After two decades of mastering the art of pumping out G-rated, romantic TV movies and creating a whole new cable TV niche in the process, the Hallmark Channel recently announced it was ready to evolve creatively, hoping its loyal viewers were ready to grow with it. Network executives announced in August 2022 that they were branching out by finding new ways to define, celebrate, and share love in all its forms and exploring different types of storytelling, including more comedies. If the ratings are any indication, the new strategy has been a slam dunk for the network and its stars.
Hallmark Channel Outperforming All Entertainment Networks as Execs Aim to Celebrate ‘Love of Every Kind’
Hallmark fans are showing up for and applauding the network’s creative growth. Over Thanksgiving weekend, Hallmark Channel debuted seven all-new original movies as part of its annual Countdown to Christmas programming. For the 10th year in a row, viewers flocked to the channel, making it the #1 most-watched network on cable TV during Thanksgiving week among women 18 and over. Hallmark says it blew the competition out of the water, outperforming the nearest entertainment cable network by 119%.
At the Television Critics Association virtual summer press tour in August, Hallmark Media president Wonya Lucas and programming vice president Lisa Daly outlined some of the subtle but important changes viewers might notice moving forward, including different types of storytelling and greater inclusivity and diversity — from launching Mahogany, a programming version of Hallmark’s 34-year-old greeting card line written through the perspective of Black women, to the network’s first movie centered around a gay couple in “The Holiday Sitter,” premiering December 11.
“Our brand is centered around love of every kind and love for all,” Lucas said. “And, over the last two-plus decades, we have established a programming niche that brings to life the Hallmark brand. The common denominator of our content is love in all its many forms. We believe that all humans deserve and are indeed worthy of love and seeing themselves in loving relationships through our storytelling.”
Hallmark has also been evolving the kinds of movies it produces, allowing its creative teams to think outside the box, from more comedies to getting innovative about how a movie looks and feels.
Daly explained, “We’re giving writers more freedom to dream up different stories. We’re giving directors more freedom to shoot things that look a little different and are more artful in some ways. I think that we’re just trying to push our boundaries in every way we can to give our viewers fresh, lovely, new experiences wherever we can.”
The strategy clearly seems to be working. According to Hallmark Media, the new original movies that Hallmark Channel premiered over the holiday nabbed six of the top 10 spots in most-watched entertainment cable programs during Thanksgiving week. Those included “Haul Out the Holly” starring Lacey Chabert and Wes Brown, the Blake Shelton-produced “Time for Him to Come Home for Christmas,” and “A Holiday Spectacular” featuring the Rockettes.
Wes Brown Says He’s Grateful Fans Are Embracing ‘Newer’ Approach at Hallmark
As part of its evolution, Hallmark Channel tapped its longtime star Lacey Chabert to film her first Christmas comedy, “Haul Out the Holly,” which premiered on November 26. The movie drew in tons of viewers with a star-studded cast including Chabert, Wes Brown, Stephen Tobolowsky, Melissa Peterman, and Ellen Travolta. It not only was a huge hit over the Thanksgiving weekend, but became ad-supported cable TV’s #1 most-watched movie of the year among key demographics.
In an Instagram Live on November 30, Hallmark fan-favorite Brown said knowing the comedy appealed to viewers was a thrill.
“We’re really proud of this film,” he said. “We just got our numbers back and we’re so excited about how well it did, how well it was received. I just really appreciate everyone getting behind something a little newer in the terms of Hallmark world. It was just so much fun to shoot.”
Hallmark’s new strategy seems to be working beyond Thanksgiving week. Nielsen ratings show Hallmark Channel was the third most-watched cable network during primetime throughout the month of November, only behind ESPN and Fox News.
Another huge hit for the network has been the comedy “Three Wise Men and a Baby,” with its first trio of male leads. Based on same-day, live viewing, the movie — which debuted on November 19 — broke Hallmark ratings records dating back to 2019.
Fans have been vocal about how much they love and want more of this expansion in Hallmark’s creative strategy. On December 3, when Hallmark Channel partially live-streamed a Roma Drama Christmas panel featuring the cast of “Three Wise Men and a Baby,” virtual fans were begging for a sequel and others left comments praising Hallmark for the “different” approach.
For instance, one fan wrote, “My husband even watched this one with me!! When it ended, we both said, Wow that was different than most, but really really good! We had fun watching it together.”