Los Angeles residents: Did you notice that traffic was a little light on Saturday (March 5) evening? Did you make it from Point A to Point B in far less time than anticipated?

If so, you should send a nice note to the organizers behind the William S. Paley Television Festival and also to Alan Ball. PaleyFest2011 celebrated HBO's "True Blood" on Saturday night and in addition to Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills to squealing, exuberant audience capacity, the panel seemed to feature every actor in Hollywood who is either currently on "True Blood," or once stopped by Merlotte's to have a drink. 

In all, there were 16 actors on the Saban Theatre stage, plus Ball and the panel's moderator. Chairs stretched from one wing to the other, threatening to spill out into the parking lot with vampires, werewolves and various residents of Bon Temps.

The result was a somewhat peculiar panel where every question or round of questions functioned like a "True Blood" wave, beginning with Joe Manganiello [SQUEE!!!] stage left and rippling down past Nelsan Ellis [SQUEE!!!], through Deborah Ann Woll [SIGH!!!], by Ryan Kwanten [SQUEE!!!] and reaching a crescendo with Alexander Skarsgard, Stephen Moyer and Anna Paquin. On one hand, it felt like only a limited number of Big Issue questions (the type of questions Alan Ball wouldn't have answered anyway) were even asked, but on the other hand, it was the rare 17-personal TV show panel on which no star, co-star or bit player left feeling like they'd been neglected or denied the opportunity to bask in the shrieking crowd's adulatory glow.

Click through for some highlights from the panel, including some minor spoilers about the show's upcoming fourth season. And come back to HitFix in the days to come for my brief, but frequently interesting pre-panel interviews with Ball, Woll, Manganiello and more...

They're six episodes into production on "True Blood" Season 4, so although nobody was going to bring an episodic rough cut to a public event three-plus months before premiere, that meant that the PaleyFest crowd was treated to at least one brief scene from the new season. In the clip, protesters are picketing Fangtasia with signs trumpeting the wisdom of Michael McMillian's Reverend Newlin. Hoyt tries to counter-protest that if they were truly Christians, the mob would be tolerant of people trying to live their lifestyles, but when one of the rabble-rousers says something bad about Jessica, Hoyt loses interest in turning the other cheek and some brawling ensues. 

The audience was pleased with the clip, which came after a montage encapsulating the first three seasons into 10 minutes of brooding bloodsuckers, marauding maenads and dreamy werewolves.

Because of the aforementioned answering-in-the-round format of the panel, I can't think of a better way to structure this story than around a couple of the collective topics and a selection of highlight answers.

Who would you like to work with who you maybe haven't worked with? [Seriously, if you start a panel with this kind of question and get answers from everybody, that's 25 minutes out of the way, easy.]

Kristin Bauer van Straten: "I think Jason and Pam would be hysterical."

Kevin Alejandro: "I'd like to work with Stephen or Eric. Anyone but this guy" (nodding over jokingly toward Nelsan).

Deborah Ann Woll: "I think Lafayette and Jessica would have a lot to talk about."

Jim Parrack: "I guess Alex, so I can see why everybody screams so much."

Rutina Wesley: "I think I would like to see some Tara and Pam action." [To which Ball replied, "You will."

Stephen Moyer: [Of Arlene and Terry] "I'd like to sit at their kitchen table and play Trivial Pursuit."

Anna Paquin: "I'm spoiled. I get to play with everyone."


 
The moderator asked each cast member general questions trying to suss out information about the upcoming season. Sometimes it worked. The folks in the crowd were most excited by Skarsgard's answer.

Ellis, on whether he can trust Alejandro's Manwitch Jesus: "I think I can. I do. He has me under his spell, so I have no choice but to trust him." [Alejandro's answer was, "Never trust anybody too much."

Woll, on the future for Jessica and Hoyt: "The fairy tale can't go on forever, but maybe the reality is better than the fairy tale?"

Carrie Preston, on fears for her baby's soul because of its father: "Certainly in Arlene's mind, there's good and there's evil and if you are a serial killer, you are evil." ["And Terry thinks that could maybe be corrected parented out," added Todd Lowe.] Of the state of things with the baby, Preston said, "Last we left it, the baby was on-board and we'll just say that that problem grows exponentially.

Chris Bauer, on Andy Bellfleur's interest in V: "V has a lot of properties that Andy didn't know about." He added, "A lot of V came into the station toward the end of last season. And that's where he works."

Ryan Kwanten, on Jason's new gig as Bon Temps cop: "I think it's kind of hilarious that this guy who's not exactly the sharpest tool in the shed has been bestowed this sense of authority and if anybody should not have a sense of authority, should not be wielding a gun, should not be looking after an entire village of meth addicts, it's Jason Stackhouse. I think good things, intriguing things and hopefully very watchable things happen."

Sam Trammell, on the chance of Sam Merlotte finding love: "Slim, looking at the record. But I've got another shot. I'm at bat again." Of last season, Trammell observed, "Sam, he had a bad day. It was a bad week, the whole season. I think he'll sober up." [Ball noted that in the "True Blood" universe, no character is entitled to more than one episode of smooth happiness.]

Rutina Wesley, on where we'll find Tara: "We'll see a new Tara. I think it will be very surprising where she's been and what she's been up to. I think she's a lot more stable and that's good. She may find some happiness." Wesley told us that we find out very early where Tara left to at the end of last season, but she offered no hints.

Alexander Skarsgard, confirming speculation on how we'll find Eric Northman this season: "He doesn't know who he is anymore. 1000 years of resentment for humanity is just gone. He's very innocent... Eric needs help." Skarsgard continued "What we're doing now is so different. This powerful character is just gone. What we've built up over the last three years is just gone and it's lot of fun, because it's the polar opposite of who Eric really is," adding, "This is just a blast, what we've been shooting now, because he is lost, completely lost and he discovers a lot. He doesn't know who he is. He knows he's a vampire, but then slowly find out stuff. Like 'Oh, did I do that?' and 'I killed those people?' 'Oh, really.' That's not easy to hear and it's definitely a struggle for Eric, not knowing who he can trust and who's a friend and enemy. He's very vulnerable." Skarsgard also told us to expect an Eric/Bill flashback early in the season

Alan Ball, confirming the return, in some capacity, of Godric: "One of the great things about having characters who have been around for hundreds and thousands of years is you can go back and you can see them at a different point in history. Or they can appear in people's dreams. Vampires dream, too. Or they might have been cloned." It seemed like the cloning part was a joke.

Stephen Moyer, on where we left things with Bill and The Vampire Queen: "There is a bit of a bite-off. There's a bit of a fight, bit of a bundle and... things happen."

Anna Paquin, on Sookie's journey and return: "Well, she disappears into this soft, warm fuzzy light with Claudine. And, um, she comes back... There's some stuff that's different." Note that apparently stage directions refer to Sookie's glowing hand powers as her "microwave fingers." And no, she hasn't learned how to control that power because, "She's still very new at this fairy stuff."

Paquin, breaking down the pros and cons of the men in Sookie's life: "There are certain things going for the different men in Sookie's life. Alice doesn't turn into a ball of charred fire during the daytime. Alcide has that nice warm thing going for him, which is a plus. But Alcide comes with some baggage, which is less of a plus, namely an ex-girlfriend who wants to  kick the ever-loving [whatever] out of Sookie. That's a minus. Eric's a little problematic for Sookie. He's caused her some trouble. He seems to be looking out for himself a lot of the time. Every once in while, he proves himself to be disarmingly on her side. So it's a bit confusing. And he consistently has shown interesting, which might get acted upon. I mean... you never know. I guess you'll just have to watch."

Alan Ball on the themes of Season 4: "It's about the duality of existence. We don't really think in terms of themes. I do, each season, come up with a stock answer, but I so respect and admire the hard-core fans that are here tonight that I'm not going to lie to you. We try to do a show that's really amazing and fun and surprising and where you care about the characters and you care about what happens to them. Now I've told some people at HBO, perhaps, that theme of the season is 'Man vs. Nature.' Perhaps I said to someone earlier at the beginning of this project that it was about The Terrors of Intimacy... But I think the theme is 'True Blood,' More 'True Blood.'"


Hmmm... This is already becoming much too long a write-up. I could talk about the very, very funny stories of amusing experiences with fans, but most of those were "You had to be there" kinda things, as each actor attempted to one-up their colleagues (with the exception of Ryan Kwanten, who punted). 

But here are a few other "True Blood" PaleyFest highlights before I call it a night (more interviews coming early next week):

*** The only piece of Season 4 casting that I hadn't heard previously was Gary Cole, who will be guesting in a capacity Ball opted not to explain. Fair enough. Everybody loves Gary Cole.

*** Asked to list favorite series quotes, there was a lot of echoing for Paquin's answer, which was "Everything Pam says ever." Moyer noted that while most of the cast sticks fairly strictly to the scripts, Nelsan Ellis has been known to improvise and those improvisations have been known to stick.

*** Moyer had one of the night's best, least-printable answers when he was asked about the notorious head-twisting sex scene. He admitted, "I was worried about it, because I couldn't see where Bill was going with that, what was the reason to turn the anger into rape." The way Moyer explained it is that, "He can be f***ed around by her, but he can f*** her." He added that "I love the technical aspect of what we do and just in terms of that, it was very arresting."

*** Other characters who might come back in the future? Well, there's Alcide's psychopathic ex Debbie, of whom Manganiello said, "She's still alive and at large, so you never know." And then, there's Russell Edgington, The Vampire King himself. "We specifically made the choice not to kill him. I don't know when he'll be back, but there are definitely plans to bring him back... And he is gonna be PISSED," teased Ball.

*** One member of the crowd was very concerned that this season was going to differentiate between practitioners of wicca and storybook witches. Ball emphasized that the initial wiccan group is not "the bringers of evil" and added that "We've done a lot of research and we've tried to be as true to the tradition of wicca as we can."

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