By WILLIAM KECK
The cast of Brothers & Sisters  returns to work in mid-July, with a few jarring changes besides the absence of Rob Lowe, whose character was killed off in the season finale's tragic multi-car pile-up that also left Patricia Wettig 's character, Holly, hanging on by a limb. (Calls to Patricia's reps inquiring about her fate have not been returned.) But the biggest question involves ABC's downsized order of 18 episodes — shorter than a series' typical 22-episode order. Are the Walkers about to have their final group hug? Series star Rachel Griffiths , who plays eldest daughter Sarah, isn't exactly sure herself, telling me, "In my negotiation, I asked, 'does 18 mean it's the last season?' I would love to know. I feel like this is the last season, but I don't know for sure."
The show's cinematographer, Cynthia Pusheck, seems more certain that the eighteenth hour will indeed be the final chapter. "I think it's been a nice run, and it will be good for us to know we can wrap up everyone's stories," she says, adding that the look of the show will also change — much to her disappointment. Ironically, Pushek was on hand at the event to accept The Kodak Vision Award for her work on the show, which will stop utilizing film when production resumes. "We're going to be switching to Digital as a cost-cutting measure. We hope to have the same show, but there will be some changes visually."
With the storyline jumping ahead into the future (as Desperate Housewives did two seasons ago), Rachel, who has signed on for 17 of the 18, says we should expect to see less Walker family meetings, requiring the whole cast's attendance. "There was a lot of pressure on the writers to use all the actors all the time, which used to piss us off," says Rachel. "Did they really need for me to be in one scene not speaking when I could have been in Australia or New York? A lot of times there were actors just hanging around twiddling their thumbs. So, I think what they have planned is going to work out pretty well."