Neal (pictured at top with Gournet Detective co-star Brooke Burns) tells me it was during those three years on Cedar Cove years that his career expanded -- and what makes the behind the scenes experience so special for him is it’s a family affair. “My wife Becky Southwell and I had sold other pilots together as writers and producers so we were able to introduce ourselves as, ‘I'm not just an actor’, there's another side to me,” he said. “[Hallmark] has been great for the last three years with the selling and producing. I've done four movies for them now and they keep working with us and we all have a good time.
“Writing is definitely the hardest,” he continued. “Generally speaking, it also [pays] the least. So it's a double-edged sword. Producing is fun and I enjoy selling and pitching; development can be hard and pre-production is fun. I love when anything is possible; it can be from locations to cast to production design. I love all of that. Shooting is generally fun, post-production is also kind of fun with the editing and sound, but it takes a village.”
Neal attributes his happy working relationship with Hallmark to a variety of things and refers to his network bosses as “family.”
“I've been doing this for 30 years on a variety of networks,” he smiled. “But the difference with Hallmark is I can literally talk with Bill Abbott, the network president, where as you have to be a really big star at another network to do that. We're all in communication and they treat people like family. It's not just a line; it's different here. You don't see that in L.A. at the other networks. It's a different vibe here. They're good people and there's something to be said for that.”
One of those networks in Neal’s past was The WB, where the actor spent time in a little town called Capeside, on a little show called Dawson’s Creek playing Doug Witter (brother of Pacey, famously played by Joshua Jackson). It’s a role he remembers with great fondness.
“That was an interesting experience for me,” he recalled. “Just in that it was such a big show when it broke and the cast was on the cover of Rolling Stone very quickly. Katie Holmes had done one project prior and I remember driving her to a cast dinner very early on in the first season. She had just got a new car, a Mazda, and didn't know all of the controls so I drove her to the dinner.
“These were really young kids and what interested me most was over the course of the five years, none of them lost themselves to ego,” he added. “They always understood who they were. You hear a lot about child actors blowing up; nobody did on that show and they were really under a microscope. One element to that was that they were shooting in Wilmington, North Carolina. It was a small town and we were there for a long time. I'm really proud of all those guys.”
Neal says he’d be interested in a Dawson’s reboot, but finds it unlikely that playing Doug Witter again will ever happen. “How are you going to get Michelle Williams and Katie Holmes to return to television?” he mused. “The fact Michelle's character died in the finale is also a bit of a problem -- and she’s also an Oscar-nominated actress.
“Michelle was a bit of a deep thinker, so I'm not surprised at all by how well she's done,” he added. “Katie was always a very interesting young actress, yet it was surreal to watch her get engaged to Tom Cruise … I was thinking, ‘This is this high school kid whose Mazda I drove to dinner and who used to have a crush on Tom as a teenager?’ It was all very surreal watching it from afar. I'm so glad they've all done really well and so happy for all of them. We're all still kicking and working!”
Gourmet Detective: Eat, Drink and Be Buried premieres Sunday October 8 at 9 p.m. on Hallmark Movies and Mysteries.
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