Whether as a witch or an Army wife, Catherine Bell has been doing a lot of television business lately.
The “JAG” veteran essentially has been playing two series roles for several years, if one takes her recurring part as the seemingly magical Cassie in Hallmark Channel’s “Good Witch” TV movies into consideration along with Denise Sherwood, the sometimes brutally realistic character she plays weekly when the Lifetime drama “Army Wives” is in season.
“The Good Witch’s Charm” — the fifth entry in the franchise — makes its Hallmark debut Saturday, Oct. 27, immediately after a marathon of the four earlier films. Business owner, small-town mayor, stepmom and new biological mom Cassie never has been proven to be an actual sorceress, but that confirmation might be closer as a reporter’s (Geordie Johnson) interview with her reveals a strange phenomenon and goes viral … bringing an unwanted form of attention to Cassie and her locale.
“Sometimes, we accidentally refer to each of these movies as an ‘episode,’ ” the lively, friendly Bell says. “It feels like something you’ve been doing forever, and you know all the characters. It’s great to have all the original cast back, and we definitely all enjoy it.”
Returning as well is director Craig Pryce, who has called the shots on all the preceding “Good Witch” stories, too.
Bell likes that “The Good Witch’s Charm” is also a tale of multi-generational mothers and daughters. Not only does Cassie have a new baby and continue to be the stepmother to her police chief husband’s (Chris Potter) other offspring (Hannah Endicott-Douglas, Matthew Knight), but her own foster parent (Janet-Laine Green, “M.V.P.”) suddenly turns up after many years of estrangement.
“It’s nice being looked up to for advice while trying to juggle all the hats of mayor and store owner and mom and stepmom,” mother of two Bell says of Cassie. “It gets challenging sometimes, but of course, Cassie will pull through. Everybody seems to need her, and I certainly can relate to that. So can a lot of other moms who work and have kids and other life responsibilities. It can get crazy, but it definitely can be done.”
So is Cassie a witch or isn’t she? “She may seem one way, but appearances can be deceiving, as Cassie is quick to point out,” Bell replies coyly. “By the end of this, I think there’s still some question of whether she is or isn’t, but Cassie is able to put her spin on it. She avoids answering the question very well.”
Bell is pleased the puzzler has been able to “play out this long, and it still seems to work. The scripts are still charming, and we’re still wondering who she really is. She keeps that mystery alive. It’s hard to have a certain formula without it being too ‘formula,’ but we focus on interesting themes and different stories and different relationships each time.”
There’s no question Bell will return in another “Good Witch” story, since the fifth and sixth movies were filmed back to back.
“We did them with a one-week break in the middle,” she reports, “and No. 6 (‘The Good Witch’s Destiny’) will air next October.”
At this writing, Bell was the only cast member sure to return to “Army Wives.” Season 7 will begin filming in Charleston, S.C., soon … possibly as early as December, according to the Los Angeles-based actress, “but I’m actually hoping for January before I have to start commuting again. I’d like to be home for a while.”
The two-year contract renewal Bell signed last spring with ABC Studios (which makes the show for Lifetime) virtually ensured “Army Wives” would continue, since she confirms the deal was “for that character.”
Denise’s current work as a nurse practitioner is helping her deal with the loss of her soldier son during Season 5. Bell says she couldn’t envision the character existing outside “Army Wives” in a different series, had the show not gotten another renewal.
“There’s going to be some changes in the cast — I don’t know exactly who — so there might be a slightly different feel, but essentially, it’ll be the same show,” she notes of the series that added such fellow television veterans as Kelli Williams and Kellie Martin last season.
Also amping up Bell’s busy pace of recent times was last year’s TNT mystery movie “Good Morning, Killer,” which was mentioned at the time as the possible start of yet another franchise for her.
“I definitely couldn’t do any other series until ‘Army Wives’ is done,” she reasons, “but there’s talk about doing another movie there, as opposed to a series. I hope so. I like that character (an FBI agent).”
“JAG” fans could receive a big holiday treat, since a complete series “Collector’s Edition” DVD set will be released Dec. 11 by Paramount Home Media Distribution. Having played Lt. Col. Sarah “Mac” MacKenzie for nine of the Navy lawyer adventure’s 10 seasons, Bell is happy about the set.
“I’ve seen what it looks like, and it’s kind of cool,” she says. “It’s really special.”