Six Feet Under Isn’t a True Story But is Inspired by Real Life Incidents

HBO’s ‘Six Feet Under’ is a psychological drama series created by Alan Ball. It follows the interconnected and complicated lives of the Fisher family, who run Fisher & Sons, a funeral home in Los Angeles. While the Fisher family deals with death daily, their lives are turned upside down when the family patriarch, Nate Fisher, dies in a car accident, forcing the Fisher to experience grief. The series is known for its realistic depiction of themes such as grief, death, and moving on. Therefore, viewers must be curious to learn more about the inspiration behind the series. In that case, here is everything you need to know about the creation of ‘Six Feet Under.’

The Creation of Six Feet Under

‘Six Feet Under’ was created by Alan Ball (‘American Beauty‘), who also served as the show’s head writer across its five seasons. However, there are conflicting accounts of how the series was conceived. According to Ball, he came up with the show’s concept of a family running a funeral home based on his personal experiences, as he had lost his sister and father at a young age.

In contrast, Ball himself credited HBO entertainment president Carolyn Strauss with conjuring the show’s basic premise on a different occasion. “Actually, I wrote the pilot, but the idea of doing the show set in a funeral home belonged to Carolyn Strauss. Granted, I think I responded to it because when I was growing up, a lot of people in my family died, and I spent a lot of time in funeral homes,” Ball told UTNE in 2005.

Meanwhile, screenwriter Gwen O’Donnell had claimed that she came up with the idea and presented it to Strauss before the latter passed it on to Ball. However, despite a lawsuit by O’Donnell, her claims were dismissed, leaving Ball with the credit of being the show’s sole creator. While it is possible that Strauss came up with the basic idea, based on Ball’s extensive work in the series, it is safe to say that he devised its main premise and many of the characters and overarching storylines.

The Inspiration Behind Six Feet Under

While ‘Six Feet Under’ is not based on a true story, the series draws inspiration from several real-life incidents, particularly those of Ball. When the Academy Award-winning screenwriter was offered the concept, Ball immediately liked the idea as it implored him to explore the idea of living with death on a daily basis. However, he decided to portray the undertakers who work at the funeral home in a more heroic light. On several occasions, Ball has explained how his personal experiences shaped the show.

Ball revealed that his elder sister, Mary Ann Ball, died in a car accident when he was thirteen years old. However, Ball would often have dreams about his sister. The show primarily revolves around the Fishers, a family that runs a funeral home in Los Angeles. In the first episode, the Fisher family’s patriarch, Nathaniel Fisher, dies in a car crash similar to the demise of Ball’s sister. Furthermore, Natahneial appears to his wife and children through visions after his death, which indicates Ball drawing from personal experiences to shape the Fisher family’s story.

Ball’s father died roughly two years after his sister’s death. He also experienced the loss of other relatives, such as his grandfather and grandmother, at a young age. As a result, Ball was exposed to the inevitability and unpredictableness of death, which had a large impact on him. “The show is about the loss I’ve felt in my life. The grief I’ve felt over (the) loss, the people I’ve lost, situations (lost) that I’d nurtured. It’s about moving on. About greeting grief and being able to move past it,” Ball said about the show’s concept and themes in an interview with the Washington Post. However, Ball’s experiences are not the sole real inspiration behind the show’s otherwise fictional story.

While speaking with The Independent in 2021, writer and producer Bruce Eric Kaplan, who penned several episodes of the show, revealed the writers would often share their real experiences while developing storylines. For instance, the seventh episode of the fifth season, which features an old man dying while in the audience of a theatre, was inspired by an actual incident Kaplan had witnessed. Hence, it is safe to say that many of the storylines in the series are based on the writing team’s personal experiences with death. However, these experiences are molded into a fictional narrative told from the perspective of the fictional Fisher family.

Ultimately, ‘Six Feet Under’ is not based on a singular real event or true story. While the conceptualization of the series is a debatable topic, the characters it follows, and the storylines it explores are fictional, with some inspiration from reality. The series explores the themes of death, grief, and moving on, which allow viewers to form an emotional connection with the characters. Interestingly, by exploring these themes from the perspective of a family that runs a funeral home, the series is as much about life as it is about death and highlights the harmonious, if somewhat distributing, coexistence of the two.

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