CBS rolls with new 'Stone'

Hallmark acquires 1st four outings

CBS has ordered a fifth installment of its successful "Jesse Stone" movie franchise, starring Tom Selleck as a small-town police chief, from Sony Pictures Television.

In addition, Hallmark Channel has acquired the first four movies from SPT, with the first, "Stone Cold," set to air at 9 p.m. Aug. 4.

The newest installment of the franchise, based on the best-selling series of novels by Robert B. Parker, is titled "Jesse Stone: Thin Ice." In the movie, Jesse (Selleck) finds that his job is in jeopardy after the attempted murder of State Police Capt. Healy (Stephen McHattie), his close friend and colleague; he also attempts to solve a kidnapping case that was supposed to have been solved years ago.

The movie is set to start shooting in August in Nova Scotia, with the airdate to be determined.

Bela Bajaria, senior vp cable programming and movies at CBS, said it was an easy decision to move forward with a fifth movie.

"We obviously are really pleased with how well the whole franchise has performed in the ratings, even against some very stiff competition," she said. "These movies are very character-driven with procedural elements, and the production values are stunning and the storytelling very interesting. It's a beautiful combination of a few things that make these movies great."

The franchise has done well for CBS. The first movie averaged 18 million total viewers in 2005, while the next two movies -- "Jesse Stone: Night Passage" and "Jesse Stone: Death in Paradise" -- averaged 14 million and 14.9 million, respectively, in 2006. The most recent installment, "Jesse Stone: Sea Change," averaged 13.4 million in May opposite the finale of ABC's hit series "Dancing With the Stars."

Helen Verno, executive vp movies and miniseries at SPT, praised Selleck for his portrayal of Jesse Stone.

"Tom is so smart and knows this character so well," Verno said. "Each and every one of these films gives us further insight into this very fully realized character of Jesse Stone, and that's what people are so drawn to because there's a lot to him on so many levels: He's smart, funny, troubled, vulnerable and tough."

Selleck and Michael Brandman are executive producing for Brandman Productions Inc. in association with SPT. Robert Harmon, who has directed the first four movies, also is on board to helm "Thin Ice."

Meanwhile, Hallmark has an exclusive three-year window on each of the first four titles. "Stone Cold's" window kicked in first, starting this month.

Michelle Vicary, senior vp acquisitions and scheduling at Hallmark Channel, said the movies are a perfect fit for the network, whose audience will relate to Selleck and his character.

"When people think about Hallmark Channel, they think about movies," she said. "We're always looking for new movies to fit our brand, and one genre that works amazingly well for us is mysteries. The Jesse Stone franchise will complement and elevate our current mystery franchises," including the Dick Van Dyke starrer "Murder 101."

"Stone Cold" will kick off the first Saturday of Hallmark's "August Files" month of mystery movies. The following Saturdays will feature the premiere of the original movie "Claire," starring Valerie Bertinelli, on Aug. 11, followed by the premiere of the original movie "Murder 101: If Wishes Were Horses" on Aug. 18 and theatrical "U.S. Marshals" on Aug. 25.