TV can be painfully derivative, and when a show comes along that is not easily categorized, other than light drama, it’s risky.
When that show is Hallmark Channel’s first scripted series, it’s even more of a chance. But “Debbie Macomber’s Cedar Cove,” debuting with a two-hour pilot Saturday, July 20, looks to be as sure of a deal as anything could be.
Starring Andie MacDowell, the series fills a gap. It’s a quiet drama, without dismemberments, supernatural forces or fantastic premises. For those who have had enough boorish behavior, this is a welcome respite.
“I like to think about it as a little bit of a modern version of Andy Griffith, and I’m Andy,” MacDowell tells Zap2it. “I don’t want to be agitated so much on television. I don’t need to watch any more agitation.”
There’s a peaceful quality to the show. That quietude comes from MacDowell’s character, Olivia Lockhart, a judge who turns down a federal position to remain in the small town of Cedar Cove.
Vancouver, British Columbia fills in for the fictional burg. In Whytecliff Park, outside the city, with the Pacific Ocean lapping at a horseshoe-shaped beach and woods behind them, the cast speaks passionately about “Cedar Cove.”
“I think we are the antidote to ‘The Following,’ ” says Bruce Boxleitner, who plays Bob, a lifelong Cedar Cove resident. “I am tired of zombies. I am tired of vampires. Nothing against them, but they have been pounded into dirt.
“There has to be some safe harbor in the evening from news and destruction,” Boxleitner continues. “And there has to be some place where there is a refuge, where people can have an engrossing storyline and get away from their lives for an hour or two; nothing to jar you or shock you. Hallmark gives you what I have always been associated with – family stuff.”
The series, at least judging by the pilot, is about more than what it isn’t. It is about a life many strive for. For instance, Boxleitner’s character, Bob, is married to his high-school sweetheart, Peggy (Barbara Niven).
“There are not a lot of TV characters who are married and still love each other,” Niven says. “There is something great about growing old together, because you have the same history.”
Cedar Cove is the sort of town where if a kid does something wrong, the news will beat him home.
“I’ve lived in small towns; it has a lot of the qualities of most small towns,” MacDowell says. “And it has the quality of, you know about people’s lives. Sometimes that’s good and sometimes bad. You care about each other. People’s lives are intertwined. There is a comfortable feeling in small towns. It is salubrious.
“And it just happens to be in a beautiful location,” she continues. “The town is a big feature of the show, that sense of peacefulness and tranquility. There are not a lot of shows that offer that, a de-stressor. You can care about these characters and relate to them.”
Characters are not trouble-free. Olivia, who is divorced, mourns the death of her son. Dylan Neal plays Jack, an alcoholic, who moved from Philadelphia.
“Jack is first and foremost a fish out of water for Cedar Cove,” Neal says. “He’s a big-city reporter who has come to this sleepy town. He’s basically been bemused by the citizens and smitten by Olivia. Jack is at a crossroads; he’s needing to start his life over. He has a lot of personal baggage. This may be the last chance he gets in trying to right his life.”
“Cedar Cove” is Neal’s eighth series, so he can compare the experience.
“This is not a traditional network where they shoot 20 pilots, and five to seven will go to series, and one will maybe make a full season,” he says. “They have choices. Hallmark has one show. They are putting all their eggs in one basket.”
He watches the crew set up a scene, one which has been reshot much of the day.
“They have big plans for the network,” Neal says. “Andie MacDowell is a big actress. They can’t afford to have it crater.”
All of the actors say they can see how their characters evolve. Paula Shaw, who plays Olivia’s mom, Charlotte, says, “If the people come to care about these characters very deeply, they will watch to see how they navigate.”
Besides a budding romance with Jack, Olivia’s life is filled out with her mom, daughter and pal, Grace, an adventurous librarian.
“Grace is somebody I would love to have as my best friend,” Teryl Rothery says of her character. “She’s compassionate, funny and sees the glass as half full. Her pain is there. She was married for 26 years and is now divorced and out there. It is frightening.”
That a librarian would figure in makes perfect sense. As MacDowell is driven back to her hotel, her Papillon on her lap, she relays a story. Her sister recently went to the library and asked for a book recommendation, ” ‘Not to make me nervous; I just want to read,’ and they offered her ‘Cedar Cove,’ ” MacDowell says. “That’s why people read Debbie Macomber.”
And it’s a very fair bet that’s why people will watch.