Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Hallmark Scripted Series Gets off to Strong Start

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Hallmark Scripted Series Gets off to Strong Start

Article excerpt

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. --

Who says Saturday night TV is dead?

While broadcasters long ago gave up airing original scripted series in prime time on Saturday, cable networks have found success in the time period.

Next month AMC moves "Hell on Wheels" to Saturday night for its new season, and this past weekend Hallmark Channel debuted its first original scripted series, "Debbie Macomber's Cedar Cove," garnering 3.8 million viewers. Granted, the series skewed old, but that's not unusual for Hallmark programming.

"We are absolutely thrilled with the performance," said Hallmark Channel president Bill Abbott at a press conference Wednesday morning on the first day of the Television Critics Association summer 2013 press tour.

"Cedar Cove," based on the Debbie Macomber book series, stars Andie MacDowell as a family court judge in a small Washington town. The series chronicles stories from Olivia's court cases, her relationship with her new love interest, Jack (Dylan Neal), and the lives of assorted other townsfolk, including Olivia's best friend, Grace (Teryl Rothery), and bed and breakfast owners Bob and Peggy (Bruce Boxleitner, Barbara Niven).

Mrs. Macomber, the author of dozens of novels with 170 million copies of her books in print, said although she's not writing the TV version of "Cedar Cove," she's pleased with the results.

"They know my heart and many of the scenes could have been in my books," she said. "They're very much in line with what I could have written."

In the book series, Olivia and Jack eventually get married, but on TV, there's always the issue of keeping the sexual tension, even if on Hallmark it's more romantic tension.

"It's the old question of Sam and Diane [from 'Cheers']," Mr. Neal said. "How long can you stretch it out? That's a question that's above our pay grade, and it's an important question because shows succeed or fail based on that question."

Even if Olivia and Jack do get married, odds are viewers won't be invited to the honeymoon given Hallmark's careful, deliberate approach to depicting sexuality.

"We have to be completely true to the Hallmark brand," Mr. Neal said. "They have a specific audience with demands. ... It's a romantic world with a lot of courtship, smooching. There's nothing inappropriate, obviously, on Hallmark."

The actors will occasionally push beyond what's written in the script in small playful ways, but Ms. MacDowell is fine with the parameters for "Cedar Cove."

"I get really stressed out watching horrible movies that make me anxious with murders and rapes," she said. "There's plenty of that on TV, and I'm just in a place in my life where I like to go to work everyday with sweetness and I like to watch sweetness."

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