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Image: "True Blood" poster
Bob Sekelsky  /  HBO
"True Blood" features some pretty steamy scenes between Sookie (Anna Paquin) and vampire Bill (Stephen Moyer), and the show may not work without them.
TODAY contributor
updated 7/22/2010 6:44:19 PM ET 2010-07-22T22:44:19

Oh, “True Blood,” it looks like syndication wants to do bad things to you.

HBO hopes to sell the sexy, gore-filled series for $800,000 an episode, but it knows full well that the show, which centers on vampires, werewolves and other supernatural beings, requires considerable editing before it can go to basic cable. (Since non-premium channels rely on advertisers to make money, they need to conform to more stringent guidelines when it comes to what can be shown.)

Both humans and supernatural beings engage in some pretty kinky sex on the show, but “True Blood” isn’t just soft porn. Each week, Oscar-winner Alan Ball's series strips away more than just clothing.

At its core, the Bon Temps, La.-based series takes on small-minded people mired in prejudice and examines what it means to be human. The complexity of relationships between humans and nonhumans opens up the possibilities of what it means to love someone.

Can a mind-reading waitress make a vampire feel human again? Is it possible for a gay drug dealer to find love with his estranged mom’s caregiver? And how does a shape-shifter abandoned by his adoptive family handle a reunion with his unsavory birth family?

Those story lines can easily transfer to a sanitized syndicated version, but trimming away the salacious scenes could result in a show as restrained as Sookie's BFF Tara under vampire Franklin’s obsessive control.

Sex and violence
Clothing has almost become optional on "True Blood": Shape-shifter Sam runs buck-naked through the woods, man-for-hire Lafayette shucks clothes as if they were corn husks, vampire Eric revels in his timeless body and good ol' boy Jason knows where his best assets are stored. The actors are certainly comfortable in their own skins and have the modesty of nudists.

But the necessary cleanup could be as extensive as a post-Katrina remodel. And it would certainly leave the show without the same impact as the original episodes. The wanton world of vampires, like the bondage scene with Eric and one of his human employees, would be difficult to cover up.

Sex scenes aren’t the only stumbling block when it comes to flipping this show into the mainstream.

Massive depictions of violence and gore permeate the series. Humans turn into meals for hungry vampires and werewolves, and there aren't a lot of ways to turn that into a palatable offering. Mutilated corpses practically get cast billing.

Last season’s finale turned into a rampage of lust and violence ending in maiming and killings. There’s simply no way to show the maenad Maryann’s orgies or her gory demise on anything other than a big screen or pay TV. Trying to clean things up for mainstream consumption would probably result in a 10-minute episode, down from nearly an hour.

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Taming Samantha and Tony
Of course, this isn’t HBO’s first foray into cleaning up an original series to air on non-premium cable. The network sold “The Sopranos” to A&E for around $2 million per episode and prior to that, sold “Sex and the City” to TNT in 1999 for about $700,000 per episode.

In many ways, those shows were easier to work with. There was a lot of talk and very little actual sex, even in the uncut versions. So when it came to taming things down for basic cable, the removal of Samantha’s raunchy scenes in “Sex and the City” just made room for commercials.

Tony Soprano got whacked — or at least his Bada-Binging was sharply curtailed — when “The Sopranos” was sold to A&E and had to comply with the network’s stricter standards. “The Sopranos” producers, like the “Sex” crew before them, planned ahead. During the filming they cleaned up some scenes and recorded alternative dialogue tracks.

Topless dancers bounced freely in the HBO version. Those scenes went all Victoria’s Secret when the show aired on cable, with the dancers donning lingerie for the nude shots. As for Tony and the crew, “freakin’ ” subbed for the saltier phrase. Even the violence was mitigated, with the cameras cutting away at key moments.

Unlike the easy-to-cut scenes of Tony getting pleasured or Samantha’s smokin’ body doing that thing she does, “True Blood” weaves these types of scenes into major plot turning points.

Bill deciding he had to get out of Sookie’s life for her own good meant he needed to slam that door shut behind him. Nothing says “leave me alone” like a raging hate scene ending in twisted sex with his ex to drive home that point.

Try getting that one past the censor. HBO should just stick with the DVD sale profits and let the bon temps roll. Messing with the perfect combination of sex, violence and social awareness can only end badly.

Susan C. Young is a writer in Northern California.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Explainer: Smokin’ hot ‘True Blood’ pairings we want to see

  • Image: "True Blood"
    There's no doubt that the cast of "True Blood" is intensely hot, but imagine all the heat the show could generate with various pairings.

    “True Blood” is “Twilight” for adult consumption only. And this season, the show is amping up the sex quotient with some rocking new adventures, especially now that Bill has betrayed Sookie with Lorena.

    Speaking of Sookie, have you ever wondered why the gap-toothed gal seems to attract the most mesmerizing semihumans when almost 100 percent of human males find her pretty resistible? Some chalk it up to her telepathic abilities, but last season, Maryann the maenad outed Sookie as not being completely human. That insight explains a lot of her appeal to supernatural creatures.

    But with her vampire lover missing, Eric’s blood coursing through her veins and hunky werewolf Alcide accompanying her in her search for Bill, there are a number of potential hookups in store for her and her pals of both the human and non-human variety.

    So many tantalizing possibilities! Here are a few we’d like to see.

  • Bill and Sam

    Image: Bill and Sam on "True Blood"
    The dream sequence between Bill and Sam was hot hot hot!

    Just when it looked like Bill had lost the power to thrill, along came a fantasy sequence with shapeshifter Sam involving showers and soap. Bad dog. Bad. The steamy scene incited some racy speculation on the Internet. Vampires constantly cross the gender lines when it comes to sensual gratification, so that path’s been cleared for these two potential lovers.

    Sam’s been a good friend to Bill, although initially he was jealous of the vamp’s relationship with his beloved Sookie. The two have a very complicated relationship, to say the least. But they joined forces to keep Sookie safe and now find themselves bound together through a blood exchange.

    Blood tie: At the end of season two, Sam allowed himself to be sacrificed so that the wicked maenad Maryann could be destroyed. Bill saved a mortally wounded Sam by having him to drink his blood. Now, the two have the bond that cannot be broken. And just as Sookie started having erotic dreams about Bill after he saved her life through the sharing of blood, now Sam is experiencing the same. Will the two hunks give in to their desires? A person can only dream.

  • Eric and Sookie

    Image: Sookie and Eric on "True Blood"
    John P. Johnson  /  HBO
    Will Sookie fall into the arms of Eric when she learns of Bill's betrayal?

    This pair could melt the TV screen right before our eyes. He’s the bad boy who goes gooey for Sookie. She can make him feel almost human, and he’s not sure he likes that.

    The former Viking has an insatiable carnal desire and has crossed the gender lines on more than one occasion. He’s cruel — and has even admitted his weakness for munching on children — yet he has an undeniable animal appeal and unsettling ability to show some vulnerability.

    There’s radioactive chemistry between these two, and the thought of the sexual explosion that’s bound to happen this season is almost too tantalizing to resist. Oddly enough, Eric appears to have real feelings for Sookie, but that might just be curiosity about a being he can’t quite control.

    Blood tie: After Eric used his body to shield Sookie from an attack, he tricked her into sucking the silver bullets out of his body to save his life. That meant a mingling of their blood, so Eric’s got a cosmic GPS on her. Plus, she’s got that old erotic dream byproduct of the blood exchange, making her think nasty thoughts about that tasty fang boy.

  • Eric and Lafayette

    Image: Lafayette on "True Blood"
    Jeff Riedel  /  HBO
    As Lafayette would say, "Hookah, that is one fine body!"

    Eric and Lafayette have a tortured relationship. Eric went all Jack Bauer on Lafayette after the vamp felt betrayed by the Merlotte's cook in that unfortunate V-juice business venture. But now they are back in their dealer/supplier relationship. Lafayette has a healthy fear of Eric, but he’s not immune to Eric’s obvious sexuality and overall hunkiness.

    Lafayette’s got a burning sexuality that gay men — and vampires — can’t seem to resist. While we can plot some relationships based on the Sookie Stackhouse books by Charlaine Harris, Lafayette’s timeline has been altered. He was killed in the first novel, but the series has allowed him to become a regular character. So there's plenty of opportunity to explore some carnal bonding between Lafayette and Eric, who share killer bods and a wicked wit.

    Blood tie: Eric had the weakened Lafayette drink his blood to recover from injuries obtained while being held captive. He’s now bound to Eric, which means he not only has to obey Eric by selling vamp blood for him, but he also has that desire for Eric. Let’s see how that gets quenched this season.

  • Alcide and Sookie

    Image: Alcide and Sookie on "True Blood"
    John P. Johnson  /  HBO
    Could Alcide run off with Sookie's heart?

    There’s a new dog sniffing around the house. Just like Bella’s foray into the world of the werefolk, Sookie has found herself running with the wolves to find Bill. As any Twi-hard can tell you, werewolves and vampires are mortal enemies, but on occasion the two join forces. 

    Before “Twilight,” werewolves weren’t exactly the most sexually seductive beasts when it came to human interactions. Those hairy encounters took a different turn when “Twilight” showed just how much animal magnetism they could have, especially when sporting some impressive abs in their human form. Expect a lot of shirtless shots of Alcide as he helps Sookie out with her Bill problem, and the two become more than just pals.

    As for Alcide, he may be looking to stray from the pack by going for Sookie, since he’s been dumped by his vicious weremate, Debbie Pelt. Revenge sex may fuel an already combustible situation.

    Blood tie: There isn’t one, but there’s definitely some smoldering going on between the two. Maybe it’s just Alcide’s doggone hot bod or the puppy eyes working their magic, but we expect a full blown case of the heats to happen soon.

  • Pam and Jessica

    Image: Pam and Jessica on "True Blood"
    John P. Johnson  /  HBO
    Experienced vamp Pam, left, could teach newbie Jessica a thing or two.

    Oh that Pam. She’s always the go-to girl, so that’s exactly where baby vampire Jessica turned when things got a little out of control with a trucker she picked up for drinks. The newbie never got the handbook on being a vampire, so she turned to Eric’s sassy assistant for a lesson, which could lead to some form of bonding.

    There’s a promise of more booty calls for Pam this season, and a logical exploration would be with Jessica, who isn’t quite sure which vamp path she wants to follow. Should she be full-on fang master like Eric and Pam, or more human and humane like her maker, Bill? And exploring her options may include some Pam time, unless she and Hoyt heat things up again.

    Blood tie: These two vamps are sure to be sharing plenty of blood lust in the coming season.

  • Jason and Crystal

    Image: Jason on "True Blood"
    Doug Hyun  /  HBO
    That fine body gets Jason Stackhouse a lot of action.

    We all know Jason gets around. He’s bedded more women than a rock star, and it is his greatest — and only — talent. (We never suggest a person should deny their talent.) While Tara pined away for him based on one of the few selfless acts Jason has ever committed in his life, and others just like to partake of his God-given attributes, true love might actually be coming to Jason this season.


    This season, Jason is smitten by a weregirl who lives in a nearby community filled with shapeshifters. Things won’t go well, but that won’t stop the fun as he explores an even wilder side of love and lust. Sensual Lindsay Pulsipher plays Crystal, who pops up in the July 18 episode as a backwoods gal who has been confined to life in compound that supplies meth. She’s ready to break free with him, but Crystal's toting a lot of baggage with her.

    Blood tie: Jason discovers his inner animal when he decides to find true love with Crystal.

    Susan C. Young is a writer in Northern California.

Discuss: Can 'True Blood' succeed on non-premium cable?

Writer Susan C. Young believes that cleaning up HBO's racy show would strip it of not only sex and gore, but integral parts of the show. Do you think a sanitized "True Blood" can be just as good as the original?

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