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No Mystery in Movie Renewals

Aug 15, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Hallmark Channel has renewed its three mystery movie franchises, all of which have become building blocks for the network.

Hallmark has ordered six additional installments each of “Mystery Woman,” “McBride” and “Jane Doe.”

“We have succeeded with these movies because they are a classic franchise and they have been accepted by our viewers,” said David Kenin, executive VP of programming for Hallmark Channel. “If you took each two-hour movie and turned it into two hours of a series, the network would be producing as much as any network on cable.”

The use of movies as building blocks works for Hallmark because it allows the channel to slowly build its number of original hours one by one, rather than committing to an entire season of production of an unproven show. The mystery movies complement Hallmark’s other original movies, many of which are run during the holiday season.

“I think this is a good business strategy that works for us,” Mr. Kenin said. “I like what this has done for us, with our emergence as a cable network that started small and has grown dramatically. It’s enabled us to get into the production business of first-run product in a somewhat safer way.”

Last year Hallmark Channel planned to have 12 of the mystery movies, but once they proved successful, the network ordered four more. “What I’d like to do this year is commit to the larger order early and go into production early, get more time to work on the scripts and put less stress on the production teams,” he said.

The network is also starting a fourth franchise this year, with “Murder 101,” starring veteran actor Dick Van Dyke.

Mr. Kenin said he’s like to see three “Murder 101” movies, but said how many of those get produced will depend on Mr. Van Dyke’s desire to work on them. “We’re making it as easy as we can for Dick,” he said, with the first film being shot less than 45 minutes from Mr. Van Dyke’s house.

The movies are produced by Hallmark Entertainment in association with Larry Levinson Productions and cost about $2 million apiece to produce. Mr. Kenin declined to say how much the network pays to run them. A sister entity, Hallmark Entertainment, owns the films and controls their DVD and international distribution rights.

These sorts of steady orders for the movies make them more like a series than the classic made-for-TV movie.

“We view this as a series, for sure,” Mr. Kenin said. The difference between the movies and a traditional dramatic series, he added, is “about 60 minutes. But that’s it.”

Mr. Kenin said that the idea of turning one of the movie franchises into a one-hour series has been talked about. “That’s still very possible,” he said, adding, “I’m not sure I see the dramatic advantage in that.”

The mystery movie franchises include “Mystery Woman,” starring Kellie Martin, “McBride,” starring John Larroquette, and “Jane Doe,” starring Leah Thompson. So far this season the premieres of these movies have averaged a 1.3 rating, a good number in the cable universe.

With Hallmark loading up on holiday events in the second half of the year, the mystery movies premiere mostly from January through June. Mr. Kenin said reruns of the movies have drawn good numbers.

He said Hallmark keeps costs under control by keeping production staffs and crews busy on a yearly basis, rather than on a film-by-film basis. “They know that after one movie is going to be completed, there’s going to be another and another and another,” he said. “By doing that we’ve been able to stabilize prices.”

Hallmark does have a series coming up, but it’s in a totally different vein. “Naomi’s New Morning,” a faith-based talk show, is scheduled to air Sunday mornings beginning Nov. 27.

“It gives us another regularly schedule star on the network,” Mr. Kenin said.