Tuned In: Hallmark scripted TV series gets off to strong start

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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."

Live shows en vogue

Discovery found ratings success with its live Grand Canyon tightrope walk earlier this year, and now Nat Geo's networks are getting in on the act.

"Live Climb With Alex Honnold," featuring a climber scaling a yet-to-be-identified skyscraper live in real time, will air sometime this fall on National Geographic Channel.

In addition, "Volcano Dive: Live!" (Nov. 17) will send Bob Ballard on a 600-foot dive beneath the ocean's surface to explore the Caribbean's underwater Kick 'Em Jenny Volcano off the coast of Grenada, West Indies.

Networks like these live events because they tend to get more attention and they are DVR busters: Viewers are more likely to tune in for live event programming than they are to record these shows and watch them later, much like sporting events.

'Bunheads' canceled

Fans knew this was coming, but it is still disappointing news nonetheless: This week ABC Family canceled low-rated critical darling "Bunheads," which is nominated for a Television Critics Association award in the youth programming category.

The series, from "Gilmore Girls" creator Amy Sherman Palladino, starred Broadway actress Sutton Foster as a dance teacher in a small town dance studio owned by her mother-in-law (Kelly Bishop).

'Glee' delayed

Following the death of series star Cory Monteith, Fox has bumped the season premiere of "Glee" back a week from Sept. 19 to Sept. 26.

Executive producer Ryan Murphy said "Glee" will address the absence of Mr. Monteith's character in its third episode and then take a hiatus to regroup during Fox's baseball playoff coverage.

Nixon memories

CNN will debut the documentary "Our Nixon" at 9 p.m. Aug. 1, which features archival news and interview footage and rediscovered Super 8 home movies shot by Nixon chief of staff H.R. Haldeman and domestic affairs adviser John Ehrlichman.

Channel surfing

Nat Geo Wild has canceled "Spoiled Rotten Pets," its spring series hosted by Western Pennsylvania native Beth Stern. ... A&E hit "Duck Dynasty" returns for its fourth season at 10 p.m. Aug. 14. Dreadful Discovery Channel show "Amish Mafia" is back for its second season at 9 p.m. Aug. 13. ... Disney Channel's "Teen Beach Movie" was a huge hit for the network, drawing 8.4 million viewers for its premiere telecast Friday, besting the 7.7 million viewers who tuned in for "High School Musical" in 2006. ... Sundance Channel will rebroadcast its Emmy-nominated miniseries "Top of the Lake" (1-8 p.m. Sunday) and "Restless" (8 p.m.-midnight Wednesday). ... The Griffins of "Family Guy" will visit characters from "The Simpsons" in a "Family Guy" episode slated for fall 2014. ... CBS is making its short-lived series "Jericho," "Swingtown" and "Wolf Lake" available for streaming at CBS.com.

on the web

Read more coverage from the Television Critics Association summer press tour in Tuned In Journal at post-gazette.com/tv.

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Post-Gazette TV writer Rob Owen is attending the Television Critics Association summer press tour. Follow RobOwenTV at Twitter or on Facebook. You can reach Rob at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com.


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