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Episode "Teasers" | Misc Stuff | Press Release/PicturesMini-Bios | My Impressions | Aus10's Takes

Contest: You could win a "Lip Embalm" set or a Family Plots T-shirt - just go to the TVClubhouse Family Plots Area and read on!!!  NEW!!!  Another Prize added - I will also be giving away a $50 gift certificate to the A&E online store!!!!
Episodes teasers:

Week Eight 6/14:
Episode Nine: "Mum's the Word"  The phones are ringing off the hook at Poway Bernardo Mortuary and the girls' mom, Sue, comes to lend a hand. But after a recent fight, Sue's not talking to her ex-husband and the girls' dad, Chuck. Will Chuck be on his best behavior, or will sparks fly? As Sue struggles to keep pace in the front office, Shonna faces the emotional challenge of helping two women dress their deceased mother's body for a family viewing that same night.

Week Seven 6/7:
Episode Eight: "Please Date Our Dad" -  The girls secretly sign up Chuck for an Internet dating service. Meanwhile, David arranges the funeral for a reclusive woman who died without family or friends, making him realize how lucky he is to have found his own wife.  Will Chuck have the 

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same luck? Find out in our series that chronicles the intense, peculiar, and sometimes hilarious days and nights at Poway Bernardo Mortuary in San Diego, where the three Wissmiller sisters, their hot-blooded father, and a quirky funeral director work. 

No episodes the weel of 5/31 because A&E ran a special on IKE for Memorial Day.

Week Six

Episode Seven 5/24: "Girls' Night Out"  - "Sisters Shonna, Melissa, and Emily plan a rare night out on the town together, but childcare emergencies, jealous husbands, and last-minute body rushes and death calls at the mortuary get in the way.

The other episode is a repeat of episode four, "Love and Death."

Week Five 

5/17 - Two Repeats ...

Blood is thicker than water (Ep #1)

Where's Chuck? (EP #3)

Week Four

Episode Six 5/10 :  "Heavy "Bag"gage" Chuck and John put up a punching bag at the mortuary so that, in theory, the employees can take out their frustrations on the bag instead of each other.  John helps a family prepare to bury their child - having lost a child of his own in 1997.  Several employees vent to the camera while punching the 'heavy bag.'

The other episode was a repeat of the second episode "Smoke and Mirrors."

Week Three:

Episode Five - 9pm EST 5/3: "Forget Me Not" - "Shonna prefers to stay in the back room preparing the dead instead of doing funeral arrangements with the living because she gets too emotionally involved. But today, she's the only one available to help a grief-stricken woman make the arrangements for her beloved uncle. Meanwhile, Chuck is having problems with his short-term memory and repeatedly loses the money he needs to buy a new car.

The second Episode (9:30pm) is a repeat of the premiere episode.

Week Two:

Episode Three - 9 pm EST 4/27: "Where's Chuck?" - At Poway Bernardo Mortuary, "Where's Chuck!" is the most common shout - with reason.  Father, body remover, and ex-boxing champ Chuck Wissmiller has a big heart, but a propensity to run late, get lost or simply disappear. 

Episode Four - 9:30 pm EST 4/27: "Love and Death" - Rick rules with a firm hand and a gruff voice. It doesn't help that he and fiance, oldest sister Melissa, don't see eye to eye on their relationship - a roller coaster that impacts all the other staff. 

Week One:

Episode One - 9 pm EST 4/19: "Blood Is Thicker Than Water" - The first episode finds head embalmer Shonna with only 30 minutes to get a body into its casket and to the funeral. After one last embalming, the three sisters head for a girls' night out. 

Episode Two - 9:30pm EST 4/19: "Smoke and Mirrors" - The staff of Poway Bernardo Mortuary in Southern California picks the wrong day to try to quit smoking when head embalmer Shonna gets one of the most challenging reconstruction cases of her career--a woman who died in a horrific car crash. With the family desperate to view their mother one last time, Shonna and the gang are under enormous pressure to make the shattered body presentable--and the stress fuels their desire to start puffing again.

Misc. Stuff:

Here is a really interesting article on the show:  'Six Feet Under' goes real-life in new show.

There are 13 episodes in all of this show.

Press Release:

It's the perfect marriage of real-life warmth and stone-cold death.  FAMILY PLOTS, A&E Network's new series chronicling the curious comings and goings of a real Southern California family-run mortuary, premieres on Monday, April 19, 2004 at 9pm ET / PT and 8pm CT. 

Here at San Diego's Poway Bernardo Mortuary, the staff - an intriguing assortment of family members and other unusual characters -- compassionately console grieving families on a daily basis.  Three beautiful sisters, their hot-blooded father, an exacting boss, a quirky funeral director, and a stream of anguished patrons, comprise the cast of this groundbreaking new real-life show. 
Melissa, Shonna and Emily
The staff, argumentative but affectionate, features:  Head Mortician Shonna, who brought the rest of her family into the business;  Shonna's younger sister Emily, Office Manager and Funeral Director in training; Shonna and Emily's eldest sister Melissa, Assistant Funeral Director;
Rick Sadler, who runs the operation; Funeral Assistant, body remover and amateur boxing trainer Chuck Wissmiller, who also happens to be Shonna, Melissa and Emily's father; 
apprentice embalmer John; and Funeral Director David, whose obsessive-compulsive detail oriented behavior has earned him the nickname "Rainman." 

Photo Credits: Dave O'Brien

More detailed profiles (now available on the Official Page):
Shonna Smith: Head Mortician, Senior Funeral Director and middle sister responsible for bringing her dad and two sisters into the business.  Shonna's a dynamic, but sarcastic drama queen who prefers dealing with the dead to the living.  She takes us through the doors of the mysterious embalming room while juggling all of the personalities of her family as they stressfully perform their services for the departed.  When she's not arguing with her father or sisters, she gets the job done providing the organizational glue that keeps the mortuary running successfully.
Emily Vigney: Office Manager and funeral director in training.  Emily is the youngest sister and is so new to the staff that she still weeps at every funeral.  She is struggling to gain financial independence while learning to 'get it right' in a business that affords little room for error.  Emily is unsure about the future of working in a touchy family situation caught between her father and her sisters.
Melissa Wissmiller: Assistant Funeral Director -- and eldest sister with the tough job of family peacemaker.  She drives the hearse, consoles families and picks up the slack.  Engaged to Rick Sadler.
Rick Sadler: The boss, who was literally born in his family's funeral home near Pittsburgh.  Married three times, Rick is a recovering workaholic who desperately wants to retire to a peaceful life away from the constant of dead bodies.  But Rick lost all his money in the last market crash.  Rick's demanding ways and wry humor generate trouble among the staff as he sweats the bottom line and tries to keep everyone on their toes.  Engaged to Melissa Wissmiller.
Chuck Wissmiller: Funeral Assistant, body remover, amateur boxing trainer, and father to Shonna, Melissa and Emily.  Chuck is a volatile ex-boxer who could have been a contender.  When he's not arguing with his daughters (and then turning around for a hug) or training the next generation of young boxers, Chuck has one thing on his mind: he's a hopeless romantic looking for love.  At the bottom of his roughness though, is the incredible empathy and heart of gold that has brought many a grieving family peace and comfort.  And another interesting tidbit -- his uncle Johnny Weissmuller, was the original 'Tarzan' in the movies.
John Greeney: Funeral Director, apprentice embalmer and the most recently adopted member of the Poway staff.  John is always juggling his family responsibilities with work.  He's also the most compassionate funeral director in the home's arsenal.  John has adopted Chuck as a father figure and often pals up with him on body removals and funerals.
David Moravee: Funeral Director David rounds out the team as the employee whose obsessive-compulsive need to get every detail right can rub his co-workers the wrong way and has earned him the nickname 'Rainman.'  A die hard 'Trekkie,' Dave secretly longs to be a boss and own his own mortuary, steering clear of the type of family drama that exists at Poway.

Episode Two: While many of the folks at the mortuary have a contest to see who can stop smoking the longest, the majority of the show is devoted to one particular case where a woman was involved in a serious head on car crash and Shonna tries to repair the damage to the decedent in a way that will be acceptable to her daughter. She explains how tough it is and we see the amount of stress that several of the folks go through trying to make things right.  in the end the daughter does see her mom but decided to have a closed casket viewing because the results are just not good enough.  She is not mad at Shonna and thanks her over and over again for doing as good a job as she did.  While all this is going on each member in the betting pool slowly gives up and by the end of the day Rick wins - he then proceeds to the store and buys two packs of smokes.

Episode One:  Thanks to a person promoting the show I got an advanced copy of episode one.  The short take?  I liked it a lot - it was interesting and not exaclty what I expected.   I plan on watching it when it is on beginning April 19th.

Family Plots would fall in the reality "Day in the life" type of reality show - much like a show such as Airline (another good program on A&E).    I'm not going to give you a play by play since that might spoil things - I would just like to give you an overall impression on what to expect - or how I saw the folks.

On this show you WILL  see dead bodies - I was a bit taken aback at first - especially when you see how lightly they seem to take handling them.  But I had to remind myself that that is reality, these folks are in a business.  As the episode went on we were also allowed to see that they do care about what they do and respect their clients, living or not.

The three girls are a bit rough around the edges and you can tell they got that from their dad Chuck.  I like Chuck - if you have ever seen American Chopper he is a slightly softer (he doesn't yell as much) version of Paul Teutul Sr., the dad on that show.  A former boxer, Chuck  comes across as being tough but you can also see that he loves his daughters.  I'm not sure where mom is/was - if they explained it I missed that part.

Besides the items mentioned in the teaser above, you will get to see some of the behind the scenes goings on when setting up a "viewing" as well as the fact that bodies are shipped aound the county in cardboard boxes - I hadn't a clue.

In this first episode you see very little of John (apprentice embalmer) and even less of David (aka "rainman" - funeral director).  You  do see a bit of Jack who is engaged to sister Melissa.  You'll see lots of Shona, Melissa and Elmily as well as Chuck.

While perhaps not as 'funny' as Airline (consider the topic), this show is worth catching, it certainly is an eye opener about a line of work I had never given much though to unless it was to make fun of anyone that did it (and I know some of you are reading this - SORRYY!!!).

For those wondering the opening theme music is by Squirrel Nut Zippers - and the name of the song is "Hell" 

Opinions from the "I've been there" gal......  by "Aus10" **

Episode One and Two: That's how mornings are. A true rat race, although we've never forgotten a service and to be honest I can't imagine trying to prepare in 1/2 an hour. Personally, I'm betting that it didn't happen that way and this was shown for dramatic effect. It did make for an interesting opening. 

Talking about the "cardboard box".....Otherwise known as a "shipping container". These are required by the airlines. These are also used yes in cremation, but the 60.00 for a "box" is to me a whole isn't odd. These cardboard boxes can also be used as inserts inside rental caskets. Yes...that's right rentals. Lets say your loved one opts for cremation, but wants a visitation or viewing. The rental casket we had was designed so that the box would slip in, the cardboard would be hidden and during the viewing it looked as if you had chosen a $2,000 cherry casket. Then you could do the cremation without destroying the hardwood (which they do do...) Regulations say that once anything is IN a casket it may not be sold or used again. And yes...we had a women who changed her mind on the casket between the time of viewing her mom and the funeral.... The casket had to be destroyed. 

The daughter (embalmer) was excellent. I kept thinking during the program that it was going to show some rather disturbing footage, but thankfully they did the whole situation very tactfully I think. There are some things that people shouldn't see no matter how "realistic" the show is. Every funeral home has these situations where viewings just are not possible...these folks handled it very very well. 

All and all....a very realistic and good show, and to be honest, a much needed education for most folks. Once you understand the inner workings of something you don't understand the more easily it will become when the time comes that you need these folks. I don't mean to sound cruel and hard, but learning to deal with the inevitable in advance WILL help when the time comes. I'm hoping the show will also help teach what to look for in a funeral home, staff and corresponding purchases from a consumer point of view, thus giving families peace of mind so they can, when the time is needed, not have to worry about the planning, but instead be able to go through the grieving process. 

Episode Three: "Where's Chuck" - WOW! Did this episode hit a home run with me! One of the gentlemen who I worked with (I left the funeral home about a year ago) was in the beginning stages of Alzheimer's. For us it was..."Where's Don?" No he wasn't a boxer, but the same situation....I wrote directions down, he'd tell you the same story you'd already heard fifty times, and time wasn't a concern of his.....but when it came to compassion, he was a man of the most compassion I'd ever seen. Another eeerrry similarity....we had the David too. The play by the rules guy who could wear out the carpet by pacing in front of the front door while waiting for a family. Chuck was getting a little on my nerves, but then again, I think my two bosses (co-owners of our firm) did too. This show does accurately portray a life in the day. And it is usually feast or famine. We could go for several days without a call and then boom...we'd be hit with four or five in a day. Or should I say night. It seems to me that 85% of all calls came at night. I'd be really curious to see how their answering service handled their first calls. This is one area that must be handled very sensitive. If it's a medical worker (nurse, nursing home) it's usually very professional, but at times it can be a family member and some of the information you must obtain can be of a non-sympathetic nature. 

Episode Four: "Love and death" ......This one was a little more blase' to me. Rick needs to become a little better at handling the employees. He's lucky in that he's got a group working for him that seem to be able to put his managerial style aside and see him for the compassionate guy he seems to be. In the FH business though, we seem to become really close to each other, and alot of time the boss to employee corporate ladder structure becomes blurred. I don't know how many times I told one or both of my bosses the way it was in no uncertain terms. Having come from the banking industry there was NO way I'd have talked to the bank president that way...LOL. The baby scenes were indeed tear-jerking. But once again, realistic unfortunately. Been there...done that. Re: the baby caskets....most of them are a hard plastic unlike the solid wood or precious metal of a full size, but they are made to look like marble. And on a side note.....we would have alot of folks come in and buy them for their pets. In this episode (hope I've got the episode right) I noticed Shauna putting cremains in urns and I really hope they discuss this in better detail in an upcoming episode. For those of you wondering why Melissa needed to turn the arrangement over to someone else....if CA is like Indiana, only a licensed funeral director can discuss money with a family. As the office manager, when a family would call in and ask prices, I was allowed to tell them a price range but could not quote a specific price on any certain item. This is the law. We are also required by law to give every family making an enquiry a GPL. General Price List. This states our prices for everything, down to the last detail, which can help families comparison shop. I'd be curious to see if they touch on this subject at all... 

Episode Five : "Forget Me Not" Re: Shauna. She is one awesome funeral director/embalmer. One guy I worked with was the same way. He would rather work backroom operations than meet with families. Although he knew from a very young age that he wanted to be a funeral director, he too felt more comfortable behind the scenes. Believe it or not becoming too close to a family can be very hard when it comes to directing a funeral. It's hard to lead (and I know that sounds cold) but a lot of families actually need to be lead through the process, and when your so close to the situation you sometimes sit back and don't do enough for the family. For the money a family spends, they should have your best during the whole ordeal they are facing. On the other hand....someone like Pamy had is unthinkable. There is a happy medium to the situation. 

Aids/Ebola-----We never had a case of Ebola. Thank heavens! But yes, funeral directors do see it all. And thankfully are trained, and continually trained through continuing education, for the proper handling of such things. Crutzfeldt-Jacobs Disease can sometimes show some of the same syptoms as alzheimer's and is a big concern in the funeral industry. Now, I'm not saying that all funeral homes have the same idea about safety (although they should!)but a family should be able to get a clear picture from looking around a little. Is the appearance of the FH clean? Sure the chapel may look good...but what about the other areas? Bathrooms, family lounges, and the office? This discussion brings me to the trash. I had to laugh.....you're not going to find, at least I hope not, anything in the trash at a funeral home that you wouldn't find in your own home trash. Once again...strict regulations. Bio-chemical waste disposal is a must for sharps, etc. just like in a hospital. And disposal isn't cheap....and we wonder why costs keep going up in the funeral industry. 

David seemed cold to me....the exact opposite of Shauna. Now I know I said you need to keep somewhat detached from the situation, but he seems to far to the other end of the spectrum to me. While I agree that you need to help personalize each service as he said, I've yet to see him do it. We would fully utilize all our resources when it came to personalization. We even went as far as building horseshoe pits (removable of course  ) for one family who's loved one lived and breathed horseshoes. Trophy's, pictures, and memento's helped to make it a celebration of this gentleman's life. 

Chuckie, Chuckie, Chuckie......you need some help. Memory loss is no laughing matter, and although you do provide the comic relief in this show, I'm waiting for you to file the wrong death certificate, forget a burial permit, or heaven forbid......send the wrong body somewhere it shouldn't be. 

My big thought on this episode was their selection room! AWESOME! Selection rooms like their's can cost upwards of 100,000.00. Not chump change by any means! But a selection room like their's is not near as intimidating as many. Which would you prefer....a room loaded with full size caskets....or a room with 1/2 to 1/4 units which don't look like caskets. Kinda like going to the Home Depot and picking a new kitchen cabinet. Pick the style, color, and hardwood, or in this case metal. I'd say that this firm uses Aurora or Batesville by the look and design of their room. We've carried both, but couldn't swing that fancy of a selection room. Which brings me to a tour suggestion for your next vacation...LOL. A trip to Batesville, Indiana. Home of Batesville casket company, one of the, if not the largest maker of casket's. I know...I know....but it is really an awesome place to see. Think Detroit auto plant production but with a human touch. Some casket's can be hand polished for hours upon hours, and many headliner's are custom designed. It's a truly great tour...... 

Episode Six: Aus10 Missed it :(

Episode Seven: "Girl's Night Out" - I feel kinda useless posting on this episode. While we did get to know the girls better in this episode (which was nice), the funeral business side was kind of put on the back burner. Shauna definitely needs a night out...that lady works! And works hard. Four bodies to prep, time to go do a removal, and still had energy to go out. Wow! 

First calls: While this was touched on briefly during the show, I've got to say I agree with David (if I recall correctly), that the first five minutes of a first call is soooo important. Imagine if you will....standing with friends or family at the funeral home during a visitation or service. Do you always know just exactly what to say? Or do you feel like your just rambling words, saying what you think you should say? Now...imagine being a total stranger and trying to do the same thing. I think I come off sounding in-sincere. And when a family calls, that's the last thing you want to be seen as....in-sincere. It's tough...let me tell ya. You want to do your job, but you also want to let the family know you care. 

Now, I've never been on a home removal. The embalmers/directors did that. But I can tell you....some of the stories they tell. Staircases that are unaccessable by the gurney, people who wanted to ride on the gurney with their loved one, uncompromising situations, and for lack of a more tactful way of putting it....family members who were just plain "weird!" I think you ask any mortician and they'll tell you that they prefer a clinical removal over a home removal any day of the week. It's definitely one of the most "surprising" aspects of funeral directing. It rates right up there with odd funeral traditions. I'll tell you those when we've covered them in our next family plots class..... 

**"Aus10" is a member of TVCLUBHOUSE and has posted her takes on several of the episodes based on her own experiences in the industry.  With her permission I am re-posting there here.


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