If you’re one of the millions of people who are tuning in to the third season of “Cedar Cove” on the Hallmark Channel, you likely have several reasons for watching. The casting is on target, the acting is great, the scenery is exquisite, but really, isn’t it about seeing a collective microcosm of people exhibiting kindness, consideration, and courage on a daily basis that draws you in to the world that Debbie Macomber created? Did you catch Saturday’s (Aug. 8) episode, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?”
It’s one thing to create an idyllic world on paper where the characters do what you tell them to, or think they should, or hope they will, and that’s what Macomber does best in the premises she’s developed so successfully in her books that keep her atop the New York Times bestseller lists. Yet, in order for television magic to happen, there must be a showrunner who understands the constraints of network programming that allow her or him to plan ahead 13-26 weeks of a season for storytelling. Think of that person as having a giant (blank) whiteboard and four dry erase markers in hand and then you say, “Go!”
What happens first is based on where you left things hanging last season. Your primary characters face decisions, endure or have endured dramatic changes in their lives, and each character “wants” to do something that they have not yet achieved. Sounds simple, right? Perhaps it does on the surface, but the realities of creating real-life drama for television, if you think back on the first two seasons of “Cedar Cove,” are anything but simple.
You have two best friends, Judge Olivia Lockhart and her friend from elementary school days, Grace Sherman. Both had been previously married, happily and successfully; both have daughters; and Olivia went from attorney and judge to ultimately divorced, and Grace went from happily married to newly divorced. In the first episode of the series, it’s established that Olivia’s son died and she’s dealing with the loss in her own way.
In the first two seasons, viewers learn more about Olivia’s daughter, Justine, and Grace’s daughter, Maryellen, as both seem fated to become involved with the “wrong men.” Such circumstances are the premise by which “Cedar Cove” has carefully shown the bonds of sisterhood that exist between women who dare to confide in their best friends what is worrying them most at the time as well as being “that first person you want to call” when good things happen.
Neither woman is given to trusting outsiders as the show begins, but they encourage one another when new love interests enter the picture for both, one offering the courage to explore new opportunities when the other shows signs of second-guessing or wavering. It’s taken two seasons to see how, although the lives of those they love in their own families may rise and file with the tide, the constant in the show is the constant in the friendship between Olivia and Grace. There’s a lot of mutual respect and quiet confidence in the other’s abilities.
When Olivia isn’t sure what to do about Jack’s fall from grace in his sobriety, Grace doesn’t chime in with opinions, and Teryl Rothery has such a skill for listening on screen and staying engaged that cements her as, truly, that person. When Grace really needs a job to get back some self-esteem, Olivia quietly goes about making a job appear (indirectly) out of nowhere, because she knew Grace would flourish in it. When Grace’s first attempt as a town manager tanks badly, it’s Grace who reassures her up front, and then behind the scenes finds a way to make it happen.
The beauty of their friendship is that neither has to worry whether it will go away, whether estrangement will happen (as it did once when Will, who is Olivia’s whiny antagonistic brother, reappears and re-sparks an old ember of a flame in Grace) and cause a permanent rift. So far, the one rift between Grace and Olivia didn’t last too long, and a bottle of wine and good chat put things right again.
It’s going to take much longer to repair the relationship between Olivia and Will, whose petulance is unbecoming (“You didn’t invite me to your dinner party because you couldn’t move past the fact that I’m bulldozing our family home and have gone into business with your daughter’s rotten ex-fiance?” Boo to the hoo Will; get over yourself. Right?).
In these real-life days of successful women being portrayed as natural antagonists, of narcissistic egomaniacs incapable of understanding the feelings of others, all you have to do is sit back and watch Hallmark Channel for an hour on Saturday night and see how Andie MacDowell and Teryl Rothery handle the brilliant lines that are written, and you’ll have your faith restored over a cup of Moon’s coffee, or a bottle of wine, or a picnic in idyllic Cedar Cove.
America loves Andie MacDowell for her spirit that resonates across all of her work for which she’s become so well known. Having started her career in modeling, who better to understand the fierce competition between women who all seek one goal: the cover? Time and again MacDowell has shown viewers, and L’Oréal, why she is definitely “worth it.” Her ability to portray Olivia, a woman who has not one mean bone in her body, is as welcoming as her talent to reach the other end of the character spectrum in movie roles. It’s acting of course, but she makes all her characters entirely believable.
The world of Cedar Cove is actually a collective of people truly treating one another nicely, with dignity, even if the actions of that person don’t qualify for anything other than disdain and maybe a right-cross jab or two. The actions of the miscreants are identified, but the persons committing the evil are not trashed and spread out all over the roads of Cedar Cove. Teasing is good-natured, never mean or petty. Despair is there, but it doesn’t drive the characters full time to their eventual destinations.
When someone is the antagonist in an episode, particularly the most-qualified is Warren Saget (Brennan Elliott). However, there’s still some sympathetic, potentially redeeming quality about his actions that lend themselves to perhaps giving him yet one more chance before writing him off. He’s on everyone’s last good nerve right now, so a character change had best be in the offing sooner than later or he will be written forever as “that no-good Warren Saget.” There are hints he can change, but indeed: will he change?
Happy marriages are portrayed as well, a welcome rarity against the landscape of fault-ridden affiliations that ring out each night of the week of most cable systems on the primary network channels. That’s why Barbara Niven working with Bruce Boxleitner ensures that their Peggy and Bob Beldon are one of “Cedar Cove’s” favorite couples: because they are actually nice to each other. They love one another and don’t feel compelled to treat each other disrespectfully. You really want to spend time hanging out with them at The Thyme and Tide. That’s not to say it’s all cream-puffy perfect in their lives. No, the series is not mindless driven and programmed pablum, in case you were ready to toss it in “that” bin. If you’ve seen it, you don’t need to hear it, but if you have not yet been to “Cedar Cove,” just suspend your distrust that you could be doing something else you’d like more, and tune in. There are plenty of surprises around the corner.
This season already, in the matter of new D.A. Paul Watson (Colin Ferguson) coming into town, presumably with an eye on Olivia, Bob Beldon won’t give Watson the time of day, in following the “guy code” of his good buddy Jack Griffith, who’s presently in the penalty box with Olivia. Peggy Beldon, on the other hand, takes Paul at face value and doesn’t worry about Olivia and Jack’s relationship and she welcomes Paul to Cedar Cove, which is the one thing that Bob and Peggy don’t agree on. The wounded stranger that Peggy took in last season to their B&B, The Thyme and Tide, caused Bob a bit of anguish, but really, it’s refreshing to see people, single, married, divorced, and engaged, actually treating each other decently.
It may be a throwback to the spirit of the 1960s, or even the 1950s, that the talented scriptwriters search when penning the dialogue for the scripts each week. But really, is that such a bad thing? If people are tuning in for Hallmark Channel programming, it’s because from the earliest days of the old “Hallmark Hall of Fame” movie series, you knew you had a packaged product that featured quality storytelling, likely some tears and Kleenex, but it would be work that would ultimately be worth your time.
“Cedar Cove” is known now as Hallmark’s first (of many) original scripted series, and it joins other successful series in their portfolio, including “Signed, Sealed, & Delivered,” and “Good Witch” and “When Calls the Heart” as reasons you set your television channel or DVR for Hallmark. Think of the common denominator across these shows—people treating each other nicely, for a change.
And in nighttime television-land, when so many serial dramas use the old fallback of scheming, vindictive, vengeful manipulators to portray successful women, who no matter how hard they try and want to be friends on “The Good Wife” (ala Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) and Alicia Florrick (Juliana Margulies), Diane and Alicia will never achieve the mutual trust that Olivia and Grace have. But they don’t need to, because that’s another reason why people tune into their show—they already know they’re going to see competition and struggles. So, there, you watch because you want your protagonist to win that week.
But, in any struggle someone has to lose, and that’s the sad thing. Yet another reason why it’s so nice to enter “Cedar Cove” for an hour each week and leave refreshed and forward-looking, because someone is bound to win, graciously, in the tiny little upstate Washington town affixed inside the mind of Debbie Macomber but given over, gently, to the Hallmark Channel team of experts who knew what to do to make a show authentic to what any writer would hope their creation to be.
Not to overlook the fact that the ever-talented Andie MacDowell is a co-producer of her show, the same as is Catherine Bell of “Good Witch.” These talented women have learned enough from their years in the industry that if you want to be “in” quality programming, you must be a true “part” of quality programming. If anyone is going to be putting words in front of those two stars, they have some (conceptual) say in how their characters will develop over the various seasons. “Good Witch” is currently filming Season Two, and a sneak peek will be unveiled in October.
At this point in the third season of “Cedar Cove,” not all the male characters show unfailing strength. Men are always a work-in-progress, it seems, possibly mirroring some real-life scenarios and writers’ perspectives. In fact, many of the town’s folk are flawed (except for Moon; Timothy Webber is simply perfect as the wise, grizzled sage who knows people’s hearts and can sense out their spirits instantly).
Sebastian Spence’s Cliff Harting, who loves Grace, is absolutely a perfect match for her, but he can’t tune into the fact that she needs time, more time, until she’s ready to put on an engagement ring. Hence, the current status he finds himself facing: Cliff found himself on the outside looking in where Grace’s heart is concerned. When he figures out how to accept Grace’s terms, look for that relationship to resume, but it will be on Grace’s terms.
One special element of the first season of Cedar Cove that helped launch its idyllic life theme was the addition of the voice of none other than Delilah, the iconic radio host whose love of children, growing things in her own garden, and particularly in helping women who won’t get out of toxic friendships and relationships find the courage to jettison and move on, keep moving on. It would be nice if Delilah’s voice finds its way back to Cedar Cove before Season Three ends, but that’s up to producers.
This brings up the final aspect of exactly “what” it is that resonates across the bonds of friendship in “Cedar Cove”—when you are so invested in a friendship that you believe that you truly know what is best for your best friends, even if they can’t see it themselves. Viewing comments on the program’s Facebook page, viewers are particularly enthusiastic in their contribution and impressions of what “they” think should happen in coming weeks. There’s a clear viewer stake of investment in the show, the actors, the characters, and the plotline. The Hallmark formula is working, without question.
Who’s responsible for all this entertainment you ask? A multitude of people whose names you may know, recognize, or have not a clue, but they’re responsible for much of the magic of the series—one name immediately comes to mind: Sue Tenney, a co-executive producer and showrunner for not only “Cedar Cove,” but for “Good Witch” and formerly of “7th Heaven.”
So, if you are starting to see a trend, imagine that it’s a corporate attitude of excitement in creating solid entertainment backed by years of experience that keeps everyone coming back for more each week. And a very talented group of writers who are given the opportunity to create, co-create, and re-create even more reasons you just won’t miss one Saturday night with “the whole gang.”
It doesn’t have to be National Friendship Week, or National Sisters Week, or any other Hallmark holiday to pick up the phone and call your best friend and get together for a visit soon. You know, it’s just like Olivia and Grace do on “Cedar Cove.” And, just as the divine Miss M sang, “ya gotta have friends!”