With just over a month until Hallmark‘s annual Countdown to Christmas programming is due to begin, fans will be relieved to know that the ongoing SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes, which have halted production on most movies and TV shows, will not impact the number of movies Hallmark releases this holiday season.
On September 15, 2023, Variety confirmed that the strikes have not kept Hallmark, Lifetime or Great American Family from moving forward with full slates of new holiday movies. Hallmark, which debuted 40 new Christmas movies in 2022, will likely lead the pack again with the most new programming, especially since it has been allowed by SAG-AFTRA to quietly continue to shoot multiple movies.
The biggest changes fans may notice with Hallmark’s 2023 Christmas titles, which will likely be announced in the coming days, is in how its movies are promoted as well as some creative shifts Hallmark hinted at earlier in the year. Here’s what you need to know:
How Has Hallmark Managed to ‘Meet All Our Goals’ for 2023’s Countdown to Christmas?
The Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike began on May 2, which has kept most writers from developing new scripts, and SAG-AFTRA has been on strike since July 14, with many Hallmark stars — including Autumn Reeser, Jodie Sweetin, Andrew Walker, Nikki DeLoach, and John Brotherton — sharing social media photos of their days picketing in front of major studios.
But because the unions had been discussing the potential of going on strike for months, Hallmark moved many of its movie shoots to earlier in the year in order to ensure it would have plenty of holiday content waiting in the wings.
In fact, as soon as the 2022 holiday season ended, Hallmark stars Kristoffer Polaha and Bethany Joy Lenz were in Asheville, North Carolina, filming “A Biltmore Christmas” for 2023’s slate of holiday fare.
In March, “When Calls The Heart” star Kevin McGarry and Kim Matula filmed a hockey-themed Christmas movie, according to the Vernon Morning Star. A movie poster for the film, called “Checkin’ It Twice,” has already been leaked on social media.
By summer, as it became clear that the SAG-AFTRA strike would likely to go into effect soon, Hallmark hurried to film and finish certain movies, causing some actors — including Brennan Elliott, Lacey Chabert and Rachel Boston — to have to cancel their appearances at Christmas Con in Kansas City.
Lisa Hamilton Daly, EVP of programming at Hallmark Media, told Variety, “Christmas is a year-round business at Hallmark, so we were able to mitigate early in the year understanding that the strikes were unfortunately imminent. We’re grateful to meet all our goals for a full, all-new holiday slate and to bring our viewers the content they love most to celebrate the season.”
Hallmark is in a unique position because it’s not part of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), the collective of major studios and streamers that the unions are striking against. By agreeing to the terms that SAG-AFTRA is trying to get AMPTP to adopt, per The Wrap, Hallmark is among those granted “interim agreements,” allowing it to keep filming certain projects including its popular series “When Calls The Heart.”
However, because SAG-AFTRA individual members — which includes most of Hallmark’s American actors — are not allowed to promote past or present projects as part of the strike, most have not shared sneak peeks of the movies they’ve been able to shoot in recent weeks.
By monitoring casting calls, production schedules and social media, Heavy has determined multiple Hallmark projects — including upcoming holiday movies — continue to be filmed. For instance, a movie called “Chasing Santa” began filming in Canada on September 11, according to ACTRA Ottawa, a division of Canada’s largest actors’ union.
What to Expect From Hallmark’s 2023 Countdown to Christmas
Hallmark and its top talent have leaked details on some of the network’s upcoming holiday fare, including two titles featuring Chabert — “A Merry Scottish Christmas” in which she’ll reunite with her “Party of Five” co-star Scott Wolf and a sequel to 2022’s comedy “Haul Out The Holly.”
But an official announcement of the full Countdown to Christmas lineup is expected soon, given that Hallmark typically releases it in late September in advance of its mid-October start. One of the biggest changes this year, unless the SAG-AFTRA strike ends soon, is that most talent won’t be able to promote the holiday movies they’re starring in.
In 2022, Hallmark hosted a huge Countdown to Christmas launch event in New York City, per the New York Daily News, with a premiere showing of Ginna Claire Mason’s “A Holiday Spectacular,” attended by many of the network’s top talent.
Creative shifts in Hallmark’s movie themes and air times may also be noticeable to fans during this year’s Countdown to Christmas. In February, Daly told Decider that success with comedies like “Haul Out the Holly” and “Three Wise Men and a Baby” confirmed for Hallmark executives that viewers are hungry for a more diverse array of storylines.
“We have a core audience who loves what we do, but you’re eventually just doing a version of the same movie over and over again,” Daly told Decider. “You want to break out and do something different once in a while. We’re really cognizant of the fact that we want to keep our longtime fans happy, but they actually seem to love the new stuff we did.”
Daly also mentioned discussions that were happening at the time about possibly creating theme nights each weekend during Countdown to Christmas.
She told Decider, “We’re thinking about what’s great for Friday nights, what really works for Saturday nights, and what works for Sunday nights, and we’re thinking about how that cadence works because they do feel like different nights: like Friday night’s the traditional comfort watch; Saturday night might be our big tentpole night; and Sunday might be that thing we’re trying that’s a little different.”
“That’s what we think that the weekends feel like,” she continued, “but we’re still in the very early stages of thinking about how it’s gonna work out.”
Countdown to Christmas typically starts in late October. Hallmark’s “Fall Into Love” lineup of movies ends with “Field Day” on October 14 starring Benjamin Ayres and Rachel Boston, so it’s highly likely new Christmas movies will begin airing the following weekend.