'Hailey Dean Mysteries': Kellie Martin Talks New Cases & a Romantic Milestone
Edgy. Graphic. Risqué.
In today's increasingly cluttered TV landscape, you can find plenty of programs eager to deliver on those buzzwords. But Hailey Dean Mysteries, the Hallmark franchise starring Kellie Martin (Life Goes On, ER), isn't among them, and that's by design.
"We are not Game of Thrones, and we never will be," Martin says cheerily. "We scratch a different itch. Watching our movies is like cozying up with a good book — you know you're going to get a fun experience."
Clearly, it's an experience lots of people crave.
On May 5, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries debuts Hailey Dean Mysteries: Death on Duty, its seventh installment featuring the heroine — an Atlanta-based psychologist and former prosecutor who moonlights as an amateur sleuth — followed by two more originals in subsequent weeks. (Her most recent movies, which aired in 2018, drew a total audience of 6.9 million.)
The whodunits anchor the channel's new Sunday-night "Signature Mystery" lineup, which aims to meet a demand for wholesome, well-crafted takes on the genre.
"There are many places with grittier content," says Michelle Vicary, executive vice president of programming and publicity for Crown Media Family Networks. "Our audience doesn't look to Hallmark for that. They want to solve the mystery and have an emotional connection with the characters."
Since premiering in 2016, Hailey Dean — based on the semiautobiographical novels by legal commentator Nancy Grace, who also executive produces and pops up in cameos — has become a bright star in Hallmark's expanding constellation of crime-solving spitfires.
The gals on this roster, risking life and limb to right wrongs ranging from theft to murder, are not professional detectives but tend to have special skills and qualities that enable them to get the job done. For intrepid Hailey, her background as a lawyer and work as a therapist lend her insight into human nature.
The Hallmark franchises have another key ingredient in common: an established female actress at their center. Martin came into Hailey Dean with the added advantage of a built-in fanbase from her 2003–07 stint on Hallmark's Mystery Woman.
"Everyone told me that it would be hard for me to find satisfying roles after 40," Martin says. "I'm 43 now, and I'm getting some of my most exciting work yet. I think Hallmark does that for all their leading ladies."
Some of the network's other star-driven titles include the Aurora Teagarden Mysteries, in which Candace Cameron Bure channels a librarian, and the Morning Show Mysteries, with Holly Robinson Peete playing a TV chef. (Garage Sale Mysteries came to an end in March when its headliner, Lori Loughlin, was indicted in a college-admissions scandal.)
"Television shows have a lifespan," Vicary acknowledges. "We're always growing our portfolio, and we have brands right now that are in all different places in their journey."
As for Hailey's trajectory, Death on Duty and its successors, Prescription for Murder and Killer Sentence, represent a fresh start. After spending 15 years haunted by the unsolved murder of her college fiancé — just like Grace had been — Hailey finally learned the truth in last June's A Will to Kill.
"It's as if she has her feet back under her," Martin says. "We see her lighten up."
That should have a welcome impact on her romance with Jonas McClellan (Matthew MacCaull), the hunky county medical examiner. Teases Martin, "They hit a huge milestone."
Of course, Hailey remains dedicated to seeing justice served. She'll assist her pal, Det. Garland Fincher (Viv Leacock), in a pair of cases that hit him where it hurts: First, his former Marine buddy turns up dead; then Fincher's girlfriend, Dr. Meghan Phillips (Caitlyn Stryker), becomes a suspect in a string of hospital deaths.
"Having characters we know caught in the crosshairs heightens everything," Martin notes.
Along the way, we'll get acquainted with Hailey's former boss from the DA's office, Paulina, portrayed by Lauren Holly. "She wants Hailey to come back," Martin reveals.
Hey, anything is possible, but we predict that Hailey's Nancy Drew days are just getting started.
"There are endless interesting stories left for us to tell," Martin says. "And I'm the kind of actor who would never quit [something] that's working. If we can get viewers to show up, have a great time and come back for the next one? That's not bad!"
Hailey Dean Mysteries: Death on Duty, Sunday, May 5, 9/8c, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries