James Denton Teases Good Witch Medical Emergency and A More Adult-Oriented Middleton

Television

Cassie and Sam are enjoying one year of wedded bliss with the added bonus of an empty nest, so Good Witch Season 6 promises to focus more fully on the adults in Middleton.

We’ve chatted previously with Catherine Bell, who teased that the newlyweds would be learning a lot more about each other and engaging in some new hobbies.

Recently, we had the chance to speak with James Denton, who also teased a bit of the upcoming season.

Like everyone else I’ve had the pleasure to speak with who has an association with the Hallmark networks, James had nothing but praise for the atmosphere and the accessibility on all levels. He’s also head over heels for Good Witch group.

Luckily, all of Good Witch was already filmed and produced, so they didn’t suffer at all during the coronavirus lockdown, and his family is keeping busy. “Generally, we’re off now. We wrap it at Christmas and go back in August. Obviously, we’re not going to go back in August, but I can’t complain, because I didn’t expect to have a lot of work right now. But it’s going to hurt if we can’t go back.

“But, boy, so many people have it so much worse. We’re healthy and just kind of holed-up, with a lot of projects. I do a lot of, sort of home improvement projects. Right now, I’m in the middle of a big remodel, so I’m able to do that and not be around anybody, so it keeps me busy.”

Unfortunately, his projects have hit a little snag during the pandemic due to a delayed start on one of his upcoming Hallmark projects as part of a three-film production deal.

“I’m not sure if it was called Perfect Melody or Perfect Harmony; we haven’t decided yet. I’m producing it as part of my deal,” James said.

“I have three movies in my deal to produce, and I don’t have to be in them, but the first one I did with my son, and it was the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. It’s called For Love & Honor, and that was about three years ago.

“Yeah, we had the best time, and I thought he was just great. That was his first time ever being in front of the camera. So I own two more. The next one is going to be about a musician, so I’ll get to do a little bit of playing.”

James laughed, “I’ve had to sing a little bit; we’ll have to Pro Tools it. I’m not much of a singer, but it’s going to be cute, where I meet another musician, and probably, we end-up playing weddings together, so it’s kind of a romantic musical story, and that’s the next one.

“Then the third one, I’m not sure. I think the third one’s going to be a Christmas movie. I’ve got a wedding movie and then a Christmas movie, but gosh, who knows when we’ll be able to do them?”

Knowing that James has musically inclined children, I wondered if they might make an appearance on the now-delayed project.

Yeah, they’re really good. My son right now is covering the entire Abbey Road album himself, on all instruments and playing the bass guitar and keys. He just lays down one track and then the other, and then the other, then the other on a garage band on his computer. I think he’s got three songs or four songs done.

“That’s his big project, which is pretty cool. He’s a big classic rock fan, especially since he’s been 16, it’s like, ‘This is fun.’

“My daughter also is a really good singer. She’s actually learning to play guitar during the quarantine. That’s been pretty productive for her.”

After dabbling a bit, his daughter has decided that acting isn’t in her future, but he’s not ruling it out for his son, Sheppard. “He might be in this one. There is a role for a teenager that I would like for him to do.”

James enjoys his work with Hallmark very much. “I’ve had fairly hands-on experience [with Hallmark] because I was a producer on the movie. [With] Good Witch, you’re sort of in constant contact with Michelle [Vicary] and Randy [Pope], and even Bill [Abbott], when he was there.

I miss Bill a lot. The accessibility! Having worked on, I’ve been a series regular on, I guess, everywhere but Fox. ABC and CBS, I remember working on a CBS show. ABC, NBC, Hallmark, and it’s just the accessibility.

“Of course, it’s a smaller network, but it’s very much a family atmosphere. I’m sure that’s what every actor tells you. You can get any of them on the phone, at any time, talk about your character, or about a storyline, or a location.”

James is in awe of their open-door policy and how they’re always willing to listen to any input from talent.

“They’re great like that. We’re lucky on Good Witch because, even those that aren’t Hallmark people, Jon Eskenas and Craig Pryce, the two executive producers on all of the movies, and now on the show. We also have Darin Goldberg as our show writer. Technically, he’s the main writer, but John and Craig run the show in Toronto. They’re just two of the nicest guys I’ve ever met, and we just have a ball.

“The cast, I mean, I know it sounds gross, but the cast, we have a text thread with nine of us on it, that I text. Every single day, we’re in contact, nine of us, on this text thread. We did a Zoom call a couple of weeks ago just to touch base.

“It’s all really, really unique, and I really appreciate it. Especially at this point in my life, I’m certainly the old guy in the group, and I don’t know if the younger kids realize how rare that is, to have a cast that gets along like that, and enjoys each other that much.

If here’s one thing that James treasures about Good Witch, it’s, well, it’s going to surprise you. “I finally get to make the corny joke, ‘I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.’ James laughed. “I finally get to use it!”

“It’s fun to play a doctor. I mean, I played a doctor on a pilot that didn’t go, way back in the day, called LA Med for ABC. It’s just fun playing a doctor. The jargon you get to use.

“Doctors always have this God Complex, so they have a little bit of arrogance that’s kind of fun to play. So Sam was fun because he was the guy coming from the city to Middleton, and he’s a little bit cocky, had a little bit of self-righteousness towards the locals.

“It was fun to watch Cassie sort of work that out of him, and then for him to embrace that kind of Mayberry lifestyle.

“All the hospital stuff was fun. We’ve had a great storyline this season. For the first time, there is a series regular who has a legitimate medical issue that puts some pressure on Sam. He feels like, ‘Wow, if I mess this up, this person could die.’

James laughed, “I was a heart surgeon in New York, and all I’ve dealt with in Middleton is sprained ankles and rotator cuffs. Suddenly I’m an orthopedic guy — because none of those are life-threatening. But we finally have a serious issue this season with a series regular.”

Now, we do not doubt that whoever is suffering will find their way past the frightening moment with the capable Dr. Radford on their side, but it’s about time we get to see Sam address an ailment more suited to his vast experience.

“That’s the time for Sam to be conflicted and to feel some pressure, and show a little … not insecurity, but a little bit of concern that, ‘Wow, this is like I’m not crazy about working on close friends or family.’ So that’s a good storyline this year that was a lot of fun.”

James has a close friend in Montana that serves as the town’s doctor, so he has seen first hand the enormous pressure a doctor of that ilk comes under. “It’s a small town in Montan. He delivers all the babies. He works ER sometimes, and yeah, it’s tough.

“I can really relate to him now because I watch him in public and everybody comes up to him and has medical questions. He’s never off duty at restaurants, whatever, at a play, the little community theater, he’s always on.”

It’s good to know that the sharper interest we’ve seen with medical cases, even if they aren’t life-threatening, won’t be disappearing any time soon. Because there are big changes afoot now that Grace (Bailee Madison) and Nick (Rhys Matthew Bond) have moved away to college.

Although James has nothing but affection for Bailee and Rhys, he’s eager to see the more adult focus of the show. “They’re great, but it always felt like we were having to find storylines for the kids. I feel like the show has a little different rhythm this year because it’s all about grownups. Thankfully Nick is still there. Rhys still shows up for some episodes.

“It’s really fun, grandfatherly stuff with Peter MacNeill, who any reason to get Peter in a scene, I’ll take because he’s such a great actor as George. Rhys still shows up for a while, but I think that this show is probably better served to focus on a grown-up storyline. It enables us to bring in Kat Barrell, who is a wonderful actress.

“Marc Bendavid [Donovan] has a bigger presence. There are love interests. So I’m enjoying having more grownups to work with and having more interaction, but I do miss both those kids as actors, Rhys and Bailee both.

Something that played very well on Good Witch Season 6 Episode 1 was the burgeoning friendship between Sam and Adam (Scott Cavalheiro). When Sam first came to Middleton, he struggled a bit finding his place in town and had minimal contact with other men as friends. When I mentioned it, James perked up.

“It’s funny you said that. We struggled with what to do with Sam’s personal ride through a couple of other writers before Darin [Goldberg] came in. Both Sue Tenney and Dean Batali are fantastic and are really talented writers and really great people. I like them both, but as a show, we just didn’t know what to do with Sam’s personal life because he didn’t have any friends.

“He ended up being a little bit of a puppy dog, sort of following Cassie around and having no life outside of making sure he got Cassie the perfect gift.

“So I have always wanted it. Bill Abbott, to his credit, how often do you have a CEO of a company talk to you personally about trying to develop your character? But Bill was big on, ‘We’ve got to find a friend for Sam. Sam has got to have a life.’ Bringing Scott in to play Adam was big. We’ve had a couple come and go.

“We had Sean Gallagher a couple of years ago who played Liam. He was a really tall, dark-haired actor. A really good theater actor, just fantastic. But his character kind of ran its arc in one season, so he didn’t come back.

“So I’m really glad they brought Scott in, and yes it continues, and it’s one of my favorite things about the season, the friendship between Sam and Adam because the show was sorely lacking that for Sam. If we’re going to make Sam number two on the cast sheet, he’s got to have more to do than just follow Cassie around like a puppy dog. So this year we’ve handled that a lot better, I think.

As a viewer, it often felt that some of the peripheral adult stories were pushed to the backburner to ensure the storylines for Grace and Nick got covered. As such, even the premiere of Good Witch Season 6 had a different feel, and Cassie and Sam seem to be developing a different dynamic to their relationship.

“That’s 100% true, and so like the dialogue, the witty banter is much better this year because they spend more time together. There’s more screen time for them to be doing things that aren’t helping a kid with homework.

“Not that I minded that, but they get to have more of a relationship where they’re empty nesters. I think because let’s not kid ourselves, Good Witch has been around for what, 15 years with the seven movies? It’s because of Catherine Bell.

“I mean, I think people are getting more of Cassie as a human being and as a partner in a relationship. She has some insecurity. This year, she decides to try to get a job as a teacher in college, and she’s a little bit nervous about it. I think it enables people to spend a little more time with Cassie in a way.

“And of course, I benefit from that, because we do some fun stuff, like she tries to teach me to meditate, and I try to get her to play ball. And we just do some things that empty nesters do, trying to embrace the other’s hobbies, and it goes horribly wrong, but it’s fun.”

The result of the slight reset has been for the better, and even Sam and Cassie’s relationship seems stronger than it ever was before.

“It was a conscious decision, but Bill and I talked about Sam becoming more like Cassie and having Cassie’s admirable qualities wear off on him. At the beginning, they had some real fun. He’s wasn’t a fan of Cassie, they had some good arguments,” James said.

“They had one really great fight, which we haven’t done since, and I kind of miss that, where she was seeing people almost like patients at The Bell, Book, and Candle, and getting them tea or a book to read, and then sending them away. And Sam’s like, ‘You’re going to get somebody killed because you’re not a doctor.’

“It was a really great scene, it was in Grey House, and it was heated, a heated argument. I made a lot of accusations at Cassie, and I loved that because it’s an Eastern medicine, Western medicine kind of thing. But now you’ll see Sam lean on Cassie like he can’t solve a case, and he starts thinking, ‘What’s going on with the person emotionally?

“Cassie recognizes that as ‘That’s my influence.’ So you’re right. We started it last year, but it happens a lot this year, especially with Sam softening up and realizing that there is something to the way Cassie deals with people.

James laughed that Sam and Cassie’s investigations into the Middleton Treasure and the Davenport/Merriwick curse have made them a bit like a modern-day McMillan and Wife, an old detective show from the ’70s in which a husband and wife investigated crimes together.

He says to expect less interaction with random Grey House guests and more intrigue with their friends in Middleton. “I think this year, we pulled back and don’t spend quite as much time on the transient characters, and I think that’s good because people are a lot more interested in like Abigail and Donovan.”

And even better, there is plenty of room for Sam and Cassie’s relationship to thrive without ever fearing something petty will break them apart.

“I still think Sam and Cassie are just solid as a rock. We don’t play around with, ‘Will they split up?’ That’s not what Hallmark viewers typically want to see or what anybody wants to see over and over.

“That, ‘Will they or won’t they’ like Moonlighting, and every other show, Cheers, it’s a good way to set it up, but we found after two or three seasons, these are grown people in their 50s. Now, they’re not just going to date. They’re not going to date and go get ice-cream for three years. So we tried to make them real people, as quickly as we could and still not cut-to-the-chase too quickly on getting them together.”

James doesn’t believe he’s all that different from Sam, especially as the show has aged, and writers began writing Sam infused with his personality.

James thought he was Desperate Housewives’ Mike Delfino almost a little too perfectly, but there is a comfort in knowing who you’re watching is similar to a beloved character.

“So, yeah, I’m one of those people that, I’m not exactly a chameleon. When people meet me that don’t know me, and they watch the show, they almost immediately say, ‘Oh, you’re just exactly the same as on the show,'” James laughed.

“I’m like, ‘Yeah, thanks for the compliment.’ But you know what? I am always, as an actor, all I’ve ever wanted is to be believed. I just want to be believable, and if that means the character is not as sharply honed in a certain way and made to be like a very specific New Yorker, but it’s more believable, and you don’t see me acting, I’d rather default to that.”

Another project that James has been involved with Hallmark is the American Human Hero Dog Awards that celebrate our four-legged friends and the innumerable ways they enrich, protect, and save lives every day.

A previous host of the show, James puts his money where his mouth is. When he isn’t acting or producing or completing remodels or being a great husband and dad in real life and on TV (and complimenting all kinds of family, friends, and coworkers, and management), he also spends some time with two family dogs.

The two canine family members now are a purebred Great Dane that the kids wanted desperately (and about which Jame holds some guilt for not adopting as a rescue) and a rescue named Dodger.

“Yeah, we have two, and I cringe when I say, we have a Great Dane that is a purebred because Danes are tricky with kids, and we got her from a vet who’s just bred his own dog. So we didn’t get him from a puppy mill or anything. But we do have a rescue, we always have a rescue.

James Denton and Great Dane

“Every dog we’ve had has been a rescue. But the kids wanted a Dane, we had friends who had Danes, and after doing some research, I was afraid to get a rescue Dane,” James hmmed and hawed as he navigated his thoughts on choosing a family pet from an individual with a love for the breed, but I assured him that we all agree that all dogs, whether bred or rescued, deserve a great family.

But of Dodger, he has no qualms bragging. They worked with a rescue that takes dogs from the south up north to no-kill states to find their forever homes.

“So Dodger came from the streets, from the mean streets of Alabama,” James laughed, “on a van, and we met him in the parking lot at 10:00 one night. This just happened to be when they rolled in, and we took him sight unseen off of the van. He was already named Dodger, which is perfect because my kids are Dodger fans, having lived in LA for so long.

“Dodger is our current rescue. He’s just a little Lab-mix, but we have always great dogs. I mean, I’ve had four or five in a row. In fact, the Dane is the first I’ve ever gotten that wasn’t a rescue. So you can tell, I’ve got a little bit of guilt about it.”

It all comes down to this: James Denton really is everything we’ve come to love about him through the charismatic and kind characters he plays.

Be sure to tune into Good Witch Sundays at 9/8c on Hallmark Channel to catch him as Dr. Sam Radford. And come on back here after each hour for a full review.

And for more of James as the handsome, small-town doctor, watch Good Witch online right here via TV Fanatic.

Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer for TV Fanatic. She’s a member of the Critic’s Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.

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