by Doward Wilson
This week not only are we reviewing the first in a brand new mystery movie series on Hallmark Movies and Mysteries Channel, but we also have a fun interview with one of the show’s creators/writers Lee Goldberg.
Review by Doward Wilson
The newest entry in Hallmark’s Movie and Mysteries lineup is Mystery 101 starring Jill Wagner (Teen Wolf) as English professor Amy Winslow and Kristoffer Polaha as Detective Travis Cole. This is another original series, instead of one based on cozy mystery novels like the Aurora Teagarden and Garage Sale Mysteries, among others. This series was written by mystery TV and novel writer Lee Goldberg (Monk, Diagnosis Murder, etc.) and Hallmark writer Robin Bernheim (who also has many other credits).
When a student, Lacey, in Amy’s class disappears after missing a meeting with her, Amy starts to investigate. With the reluctant help of Travis, Amy checks out the body of Lacey’s boyfriend Rex who appears to have run his motorcycle off of a cliff until the absence of skid marks proves it was no accident. Rex was a reporter on the school newspaper and apparently had dirt on a professor who stole and published a student’s work. Rex and Lacey were also pursuing a story about a student who had hacked into the college computer system and was selling test answers.
Other members of the cast include Amy’s father Graham (Robin Thomas), who is a crime writer, her TA Bud (Preston Vanderslice), and Travis’s partner and former student of Amy’s, Detective Claire Tate (Sarah Dugdale).
As the two continue to search for Lacey, a stolen plant worth millions, the student hacker, the plagiarizing professor, and Rex’s murderer, everything seems to be coming together when a second murder occurs. Amy’s extensive knowledge of mystery fiction is fun, and her detection skills are often compared in movie to that of Sherlock Holmes.
This start of a new series was well done. The cast really came together for a flawless performance. The murder plot was extremely well thought out, with lots of misleading clues. I highly recommend this enjoyable mystery story.
Interview with Lee Goldberg about Mystery 101:
KRL: How did it come about that you co-wrote and co-created Mystery 101? Did Hallmark approach you?
Lee: They approached my old friend Robin Bernheim, who was the showrunner for many years on Hallmark’s hit series When Calls the Heart and has also written a bunch of movies for them, to see if she’d write and create a mystery series for them. She came to me to see if I’d partner up with her on it. I jumped at the opportunity.
KRL: Can you tell me a little about your co-writer/creator and how you ended up working together on this?
Lee: One of Robin’s early credits was writing for Remington Steele, which was co-created and exec-produced by Michael Gleason. Years later, Michael gave me and my then writing partner William Rabkin our first staff writing jobs on a short-lived series called Murphy’s Law and became our mentor. I learned so much from him…and still hear his voice in my head when I’m writing. Later, Michael hired us to write a bunch of freelance episodes of Diagnosis Murder, which eventually led to us becoming the show runners of that series. Along the way, we got to know and befriend all of the other writers Michael mentored…including Robin. We later hired her to write some episodes of Diagnosis Murder for us. She’s written and produced a ton of great shows, including Quantum Leap and Star Trek: Voyager.
KRL: Where did the premise for the movie come from and what was the inspiration for the lead characters?
Lee: There’s a formula to these Hallmark Mysteries — they all feature a female lead, often an amateur detective, who is teamed up in a light romance with a male, law enforcement professional. The heroine also usually has an older parent, or parental-figure in her life, often a widowed parent. The amateurs have been bakers, house-flippers, archeologists, etc. and the men have been FBI agents, cops, district attorneys, etc. We decided to write what we know. We’re both mystery writers who love mysteries. What if our heroine was also a mystery lover? So we made her an English professor at a small University who specializes in crime fiction…and her widowed father a bestselling author of crime novels. She’s picked up some of the investigative and deductive techniques of the great detectives she’s been reading, studying, discussing for so long. And when a murder happens on campus, she’s finally given the opportunity to put her book-acquired skills to the test, channeling Hercule Poirot, Nero Wolfe, Sherlock Holmes, and Spenser to solve the mystery. Since she’s lived in the fictional world of crime, we paired her up with an experienced cop who recently moved from Chicago to the college town for a quieter way of life.
KRL: How long did it take you to write it?
Lee: It took us a couple of weeks to write the first draft. Then we did several revisions to incorporate network notes.
KRL: Did you have any input on the casting? And did the cast have any input on their characters?
Lee: This was an unusual project for Robin and I. We’re used to writing and producing our work. But this time, we were just writers for hire. We created the show, and wrote the script, but we had no involvement at all in the production. We’ll be seeing it for the first time when it airs on January 27 with everybody else! (this interview took place before the movie aired).
KRL: How does this compare to your past TV work?
Lee: Well, it’s similar in tone and structure to the work we’ve done on Diagnosis Murder and that she’s done on Remington Steele…but, being Hallmark, it’s a lot softer. There’s virtually no conflict, only hints of violence, and absolutely no alcohol, smoking, sex (extramarital or otherwise), etc.
KRL: What did you like best about doing this movie?
Lee: I loved writing a character who is able to take what she’s learned from reading mysteries and try to apply those lessons to real life. It’s a theme I’ve explored in my fiction before (Watch Me Die, True Fiction, etc.) but not quite in this way. I also loved the relationship between her and her father…and her and the cop. And I like telling an honest mystery, where the clues are there for the viewer to spot.
KRL: What was the hardest?
Lee: Probably working within Hallmark’s very wholesome view of the world. I believe the best drama and humor comes from conflict, and there’s very little genuine conflict in a Hallmark movie. Also, it’s hard to write about murder, and the motives people might have for committing it, without referencing sex in any way or common vices like drugs, alcohol, parking in a red zone, etc.
KRL: Will there be more movies in this series?
Lee: I certainly hope so!
KRL: So do we!
Watch for our review of one of Lee’s books coming soon!
You can check out KRL’s reviews of other mystery movies on the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Channel in our mystery section. You can also check out the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Channel website to learn more and check out their schedule for more new movies coming soon. Join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. Don’t forget to check out KRL’s new mystery podcast which features mystery short stories and first chapters read by local actors! A new episode went up this week!