Tag Archives: Hallmark Channel

John Tinker takes to Chesapeake Shores for Hallmark

Chesapeake Shores is set to add a new dimension to Hallmark Channel’s slate of original dramas. DQ speaks to showrunner John Tinker.

Best known for its extensive slate of made-for-TV movies, Hallmark Channel has broken into original scripted series in the past three years.

Cedar Cove was based on Debbie Macomber’s novels and ran for three seasons until 2015, while When Calls the Heart, adapted from Janette Oke’s books, will enter its fourth season in 2017. A third homegrown series, the Catherine Bell-starrer Good Witch, was spun-off from the Hallmark movie series of the same name and begins its third season later this year.

John Tinker
John Tinker

Another entry, Signed Sealed Delivered, debuted in 2014 and then transferred to Hallmark Movie Channel as a run of TV movies.

But what these series all have in common – and what Hallmark is best known for – is a sense of comfort and warmth, with storylines that focus on a family or a close-knit group of friends or colleagues, often living together in a small community.

The US cable channel’s next original drama, Chesapeake Shores, is also based on an existing property, this time novels by author Sherryl Woods. But showrunner John Tinker believes the series might be about to shake-up Hallmark’s winning formula.

“It’s very different from other Hallmark shows,” he says. “It’s a very different adaptation. Much like every traditional TV network in the US, we have different kinds of shows. This is very different from their other shows that are in the same vein. I came here because this kind of TV is important to me but the brand is also important to me. I think we respect the brand and provide compelling dramatic storytelling.”

Chesapeake Shores stars Meghan Ory as Abby O’Brien, a high-powered career woman, divorcee and mother of twin daughters, who makes a trip from New York City to her hometown of Chesapeake Shores. But the visit brings her face-to-face with her past, including high school sweetheart Trace (Jesse Metcalfe), her uncompromising father Mick (Treat Williams) and her esteemed grandmother Nell (Diane Ladd). Back home, Abby realises the toll her career has taken on her relationship with her children and starts to consider a permanent move to Chesapeake Shores.

It is a Chesapeake Shores production in association with Borderline Distribution. Tinker and Dan Paulson executive produce with Woods, director Martin Wood and writer Nancey Silvers.

Chesapeake Shores
Meghan Ory stars as Abby alongside Jesse Metcalfe as Trace

The series debuts on August 14 with a two-hour movie, followed by eight one-hour episodes. Tinker came on board in March this year, with the feature-length premiere already wrapped, and was given a brief for developing the rest of the series.

“I got approached by my manager because he knows that this kind of TV is important to me,” the showrunner recalls. ‘I don’t think there are many places you can do family drama without explosions! NBC has got a new show called The Story of Us, which seems like what I’m talking about and there has been Parenthood, Brothers and Sisters and Friday Night Lights. But we’re on Hallmark Channel so we’re trying to Hallmark that kind of show.”

During his career, Tinker has worked on procedurals including St Elsewhere, LA Law, Chicago Hope and Judging Amy, which he co-created. But Chesapeake Shores appealed to him in part because it has a more serialised story arc and because of the focal theme of the series – home.

“Everyone’s drama begins at home,” he explains. “Family is the basic unit of society and if that falls apart, the rest of society falls apart. It’s really a privilege to examine the family setup and how these folks are trying to grow up, release the pain they have suffered and come back together. It’s far from people whining about their childhoods; it’s about a family unit, a multigenerational household. They are all still there for one another in the best way family exists. I thought it was interesting to examine. It’s cathartic for me – I’m divorced and come from divorced parents and while I don’t blame one for the other, it does give me a place to start writing.”

While Tinker acknowledges the “huge readership” of Woods’ novels, he says the Hallmark series bears little resemblance to the author’s original stories. However, he says Woods, who has been reading scripts and watching dailies, “really feels the show embodies the spirit and ambition of the characters and the place she created, but she’s well aware of how TV operates and the subsequent constraints and the nature of TV storytelling.”

He continues: “She’s been wonderful. In each of her books there are major plot turns and big stories take place. This show is quieter when it comes to that. We made a choice early on to put character up front and story is done through emotion rather than action and plot. We do have story and we’ll probably amp that up in season two, but in this season we really get to know the characters, who decide whether they want to stay in this place.”

Family themes are central to the show
Family themes are central to the show

Joining the show after the two-hour pilot, Tinker had to overcome logistical problems created by the elapsed time between the feature and setting up the resultant series.

“The film was shot in three locations in Vancouver, which is impossible to do on a working basis,” he reveals, speaking to DQ from Vancouver Island, home to the city of Parksville, in and around which the first season is shot. Also weighing down Tinker’s in-tray was the issue of whether the original cast would return, but he says the biggest issue he faced was the direction of the series.

“At the centre of the movie is the relationship between Trace and Abby. We didn’t believe that was the full compass of the show – it’s about family as well,” he says. “In addition to telling their story, we have a lot of the O’Brien family and what they are going through.

“Episodes one to eight vary from the pilot. They are much bigger, much deeper. We have time in eight episodes to talk about people and what’s going on. Hallmark has really been great. They wanted to do something a bit different for people who might not watch otherwise – to maintain the current audience and get new viewers. It really is different.”

Another difficulty was pulling together a crew to bring the Chesapeake Shores to life, such is the popularity of Vancouver as a backdrop. It’s also the location for shows including The Flash, Arrow, iZombie, Once Upon a Time, Legends of Tomorrow, UnREAL, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, Ice, Lucifer, Supergirl and The Man in the High Castle.

“The crew was fantastic despite having 60-plus movies and TV shows shooting in Vancouver, but the cast is by far my favourite aspect of the show,” Tinker confesses. “I’ve worked with a lot of talented ensemble casts and this is another one. They are really great. On a show like this when all had family experiences, it’s wonderful to be able to collaborate.

Chesapeake Shores is filmed in and around
Chesapeake Shores is filmed in and around Parksville, Vancouver Island

“On a procedural, actors may not have had the experience of being a policeman or a doctor but everyone has had experience of being a son or daughter and it’s great to collaborate and work together. It’s quite gratifying for the writer to put something out there and have it come back better or in a way you didn’t expect. The cast is really going to attract attention.”

As showrunner, Tinker may be in charge but he says he likes to give his team plenty of room to do their jobs.

“I’m confident in people,” he says. “Martin Wood is a director I wanted to come on board and I made it clear I like to be in a partnership. My favourite way to run a show is to partner with a director so we come to the table with different skill sets. I also like to be collaborative – whether with casting, props or actors. It’s fun when you write a part for a 70-year-old white guy and the casting director brings in a six-foot Lebanese man. Sometimes it works, sometimes not but I love being surprised. You’re letting people do what they do and not making them feeling constrained.”

In particular, Tinker takes inspiration from several of the showrunners he has worked with or admired from afar, most notably Bruce Paltrow (St Elsewhere), Tom Fontana (Oz), David Milch (NYPD Blue, Deadwood), David Simon (The Wire) and David E Kelly (Chicago Hope).

“I learned different skills from each of them,” he explains. “David Kelly is just a remarkable dynamo. When I worked for him, he could just crank out story. At one time he had three shows on the air and was the primary writer on each show. His take on something was very clear. It was just cool what he was writing.

“Tommy is a great thinker and a great writer. Milch is a guy who will spend three hours on a single sentence or a couple of days on a scene and he’s a layered emotional writer. And Bruce was instrumental in my life for more than 20 years. If I could write nearly as well as any one of them, I would be thankful.”

Ahead of the Chesapeake Shores’ debut, Tinker is already planning storylines for a second season, should it be renewed by Hallmark. “I would love folks to give it a chance and stick around,” he adds. “It’s unlike anything Hallmark is airing right now. I think we’re off to a great start and I hope we’re around for a long time.”

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Tenney’s high hopes for Witch’s second spell

With the second season of Good Witch in production, executive producer Sue Tenney tells Michael Pickard how the Hallmark Channel series has grown from its TV movie origins.

Known for its extensive family movie slate, Hallmark Channel has been steadily building its slate of original series with shows including Cedar Cove, When Calls the Heart and Good Witch, which is now in production on its second season.

Spun off from the TV movie franchise of the same name, Good Witch stars Catherine Bell and Bailee Madison as mother and daughter Cassie and Grace, who share some enchanting powers.

From left: Good Witch stars James Denton, Catherine Bell and Bailee Madison
From left: Good Witch stars James Denton, Catherine Bell and Bailee Madison

And viewers will get a sneak peak of Good Witch when it returns to air with a Halloween special on October 24, before season two proper begins in 2016.

Executive producer Sue Tenney had just finished showrunning Cedar Cove, which stars Andie MacDowell in a series based on Debbie Macomber’s books, when she was asked to develop and showrun the first season of this new series.

“I was familiar with the movies, loved the characters and was excited about creating new characters and storylines for such a beloved franchise,” Tenney explains. “Catherine Bell was finally available, which was exciting to everyone. Then Hallmark Channel brought in the incredibly talented and handsome James Denton to play opposite Catherine (as her character’s new neighbour Sam) and the lovely Bailee to play Catherine’s daughter.”

Hallmark’s reputation for broad family entertainment means a fantasy comedy-drama such as Good Witch fits the bill perfectly, and Tenney says Bell in particular is a major draw.

“There are several reasons Good Witch is appealing to viewers. First and foremost is Catherine Bell. Viewers love her beauty, strength and wisdom. Only someone very special could embody such a perfect character as Cassie Nightingale. Catherine not only fills the role but her inner spark is what brings Cassie’s magic to life.

Tenney says viewers love the 'beauty, strength and wisdom' of Catherine Bell (pictured)
Tenney says viewers love the ‘beauty, strength and wisdom’ of Catherine Bell (pictured)

“Second, Good Witch is a family show portraying a family who like and respect each other. I think people like seeing positive images of family and community being represented on television. And third, people love watching Cassie and Sam’s developing friendship. Catherine and James have a wonderful chemistry and their relationship feels like real life.”

Television is no stranger to spin-offs, but how did Hallmark transform Good Witch from a TV movie franchise to an episodic series? Tenney says the films offered a great platform on which to build.

“But whenever you create a series based on movies or books, there is a lot that still needs to be built, such as additional characters and relationship dynamics, to give the series longevity,” she adds. “It was a challenge but when you love the world and the characters it’s a lot of fun to put together.”

One particular challenge was deciding when to set the series in terms of its characters’ lives. Another issue was the fact Chris Potter, who played Cassie’s husband in the seven films, was wrapped up in Canadian drama Heartland and wasn’t available to film the series. His character was subsequently killed off in the series opener, which debuted on Hallmark in February this year.

“The biggest challenge was that Chris was a very important character in the Good Witch world and we wanted to treat his absence with the weight it deserved,” says Tenney. “We started from that point and created Cassie’s journey going forward. The first season was about Cassie dealing with her loss while being a mother, business owner and a friend to her community. The second season is all about what happens next for Cassie.”

A Halloween special episode of Good Witch airs on October 24
A Halloween special episode of Good Witch airs on October 24

In the writers room, Tenney says there are two basic elements that must appear in every storyline: “We always start with how we can be true to the Good Witch franchise while telling stories the viewers haven’t seen before. The goal is always to take an interesting relationship or character story and infuse the right mix of mystery or magic to make it the perfect Good Witch story.”

But in the congested TV landscape, how can a show that avoids epic fantasy battles or brooding, flawed antiheroes stand out from the crowd?

“Good Witch is popular because it’s unique,” Tenney says. “The central family love each other and want to help each other. There is also Cassie’s wisdom. I feel like everyone can use a bit of inspiration in their lives.”

Season two promises plenty of surprises, Tenney adds, with several new relationships awaiting the characters. “We will be getting to know our characters in a deeper way. Several characters will have a visitor from their past who will impact their future. We believe we’ve created a very exciting season two.”

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Stephen’s still the adaptations King

Stephen King is a prolific author
Stephen King is a prolific author

Stephen King surely ranks as the most screen-adapted author of all time. With more than 50 movies and 20 TV productions based on King’s books, even Charles Dickens must be trailing in his wake.

One of the reasons King stories are adapted so often is that they invariably do a great job. Even when they aren’t mega hits, they tend to appear at the good end of the spectrum. A case in point is Under the Dome, which has just been cancelled by CBS after three seasons (the final episode airing on September 10).

Launched in June 2013, it picked up 17.8 million Live+7 viewers for its first episode. But although it has since faded, Under the Dome is generally viewed as a success for CBS, which also accrued streaming and international revenues.

CBS Entertainment chair Nina Tassler said: “Two years ago, Under the Dome broke new ground in the summer and became an instant hit on CBS, as well as with viewers around the world. Dome’s event storytelling and multi-platform business model paved the way for more original summer programming with the rollouts of Extant and Zoo.”

Under the Dome has been cancelled by CBS
Under the Dome has been cancelled by CBS

As for ‘the King,’ he probably isn’t losing too much sleep about Dome’s decline. Although another of his stories, Haven, has just been cancelled by Syfy after five seasons, there are new TV versions of his work coming through. Sonar Entertainment, for example, is working on an adaptation of Mr Mercedes, while Hulu is planning an adaptation of King’s 2011 time-travel novel 11/22/63 (a title they might have to change if it hits the international market).

And that’s not all. There are also reports of a highly ambitious plan to convert King’s classic novel The Stand into both a miniseries and a movie. The idea is that Showtime will air an eight-part miniseries based on the novel, which will then be followed by a film. Again, this highlights the way King’s work also seems especially good at driving schedule experiments.

Meanwhile, coming up in the next magazine issue of DQ will be a feature about Italian drama’s assault on the international stage – led initially by Gomorrah. So it’s interesting to note this week that another great Italian opus, 1992, has been picked up by Netflix for the US. Produced by Wildside (recently acquired by FremantleMedia), 1992 is a highly acclaimed series that looks at corruption in the Italian establishment in the 1990s. With Gomorrah and 1992 both spawning sequels, it looks like the Italian scripted community will now be vying for attention with the Scandinavians, French, Germans, Turks, Israelis and Spanish.

Netflix original Narcos
Netflix original Narcos

Netflix has also announced the renewal of Narcos, a series exploring the life and times of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar and his infamous Medellin Cartel. Created by Chris Brancato, Carlo Bernard and Doug Miro and directed by Jose Padilha, the series has attracted a very impressive 9.2 rating on IMDb, which puts it at the elite end of the rankings alongside shows like Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, The Wire, Sherlock and The Sopranos.

Elsewhere, another show to be cancelled this week was USA Networks’ Complications. But there was better news for Starz’ acclaimed comedy series Survivor’s Remorse, which follows the life of Cam Calloway (played by Jessie T Usher), a hard-working young basketball star who is thrust into the limelight after signing a huge contract with a pro basketball team in Atlanta.

“We are thrilled to renew Survivor’s Remorse for a third season,” said Starz MD Carmi Zlotnik,. “Since it began, the critics instantly embraced the show, and now we’ve seen its fans grow season after season. The creative team tackles the most topical of issues with heart and humour as the Calloway family deals with ‘pro-money and pro-problems’ off the basketball court.” An interesting note regarding Survivor’s Remorse is that its showrunner is the multi-talented Mike O’Malley, who also starred in Glee.

Ray Winstone in The Trials of Jimmy Rose
Ray Winstone in The Trials of Jimmy Rose

In the UK, a new three-part drama called The Trials of Jimmy Rose (see DQ’s feature on the show here) debuted on ITV this week to 4.1 million viewers (Sunday 21.00). This is probably seen as a bit of disappointment given that it is below the slot average – despite starring industry icon Ray Winstone.

Winstone plays a convicted criminal who comes out of jail after 12 years to find his family life in a state of disintegration. Episode one was praised by the critics, with The Telegraph saying: “Winstone’s portrayal of a once proud man being broken down was skillfully done, particularly when showing us the emotional distance time had put between Jimmy and wife Jackie. Alan Whiting’s spare script and Adrian Shergold’s tight direction eked emotion from small details. A casual putdown from a bus driver, a zero-hours job in a DIY store, Jimmy’s inability to command respect from young bloods, all reeked of humiliation.”

The show’s prospects were possibly dented by the fact it was up against the final episode of BBC1’s Agatha Christie adaptation Partners in Crime. Although Partners in Crime has tailed off quite badly, it still secured 3.3 million viewers, some of whom might have tried out the Winstone drama had it not been Partners’ finale. ITV will be hoping that this lost audience will have recorded their drama, in which case we may see a bounce back for episode two.

Is ABC set to cancel Mistresses?
Is ABC set to cancel Mistresses?

Back in the US, Hallmark Channel claimed its original series Cedar Cove (starring Andie MacDowell) has made the network “the most watched and highest rated in the Saturday 20.00 time period over the course of its third season.”

The network added: “Since the launch of Cedar Cove’s third season, the series is averaging a 2.1 HH rating on a Live+3 basis and more than two million total viewers, making Hallmark Channel number one in the Saturday 20.00 time period.”

Finally, one show awaiting decision over renewal is ABC’s Mistresses. Based on a British drama, Mistresses came to the end of its third season on September 3. Historically its ratings have been quite low but it has been picking up in the last few weeks. The odds probably favour cancellation but, as always, the time-shifted numbers need to be crunched before we can be sure Mistresses is going the same way as Under the Dome.

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Disney’s Descendants on the up

Descendants was directed by High School Musical’s Kenny Ortega
Descendants was directed by High School Musical’s Kenny Ortega

When Disney gets it right, it really gets it right. Currently doing great business for Disney Channel US is Descendants, a modern-day story based around the teenage offspring of Disney’s most notorious villains. Having attracted 6.6 million viewers for its premiere, the live-plus-three-day audience for the show increased to 10.5 million.

Those figures make Descendants the number-one cable TV movie of 2015, which is perhaps not so surprising when you learn that it was directed, choreographed and exec produced by High School Musical’s Kenny Ortega. HSM was a huge franchise, spawning three movies and giving the world the adorable Zac Efron.

Descendants is also performing well across other platforms. It currently holds the top spot on iTunes (Top TV seasons), while its soundtrack is at the top of the iTunes soundtrack chart and third on the iTunes album chart. It has also spawned a best-selling prequel novel, The Isle of the Lost by Melissa de la Cruz, and an animated shortform series, Descendants Wicked World.

More movie-length productions are presumably an option, although the concept and characterisation might also lend itself to a live-action series.

Cedar Cove stars Andie MacDowell (left)
Cedar Cove stars Andie MacDowell (left)

Hallmark Channel is also celebrating this week following a strong showing from Debbie Macomber’s Cedar Cove, a romantic drama starring Andie MacDowell and Dylan Neal.

According to Hallmark, the latest episode of Cedar Cove became the network’s most watched and highest rated among total viewers and households in its Saturday 20.00 time period. To date, season three of the show is averaging a 2.0 household rating and two million total viewers.

“Over the last four years, Hallmark Channel’s scripted series have become appointment viewing for our audience,” said Michelle Vicary, executive VP for programming and network publicity at Hallmark owner Crown Media Family Networks. “The popularity of Cedar Cove, Good Witch and When Calls the Heart demonstrate the power of our brand and the resonance of our storytelling.”

With so much competition in scripted content, a lot of launch success these days is down to whether you can offer something that piques the audience’s interest.

Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston in Sneaky Pete
Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston in Sneaky Pete

Today, for example, Amazon launches Sneaky Pete, the pilot for a conman drama written and executive produced by David Shore and Bryan ‘Walter White’ Cranston.

Backed by Sony, the show was originally intended for CBS. But when the network withdrew its interest, Amazon stepped in and greenlit the pilot. The star of the pilot is Giovanni Ribisi, but Cranston will guest star, which is sure to lure in swathes of Breaking Bad fans.

That might be enough to convince Amazon it is worth going to series with Sneaky Pete – particularly if it results in new subscribers for the service.

Amazon’s approach is to show pilots for free and then base its commissioning decisions on audience data and customer feedback. Alongside Sneaky Pete, another pilot hopeful launching today is Casanova, from Jean Pierre Jeunet, Stuart Zicherman and Electus’s Ben Silverman.

The Guardian said Odyssey 'failed to produce a single moment of originality.
The Guardian said Odyssey ‘failed to produce a single moment of originality’

In previous weeks, we’ve reported that ancient Egypt drama Tut achieved good ratings for its launch episode on cable channel Spike in the US. It has now aired as a two-part miniseries on Channel 5 in the UK.

C5, which like Spike is owned by Viacom, attracted around 880,000 viewers across two episodes. This is around 28% above the slot average. With Spike having announced its intention to invest more money in scripted shows, Channel 5 may find itself a long-term beneficiary of this.

A less successful acquisition has been thriller series Odyssey, snapped up by BBC2 at the LA Screenings this year after an initial airing on NBC in the US. In this show, British actress Anna Friel plays US army special ops member Odelle Ballard, who is the sole survivor of a drone attack in Mali but has been reported dead after her team discovers a US terrorism funding conspiracy.

On paper, Odyssey looked like it might be a combination of Homeland and The Honourable Woman, but it has received poor reviews and ratings. Already axed by NBC in the US, it has seen its audience on BBC2 slide from around 2.5 million at the start to around one million at the end of its run.

Friel’s acting was praised, but The Guardian summed up the general mood among critics: “Why beat around the bush with subtlety when each coarsely drawn character can spell out plot and motivation so clearly and deliberately? You can practically hear the clunk and ding of the typewriter whenever someone opens their mouth. Even the secret documents kept safe in a USB stick around (Ballard’s) neck are written in Fisher-Price spy language. The writers do not believe you’ll keep up any other way.”

While BBC2 has had a summer to forget regarding drama, BBC1 continues to do pretty well with its Agatha Christie adaptation Partners in Crime. The second episode of six attracted five million viewers last Sunday evening.

While this is down from episode one (6.5 million), it’s still pretty respectable. It bodes well for another upcoming Christie adaptation based on iconic novel And Then There Were None. Due to air later this year, And Then There Were None is a Mammoth Screen and Agatha Christie Productions programme for the BBC, coproduced with A+E Television Networks. RLJ Entertainment has taken US DVD and DTO rights, while A+E Networks will handle international sales via A+E Studios International.

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