‘Cedar Cove’ an appealing destination for Hallmark fans

Andie MacDowell stars in 'Cedar Cove.'
Andie MacDowell stars in 'Cedar Cove.'

No one knows its audience better than the Hallmark Channel, whose first scripted prime time series, Debbie Macomber’s Cedar Cove, premieres Saturday.

The title’s a mouthful, but Macomber, who’s had three previous books adapted by Hallmark for high-rated Christmas movies, is to small-town warm and fuzzy what Stephen King is to small-town weird and scuzzy. Her name’s bound to draw fans.

I’m a hard-core drama junkie who’s never read one of Macomber’s books, and even I could see the appeal of Cedar Cove, which stars Andie MacDowell as a small-town judge and Dylan Neal as a newspaperman from Philadelphia who’s now running the local paper.

In Saturday’s two-hour premiere — originally written as a movie by Philly playwright Bruce Graham, a co-executive producer on the show — MacDowell’s character, Olivia, is considering a big promotion that would take her away from the postcard-perfect Pacific Northwest town where she was born and raised and has been dispensing justice for years (and where her mother, daughter and that cute guy from the paper still live).

If you’ve seen even one Hallmark movie, you know how that turns out. But while those movies are often forced to rush headlong toward their happy endings, a series can take more time. And in four subsequent episodes I’ve seen, the stories and characters get to breathe a bit.

MacDowell, whose fashion-diva character was one of my favorite things about ABC Family’s Jane By Design, is playing someone more sympathetic here, but her Olivia’s just headstrong enough to stay interesting. And the move to Cedar Cove feels like a smart bet for Hallmark.