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Ball to put ‘Six Feet’ under

Skein to pass on after 5th season

Alan Ball is closing the coffin on hit HBO mortuary drama “Six Feet Under.”

Pay cabler announced that the series’ creator-exec producer, whose credits include the Oscar-winning screenplay for “American Beauty,” has given notice and will shutter production on the hourlong skein after its upcoming fifth season.

“I think, as always, we rely on our creators to develop the story arc and to tell us when they feel like they’ve told their story,” HBO entertainment prexy Carolyn Strauss said. “Alan has now said he’s told his.”

Production on the final 12 episodes begins in two weeks. No premiere date has yet been set, but Strauss said the fifth season would probably bow next year.

End of “Six Feet,” along with this year’s departure of “Sex and the City” and the upcoming final year of “The Sopranos,” marks the end of the road for HBO’s big three Sunday skeins — and makes it all the more important that the net’s upcoming batch of dramas and comedies catch on with auds.

Ball has already set up work post-“Six Feet”: A few months ago, he optioned Alicia Erian’s yet-to-be-released debut novel “Towelhead,” with which he plans to make his feature directorial debut (Daily Variety, Sept 23). Coming-of-age story concerns a 13-year-old Arab-American girl who must navigate a sexual obsession with a bigoted Army reservist under the oppressive eye of her Lebanese father. Ball will adapt the novel and hopes to get the project going next year.

“Working on ‘Six Feet Under’ has been enormously fulfilling creatively, but if the show is about anything, it’s about the fact that everything comes to an end,” Ball said in a statement. “I will miss working with such enormously talented writers, cast, staff and crew, and I’ll always be grateful to HBO for allowing and encouraging us to tell the story we set out to tell in a challenging and uncompromising way.”

Alan Poul, Robert Greenblatt, David Janollari and Bruce Eric Kaplan also exec produce the show.

Strauss indicated Ball had begun to feel the end was near last season, which lost favor with some critics. Exec, however, maintains that HBO brass was “enormously” pleased with both the show’s creative direction and audience feedback.

Insiders close to the show say the skein’s final episode, which Ball has already written, effectively kills any possibility for the series to go on. HBO execs, for their part, chose not to continue “Six Feet” without Ball on board.

Fourth season averaged 3.7 million viewers, down from its second season peak of 5.6 million. Newcomers “Deadwood” and “Carnivale,” while not as universally hailed as “Six Feet” initially was — HBO had ordered up a second season of “Six Feet” before the first had even premiered — drew bigger Nielsens last year.

It will likely be the second to leave the air, behind “Sex” and before “Sopranos,” which will follow suit in 2006 after its sixth and final season.

Strauss is counting on returning Emmy-nominated skeins “Deadwood” and “Carnivale,” in addition to “Entourage” and new shows “Big Love” and “Rome,” to help usher in the next phase for HBO.

“Obviously, you get comfortable with your old buddies, and they’ve done great for us,” she said. “But it’s just the nature of things to evolve whether you like it or not. I feel confident about our next batch of shows.”

Should Ball later decide to pull a David Chase and extend the life of “Six Feet,” the pay cabler will be game.

“We can always hope,” Strauss said. “He seems fairly certain about things, but you never know.”

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