Dear Prudence

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Airdate: 9-11 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 23 (Hallmark Channel)

As a murder mystery, "Dear Prudence" leaves a lot to be desired, including, for example, suspense. However, as a new Hallmark Channel Mystery Movie franchise, Jane Seymour's Prudence fits like a Speedo on an Olympic swimmer.

Unlike networks that target young demos, Hallmark courts a multigenerational crowd. It's mystery movie roster (John Larroquette, Kellie Martin, Lea Thompson and Dick Van Dyke) has made Hallmark the showbiz equivalent of the designated hitter in baseball, extending the careers of veteran performers. Seymour will fit right in.

Her Prudence is a cross between Heloise and Jessica Fletcher. For years, she's been dispensing pointers to a TV audience on how to remove stains, odors and, occasionally, pet flatulence. In "Dear Prudence," she applies many of the same household tips to criminal forensics. Who needs a DNA lab when a trained eye can detect that shoe polish has been used to cover up damage to the murder weapon?

Seymour is a fine choice for the role, but neither the movie nor the franchise would work nearly as well without Ryan Cartwright, who plays Nigel Forsythe III, her geeky assistant and head of her TV lab. Cartwright is a fountain of comic relief, which comes in handy when the plot runs thin, which happens a lot.

In the opening scenes, Prudence is ordered to take a vacation and put on a plane to a Wyoming resort where her mother once stayed and where it is scenic and, presumably, production costs are low. Almost before she can unpack, the son of an American Indian lodge manager turns up dead with a neatly typed suicide note nearby. Local law enforcement is about as curious as a fundamentalist at an evolution conference.

Prudence orders Nigel to Wyoming, and together they crack the case, ultimately discovering evidence that has nothing to do with household knowledge. Actually, the mystery (including an inane confrontation with one of the bad guys) is just a device to give Prudence and Nigel something to do. It's their creation of fun and likable characters, guided by director Paul Schneider, that make this work.

Cast: Jane Seymour, Ryan Cartwright, Jamey Sheridan, Rob Stewart, Tantoo Cardinal, David Brown, James Kot. Production: Alexander/Mitchell Prods. in association with Granada America. Executive producers: Tom Cox, Murray Ord, Jordy Randall, Les Alexander, Jonathan Mitchell, Rob Gilmer. Line producer: Doug Steeden. Producer: Andrea Baynes. Director: Paul Schneider. Writers: Les Alexander, Rob Gilmer. Director of photography: Peter Benison. Production designer: Louise Middleton. Editor: Jason Pielak. Music: Andrea Saparoff. Casting: Stacey Rosen, Rhonda Fisekci.

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