I’m attending a conference this weekend on TV Vampires, and it got me thinking about the use and development of the TV vampire. Especially given the explosion of several TV series featuring vampires and the upcoming shows that are to air as part of the ‘Fall Schedule’.
It could be argued that Buffy was a turning point for televisual vampires, as is so often stated in articles about this topic. Following Buffy there were also a number of other vampire related series, and even before. Forever Knight was one, along with a number of lesser-known shows. The difference is that vampires are now big business and putting them on the small screen is sometimes more commercially viable than releasing a single film. Why exactly that is could be down to a number of reasons, but I speculate its something to do with the fan culture around TV series and the way we interact with televisual texts.
TV is an extended narrative which allows for a broader development and better characterisation, multiple plot twists and bite-sized installments of a story. However, it is heavily reliant on advertising, particularly in the US, so some viewpoints and topics are deemed too contraversial to screen. Saying this, due to the metaphorical nature of the vampire, the figure can portray and explore a number of issues other series couldn’t. Magical realism (a genre which many of these series arguably inhabit) broaches a number of topics that are extremely relevant to today’s society (which is essentially what I’m arguing in my thesis).
Shows like True Blood are doing this to greater effect. As it’s a HBO show, there is room for riskier viewpoints, scenes and visceral manifestations to be screened. TB comes under fire for the graphic content often shown in its episodes, but the fan base is incredibly strong, and it’s proved itself to be a series worth taking note of.
However, there seems to be a trend for explanatory narratives now, along with remakes. I say this in reference primarily to the upcoming Dracula series starring Jonathan Rhys-Meyers which explores Dracula’s life before the book. It follows a similar pattern to the recent series of Hannibal, which, whilst it is an excellent series (in my opinion) relies on the audience’s knowledge of the concepts and character of Hannibal to be of any true value. The same goes with Dracula. Conceptions of the figure are important in the consumption of the new show, and ratings at first will be probably heavily reliant on those well-acquainted with the story.
Another popular US vampire TV show is Being Human which is a remake of the British version. With all this, it appears that many of the current TV vampires are an attempt to cash in on the unquenchable thirst for vampires and offer different takes on already established stories. Whether this means they’ll be limited in their contribution to the vampire genre is yet to be seen. Serialising the vampire has been popular since the penny-dreadful editions of Varney the Vampire, and the format attracts strong fandoms, commercial interest and opportunities for spin-offs. (Angel being one, and there’s an upcoming Vampire Diaries spin-off in the works)
If I were being cynical, I’d say the TV industry is sucking the last drops of life from every existing vampire narrative already in existence. But, I’m a sucker for a good story. Let’s just hope they show us a side of the vampire not already done to death.