill/Sookie/Eric love triangle still exists this season?
I think that it exists – the tension is there, but I would say that these characters have never been further apart, romantically. Bill and Sookie are still the center of the show. That pull is there, but you can't always have people together. But the impasse is really interesting.

How has your role on the show changed now that you are the showrunner as opposed to just one of the executive producers/writers?
Before, for a long time, we pretty much maintained the same staff, the same core group, for the first five years. And nobody wanted to see Alan leave. And now I really know why I didn't want to see Alan leave. We would all produce our own episodes, and work with each other on a larger story arc, but we were principally responsible for our own episodes. The big difference for me now is I have to be principally responsible for all of them. And I don't think I ever fully appreciated the pressure Alan was under. So it's that, and of course the responsibilities go beyond writing. It's post – it's having to maintain a dialogue with the actors so they know where we are, where their story lines are headed. And you can get very, very distracted. So the writing seems to come last [laughs], and that's been a little bit hard, and I've actually never had more respect for the job Alan was doing than I have now, now that I am sort of sitting in that seat. Because it's a big job.

Did you write any of this season's episodes?
Yeah, I wrote the ninth episode, and I had a heavy hand throughout. But not too heavy. I don't want to do a disservice to any of our fine writers. The group that I've had has really rallied.

How do you think you approach the show differently than Alan did?
[Long pause
] I'm learning to let writers have their own voices. I think Alan was extremely good about letting people do what they did. And I think sometimes my response to pressure is to control more. He's a more seasoned showrunner. He knows when to trust, and I sometimes will just lock myself [laughs] in a room and try to take more on. I especially miss him in editing, because he was really good at backing off from what was written and seeing what's there, and treating that as a rewrite. I miss him in that capacity. He was really, really strong that way.

After last season's shocking finale, would you say Bill has entirely lost his humanity at this point, or is there still hope for him?
I think there always has to be hope for him. But his arc during the season, in that first episode, [spoiler alert!] he asks Jessica to make sure he doesn't lose it. He will. He does. But he will find his way back, because Bill has to be Bill. But that fight that's going on between the Bill part of Bill and the Lilith part of Bill, she will win for a little while.

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