Hallmark wheels into ‘Mystery Movie’ mode

Skein has four detectives each in four two-hour segs

Hallmark Channel plans to hark back to the days of the “NBC Mystery Movie,” which rotated three different detectives and spawned such hits as “Columbo” and “Quincy.”

Called “Mystery Movie,” the Hallmark series will encompass four crime-solving characters, featured in four two-hour movies apiece, for a 16-week season, beginning later this year. It’s tapped to air on Sundays.

Dave Kenin, executive VP of programming for Hallmark Channel, said he hasn’t yet settled on the specific characters, but “they’ll all be contemporary and family-oriented — no advertiser will feel uncomfortable buying time on these shows.”

Hallmark has hired two veteran writers to come up with some of the scripts: Dean Hargrove, who wrote and produced “Columbo” and “Diagnosis Murder,” and Michael Gleason, whose credits include “McCloud” and “Remington Steele.”

One possible character in the series could be “Mystery Woman,” a two-hour made-for that scored the second highest rating of all the original movies Hallmark scheduled last year. The lead characters are two women: a photographer who runs a mystery bookstore, and her friend, who’s an assistant district attorney.

If “Mystery Woman” goes to series, Michael Sloan, who did the original, will write and produce it.

Larry Levinson, who, with Robert Halmi Jr., is executive producer for all of the original movies Hallmark commissions, will serve as exec producer of “Mystery Movie.”

Kenin said Levinson will produce the 16 detective movies in the United States, not Canada. The cost savings will come because all four of the specific detective movies will be shot at one time like a standard series, over a two-month period.

Hallmark is eager to produce lots of movies, because it also has to fill its 24-hour spinoff cable network Hallmark Movie Channel.