When former Hallmark Media CEO Bill Abbott parted ways with the company in 2020 and launched a competing network, Great American Family, he lured several high-profile stars to follow him, including Candace Cameron Bure, Danica McKellar, and Jen Lilley. Those and many other familiar faces to Hallmark fans will appear in Great American Family’s slate of 20 Christmas movies, announced via a press release on September 18, 2023.
The network said that beginning on October 21, it will premiere 20 new “Great American Christmas” movies — up two from the 18 it released in 2022, according to People — though it did not release specific dates for each movie’s premiere. Hallmark, meanwhile, premiered 40 movies during its “Countdown to Christmas” programming in 2022. Though it has not yet revealed how many it’s produced for this year, the network says it’s fully met its production goals for the holiday season.
Given that there’s been very little crossover among stars between the two networks, beyond occasional exceptions like Cindy Busby and Cameron Mathison (who haven’t appeared on Great American Family since 2022), most stars continuing to appear there this year are unlikely to pop up back on Hallmark anytime soon.
Ahead of the Christmas movies announcement, Abbott told Deadline, “From our point of view, what makes (Great American Family) unique is that we’re producing with talent that is very unique and that has a high standard and is very high quality content and also incorporates a little bit of faith and is relentlessly family.”
Former Hallmark Regulars Appearing in ‘Great American Christmas’ Movies
It’s no surprise that some of the original actors who left Hallmark for Great American Family will appear in new Christmas movies there this year. In fact, some of their holiday projects were announced months ago.
In April, for instance, Deadline announced that Bure would star in the military-themed “My Christmas Hero,” but it was not revealed at the time that her co-star is Gabriel Hogan, which marks his first starring role on Great American Family. Hallmark fans know Hogan best for playing Norman, the good family friend of Alison Sweeney’s character in the “Hannah Swensen Mysteries.” Interestingly, he’s expected to return for the next movie in the franchise, “Zest for Death,” when it premieres on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries on October 6. It’s not clear if he’ll continue to appear on both networks after the holiday season.
Meanwhile, it was revealed in June that Lilley will star opposite “Glee” alum Matthew Morrison in “A Paris Christmas Waltz,” inspired by Hallmark’s highest-rated Christmas rom-com of 2020, “A Christmas Waltz” starring Lacey Chabert and Will Kemp. They have since gone on to launch the “Dancing Detective” mystery franchise for Hallmark.
McKellar, who left Hallmark in October 2021, will star in “A Royal Christmas Romance” with actor Damon Runyon, who last appeared on Hallmark in 2019’s “Very, Very Valentine.” McKellar was his co-star in that production, too.
Including those stars, over a dozen former Hallmark regulars — such as Trevor Donovan, Chad Michael Murray, Lori Loughlin, Merritt Patterson, Jill Wagner and Paul Greene — will appear in “Great American Christmas” movies this season.
Donovan and Patterson will co-star in “‘Twas the Text Before Christmas,” Murray will appear in “Christmas on Windmill Way” with Christa Taylor Brown, Wagner and Greene will team up for “Bringing Christmas Home,” and Loughlin will co-star in “A Christmas Blessing” with two past Hallmark leading men, James Tupper and “Cedar Cove” alum Jesse Hutch.
Bill Abbott Says Quality is Up, But Featuring Diverse Casts is ‘Challenging’
On September 11, Abbott told online Christian magazine Crosswalk that he thinks his network’s “quality is up significantly from where we were last year.”
He explained, “In starting this business, at times, we’ve had to go out and put some things on the air that didn’t necessarily project where we want to be. And that’s just due to the fact that it’s hard to create a lot of content very quickly.”
But while Abbott told Deadline on September 13 that his team created “some wonderful concepts” for this year’s Christmas movies, he knows not everyone will be happy with the level of diversity in the casts. Great American Family has been a lightning rod for criticism about inclusivity in the media, in part due to Bure’s statement last year that her new network will likely not feature stories with same-sex couples as Hallmark has done, and for its lack of representation for different cultures and faiths.
When Deadline asked if “inclusive programming” is a priority for Great American Family, Abbott said, “I mean, we certainly look to replicate the population in our content. We understand that diversity is certainly important. It is not always the easiest path to pursue because we do a lot of our production in Canada that make it sometimes a little more challenging with our just being new to the game, but certainly an area of focus.”
Concerned about the lack of representation on Great American Family, longtime Hallmark actress Jodie Sweetin recently issued a statement via People saying she’s “disappointed” that an independent movie she filmed in 2022, “Craft Me a Romance,” was purchased by Great American Family and will premiere on the network on September 23.
“Sometimes, we, as actors, don’t have control over which network buys the projects we are in, nor are we a part of the process in which they get sold,” she said on August 13. “So I was very surprised to learn by reading about it in the press yesterday that the independent film I worked on over a year ago was sold to Great American Family.”
Sweetin continued, “I am disappointed, but in keeping with my mission of supporting the LGBTQ+ family, any potential or future money made from this sale will be donated to LGBTQ+ organizations.”