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'Cedar Cove' review: 'A modern version of 'Andy Griffith'

In "Cedar Cove," a newspaper editor (Andie McDowell)

In "Cedar Cove," a newspaper editor (Andie McDowell) complicates the life of a small-town judge who's trying to prevent a couple from divorcing. The show is based on novels by Debbie Macomber. Credit: Hallmark

TV can be painfully derivative, and when a show comes along that is not easily categorized, other than light drama, it's risky.

When that show is Hallmark Channel's first scripted series, it's even more of a chance. But "Debbie Macomber's Cedar Cove," debuting with a two-hour pilot Saturday at 8 p.m., looks to be as sure of a deal as anything could be.

Starring Andie MacDowell, the series fills a gap. It's a quiet drama, without dismemberments, supernatural forces or fantastic premises. For those who have had enough boorish behavior, this is a welcome respite.

"I like to think about it as a little bit of a modern version of Andy Griffith, and I'm Andy," MacDowell says. "I don't want to be agitated so much on television. I don't need to watch any more agitation."

There's a peaceful quality to the show. That quietude comes from MacDowell's character, Olivia Lockhart, a judge who turns down a federal position to remain in the small town of Cedar Cove.

Vancouver, British Columbia, fills in for the fictional burg. In Whytecliff Park, outside the city, with the Pacific Ocean lapping at a horseshoe-shaped beach and woods behind them, the cast speaks passionately about "Cedar Cove."

"I think we are the antidote to 'The Following,'" says Bruce Boxleitner, who plays Bob, a lifelong Cedar Cove resident. "I am tired of zombies. I am tired of vampires.

"There has to be some safe harbor in the evening from news and destruction," Boxleitner continues. "And there has to be some place where there is a refuge, where people can have an engrossing story line and get away from their lives for an hour or two; nothing to jar you or shock you."

The series, at least judging by the pilot, is about more than what it isn't about. It is about a life many strive for. For instance, Boxleitner's character, Bob, is married to his high-school sweetheart, Peggy (Barbara Niven).

"There are not a lot of TV characters who are married and still love each other," Niven says. "There is something great about growing old together, because you have the same history."

Characters are not trouble-free. Olivia, who is divorced, mourns the death of her son. Love interest Jack (Dylan Neal) is an alcoholic, who moved from Philadelphia.

"Jack is first and foremost a fish out of water for Cedar Cove," Neal says. "He's a big-city reporter who has come to this sleepy town. He's basically been bemused by the citizens and smitten by Olivia. Jack is at a crossroads; he's needing to start his life over. He has a lot of personal baggage. This may be the last chance he gets in trying to right his life."

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