'Drop Dead Diva' opening sixth and final season March 23

Brooke Elliott has starred in "Drop Dead Diva" since 2009. The sixth and final season starts March 23.

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

Brooke Elliott has starred in "Drop Dead Diva" since 2009. The sixth and final season starts March 23.

Five years ago, the first non-Tyler Perry scripted TV series to take advantage of the amped up Georgia tax credits given to TV and movie production companies was Lifetime's "Drop Dead Diva."

On Sunday, March 23, the dramedy returns for its sixth and final season after spending the entire time shooting in Peachtree City.

While Lifetime's series "Army Wives" drew bigger numbers, "Drop Dead Diva" has been a consistent performer for the network since it debuted in 2009. Its dedicated fan base helped revive the show last year when Lifetime inexplicably cancelled it. And now Lifetime has given the show the respect it has earned by giving producers a chance to finish the series with dignity and give the characters closure.

"The nice thing about getting the word that it's the final season," said creator Josh Berman, "it allows us, the writers and the actors, to really prepare and give a final chapter to the 'Drop Dead Diva' saga." He promises "all ends are tied up" by season's end.

Going back to 2009, the show, on paper, had some advantages and some challenges. Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, executive producers of successful film translations of theater shows "Hairspray" and "Chicago," were executive producers.  Berman had worked on "CSI" and "Bones."

The premise, on paper, sounded somewhat outlandish: a model named Deb dies, ends up accidentally being sent into the plus-sized body of a lawyer named Jane. She merges her personality with her predecessor's legal expertise. She also has a guardian angel and a best friend from her previous life who knows about the situation. Deb's fiance Grayson is also a partner at Jane's law firm but she's not allowed to hook up with him. It's like a feminized "Heaven Can Wait."

The show, supposedly set in Los Angeles, had to place lots of fake ferns on sets to make it feel more West Coast.

And while lead Brooke Elliott was a theater veteran, her TV experience was nil.

But the show worked. It was mostly light humor with a dollop of drama thrown in. Elliott managed to make a seemingly impossible character feel natural. Jane became a heroine to many fans of the show. Zadan and Meron also gave the show buzz by convincing stars such as Rosie O'Donnell, Paula Abdul and Liza Minnelli to fly to Peachtree City and shoot roles.

During the finale of season five, Grayson finally realizes that Jane may not be the Jane he knew, that she may in fact be Deb.

In the season six two-hour debut March 23, Berman said, "we really dive into the truth. The characters have to deal with the fact that Jane hasn't always been honest with the fact that she is really Deb. And certainly those reasons make sense to the writers to the character of Jane but Grayson may not be sympathetic to the truth."  How he moves forward "is somewhat unexpected but very grounded.'

Berman noted that this relationship is the "central theme of our show. It's the core of our show. And certainly this season rewards the viewers that have stood by and watched to see what would happen with that relationship."

He said the fact Jane/Deb chose not to tell Grayson up front about her situation will have consequences.

Berman said he wants to reward the fans who helped propel the show back to life last year. "In addition to our Facebook page, there are so many unofficial Facebook pages out there that just give constant love and support to the show, the tweets that I get on a daily basis from fans that tell me how the show has affected them or changed their life."

Down the road, he said, "I think I always want to write things that impact people like Diva has."

TV preview

 "Drop Dead Diva," 9 p.m. Sunday, March 23, Lifetime