HBO is preparing a eulogy for “Six Feet Under.”
The pay cabler confirmed Friday that the upcoming fifth season of “Six Feet” will be the last for the ensemble drama revolving around the trials and tribulations of a family that runs a mortuary. Series creator/executive producer Alan Ball recently informed HBO executives that he felt the show will have run its creative course by the end of the upcoming 12-episode season.
“Working on ‘Six Feet Under’ has been enormously fulfilling creatively, but if the show is about anything, it’s about the fact that everything comes to an end,” Ball said in a statement. “I will miss working with such enormously talented writers, cast, staff and crew and I’ll always be grateful to HBO for allowing and encouraging us to tell the story we set out to tell in a challenging and uncompromising way.”
“Six Feet” has been a critical darling for HBO, if not a commercial hit on the scale of “The Sopranos” or “Sex and the City,” since its 2001 debut. The drama — whose ensemble cast includes Peter Krause, Michael C. Hall, Rachel Griffiths, Lauren Ambrose and Frances Conroy — has been showered with Emmy nominations — it earned 16 Emmy bids in 2002, its first year of eligibility, and 23 noms in 2003 — but has yet to claim the top drama series prize in the annual Emmy derby.
“Six Feet” is a project that has been particularly close to the heart of Carolyn Strauss, HBO entertainment president, who originally dreamed up the notion of doing a series set in a mortuary. She pitched the idea to Ball, who was then hot off the success of his Oscar-winning screenplay for “American Beauty,” and the writer-producer fell for it immediately.
“Dealing with death seemed like a very common experience that we could all relate to, and (the mortuary setting) seemed like a great lens for a fairly ironic show,” Strauss said. “It also seemed like the kind of show that only (HBO) could do.”
Strauss was quick to praise Ball and the rest of the “Six Feet” crew for “all the impressive work. It’s been a fantastic experience to be associated with this show,” she said.
Production on “Six Feet’s” fifth season is set to begin Nov. 16, but a premiere date has not yet been set, Strauss said. Word of “Six Feet’s” swan song season comes at a time when HBO is already in a transitional phase after bidding farewell to “Sex and the City” this year, while its other original series tentpole, “The Sopranos,” isn’t due back for its final season until 2006.
HBO has the sophomore season of its wild Western “Deadwood” on tap to premiere in January, followed in March by the return of Depression-era drama “Carnivale.” Other series in the production pipeline at HBO are “Big Love,” starring Bill Pullman as a modern-day polygamist in Utah, and the big-budget costume drama “Rome.”
The Big Six seem to have found a new hobby: Annoying the hell out of their loyal viewers.
Frightened by ever-dwindling audiences, the broadcast nets have started employing a number of scheduling tricks and promotional gimmicks, all with the goal of getting people to watch more network TV. But rather than make viewers want to stick around, some industry insiders believe the shenanigans are turning viewers off — and causing auds to turn on their DVD players, computers and PlayStation 2 machines.
Among the most offensive stunts:
So-called ‘swipes’ — the promotional graphics that pop up in the lower third of screens to promote upcoming shows — have grown larger and more omnipresent on many networks this season. What began as a simple, discreet one-line graphic telling viewers what they’re watching (or what’s on next) has morphed into elaborate animated mini-ads.
On NBC, for example, viewers watching the now-dead “Father of the Pride” found their attention divided between Jeffrey Katzenberg’s animated lions and the animated mini-Matt LeBlancs the Peacock used to hype “Joey.” What’s more, NBC now runs swipes at the start and near the end of each act in a show, touting as many as four different projects within a few seconds.
Producers of Fox’s “The Simpsons” and “King of the Hill” also have loudly griped to Fox about the swipes.
Many shows no longer start or end when they’re supposed to.
Fans who taped ABC’s hit drama “Lost” early in the season found themselves missing key moments because the Alphabet decided to have the show end at 9:01 p.m., screwing up VCRs and TiVos across America. NBC’s “super size” mania meant that “The Apprentice” didn’t air in its regular 9 p.m. Thursday slot until a few episodes into its second season.
Repeats are no longer for summer or holiday seasons. CBS and NBC now scatter encores of their crime drama franchises around their skeds like confetti, thus taking less chances on original fare.
Because of the hyper-competitive environment, nets are less patient than ever. Shows get little time to find an audience, resulting in timeslot shifts and early cancellations that inevitably annoy millions of viewers. NBC, for example, killed its reality skein “Last Comic Standing” one week before the show’s winner was set to be announced — a move that prompted host Jay Mohr to denounce the Peacock on his Web site.
“There are things we do that are detrimental to a viewer’s enjoyment of a show, and it makes us look cheesy and cheap when we overdo it,” says one top veteran program exec. “We sometimes assume viewers are our little monkeys that will jump at whatever we do, and that’s not the case.”
Network defenders rightly point out that basic cable actually originated many of the gimmicks now driving auds batty. And the swipes used on nets like MTV or Food Network make the Big Six promos look tame.
What’s more, while tricks like irregular start times may be annoying, “That’s the price of free TV,” one web exec notes.
In its day, “Dallas” was a magnificent and magnetic series that drew millions every Friday night. No matter how silly, this steamy soap took command for most of its 13-season run, serving as a pioneer of serialized dramas in prime time. (And need we remind you how 77 percent of all people watching TV the night of Nov. 21, 1980, tuned to “Dallas” to find out who shot J.R.?) For all these reasons, “Dallas Reunion: The Return To Southfork” will stir amusing memories.
This predictable and, at two hours, padded retrospective brings together cast members Larry Hagman, Victoria Principal, Linda Gray, Patrick Duffy (news), Charlene Tilton, Ken Kercheval, Steve Kanaly … and Mary Crosby, who, as Kristin, turned out to be the one who shot J.R. Ewing, the villainous oil baron played with hissable aplomb by Hagman.
A current look at most of these stars, gathered at the Texas ranch that posed as the Ewing family spread, will remind you how much time has passed since the show ended in 1991.
A look at clips from the show itself will remind you how bad most of the acting was and, by today’s standards, how tame was the seemingly scandalous behavior.
Doesn’t matter. For its fans, “Dallas” was as big as the Texas outdoors, and going back briefly is fun. It airs Sunday at 9 p.m. EST on CBS.
Credit: Nellie Andreeva/Frazier Moore/Josef Adalian/AP/Reuters/Hollywood Reporter/Yahoo