Saturday's raucous PaleyFest 2011 panel celebrated True Blood, creator Alan Ball's sexy Southern Gothic series based on the novels by Charlaine Harris. The show, which returns to HBO in June for a fourth season, follows the adventures of waitress Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin), her vampire soulmate Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer) and the human and supernatural inhabitants of Bon Temps, Louisiana.
Debra Birnbaum, editor-in-chief of TV Guide, opened the panel by bringing out Ball (Six Feet Under), who introduced a compilation reel and an exclusive new scene from Season 4. The preview featured newly minted vampire Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll), her human boyfriend Hoyt (Jim Parrack) and the acerbic Pam (Kristen Bauer van Straten) all squaring off against a mob of angry vamp-hating humans.
Amid much screaming and catcalling, especially for Alexander Skarsgard, all 16 cast members were introduced. When they were finally assembled, Birnbaum was curious to know who each of them would like a chance to work with. Fan favorite Bauer van Straten replied, "I think Jason (Ryan Kwanten) and Pam would be hysterical." Parrack joked that he wanted to work with Skarsgard, "so I can see why everybody screams so much." Much of the cast seemed eager to have their characters meet up with Pam. Paquin admitted, "I'm real spoiled, I get to play with everyone."
Woll and Parrack were asked about the status of their star-crossed romance. "Well, you know, the fairy tale can't go on forever," Woll teased, triggering a groan from the audience. "But, maybe reality is better than the fairy tale."
Carrie Preston, meanwhile, confirmed that Arlene's unborn baby means trouble for her and Terry's (played by Todd Lowe) new family: "So yes, when last we left it, the baby was on board and let's just say that problem grows exponentially."
Birnbaum was also concerned about the relationship status of Sam Merlotte, the shapeshifter played by Sam Trammell, and asked whether there's any chance the character would find love this season. "Slim," the actor deadpanned, "but yeah, there is. I got another shot. I'm at bat again."
When Birnbaum pressed him to reveal whether his new romance was with one of the actors on-stage, Trammell looked to Ball and asked, "Can I say maybe?" Ball assented that perhaps Sam's new love was on-stage, but then quickly added that the general rule for True Blood characters is, "They can only be happy for one episode."
Rutina Wesley, who plays the tough but vulnerable Tara, had a particularly rough third season, and Birnbaum wondered if she might be getting her (one) happy episode this year. "We'll see a new Tara," Wesley said. "I think you'll be very surprised as to where she's been and what she's been up to."
Skarsgard explained that his character, Eric Northman, is in a different place in Season 4. "He doesn't know who he is any more. So, like a thousand years of resentment for humanity is just gone. He's very innocent," he said, eliciting howls from the audience. When Birnbaum wondered if Sookie would be there to help comfort Eric, Skarsgard coyly replied, "There are a lot of friendly people in Bon Temps."
Ball said some of those friendly people will be new characters: "There are some witches, there are some vampires, there's a handful of more shifters and a werewolf."
There were hints that elder vampire Godric (Allan Hyde) would appear in flashbacks this season. Ball also confirmed that Gary Cole and Fiona Shaw will be guest stars, and left the door open for the return of fan favorite Denis O'Hare, who played vampire king Russell Edgington. "We specifically made a choice not to kill him," Ball said, hinting that when he reappeared, it would spell trouble for Eric.
"Please don't bring him back," Skarsgard joked.
Birnbaum asked if Sookie, who disappeared with the mysterious Claudine at the end of Season 3, would ever learn to control her fairy powers. "I think the technical term is 'Microwave Fingers'," joked Paquin, who explained that her character was still getting used to her recently revealed ancestry.
The audience was eager to know whether Sookie would be getting closer to either Eric or werewolf Alcide Herveaux (Joe Manganiello), but Paquin was diplomatic in her reply. After ticking off the pros and cons of getting into a relationship with either character she finally said, "I guess you'll just have to watch."
Ball, who has expressed in the past that he believes Sookie and Bill are soulmates, explained that fans of the pairing would need to be patient. "I do think for them to get back together, it's a journey," he said. "It's not going to happen fast."
True Blood returns to HBO for a fourth season in June.