– Knight Ridder Newspapers

PHILADELPHIA – R.I.P., “Six Feet Under.”

The fifth season of HBO’s acclaimed funeral drama will be its last, said creator Alan Ball. Production begins Nov. 16 on the final 12 episodes.

We may weep openly.

“All of us feel very good about it,” said Alan Poul, 50, an executive producer. “Our biggest concern has always been to get out while we’re still fresh, and at our peaks as storytellers.”

The story continues to revolve around the Fisher & Diaz Funeral Home, where the Fishers – Ruth (Frances Conroy), Nate (Peter Krause), David (Michael C. Hall), and Claire (Lauren Ambrose) – struggle with their various demons.

Season four ended with Nate proposing to Brenda (Rachel Griffiths), among several other plotlines. She said yes.

“After last season, the general feeling was that we had one more really great season in us,” said Poul, who was in New Haven, Conn., Monday to deliver a lecture at Yale, his alma mater, on gay and lesbian imagery in television.

“It’s sad to think of it ending, but it’s better to end on a high note than to get attenuated and lose your edge… We think of the show as one long novel, and a novel should have a beginning, a middle and an end.”

That doesn’t mean, however, that the show’s finely drawn characters or complex plots will reach a neat sense of closure.

“I hate that word,” said Poul. “It implies something pat, and tied up with a bow. Our show has never been about that. It will be open-ended and ambiguous, but viewers will know it’s coming to a close.”

“Six Feet” “will move in new and exciting directions,” Poul promises, with several new characters in the mix.

No details, but he did say that George’s (James Cromwell) mysterious daughter (Tina Holmes), introduced in the fourth-season finale, will play a more significant role.

Also, look for the return of a lot of characters from previous seasons. This time, for a change, most of them will be living.

Post-“Six Feet,” Poul has four projects in the works – two series for HBO and two feature films. Over the summer, he directed an episode of HBO’s new historical drama, “Rome,” set to launch next fall.

“It was amazing to be in Italy on those huge sets, in 50 B.C.,” Poul said. “It was as far away in the world you can possibly get from the Fishers.”

Not that Poul wants to get far away. “Six Feet’s” legacy, he said, “will be 63 episodes that will stand on people’s bookshelves for a long time to come.”

Spoiler alert! Skip this item if you don’t want to know about Tuesday night’s “NYPD Blue.”

Jimmy Smits will resurface as the deceased detective Bobby Simone in a cameo on the ABC drama. The episode is titled “The Vision Thing.”

True “Blue” fans remember that Simone died in 1998 due to a heart ailment. Naturally, he’s not real Tuesday night, but he does have, well, a heart-to-heart with his old partner, Andy Sipowicz (Dennis Franz).

Tough-guy Michael Madsen (“Kill Bill”) has been added to ESPN’s new drama, “Tilt,” about professional Vegas card sharks. It debuts Jan. 19.

Not surprisingly, Madsen is again the heavy. He plays “The Matador,” a sneaky poker ace. (In Quentin Tarantino’s 1992 “Reservoir Dogs,” he was Mr. Blond. Are we sensing a trend?)

Madsen joins “Third Watch’s” Eddie Cibrian and Chris Bauer of HBO’s “The Wire.” “Tilt” is ESPN’s second original series. “Playmakers,” about a pro football team, was spiked after one season amid complaints from the NFL.

(c) 2004, The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Visit Philadelphia Online, the Inquirer’s World Wide Web site, at http://www.philly.com/

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-11-08-04 1852EST

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