The 'Mystery Movie' has its day again in TNT revival

TNT (tv network)Unrest, Conflicts and WarTelevision IndustryEntertainmentDexter (tv program)Mystery (genre)Movies

The time for the "Mystery Movie" has come again.In the 1970s, the idea worked so well for NBC, the network used it twice weekly for a while ... on rotating components including Peter Falk's "Columbo," Dennis Weaver's "McCloud" and Rock Hudson's "McMillan and Wife." At the end of the 1980s, ABC gave the concept a whirl, bringing back "Columbo" and introducing such elements as Burt Reynolds' "B.L. Stryker" and a revival of Telly Savalas' "Kojak."

Now TNT is adding a "Mystery Movie Night" to its lineup. That night usually will be Tuesday, but for its first two weeks, the franchise will have additional Wednesday telecasts. All the films are based on books by well-known writers.

First up, on Tuesday, Nov. 29: "Scott Turow's Innocent," the best-selling novelist's sequel to "Presumed Innocent," with Bill Pullman assuming Harrison Ford's earlier big-screen role as former prosecutor and now judge Rusty Sabich. Acquitted years earlier after being charged with murdering a co-worker, Sabich goes on trial again, this time for the slaying of his wife (Marcia Gay Harden).

Then on Wednesday, Nov. 30, "Ricochet" -- adapted from a Sandra Brown book and set in Savannah, Ga. -- casts John Corbett ("Sex and the City," "Northern Exposure") as a police detective probing an allegedly corrupt judge (Gary Cole) and falling for the magistrate's wife (Julie Benz, "Dexter") in the process.

"The screenwriter and director, Mike Robe, made miniseries out of two of my prior novels," Turow says of "Innocent" being handled by the same talent who brought his "The Burden of Proof" and "Reversible Errors" to television.

"Knowing in whose hands I was being put, I was very enthusiastic about this. The cast that was attracted, which was kind of mind-blowing for me to see, is really a tribute to Mike." Alfred Molina ("Law & Order: LA") and Richard Schiff ("The West Wing") also star in "Innocent."

Having published the sequel 20 years after the movie version of "Presumed Innocent" was released, Turow admits, "Harrison was so deeply identified with Rusty, even I tended to see his face at times when I started writing 'Innocent.' That did disappear, though, and he became 'my Rusty' again by the time I was 10 percent into the project. That's no slight to Harrison; it's just that I was back to where I was 25 years before."

"Ricochet" co-star Benz is pleased to help launch the "TNT Mystery Movie Night" for her own reasons. "I grew up watching TV movies, and unfortunately, they have kind of disappeared," she reflects. "It was the tradition of what our TV viewing was as a family, so I feel like this is extending that experience."

Benz admits she likes "the longevity of working on the same character" in a series, as she also has on "Angel" and last season's "No Ordinary Family." Now a recurring cast member on CBS' "A Gifted Man," she says she would have "loved" more time with her "Ricochet" alter ego. "I had to work very hard on my accent, and I had to change how I moved. It's just so much fun to do that."

Benz claims she literally lives with whatever part she's doing. "When I'm working on a project and I have to do an accent, I talk in it the whole time, from the minute I wake up until the minute I go to bed. Even on weekends. And when you do a Southern accent, men will do anything for you! I mean, my fiance, I didn't have to ask him twice to do anything with that accent. Southern women just know stuff."

Already familiar with Sandra Brown's writing when she was cast in "Ricochet," Benz -- who certainly knew from suspense during her seasons as the title character's love Rita on Showtime's "Dexter" -- reports, "I love a good mystery novel. I think it is because I was raised on TV movies, and they'd be about some girl who got kidnapped and sold into slavery, or someone who got murdered by the exterminator. I was always fascinated by mysteries."

Among future "Mystery Movie Night" offerings: "Hide" (Dec. 6), with Carla Gugino as author Lisa Gardner's Boston police detective D.D. Warren, and "Silent Witness" (Dec. 7), Richard North Patterson's tale of a defense attorney (Dermot Mulroney) representing a murder-accused teacher and friend.

Also: "Good Morning, Killer" (Dec. 13), starring Catherine Bell as April Smith's FBI agent Ana Grey, and "Deck the Halls" (Dec. 20), with Emmy winner Jane Alexander and Scottie Thompson as doppelgangers of a sort for the book's mother-and-daughter writers, Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clark.

Turow's incentive for writing "Innocent" surely fits TNT's aim for its "Mystery Movie Night," making the story an appropriate opening attraction. "I'd had this Post-it note sitting on my desk for months," he explains, "and it said, 'A man is sitting on a bed in which the dead body of a woman lies.' It just was a really strong image for me, and one morning, I decided that man was Rusty Sabich.

"Then I viscerally knew what the book was about," Turow concludes, "how people keep making the same mistakes, and beyond that, how they stay in relationships when every piece of common sense seems to say they should have been gone a long time before. It's just crazy ... and yet, we all know people do that."

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