A&E 'Dearly' departs on the reality show bandwagon
January 4, 2004
BY ANDREW WALLENSTEIN
LOS ANGELES -- A&E has given the go-ahead for a series that reimagines ''Six Feet Under'' as reality TV.
Like the HBO hit, the tentatively titled ''Dearly Departed'' chronicles a California-based family operating a mortuary business -- only the A&E version exists in real life. Scheduled to begin later in 2004, ''Departed'' will be produced by Hybrid Films, which will produce at least seven episodes.
The series follows the Wissmillers, a trio of adult sisters who work at a mortuary in Poway, a quiet suburb north of San Diego. Their father also works there but not as the owner of the business; that distinction belongs to a fiance of one of the sisters.
Like ''Under,'' ''Departed'' follows their personal and professional lives, but without the heavily dramatic tone of the HBO series, according to Bob DeBitetto, senior vice president, original programming, at A&E.
''It's somewhat like 'The Osbournes' because there's a tremendous amount of humor,'' he said. ''But nothing frivolous because these people are working in the shadow of death.''
"Departed'' was inspired by an A&E series about unusual occupations called "Take This Job." When a morturary segment was well-received by viewers and network executives, A&E went looking for an interesting family in the funeral business for its own series. The Wissmillers were chosen because they were ''utterly compelling,'' said DeBitetto. ''They were articulate, edgy -- everything you'd want for a scripted show. They just happened to be real.''
Still to be determined by A&E will be content guidelines for shooting some of the more gruesome tasks involved in preparing the deceased for burial, including embalming.
''I think it will push the envelope somewhat, but it's not about shock value,'' DeBitetto said.