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Hallmark to Remain Mysterious

3/22/2005 5:35 AM Eastern

New York -- Hallmark Channel’s “Friday Night Mystery Movie” franchise will return this summer with fresh telefilm installments. Down the road, one could develop into the network’s first original scripted series.

David Kenin, the network’s executive vice president of programming, said Hallmark green-lit two more films apiece under its Mystery Woman (starring Kellie Martin), McBride (John Larroquette) and Jane Doe (Lea Thompson) banners.

Coupled with an installment for each of the aforementioned trios that has already been produced and slated to run this winter, he added, Hallmark will offer nine of these films combined, beginning in June.

Kenin, speaking at an upfront press preview for reporters here Tuesday, said Hallmark’s game plan originally called for it to run all four installments of each project during the first quarter, then to come back next January. The nine originals that have aired to date averaged a 1.3 household rating, delivering 213,000 women 25-54 and 351,000 adults of that demo.

Kenin said that in concert with the franchise films, two other telepics and a trio of miniseries, Hallmark will present 14 original productions between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

The scheduled miniseries are: Frederic Forsyth’s Icon, a four-hour project based on the novel by the best-selling author; The Mysterious Island, a special-effects-laden adaptation of the Jules Verne tale; and Super Nova, in which a team of scientists discover that the next star set to explode is the sun.

The run of fresh fare continues Hallmark’s practice of event programming, Kenin said.

Acknowledging the presence of Turner Network Television’s highly anticipated Into the West project and a spate of other offerings during what has historically been cable’s busiest season for originals, Kenin said Hallmark would be judicious with its scheduling and promotion of its projects to boost awareness and viewership come the warmer months.

“I think we’ll do fine,” he said of Hallmark vying in the heat of summer competition. “If we didn’t do it, we would really get blitzed.”

Looking further down the road, Kenin said one of the mystery-telefilm franchises could spawn a series rollout, perhaps in 2007. “They are set up to do that,” he added, noting that Hallmark has had “a high batting average” with its original-movies strategy.

Hallmark and Hallmark Movie Channel CEO David Evans, citing the high risk associated with series development, said the “network had made a conscious effort not to go in that direction” at this point.

Given the Nielsen Media Research success of the mystery films to date, Kenin noted that in series form, they would come to the screen with a certain built-in viewer equity should Hallmark decide to go in that direction.