‘Murder’ in the cards for Hallmark

Channel pays $13 million for Lansbury series

Hallmark Channel will shell out about $13 million to buy all 264 hours of “Murder, She Wrote,” continuing the network’s fascination with mystery-series oldies like “Columbo,” “Matlock” and “Perry Mason.”

“Murder, She Wrote,” distributed by NBC Universal Domestic TV, has “good storytelling and is family friendly,” said Dave Kenin, exec VP of programming for Hallmark Channel.

The reruns of the Angela Lansbury sleuth series kick off next month with two back-to-back hours every Sunday at 7 p.m. — a reminder to the show’s fans, said Kenin, that it was a bellwether of CBS’ Sunday-at-8 schedule for just about all of its 12-year network run. During the week, “Murder, She Wrote” will run four times a day on Hallmark, from 8 to 10 a.m. and from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m.

Kenin served as head of programming for the USA Network when it slotted the “Murder, She Wrote” reruns in primetime for a number of years in the 1990s. After the USA run, NBC U sold the show to A&E, and the series most recently shifted to A&E sibling Biography Channel, which strips it in daytime and early evening.

If “Murder, She Wrote” does well in fringe time periods during the week on Hallmark, Kenin said he’ll move the episodes into primetime. Hallmark is talking with Lansbury about doing some fresh on-camera interviews that it could use, say, as interstitial programming during a marathon of a dozen or so episodes.

“And she’s back on Broadway,” Kenin said, referring to Lansbury’s Tony-nominated performance in the comedy-drama “Deuce” and her agreement to serve as a presenter during CBS’ June 10 Tony Awards telecast.

“Murder, She Wrote” will attract an older audience, appropriate for Hallmark, whose average age is greater than that of any other general-entertainment network in basic cable.

“Hallmark is not the darling of the advertising community,” Kenin said. “But we reach an underserved audience, and these people pay their cable bills.”

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