[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]
Chronicle Mysteries returns Sunday night with a one-off premiere of The Deep End, which takes a different approach from the previous three movies, following Alex and some of her Chronicle team as they work against the ticking clock of an active trial against a wife (Tegan Moss) accused of murdering her husband, with just 48 hours to discover new evidence. I spoke to star and executive producer Alison Sweeney last week about the project and her summer return to Days of Our Lives.
Changing the scope of the story into more of a real-time countdown lets us see the crew in action when their solving the case allows them to change the outcome before the verdict happens. And it lends a more emotional component to things, as we see Alex very invested in not only helping the woman accused of murder, but the defense attorney who is also her BFF (Karen Holness). Melissa Salmons once again writes the script.
“After the thrill of the first one, it was really fun to think outside of the box on how we could make a slightly different podcast mystery for Alex to pursue. Going a little more current, there are some podcasts I really love that cover current cases and people on trial,” Sweeney explains.
“That allowed a little more action and urgency for the story. Because it’s so current and there’s a clock ticking, you stay with Alex [through] her weekend and off time and you see all of them going through [regular] life. You get a little more insight into her personal life and her feelings and a little more connection with Drew (Benjamin Ayres), which was fun, too.”
Part of that switchup also involved swizzling the cast as Uncle Miles, Chuck, and Sean sit this one out. All three actors were working on other Hallmark projects around the time this one was shot, I believe, and it worked out for the plot. “After the first three [movies], we had a chance to sit back and enjoy the fan reaction and we realized we wanted to mix it up a little bit,” Sweeney shares.
“I think it was always my intention with [this series]. The podcast allows the mysteries to all be different. Alex can take on any case she wants. It’s unlimited. I always knew that was a really great attribute of the podcast as a launch point. It was great to take advantage of that.”
“Nothing is off limits. There’s a wonderful world of characters in Harrington and I hope we get to see them all again and play out all their stories. Based on fan reaction, and us really wanting to be clear with our storytelling that Alex and Drew are the hero couple that we want the fans to root for [changing up the character mix allowed us to lean into that]. There are lots of options. Chuck and Miles are definitely still in our world and we definitely want to see them again. It’s a question of each mystery having the right elements.”
The different dynamic also gives Kendall (Olivia Steele Falconer) and Eileen (Rebecca Staab) a chance to shine, and over the course of the film, we see them go all in, forfeiting their weekend to help Alex. “It shows who they all are and that they believe in this, too, and they believe in Alex and they want to help,” says Sweeney.
“It was a fun moment for them. And it was great to see all the skill sets that they bring to the table and pitch in to help get to bottom of that. Eileen is the superstar of the gossip world and it gives her a way in with people. She knows every family and all the shortcuts.”
The movie marks the feature-length debut of director Nimisha Mukerji. Sweeney loved bringing her into the Hallmark family. “I was thrilled to work with her. She was fantastic. We hit it off right away when we met,” recalls Sweeney.
“I’m always interested in developing new talent. One of my favorite things to do as a producer is to give people a chance. It’s really fun to get in on these really talented people when they’re starting out because you’re never going to get them again.”
“We really connected over [her documentaries]. We had a similar vision for what we wanted. She loved the trial and current issues. I thought how she handled the crime scene footage was fantastic, beautiful, and interesting. She did a great job and I was really thrilled to work with her and I hope I get to work with her again.”
Sweeney recognizes that the Murder She Baked fans still watch those films in droves, and hopes those fans are finding the same affection for Alex. “I feel thrilled and honored that people loved those mysteries. I think people will really start to identify with Alex [as they did with Hannah] and fall in love with her,” she says.
Sweeney has also married her love of podcasts into a hosting gig for Undisclosed’s addendum podcast. “I’ve been a fan since they started. I let them know right from the beginning that I was listening and keeping up with them through all the cases and seasons,” she explains.
“They cover wrongful convictions and try to shed light on the system. They dropped three episodes over the last three weeks on Mondays and on Thursday there’s an addendum episode that that takes questions from listeners or my questions to Colin [Miller]. It’s been a thrill for me because I am such a fan of the work they’re doing. I love the opportunity to talk to Colin for an hour and pick his legal genius brain and it’s been fun to share that with my fans as well.”
Earlier this summer Sweeney returned to Days of Our Lives to bid farewell to Brady matriarch Peggy McKay. “It was really important when Ken [Corday] asked me to come back to be part of the story to say goodbye to Peggy, who played my character’s grandmother on the show and was like a grandmother to me in real life,” she says. “Of course, I wanted to be there and send her off and say goodbye and honor her memory and her character’s memory and I was thrilled to do it.”
Offscreen, Sweeney vacationed in South Africa back in June for a once-in-a-lifetime safari girls trip with her family and it left a huge impression on her. “It was such an incredible experience. It lived up to every possible expectation,” she shares.
“I can’t believe it happened and I was there. It seems like such a dream. We had such a spectacular time with my family and to have my daughter spend that time with my mom…to see all those animals in their natural habitat was moving and incredible.”
Between the mystery franchises, holiday movies, and romances, Sweeney has amassed an impressive and varied Hallmark library, and she says the romances are the ones she’s often approached by fans about. With three networks, stunt programming, and streaming, there are a variety of outlets for viewers to find the films, which she appreciates, too.
“I love that they’re widening out that range to appeal to everyone who wants to feel safe watching Hallmark,” she says. “[When] you want the diversity of action or mystery or a good romance or a Christmas movie, it’s fun to have all those options.”
Chronicle Mysteries: The Deep End premieres Sunday on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries after an all-day marathon of all five Murder She Baked movies that starts at 9 am/8c. Here’s a sneak peek.
Photos and Videos Courtesy of Crown Media.
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