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'True Blood' could be bleeding green for HBO very soon

June 16, 2009 |  4:10 pm

TRUEBLOOD Not only is HBO's sultry vampire drama "True Blood" the pay cable channel's biggest ratings hit since "The Sopranos," it is also on track to become the network's next big cash cow.

DVD sales for the first season of "True Blood" have exploded faster than the veins in Sookie's neck did in Sunday's episode. In its first two weeks of release, almost 725,000 units were sold, which translates to $26 million, according to TV by the Numbers. The show has also become one of the most popular downloads on iTunes. Since HBO produces and owns "True Blood," most of that money will flow back to the cable network.

Of course, like all HBO shows, "True Blood" isn't cheap to make. Although a typical drama on broadcast television may cost north of $2 million an epsiode, HBO's cost $3 million to $4 million an episode. But if the show's success continues, it will be profitable for the network in no time.

The emergence of "True Blood" as a smash hit has to be at least a little bit of a pleasant surprise for HBO. When it premiered last year, it drew only 1.4 million viewers and looked like it would join "John From Cincinnati" and "Tell Me You Love Me" as another quirky flop for the network.

But as the season wore on, its popularlity started to grow. Sunday's second-season premiere drew 3.7 million viewers which, as our sister blog Showtracker notes, was the highest number for an HBO show since the finale of "The Sopranos." HBO reran the premiere episode later that night so all totaled the premiere drew over 5 million viewers.

The strong start of "True Blood" should ensure a decent turnout for HBO's newest comedy, "Hung," about a teacher who decides to use his best asset to become a male gigolo. It premieres June 28.

Although many view the surge of "True Blood" as a sign that HBO's ready to reclaim its cool crown from Showtime, which has gotten a lot of buzz for "Weeds," "Californication" and most recently "Nurse Jackie," HBO's bottom line has remained strong even when its creative side wasn't. The channel, which is in about 30 million homes, generates $1.3 billion to $1.4 billion in profit for parent Time Warner. That would make any vampire thirsty.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: Stephen Moyer and Anna Paquin of "True Blood." Credit: HBO / John P. Johnson