Westerns dominated the television scene back in the 1950s and early ‘60s. At one point there were more than 20 Cowboy and Western series on the three major networks in a single week. Back in those days I created a show, The Man from Blackhawk, about an insurance investigator in the Old West. The series was on 1959-60 and aired for that season along with the likes of the classic Westerns Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Maverick, Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, The Rifleman, The Lawman, Have Gun Will Travel, The Rebel, Cheyenne, Sugarfoot, Laramie, Rawhide, and Wagon Train.
There is a fondness for the genre that runs deep, which is why I wanted to catch up with Luke Perry. The former 90210 star created a great Old West character, frontier Circuit Judge John Goodnight, and produced the movie Goodnight for Justice, which was the highest-rated film ever for the Hallmark Movie Channel last year. Now Perry has the highly anticipated sequel upcoming, back in the saddle again with Goodnight for Justice: The Measure of a Man, premiering Saturday, Jan. 28.
At a recent dinner party hosted by the Hallmark Channel held at the prestigious Tournament of Roses House in Pasadena, Perry was there along with dozens of stars, writers, directors, producers, and executives. Bill Abbott, president and CEO Crown Media Family Networks, and Barbara Fisher, in charge of original programming, were mingling with all who have been busy creating the very best in wholesome entertainment with lots of original movies for the network.
Luke gave me the big news that a third installment in the Goodnight for Justice franchise is in the works and will be airing later this year. It’s a real victory for the genre “that brought television to the threshold of its Golden Age,” Perry points out about the classic Westerns we both enjoy. And we talked about how the Old West stories can remind us about the qualities that made America great. “Today’s life is fraught with global perils or financial ones. So stories about simple people who exhibit true heroism or make great personal sacrifices for a better way of life are once again proving to be very popular entertainment vehicles,” Perry said. “And with Westerns, you can tell any story you want to tell with great characters.”
Perry calls it a real gift to tell these stories and has an overall deal with the Hallmark Movie Channel to produce, direct, and star in the adventures of the fictional emissary of justice. John Goodnight is a former fun-loving lawyer turned Circuit Judge in a Western territory where lawlessness threatens the peace on a regular basis. In the Measure of a Man story, Goodnight is tested when he finds himself in a dusty town’s courtroom when a bank robbery takes place, and he has to deal with a dangerous outlaw and a gang of young bandits who have been terrorizing the town for months. There’s also a malicious prosecutor and an old flame adding to his troubles. Co-starring with Perry are Cameron Bright (The Twilight Saga), Stefanie von Pfetten (Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief), Teach Grant (Gunless), and Eric Keenleyside (Hellcats).
Among the stars at the Hallmark party were the cast members of A Taste of Romance which just premiered to great ratings. The film’s charming little actress Bailee Madison seemed to be the belle of the ball that night. Also Joely Fisher and Jamie Kennedy were on hand to promote Cupid, their romantic original movie airing Feb. 11. Chasing Leprechauns will air on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, starring Adrian Pasdar and Amy Huberman; and Undercover Bridesmaid airs April 15, starring Brooke Burns and Gregory Harrison. Dean Cain and Kristy Swanson were on hand to boast about Operation Cupcake set for June 16. And Candace Cameron Bure (of Full House fame) will show everyone she’s all grown up when they tune in to Puppy Love on July 7.
Just before Mother’s Day, Notes from the Heart Healer is set for May 5 starring Genie Francis (General Hospital) and Ted McGinley (Married…With Children). It was a treat to sit at their table to talk about the special movie over dinner. We also enjoyed the company of Ted’s beautiful wife, actress Gigi Rice, and learn about their soccer-playing sons. And Genie had her husband Jonathan Frakes (of Star Trek: Next Generation fame) joining us. He spends a lot of time these days at the helm directing great shows like NCIS: LA episodes, and other TV productions.
At the party there was a big announcement by Hallmark’s programming chief Michelle Vicary who said, “In 2012, we will continue to produce more TV movies than any other network.” That’s good news, especially if some Westerns are in the mix.