Six Feet Under (TV series)

Six Feet Under
Genre Serial drama
Black comedy
Family drama
Created by Alan Ball
Starring Peter Krause
Michael C. Hall
Frances Conroy
Lauren Ambrose
Freddy Rodriguez
Mathew St. Patrick
Jeremy Sisto
Rachel Griffiths
James Cromwell
Justina Machado
Theme music composer Thomas Newman
Composer(s) Richard Marvin
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 5
No. of episodes 63 (list of episodes)
Executive producer(s) Alan Ball
Robert Greenblatt
David Janollari
Alan Poul (Seasons 2–5)
Bruce Eric Kaplan (Seasons 4–5)
Rick Cleveland (Season 5)
Camera setup 35 mm; single camera
Running time 46–60 minutes
72 minutes (series finale)
Production company(s) Actual Size Films
The Greenblatt/Janollari Studio
Distributor Warner Bros. Television
HBO Enterprises
Original network HBO
Picture format 480i (4:3 SDTV) (seasons 12)
480i (16:9 SDTV) (seasons 35)
Original release June 3, 2001 (2001-06-03) – August 21, 2005 (2005-08-21)
External links

Six Feet Under is an American drama television series created and produced by Alan Ball. It premiered on the premium cable network HBO in the United States on June 3, 2001 and ended on August 21, 2005, spanning five seasons and 63 episodes. The show was produced by Actual Size Films and The Greenblatt/Janollari Studio, and was shot on location in Los Angeles and in Hollywood studios. The show depicts members of the Fisher family, who run their funeral home in Los Angeles, and their friends and lovers. The series traces these characters' lives over the course of five years. The ensemble drama stars Peter Krause, Michael C. Hall, Frances Conroy, Lauren Ambrose, Freddy Rodriguez, Mathew St. Patrick, and Rachel Griffiths as the show's seven central characters.

Six Feet Under received widespread critical acclaim, particularly for its writing and acting, and consistently drew high ratings for the HBO network. Regarded by many as one of the greatest TV dramas of all time, it has since been included on TIME magazine's "All-TIME 100 TV Shows",[1] as well as Empire magazine's "50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time" list.[2] It has also been described as having one of the finest series finales in the history of television.[3] It won numerous awards, including nine Emmy Awards, three Screen Actors Guild Awards, three Golden Globe Awards, and a Peabody Award.

Show synopsis

The show stars Peter Krause as Nathaniel Samuel "Nate" Fisher, Jr., whose funeral director father (Richard Jenkins) dies and bequeaths to him and his brother, David (Michael C. Hall), co-ownership of the family funeral business. The Fisher clan also includes widow, Ruth (Frances Conroy), and daughter, Claire (Lauren Ambrose). Other regulars include mortician and family friend, Federico Diaz (Freddy Rodriguez), Nate's on-again/off-again girlfriend, Brenda Chenowith (Rachel Griffiths), and David's long-term boyfriend, Keith Charles (Mathew St. Patrick).

On one level, the show is a conventional family drama, dealing with such issues as interpersonal relationships, infidelity, and religion. At the same time, the show is distinguished by its unblinking focus on the topic of death, which it explores on multiple levels (personal, religious, and philosophical). Each episode begins with a death – the cause of which ranges from heart attack or murder to sudden infant death syndrome – and that death usually sets the thematic tone for each episode, allowing the characters to reflect on their current fortunes and misfortunes in a way that is illuminated by the death and its aftermath. The show also utilises dark humor and surrealism running throughout.

A recurring plot device consists of a character having an imaginary conversation with the deceased; for example, Nate, David, and Federico sometimes "converse" with the decedent at the beginning of the episode, while the corpse is being embalmed, or during funeral planning or the funeral itself. Sometimes, the characters converse with other, recurring deceased characters, most notably Nathaniel Fisher, Sr. The show's creator, Alan Ball, avers that this represents the living characters' internal dialogues expressed in the form of external conversations.[4]


Although overall plots and characters were created by Alan Ball, there are conflicting reports on how the series was conceived. In one instance, Ball stated that he came up with the premise of the show after the deaths of his sister and father. However, in an interview,[5] he intimates that HBO entertainment president Carolyn Strauss proposed the idea to him. In a copyright-infringement lawsuit,[6] screenwriter Gwen O'Donnell asserted that she was the original source of the idea which later passed through Strauss to Ball; the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, proceeding on the assumption that this assertion was true, rejected her claim. Ball stated in an interview,[7]

When I went to HBO and they had read my first draft and Carolyn Strauss said, 'You know, this is really, really good. I love these characters, I love these situations, but it feels a little safe. Could you just make it just a little more fucked up?' which is not a note that you get in Hollywood very often. And I thought, 'Wow!' And that gave me free range to go a little deeper, go a little darker, go a little more complicated.

Major themes

The show focuses on human mortality, the symbiotic nature of life and death feeding off of each other and the lives of those who deal with it on a daily basis. When discussing the concept of the show, creator Alan Ball elaborates on the foremost questions the show's pilot targeted:[5]

Who are these people who are funeral directors that we hire to face death for us? What does that do to their own lives – to grow up in a home where there are dead bodies in the basement, to be a child and walk in on your father with a body lying on a table opened up and him working on it? What does that do to you?

Six Feet Under introduces the Fisher family as the basis on which to explore these questions. Throughout its five-season, 63-episode run, major characters experience crises which are in direct relation to their environment and the grief they have experienced. Alan Ball again relates these experiences as well as the choice of the series' title, to the persistent subtext of the program:[8]

Six Feet Under refers not only to being buried as a dead body is buried, but to primal emotions and feelings running under the surface. When one is surrounded by death – to counterbalance that, there needs to be a certain intensity of experience, of needing to escape. It's Nate with his womanizing – it's Claire and her sexual experimentation – it's Brenda's sexual compulsiveness – it's David having sex with a male hooker in public – it's Ruth having several affairs – it's the life force trying to push up through all of that suffering and grief and depression.


Exteriors for the Fisher home were shot at 2302 West 25th Street and the intersection of Arlington Avenue, in the West Adams neighborhood of Los Angeles.[9] In Season 5, episode 1, Rico mentions that he grew up "in West Adams, near where I work."

Character histories and cast

Main characters

The main characters of Six Feet Under in the first season. From left to right: Federico; Keith; David; Claire; Ruth; Nate; Nathaniel, Sr; and Brenda.
Actor Character Relationship
Peter Krause Nate Fisher Eldest child
Michael C. Hall David Fisher Middle child
Frances Conroy Ruth Fisher Matriarch
Lauren Ambrose Claire Fisher Youngest child
Freddy Rodriguez Federico Diaz Business partner
Mathew St. Patrick Keith Charles David's on-off significant other
Rachel Griffiths Brenda Chenowith Nate's on-off significant other

Major supporting characters

Actor Character Seasons Relationship
Richard Jenkins Nathaniel Fisher, Sr. 1–5 Patriarch of Fisher family and owner of Fisher & Sons Funeral Home before his death in a car accident in 2000. Husband of Ruth; father of Nate, David and Claire.
Jeremy Sisto Billy Chenowith 1–5 Brenda's younger brother who has bipolar disorder; son of Margaret and Bernard Chenowith.
Justina Machado Vanessa Diaz 1–5 Licensed Vocational Nurse; Federico's wife.
Joanna Cassidy Margaret Chenowith 1–5 Psychologist mother of Brenda and Billy; wife of Bernard.
Tim Maculan Father Jack 1–5 Priest at the Fisher's family church; presided over Nathaniel's funeral; officiates marriage of David and Keith.
Eric Balfour Gabriel Dimas 1–3 Claire's high school boyfriend who was a chronic drug user.
Robert Foxworth Dr. Bernard Chenowith 1–3 Brenda and Billy's psychiatrist father; husband to Margaret.
Ed O'Ross Nikolai 1–2; 5 Owner of Blossom d'Amour Flower Shop; boyfriend of Ruth Fisher when she worked as a florist.
Marina Black Parker McKenna 1–2 A friend of Claire's during high school.
David Norona Gary Deitman 1–2 Claire's counselor.
Gary Hershberger Matthew Gilardi 1–2 Employee of a major funeral home organization who attempts to buy out Fisher & Sons.
Ed Begley, Jr. Hiram Gunderson 1; 5 Had an affair with Ruth Fisher while she was married to Nathaniel.
Illeana Douglas Angela 1; 5 Temporarily replaced Federico in Fisher & Sons. Eventually has a one-night stand with Federico.
Patricia Clarkson Sarah O'Connor 2–5 Younger sister of Ruth Fisher, an artist who lives in Topanga Canyon.
Lili Taylor Lisa Kimmel Fisher 2–5 Nate's former roommate while living in Seattle; his first wife and mother of his daughter Maya.
Aysia Polk Taylor 2–3 Keith's niece, who is under his care for season 2.
Catherine O'Hara Carol Ward 3; 5 A neurotic motion picture producer and Lisa's boss.
James Cromwell George Sibley 3–5 Geologist/professor; second husband to Ruth.
Kathy Bates Bettina 3–5 Sarah's friend and caretaker who becomes a good friend of Ruth.
Peter Macdissi Olivier Castro-Staal 3–5 Claire's Professor of Form and Space at LAC-Arts; lover to Margaret Chenowith.
Ben Foster Russell Corwin 3–5 A friend of Claire's from art school and one-time boyfriend.
Rainn Wilson Arthur Martin 3–5 A young intern from Cypress College mortuary school who works for the funeral home briefly.
Justin Theroux Joe 3–4 Brenda's neighbor and boyfriend during season 4.
Idalis DeLeón Sophia 3–4 Exotic dancer involved with Federico.
Sprague Grayden Anita Miller 4–5 A friend of Claire's from art school.
Peter Facinelli Jimmy 4–5 An artist and friend of Claire's from art school and one-time lover.
Mena Suvari Edie 4 Free-spirited lesbian artist and friend of Claire's from art school.
Michael Weston Jake 4–5 Homicidal meth addict who assaults David.
Tina Holmes Maggie Sibley 4–5 Daughter of George Sibley.
Chris Messina Ted Fairwell 5 Lawyer at Claire Fisher's temp office job; boyfriend of Claire Fisher during season 5.
Kendré Berry Durrell Charles-Fisher 5 Adopted son of David and Keith.
C. J. Sanders Anthony Charles-Fisher 5 Adopted son of David and Keith.

Family tree

Nathaniel Fisher, Sr.
Ruth Fisher
Bernard Asa Chenowith
Margaret Chenowith
George Sibley
prior wife
Keith Charles
David Fisher
Claire Fisher
Nate Fisher
Brenda Chenowith
Billy Chenowith
Lisa Kimmel Fisher
Maggie Sibley
Brian Sibley
Anthony Charles-Fisher
Durrell Charles-Fisher
Willa Fisher Chenowith
Maya Kimmel Fisher


The series was created by Alan Ball, who also served as executive producer and showrunner for the entire series run. Robert Greenblatt and David Janollari executive produced the series, as The Greenblatt Janollari Studio was one of the production companies. The other producers were Lori Jo Nemhauser and Robert Del Valle.[10]

The writing staff consisted of creator Alan Ball, who wrote nine episodes over the series run, including the pilot episode and the series finale. Writers who were on staff for the entire series run included Rick Cleveland, who wrote eight episodes and became an executive producer in the fifth season; Kate Robin, who wrote eight episodes and became a supervising producer in the fifth season; and Bruce Eric Kaplan, who wrote seven episodes and became an executive producer in the fourth season. Christian Williams was just on staff for the first season, writing two episodes. Both Laurence Andries and Christian Taylor wrote three episodes each during their run on the series for the first two seasons, and they also served as producers. Scott Buck and Jill Soloway joined in the second season staying on staff for the rest of the series, and each wrote seven episodes. Buck became a co-executive producer in the fourth season, and Soloway became a co-executive producer in the fifth season. The last set of writers to join the staff were Craig Wright and Nancy Oliver in the third season. Wright wrote six episodes and became a producer in the fifth season and Oliver wrote five episodes and became a co-producer in the fifth season.[10]

Creator Alan Ball also directed the most episodes, directing the pilot and each of the season finales. Dan Attias also directed six episodes, from season two to five. Kathy Bates (who also played Bettina on the series), Michael Cuesta, Rodrigo García, and Jeremy Podeswa each directed five episodes. Michael Engler, Daniel Minahan, and Alan Poul (who also served as an executive producer for the series) each directed four episodes. Miguel Arteta directed three episodes and Nicole Holofcener directed two episodes. Single-episode directors included Peter Care, Alan Caso, Lisa Cholodenko, Allen Coulter, Adam Davidson, Mary Harron, Joshua Marston, Jim McBride, Karen Moncrieff, John Patterson, Matt Shakman, Alan Taylor, Rose Troche, and Peter Webber.[10]


The series' main theme, written by composer Thomas Newman, won a 2002 Emmy Award for Outstanding Main Title Theme Music and two Grammy Awards in 2003 for Best Instrumental Composition and Best Instrumental Arrangement.

The production sound from seasons three through five was mixed by Bo Harwood, and was nominated in 2004 for a Cinema Audio Society Award.

Seasons two through five featured a promotional teaser trailer prior to the premiere of that season. The songs featured in each seasons trailer were "Heaven" by Lamb for season two; "A Rush of Blood to the Head" by Coldplay for season three; "Feeling Good" by Nina Simone for season four; and "Breathe Me" by Sia Furler for season five, which is also used for montage in the series finale. All these songs are included in either of two soundtracks for the show.

The episode recaps for the first two seasons feature the song "Nothing Lies Still Long" by Pell Mell. The episode previews for the first and fifth seasons feature the Six Feet Under title theme, while the other seasons feature the Rae & Christian remix version of the title theme.

Music supervision for the entire run of the series was provided by Gary Calamar and Thomas Golubic, who were also credited as producers for the two soundtrack albums.

Awards and nominations

At the 2002 Primetime Emmy Awards, the series received 23 nominations for its first two seasons, including a nomination for Outstanding Drama Series. Series creator Alan Ball won for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series for the pilot episode and Patricia Clarkson won for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series. The rest of the ensemble cast, including Michael C. Hall, Peter Krause, Frances Conroy, Rachel Griffiths, Freddy Rodriguez, and Lauren Ambrose all received acting nominations. Guest actors Lili Taylor and Illeana Douglas received nominations in the guest acting category. The series received 16 nominations at the 2003 Primetime Emmy Awards for its third season, including a nomination for Outstanding Drama Series. Peter Krause, Frances Conroy, Lauren Ambrose, Rachel Griffiths, James Cromwell, and Kathy Bates all received acting nominations. Alan Poul was nominated for directing for the episode "Nobody Sleeps", and Craig Wright was nominated for writing for the episode "Twilight". The series received 5 nominations at the 2005 Primetime Emmy Awards for its fourth season, including Outstanding Drama Series and Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for Frances Conroy. The series received 9 nominations at the 2006 Primetime Emmy Awards for its fifth and final season. Patricia Clarkson won for the second time for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series, and Peter Krause, Frances Conroy, and Joanna Cassidy received acting nominations. Alan Ball was nominated for writing and directing for the series finale episode "Everyone's Waiting".[11]

For the Golden Globe Awards, the series won for Best Drama Series in 2001, and received nominations in 2002 and 2003. Peter Krause was nominated for Best Actor in a Drama Series in 2001 and 2002. Rachel Griffiths won for Best Supporting Actress in a Series, Miniseries, or TV Film in 2001, and received a nomination in 2002 in the Lead Actress category. Frances Conroy won for Best Actress in a Drama Series in 2003.[12]

For the Screen Actors Guild Awards, the cast won for Outstanding Ensemble in a Drama Series in 2002 and 2003, and received nominations in 2001, 2004, and 2005. Peter Krause was nominated for Outstanding Male Actor in a Drama Series in 2001 and 2003. Frances Conroy won for Outstanding Female Actor in a Drama Series in 2003.

The series won a Peabody Award for general excellence in 2002 "for its unsettling yet powerfully humane explorations of life and death."[13]



All five seasons are available on DVD in individual box sets and in a collected volume.[14]

SeasonRelease dateEpisodesDiscsAdditional information
Region 1 Region 2 Region 4
1February 4, 2003July 7, 2003February 11, 2004134
  • Two audio commentaries; "Under the Main Title" featurette; "Behind-the-Scenes" featurette with cast and filmmaker; deleted scenes; cast and filmmaker bios; two music tracks
2July 6, 2004June 21, 2004July 14, 2004135
  • Five audio commentaries; "Anatomy of a Working Stiff: Life as a Dead Body" featurette
3May 17, 2005April 4, 2005May 11, 2005135
  • Five audio commentaries; "A Birdseye View of the Third Season" – An in-depth interview with show creator Alan Ball including the original HBO trailer
4August 23, 2005September 5, 2005November 16, 2005125
  • Seven audio commentaries; "Cut by Cut: Editing Six Feet Under" featurette; deleted scenes; Exclusive Bob Costas interview with the cast
5March 28, 2006April 10, 2006October 4, 2005125
  • Six audio commentaries; "Six Feet Under: 2001–2005": two 30-minute retrospectives; "Life and Loss: The Impact of Six Feet Under" featurette
15November 14, 2006 April 10, 2006August 13, 20146324
  • Same special features as individual releases
  • Bonus disc 25 included on Region 1 (not available on regions 2 and 4)
  • Re-released on Region 1 on October 6, 2009 in slimmer packaging


Two soundtrack albums, featuring music that had appeared in the series, were released:


See also


  1. "Six Feet Under – The 100 Best TV Shows of All-TIME". Time. September 6, 2007. Retrieved March 28, 2010.
  2. "Empire Presents The 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time". Empire. Retrieved March 28, 2010.
  3. "The Ten Best Television Series Finales". Blog Critics. March 27, 2009. Retrieved March 28, 2010.
      "50 Best TV Dramas Ever". TV Squad. March 11, 2009. Retrieved March 28, 2010.
      "Happy Endings: The 6 Best TV Finales". TV Fodder. August 22, 2005. Retrieved March 28, 2010.
      "TV's Best Finales Ever". TV Guide. Retrieved March 28, 2010.
      "TV's Best and Worst Series Finales". New York Post. Retrieved March 28, 2010.
      "TV's All-Time Best Series' Finales". MSN TV. Archived from the original on March 25, 2009. Retrieved March 28, 2010.
      "5 Best TV Finales". Pop Vultures. March 14, 2008. Archived from the original on July 15, 2011. Retrieved March 28, 2010.
      "The Best Series Finales". June 11, 2007. Retrieved March 28, 2010.
      "Top 10 TV Series Finales: The Sopranos, Friends, Cheers". April 2, 2009. Retrieved March 28, 2010.
  4. Ball, Alan (writer). Six Feet Under — DVD audio commentaries (DVD). HBO Home Video.
  5. 1 2 Ball, Alan. Six Feet Under: The Complete Series – "In Memoriam" featurette (DVD). HBO Home Video.
  6. "462 F3d 1072 Funky Films Inc v. Time Warner Entertainment Company Lp Lp". Open Jurist. Retrieved March 28, 2010.
  7. "Six Feet Under creator Alan Ball talks about the end of the HBO series". MovieWeb. May 25, 2005. Retrieved August 29, 2012.
  8. Ball, Alan (writer/director). Six Feet Under: The Complete Fifth Season – "Everyone's Waiting" audio commentary (DVD). HBO Home Video.
  9. "Six Feet Under House / Fisher-Diaz Funeral Home ~ West Adams". L.A. Taco. Retrieved January 15, 2015.
  10. 1 2 3 "HBO: Six Feet Under: Cast & Crew". HBO. Retrieved October 28, 2010.
  11. "Six Feet Under". Retrieved August 29, 2012.
  12. "Six Feet Under". Retrieved August 29, 2012.
  13. "Six Feet Under (HBO)". The Peabody Awards. May 2003. Retrieved September 29, 2014.
  14. "Six Feet Under on DVD, Release Info, Reviews, News". Retrieved August 29, 2012.

External links

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