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What a way to go: Leaving your mark on "Six Feet Under'

Death comes in a thousand ways.

On the hit cable television show Six Feet Under, it's often over-the-top dramatic, unusual, sometimes uncomfortably funny. It's rarely peaceful, in a deep slumber.

Funeral directors across the nation are among fans of the show, but Florida funeral directors are the envy of the industry. Florida funeral directors have snagged a chance to become writers _ for a day _ for the quirky show.

Six Feet Under centers on the Fisher family, and the relationships that family members have with friends and lovers. The Fishers own and operate a funeral parlor, which is also their home.

Each episode _ the show is currently on hiatus _ opens with a death, or several deaths, which often happen under bizarre circumstances. For instance, a woman in her garden talking with her husband on her cellular phone is bonked on the head by a frozen-solid mass of waste flushed from a jetliner's toilet. She is killed instantly.

When the Florida Funeral Directors Association holds its annual convention Sunday through July 16 at Walt Disney World, such wacky deaths will be on the minds of the membership. The funeral directors will be asked to pitch to a note-taking Six Feet Under producer-writer their new, unusual, dramatic and, yes, even uncomfortably funny ways to die.

One of the highly anticipated speakers is Jill Soloway, supervising producer and writer of Six Feet Under. (Gov. Jeb Bush will follow her).

Bruce Jordan, executive director of the association, said other funeral director organizations around the country have been calling to ask how Florida managed to persuade someone from the show to be a convention speaker. Persistence, Jordan said.

In a telephone interview from her home in Los Angeles, Soloway, 37, said it's the first time she or anyone associated with Six Feet Under will talk to a group of funeral directors.

"I'm excited about it; it will be really fun," Soloway said. "A lot of funeral directors feel really inspired by the show. They feel really cool for the first time."

The show's opening death scenes, as improbable as some of them may seem, are often ripped from the headlines, Soloway said. "We keep our ear out for them," she said. "And ideas come to us."

Kennedy Stevens, 39, co-owner and operator of E.A. Stevens Funeral Home in Hallandale Beach, said he watches the show "every now and then." "It's very good," said Stevens, who has been a funeral director for 23 years.

Stevens plans to be among his colleagues at the convention, but he hasn't given much thought to what, if any, ideas he may offer to Soloway.

The brainstorming with Soloway will be on July 15, and will also give the funeral directors a chance to suggest new characters for the show.

Soloway, who has written several episodes, including this season's finale, will award special Six Feet Under prizes for the best ideas.

David Lowery, 47, past president of the Florida Funeral Directors Association and vice president of Panciera Family Funeral Care in Hollywood, counts himself among fans of the show. "I watch it all the time," he said.

Lowery said that while the show is on target with some technical aspects of the funeral business, such as the embalming process, it misses the mark in other areas.

"Naturally, a lot of things are sensationalized and blown out of proportion, but a lot of the technical things are real," he said. "The things that are most real are the interactions with the families that come in."

Lowery said the show has managed to get people talking about a big part of life they don't like to talk about _ death.

He said his friends who are not in the funeral business now open up and engage him in conversation about what they've seen on the show.

"People don't want to think about death," he said, "but it's good to talk about it."

He said the death scenes may seem far out but are true to life.

"A lot of those are real-life things," he said. "It's one in a million, like radios falling into the bathtub, but those things happen."

Jordan, the executive director of the Florida association, said, "My board of directors watch the show and feel that funeral service is done correctly . In the end, they treat families correctly and they treat the service correctly."

Jordan said there is a shortage of funeral directors in Florida and nationwide, and the show may help attract new people to the industry.

"I don't know if it's a generational thing," he said. "We haven't been active in going to career days in schools and pushing the profession."

He said that while Six Feet Under has put the profession in the spotlight, the industry hasn't yet experienced a swell of new recruits. But based on increased traffic at the funeral directors' Web site, and offers of academic scholarships, he is hopeful.

David Fisher (Michael C. Hall), Federico Diaz (Freddy Rodriguez) and Nate Fisher (Peter Krause) are partners in Fisher & Sons, the funeral home around which Six Feet Under revolves.

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