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How Alison Sweeney Whipped Up a New Hannah Swensen Mystery That Mixed in Victor Webster

As the star (and an executive producer) of the Hannah Swensen mystery movies, Alison Sweeney is used to baking sweet treats while also solving unsavory crime.

But for One Bad Apple: A Hannah Swensen Mystery (premiering Friday, April 5 at 9/8c on Hallmark Mystery fka Hallmark Movies & Mysteries), Sweeney decided to cook up the script as well — and fold in former co-star and fellow Days of Our Lives alum Victor Webster, as icing on the cake.

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Based on the Joanne Fluke novel Apple Turnover Murder, One Bad Apple finds Hannah teaching a baking class at the college in town. When her equipment is tampered with — and after a colleague winds up dead — Hannah gets to putting together the puzzle of the mysterious murder. Along the way, Lake Eden’s prosecuting attorney, Chad Norton (played by Webster), enters her life.

TVLine spoke with Sweeney about cracking the recipe for actually scripting a Hannah Swensen movie, reuniting with Wedding Veil movies co-star Webster, and why Cameron Mathison’s Detective Mike is MIA this time around.

TVLINE | You said at the winter TCA press tour that you were nervous about writing this script. But what about the process specifically proved harder than you thought?
Honestly, the hardest part is hitting “send” and sharing it [once completed], knowing other people were going to read it. As for the actual process of it, I watched some YouTube videos and read about how writers allocate their time, and once I had done the outline — developing the mystery and “Where are the clues being laid out?” felt like the trickiest part — I dedicated myself to writing 10 pages a day.

TVLINE | I was thinking that one specific challenge you faced was you had a new character in Chad, so you had to ask yourself: What does he sound like? Does he use more “SAT words” than Mike? Fewer?
That was all about brainstorming with my creative partner on the series, Craig [Baumgarten], and also with the network. Initially, when we approached Victor, I had to pitch him how I see this character. How do I think he fits into Hannah’s world? And how is he going to be different [from Mike]? The lucky thing for me is I’ve worked with Victor before and I know him really well, and I had this vision in my mind of the guy he could be that would really be new to Hannah’s world. He’s a little more resistant to her charms, a little more about following protocol, rules. That was a really fun twist to bring into Hannah’s world.

Hannah Swensen Mike Missing Cameron Mathison
Sweeney and Mathison in last October’s ‘A Zest for Death: A Hannah Swensen Mystery’Courtesy of Hallmark Movies & Mysteries

TVLINE | Clarify for me, what were the on- and off-camera reasons why Cameron Mathison’s Mike isn’t in the story anymore? Did I hear that Mike has left for FBI training in Quantico?
Yes. That was the decision we made for Mike, because I come from a [daytime] soaps background and I love the philosophy of “never say never,” so you never know where Mike will turn up next. I love Cameron and I wish him all the best, but he decided to pursue a different career path [signing a multi-picture deal with Hallmark rival Great American Media], so here we are.

TVLINE | What about Bad Apple makes it distinct from any Hannah Swensen mystery that came before it?
Joanne Fluke has written 30 novels to date, and I think she has more coming for Hannah and her crazy family of crime solvers, and every book is about either Hannah or someone she cares about finding the dead body, the victim. The other big tentpole of the books are the delicious recipes and how the food interacts with the crime in some way. And then you have the big Act IX — I love those payoffs — and Joanne Fluke has really fun ideas for how the mystery resolves itself and how Hannah figures it out.

She also names characters really well, so I’ve used a lot of her character names. And you try to keep it interesting and different so that you don’t know who the victim is going to be when this one starts. I really kept people on their toes, hopefully, so that they are not anticipating this particular victim. You then get into who the suspects are.

I also liked giving [Hannah’s mother] Delores (played by Barbara Niven) a fresh career choice — that she’s decided to become a detective, a P.I., brought such joy to me. The whole time I was writing it, I’m giggling. It was just hilarious to me. Nine years later, Delores is like, “I can do what Hannah does. I’m sure I could solve a mystery or two.” I wanted those characters to all move forward.

TVLINE | In what ways do you see Hannah herself having evolved since the very first movie? For example, I read the Kay Scarpetta novels—
I love those books.

TVLINE | — and in some ways, she’s very much the same character that she’s ever been, but there are incremental changes.
Hannah at first was so naïve about finding a dead body. The original Joanne Fluke novel, Chocolate Chip Mystery, had that great setup in that Hannah feels responsible. She thinks she’s a suspect, so she has to figure out who really did it to save herself. That is a great and classic way that a lot of people get into this, especially if they’re not actual crime solvers. Like, Hannah has this whole job where she gets up early in the morning and baking is her passion and her skill, but it happens to be that she is also a little Murder, She Wrote. It happens to be that she’s good at it or picks up on information that other people didn’t hear, and she sort of happens into this crime solving using her own natural talent.

You want the audience to feel that armchair detective thing. It’s like when you watch Netflix documentaries and you’re like, “Oh, I could figure it out. I’m sure I know what it is.” That’s what Hannah brings to it for the audience — and over the course of nine years, you have to start being better at it.

That’s what I really like about Chad and bringing him into the world. I can’t remember which movie it was we were watching, but it was a little while ago where my dad was like, “That’s not enough evidence to convict him!” and I was like, “What?” So I thought Chad should be expecting more from her, like, “I have to prove it to 12 jurors,” and that leads to Hannah upping her game. She has to challenge herself.

TVLINE | Are you any better of a baker these days versus when you first started this franchise?
The truth is I try to avoid it because I end up eating all the baked stuff I make. [Laughs] I do love to bake, and it’s fun to work on these projects — in that last movie, it was so fun to do the pastry and slice that apple so thin, and it was really delicious. But no, I’m not [a better baker], and that’s OK. I’ve taken some classes, and I’ve made some really good pies at Thanksgiving.

TVLINE | Are the movies’ hand close-ups you?
It’s all me, but we cut away when it all starts to falls apart!

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