The Hallmark Channel is an American pay television cable channel owned by Crown Media Holdings, Inc., which in turn is owned by Hallmark Cards, Inc. The channel’s programming is primarily targeted at families, and features a mix of television movies and miniseries, original and acquired television series, and lifestyle programs.
As of February 2015, Hallmark Channel is available to approximately 85,439,000 pay television households (73.4% of households with television) in the United States. Despite largely being an apolitical brand, Hallmark Channel has garnered a following among politically conservative viewers in suburban and rural areas who, according to Manhattan Institute for Policy Research’s Steven Malanga in a Los Angeles Times op-ed, feel the network and its original programming feed their desire to “express traditional family values and also to steer away from political themes and stories that denigrate religion.” Their biggest conservative-leaning competition in terms of entertainment programming is INSP, with Fetv as a lesser competitor. Much of the filming for Hallmark Channel’s most popular shows is done in Canada, with Canadian stars, scenery and talent.
Main articles: Vision Interfaith Satellite Network and American Christian Television System
The Hallmark Channel traces its history to the launch of two separate religious cable channels, the American Christian Television System (ACTS) and the Vision Interfaith Satellite Network (VISN). The two networks began alternating time on a shared transponder slot on the Galaxy III satellite in 1992. Under the original timeshare agreement, the network was branded as VISN/ACTS. Each network was provided time for its programming blocks, and would use their own logos.
VISN launched on July 1, 1988, and was founded by the National Interfaith Cable Coalition, in cooperation with several cable providers. The coalition’s membership consisted of 65 different religious groups. It aired for about 16 hours a day and ran religious programs from mainline Protestant denominations such as the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the United Church of Christ. In addition, Roman Catholic, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Jewish, and Islamic faiths also provided some programming. VISN aired during the morning and evening hours. ACTS commenced operations in 1984, and was owned by the Southern Baptist Convention. It aired programming from evangelical and fundamentalist non-charismatic Christian groups such as the SBC, the Christian Reformed Church, and the Association of Regular Baptist Churches, as well as well-known evangelists such as Jerry Falwell, Charles Stanley and D. James Kennedy. Both channels aired several hours a week of religious children’s programs, some of which overlapped, including Sunshine Factory, Joy Junction, Davey and Goliath, and Jot.
In 1993, the network was renamed as the Faith and Values Channel. It began adding a few secular programs during this time, such as exercise shows, health and cooking shows, and family-oriented drama series and movies.
In 1995, cable conglomerate Tele-Communications Inc.’s Liberty Media acquired a 49% ownership stake in the Faith and Values Channel, and took over operational control of the network. It added more secular programming to the network and reduced religious programming to about 10 hours a day. In 1996, the network was rebranded as the Odyssey Network (although on-air promotions often referred to the network simply as “Odyssey”), and launched a website, Odysseyfamily.com, which was used to provide program listings for the network.
Logo as Odyssey Network from 1996 to 2001
In 1997, channel CEO Gary Hill died. The Teaching of Christ, The Daily Mass and A Biblical Portrait of Marriage were regular religious programs on the channel. Wholesome off-network series on the channel were Brooklyn Bridge and Trapper John, M.D., as well as the Davey and Goliath claymation kids’ show. The channel produced shows under the Odyssey Productions name. The channel had a variety show hosted by gospel singer CeCe Winans called CeCe’s Place and launched Landmarks of Faith on July 1, 1998.
Hallmark Entertainment and The Jim Henson Company bought significant stakes, paid partly through programming commitments, in Odyssey in late 1998. Liberty had convinced Hallmark not to launch its own domestic channel, given difficulty getting carriage. National Interfaith Cable Coalition and Hallmark-Henson would have equal shares while Liberty would increase its stake, while the three groups would share control of the board. Hallmark and Henson would have say over chief executive selection. While adding Henson’s and Hallmark’s libraries, the channel could not make major programming format changes, so cable systems could not drop them. Hallmark hired former Fox Kids Network worldwide vice-chairman Margaret Loesch that year to overhaul Odyssey into a family channel.
Under the new ownership structure, Odyssey underwent a major programming revamp on April 4, 1999 using the tagline “a Hallmark and Henson Network”. The revamp decreased the amount of religious programs on the network down to an average four hours a day, although more hours were religious on the weekend. The channel began to focus more on family-targeted entertainment programming including some classic sitcoms, children’s programs and additional family-oriented movies. The premiere show under the new schedule was Gulliver’s Travels miniseries, in its cable premiere, was produced by Hallmark and Henson. Henson programming on the channel included The Muppet Show and Fraggle Rock. This revamp had other children’s programming like the syndicated Zoobilee Zoo and The Archie Show. The new programming even tapped Hallmark Entertainment’s Hal Roach Studios library for Leonard Maltin Presents. In 2000, the channel aired its first original holiday movie.
Crown Media Holdings, Inc. in 2000 was formed with Hallmark Entertainment, Chase Equity Associates, Liberty Media, and the National Interfaith Cable Coalition transferred their 77.5 percent total interest in the Odyssey Network into Crown Media Holdings. Henson Company, now owned by EM.TV & Merchandising, traded in March 2001 Crown Media the remaining ownership in the Odyssey Network for 8% in Crown stock.
On August 5, 2001, the channel underwent yet another rebranding, relaunching as the Hallmark Channel. After agreeing to distribute a religious digital cable network among other items to lift restrictions on the Odyssey channel to effect the rebranding with plans to quickly add original programming. The Infinite Worlds of H.G. Wells mini-series was the first programming under the rebranding. New original programming for the year included the third installment of its Sherlock Holmes film series and five other films, two mini-series and three scripted series, one coming from The Jim Henson Company. In April 2001, Crown Media purchased 700 titles from the film library Hallmark Entertainment Distribution, a wholly owned subsidiary of Hallmark Entertainment, for its cable channels and Crown Interactive. The channel began a Sunday night mystery movie wheel series called Mystery Movie in 2005.
Hallmark Channel’s headquarters in Studio City, California
In 2002, the Hallmark Channel premiered a weekday morning talk show, New Morning. A Sunday morning version, hosted by Naomi Judd, titled Naomi’s New Morning, debuted in 2005 and lasted two years before being pulled from the schedule in early 2007.
Hallmark Channels in international markets were sold for about $242 million in 2005 to Sparrowhawk Media, a private equity group backed by Providence Equity Partners and 3i. The channel in 2005 had its highest-rated year with 34% increase in viewers and ranked seventh in growth. 2005’s highest-rated ad-supported basic cable movie with a 3.6 household rating was “Meet the Santas” on Hallmark.
In 2006, the channel acquired a license for 35 Warner Bros. features including “Troy” (2007) and “March of the Penguins” (2005), costing in the multimillion-dollar range. The channel set a new high rating (4.2 household) for an original movie, The Christmas Card, in 2006.
With the expiration of RHI Entertainment’s exclusive contract with Hallmark Channel, Larry Levinson Productions became the channel’s sole producer. In 2007, additional producers were added as suppliers as the channel increased the number of original films by 50% from 20 in 2007 to 30 in 2008.
In January 2008, the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign purchased an hour of Hallmark Channel’s primetime slots under a paid programming arrangement to run a town hall special promoting Clinton’s campaign for President of the United States on February 4, the day before the multi-state “Super Tuesday” primaries. The wheel series “Mystery Movie” was discontinued in 2008 as the channel was doing better with lighter romances.
With a change in company president in May 2009, the new president planned to move the channel away from dependence on the Western to more light hearted fare to de-age their viewers without alienating their current viewers and match the Hallmark brand more. In mid-June 2009, the network announced it would sell individual ad breaks featuring a single advertiser. The so-called “Fast Breaks” are prefaced with short bumpers announcing that the program streaming will return after a 30-second break. The cost of such standalone spots is about double that of a regular 30-second commercial on the channel. Hallmark Channel signed insurance company Mutual of Omaha as the first buyer.
In late 2009, The National Tree film kicked off its first annual “Countdown to Christmas” seasonal programming. Hallmark characters, Hoops & Yoyo, hosted Friday “Movie Night” during the Countdown.
2010 saw the channel make a push into lifestyle programming. A January 2010 multi-year deal with Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (MSLO) brought The Martha Stewart Show from syndication to Hallmark in September. Stewart would also produce four prime-time one hour specials for the channel. Hallmark was looking to be a holiday programming destination. On March 26, 2010, a new home and lifestyle block during weekday daytime of Martha Stewart shows started airing on the channel for seven hours. A shorter Stewart block would also air on the weekends. After one month on air with lackluster ratings, the block was reduced to five hours. In January 2012, the channel canceled The Martha Stewart Show given the show’s cost effective with the end of the season in May with reruns through the summer months, but intend to retain a couple of MSLO shows.
Hallmark Channel and co-owned film service Hallmark Movie Channel were dropped by AT&T U-verse on September 1, 2010, due to a carriage dispute resulting from a proposed increase in retransmission consent payments that U-verse considered to be disproportionate with the lower audience viewership for the channels at the time. As of July 23, 2015, both channels returned to U-verse.
In 2011, Hallmark started its animal-featuring shows with Hero Dog Awards. Its 2014 Kitten Bowl, up against the Super Bowl, got 1 million viewers. Jingle, the husky pup (a Hallmark merchandising character), was featured in an animated Christmas special, Jingle All the Way, on November 25, 2011. In 2012, “Christmas in July” programming was launched over a weekend to promote Hallmark Cards’ new holiday ornaments debut and became an annual event.
In the fourth quarter of 2012, Hallmark Channel did a makeover of its daytime schedule. The channel launched a Marie! talk show starring Marie Osmond, and Home & Family, while running repeats of three MSLO programs. Two TV pilot movies, Cedar Cove and When Calls the Heart, both book adaptations, were also shown. Home & Family was previously on The Family Channel. Cedar Cove was ordered to a series, the channel’s first prime time original series, in October 2012 even before its January 2013 movie premiere. and When Calls was also picked up as a series. However, Marie! was canceled after its first season.
With the 2011–2012 season, ABC picked up Hallmark Hall of Fame with the Hallmark Channel showing each episode a week later. The Hall of Fame series was moved from ABC to Hallmark with the 2014–2015 season and would air as many as four times a year. The first episode to debut on Hallmark Channel was One Christmas Eve, starring Anne Heche. On the cable channel, four original movies at most would air as a part of the Hall of Fame with multiple encores. The HHOF library would also be available.
On March 15, 2013, the channel introduced a new family-oriented Friday night movie block, Walden Family Theater, in partnership with Walden Media and others. In an unusual deal in 2013, CBS syndicated The Good Wife to Hallmark, two streaming services and TV stations, who got the shows on weekends. While the show met its good story-telling goal with the series showing four hours in prime time, the channel pulled the show after many months as it did not fit in other ways.
Two new series, Good Witch and Sign, Sealed, Delivered, were picked up for the 2014–2015 season. Sign comes from Martha Williamson, while the Good Witch was transitioning from a movie series. In February 2015, the channel aired its first “Countdown to Valentine’s” programming event based on its success with “Countdown to Christmas” accounting for 30% of annual ad revenue.
In April 2014, the channel launched a TV Everywhere video on-demand service, “Hallmark Channel Everywhere”, which offers a streaming selection of Hallmark Channel films and series for subscribers on participating television providers.
In 2015, Mariah Carey directed and starred in a Christmas movie for Hallmark. She also hosted Mariah Carey’s Merriest Christmas which was the channel’s most-viewed show. Thus in May 2016, Carey signed a three-telefilm deal for her to develop, executive-produce, direct, costar, and write an original song for three movies with one for “Countdown to Valentine’s Day”.
The channel’s first “Winterfest” seasonal programming was in January 2016. At its March 2016 upfronts, Hallmark Channel executives revealed that they planned to divide their programming into themed seasons year-round, to build upon the success of Countdown to Christmas and other franchises.
On October 20, 2016, Hallmark Channel and the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries channel were added to the Sling TV service. On November 15, 2017, PlayStation Vue added Hallmark Channel, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, and Hallmark Drama to its lineup.
In October 2017, Hallmark Channel launched a new, over-the-top subscription service known as Hallmark Movies Now, which features new and existing original content from the network. In October 2018, the three Hallmark linear channels were added to streaming service Philo. With SiriusXM, Crown Media launched the Hallmark Channel Radio channel on November 1, 2018 as 24/7 holiday music format as a part of the network’s “Countdown to Christmas” campaign. Network talent would introduce the music and include behind the scenes segments from its holiday movies.
In November 2017, the channel beat all four major broadcast networks in the ratings one night with its Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, The Christmas Train. In March 2019, Hallmark announced it had dropped Lori Loughlin from future company projects due to her role in the 2019 college admissions bribery scandal.
In December 2019, the channel stopped airing advertisements for the online wedding registry Zola.com that included two brides kissing each other, because of complaints that it was lesbians kissing and promoted same-sex marriages. A main complainant was One Million Moms, a division of the socially conservative American Family Association, which has been designated an anti-LGBTQ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Similar advertisements with heterosexual couples kissing were not pulled. As a result, social media users called for a boycott of the channel, while competitors like Netflix and the Disney-owned Freeform cable channel responded by touting their LGBTQ inclusivity. On December 15, Hallmark reversed its decision and said it would reinstate the advertisements and work with GLAAD, an LGBTQ media monitoring organization, to create more inclusive programming.
Main article: List of programs broadcast by Hallmark Channel
Hallmark Channel’s programming consists of classic and some recent/original television series, and original made-for-TV movies. It also airs the Hallmark Hall of Fame anthology series.
Original programs broadcast on the network include the daytime talk show Home & Family (which originated on Freeform when it was known as The Family Channel, in April 1996) and When Calls the Heart (which is based on the novels by Janette Oke). The network’s original programming initially consisted mainly of lifestyle programs and made-for-TV movies; Hallmark Channel debuted its first prime time original scripted series in July 2013, with the premiere of Cedar Cove (which is based on the novels by Debbie Macomber).
Main article: List of Hallmark Channel Original Movies
The network’s made-for-TV movies are characterized as family-friendly and inspirational, ranging from holiday-themed films to westerns. In the early stages of the channel’s development, Hallmark Channel had a steady one-movie-a-month, or 12-a-year, production schedule with the films mainly being produced by RHI Entertainment. However, in 2008, Crown Media had ramped up its production schedule to approximately 30 movies a year and opened up to other production companies, though RHI still produces some movies for Hallmark Channel. The network premiered 35 original movies during the period from 2009 to 2010.
Hallmark original movies were budgeted at $2.2 million in 2007. Hallmark does not pay the full cost of films, thus the production company deficit-financed them.
Hallmark Hall of Fame: Originally only an encore or library home for the Hallmark Hall of Fame anthology film series, the series moved its original showings to the channel in 2014.
Mystery Movie (also Hallmark Channel Mystery Wheel): The channel began a Sunday night mystery movie wheel series called Mystery Movie in 2004. This wheel series consisted of four individual movie series of four films that would also be later shown on Hallmark Movie Channel. Two of the film series were Mystery Woman and Jane Doe. A successor series, Original Mystery Wheel, was established in 2015 on the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries channel.
Walden Family Theater (2013) On March 15, 2013, the channel started its family friendly Friday night movie series, Walden Family Theater in partnership with Walden Media, Arc Entertainment, Procter & Gamble and Walmart. P&G and Walmart were sponsoring partners with Walmart selling the movies DVD in store the Tuesday after airing, while Arc and Walden were producing partners. The first movie was the world premiere of Return to Nim’s Island, one of six new films produced for the series. Space Warriors was shown later in the premier season, with additional films drawn from Hallmark’s library of films. The series’ second season was launched on September 6, 2013 with the premiere of the film, Dear Dumb Diary based upon the Scholastic book, with the Civil Rights era drama The Watsons Go to Birmingham premiering next.
Hallmark Channel is known for scheduling themed programming around major holidays such as Christmas, Mother’s Day, and Valentine’s Day—featuring new original movies relevant to said holiday. With the introduction of its Countdown to Christmas branding in 2009, the channel gradually expanded the number of seasonal programming events it holds. At its 2016 upfronts, the network stated that it had, alongside its holiday events, begun to divide its schedule into themed “seasons” throughout the entire year. Some of these events are associated with the network’s different original series. Crown Media CEO Bill Abbott explained that this strategy allowed the network to be positioned as “a year-round destination for celebrations”, which need not depend on a single series or franchise to bolster its viewership. This programming strategy also creates synergies with Hallmark Cards.
“Winterfest” (2016–present) is broadcast in January; its first original film was Love In Paradise.
“Countdown to Valentine’s” (2015–present) In 2015, the event was 15 days long with four original movie premieres.
“Spring Fever”, formerly “Spring Fling”, is in March and April. Its two original series as of 2016 were When Calls the Heart and Good Witch
“Countdown to Summer” was launched in May 2019.
“Summer Nights” has its franchise show in Chesapeake Shores as of 2016.
“Fall Harvest” (2015–present) airs during September and most of October, primarily airing autumn-themed movies (sometimes relating to Halloween).
“Five Nights Stuffed Full of Original Holiday Movies” (2015–present), which airs near Thanksgiving.
Countdown to Christmas
From the last weekend in October until January 1, Hallmark Channel runs a seasonal block called Countdown to Christmas, featuring a mix of holiday movies, specials and holiday-themed original programming. The block is branded as Countdown to New Years from December 26 until January 1 and culminates with the channel’s broadcast of the Tournament of Roses Parade.
Countdown to Christmas started in 2009, while the channel’s first holiday original movie was aired in 2000. Hallmark characters, Hoops & Yoyo, hosted Friday “Movie Night”, starting in 2009 during the Countdown. Countdown had 12 original movies in 2013 and 21 in 2016. Actresses frequently featured in the channel’s Christmas films (dubbed the “Queens of Christmas”) include Rachel Boston, Candace Cameron Bure (who does other work for Hallmark Channel, mainly as Aurora Teagarden), Lacey Chabert, Erin Krakow, Kellie Martin, Danica McKellar. Autumn Reeser and Alicia Witt Hallmark’s “Christmas TV ratings system” has designations like “F for Family” and “J for Joy”.
Since 2012, the network has also held a Christmas in July event with encore airings of previous movies: it is used as a platform to launch Hallmark Cards’ upcoming holiday ornament lines. In 2013, the event was expanded with Home & Family giving holiday tips. In 2014, the channel added a theatrical movie premiere. By 2015, the event included one new movie.
In 2014, the Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Cards collaborated for the first time on a movie, Northpole, which was shown during Countdown to Christmas. During the 2017 holiday season, the Hallmark Channel premiered 33 original Christmas holiday films, up from a total of 28 holiday movies in 2016. Hallmark has a total of 136 Christmas holiday-themed movies in their original library of films.
For 2018, Hallmark Channel partnered with Sirius XM to launch “Hallmark Channel Radio”—a Christmas music channel hosted by Hallmark Channel talent (such as Holly Robinson Peete and Lacey Chabert), and featuring behind-the-scenes features relating to Countdown to Christmas programming.
In February 2019, it was announced that in honor of the upcoming 10th anniversary of the Countdown to Christmas event, the channel would air selections of movies from the franchise on Friday nights throughout the year.
Animal special franchise
With the success of the Dog Hero Awards, the channel started a franchise out of the show with additional shows that counter programming major sporting events. Beyond the Dog Hero Awards and the Kitten Bowl, the channel has Paw-Star Game, on during MLB’s All-Star Game, and Summer Kitten Games countering in its first showing the Rio Olympics. On February 2, 2014, the Hallmark Channel partnered with New York’s North Shore Animal League and Last Hope Animal Rescue to debut the Kitten Bowl during Super Bowl XLVIII. The event – hosted by Beth Stern and announcers John Sterling and Mary Carillo – is designed as counterprogramming to the Super Bowl and airs during the game’s halftime show, and is similar to another animal-themed event that debuted nine years earlier on Animal Planet, the Puppy Bowl. Kitten Bowl II returned on February 1, 2015, and was watched by 1.3 million viewers. A new Kitten Bowl has aired every year since, running repeatedly on Super Bowl Sunday in a three-hour program that includes “playoff games”. In 2019 Hallmark added Cat Bowl, which premiered on Super Bowl weekend.
The Hallmark Channel has been criticized for editing its programming to remove what its Standards and Practices department considers offensive words. After the word “God” was muted in April 2014 from the film It Could Happen to You, in what is described as an attempt “to avoid taking His name in vain”, the practice backfired when viewers interpreted the muting as evidence of hatred for the deity. Blogger Donna Cavanagh criticized the channel’s content policies in July 2011, describing them as “censorship at its worst”, with removal of profanities or epithets such as “ass” and “hooker”. In response to Cavanagh’s inquiry, a representative of the network wrote:
Crown Media Networks is committed to family friendly programming. Our Standards & Practices (“S&P” — the things that are or are not acceptable for a particular network) are very conservative. There are words and phrases commonly used on other cable channels and broadcast networks that Hallmark Channel’s S&P guidelines deem unacceptable.
Cavanagh accused the network of hypocrisy in deeming such material as being objectionable according to the network’s standards, while continuing to acquire off-network sitcoms such as Frasier and The Golden Girls, which often feature sexual content including references to promiscuity. Others have recommended the channel’s late night programming, while noting that the word removal from these programs “puts a mild damper on the fun.”
Main article: Hallmark Channel (International)
Hallmark Channel operated several cable channels in various international markets; they were sold in 2005 to Sparrowhawk Media, which was in turn acquired by Universal Networks International in 2007.
Universal’s licensing agreement ended in July 2011; the networks were either shut down, or rebranded under another NBC Universal-owned brand (such as Diva Universal, Studio Universal, 13th Street Universal or Universal Channel). In the United Kingdom, the Hallmark Original Movies originally shown on the channel are now shown on Movies 24, a sister to the Hallmark Channel.
On October 25, 2018, Corus Entertainment announced that W Network would become the exclusive Canadian broadcaster of Hallmark Channel original series and films beginning November 1. The deal includes branded blocks and airings of the network’s seasonal events; the programming deal officially launched with a Canadian version of the Countdown to Christmas event.