This post was inspired by, and some of the information below was pulled from Brett Martin’s fabulous new book, “Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad.” If you’re into modern television, and especially “The Sopranos,” “Six Feet Under,” “The Sheild,” “Mad Men,” and “Breaking Bad,” it is a must read.
1. Alan Ball, who created “Six Feet Under,” lost his father at a young age, and his sister when he was 13, when she was driving him to piano practice and a car crashed into the driver’s side door, killing her on her 22nd birthday and leaving him mostly unscathed. The accident was the inspiration for Nathaniel’s death in the pilot.
2. Whenever Ball felt sad, his sister and father’s death would overcome him. After his sitcom Oh, Grow Up was cancelled, Ball walked around in this traumatic state, visited his dead sister’s old room, and came up with the idea for Six Feet Under. He wrote the script in a few weeks, sent it to HBO, which received it a day after Ball’s Academy Award was announced (for American Beauty), and HBO bought the pilot and an entire series commitment, an unusual gamble at the time.
3. After reading the first draft of Alan Ball’s pilot, the head of HBO’s programming remarked to Ball, “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?” To address the note, Ball had Claire steal a leg from the morgue and put it in her boyfriend’s locker in episode three.
4. Often considered a show steeped in magical realism, Rodriga Garcia — the son of the patriarch of magical realism, Gabriel Garcia Marquez — directed several episodes of “Six Feet Under,” including the second and third season premieres.
5. Juliette Lewis auditioned for the role of Brenda, and actually would not have been a bad choice.
6. HBO didn’t want to fly Rachel Griffiths out from Australia to audition for Six Feet Under, but Griffith’s was so enamored with the role, she struck a deal with the network: She’d pay to fly herself out, and they’d pay her back if she landed the role.
7. Anna Faris auditioned for the role of Claire, but according to Faris, she was laughed out of the audition.
8. Nikolai’s flower shop is not only real, it was once the gas station that James Dean used to fill up on the day that he crashed his car and died.
9. Among those who appeared in “Six Feet Under” before they were stars are Rainn Wilson, Jenna Fischer, Zachary Quinto, Ben Foster, Kevin Rankin, Adam Scott, Molly Parker, Bobby Cannavale, Michelle Trachtenberg, and Emily Deschanel’s husband, David Hornsby.
10. According to David Fisher’s obituary (included in the DVD set, or on the HBO website), David Fisher remarried after Keith died. He met a man named Raoul Martinez. He also performed in dozens of local theater productions after he retired.
11. Likewise, Brenda remarried a man named Daniel Nathanson, with whom she had a child, Forrest.
12. Also, in case you missed it because you were bawling like a goddamn child during the epilogue, Claire actually married Ted Fairwell, the character played by Chris Messina, the Republican with whom Claire had developed a relationship for in the final season. They broke up at the end of the series, but found each other again at Ruth’s funeral in 2025.
13. “Six Feet Under” was really the first television show — or at least, major one — to depict gay relationships casually, as any other relationship, straight or gay.
14. There were only three episode of “Six Feet Under” that didn’t begin with a death: 1) Because it was a two-parter that continued with the death from the previous episode; 2) because the lack of deaths was a plot point in the episode, and 3) the finale, which began with a birth.
15. Only one episode didn’t feature the face of the deceased in the teaser; it was a baby who had died of SIDs. One writer objected to the fact that a baby was killed in the episode, noting that you couldn’t kill a baby on TV without losing your audience. Alan Ball fired that writer at the end of the season.
16. After several seasons as Brenda, Rachel Griffith’s began to feel the strain of the character, particularly during his sexual downward spiral. During that time, she would demand private rehearsals before each of her scenes, putting the cast and crew on hold. Oftentimes, however, she expended herself so much during these scenes that she had nothing left for when the cameras were rolling.
17. Likewise, Peter Krause was at odds with his character near the end of the show. He didn’t like how unflattering a person the character had become, and often complained about being unlikable. He wanted to be the hero.
18. Nathaniel’s death in the pilot was the only one in the series not to be announced by an obituary. Instead, there was a fake funeral parlor ad, which was meant to be a running gag in the series. It was scrapped after the pilot, however.
19. Eric Balfour played “Claire’s Meth Date” in the pilot, and that was all he was meant to do in the series, but the chemistry worked out so well that he was elevated into Claire’s boyfriend, Gabe Dimas.
20. In a cleverly morbid piece of foreshadowing, in episode 10 of the second season, Lisa (Lily Taylor) makes a comment that when she dies, she would like it to be a messy death and not all neat like the funerals at the Fisher’s. This is precisely Lisa’s fate at the end of Season 3.
21. Remember Rico’s father, who died falling off a roof? That was based on the neighbor of “Six Feet Under” writer Jill Soloway, who is an awesome lady. Soloway, in fact, was hired as a writer by Alan Ball on the strength of her short story, “Courteney Cox’s Asshole.”
22. Remember the traumatic, agonizing scene in which David is carjacked and has a gun forced into his mouth? Because of time and budgetary constraints, Michael C. Hall had to impressively pull that scene off in one take.
23. In season five, episode 7, “The Silence,” a man has a heart attack while watching a play, which is something that the writer of the episode had actually seen happen. Ironically and unfortunately, the actor who played the man who died of a heart attack died in real life less than a month after the episode aired.
24. In the penultimate episode of the series, a woman named Amy Spanger played a dead soldier’s sister. Amy Spanger was Michael C. Hall’s wife at the time, which is the first I’ve heard that Hall was married to anyone before Jennifer Carpenter.
25. In an episode of Alan Ball’s “True Blood” this season, he made a sly reference to “Six Feet Under,” when Arlene and Sheriff Andy arrange a funeral at “Jenkins and Sons.” The funeral home in “Six Feet Under” was Fisher and Sons, although the Fisher was played by Richard Jenkins.