Scott Wolf and Fiona Bell in the 2023 Hallmark movie A Merry Scottish Christmas Photo: Hallmark
If you look around the tacky decorations held together stapled together by near-bankrupt city councils, sighing at the pantomime of Parliament and worried that Bethlehem will be filled with gunfire at the end of December, you might be wondering where the Christmas spirit has gone.
Answer? Hallmark Channel. The US cable channel, available in the UK on Amazon Prime Video, has for the last 10 years owned what Americans still charmingly call the holiday season as it stretches from Thanksgiving in late November to the start of the New Year. Hallmark has at least two original Hallmark Christmas movies for each of them, and quite a few more to spare, making the channel one of the most successful cable channels in America. Indeed, in some cases it practically supports the operation of cable networks.
About a decade ago, at the height of cable television's popularity, roughly 90 percent of U.S. homes were connected, giving Hallmark nearly 100 million living rooms. Today it's less than 70 percent, but Hallmark's ratings decline surprisingly slowly, especially at Christmas. Based on current ratings, Hallmark is the second most popular cable network in 2023. Christmas looks set to give her the top spot after she overtook Fox News with the November 30 premiere of Christmas at the Biltmore.
And this year, thanks to Hallmark's separate early stage deal with the Screen Actors Guild, “Christmas at the Biltmore” is joined by a staggering 41 new films, including “Merry Christmas,” “Never Ever Chris,” “Christmas Island” and “Catch me if you're Klaus.”
These, along with a stunning array of Hallmark classics, form Hallmark's “Countdown to Christmas,” a bout of holiday cheer that begins in late October and continues nonstop until the end of December, continually churning out movies that make Richard Curtis's films seem dour. urban thrillers.
Indeed, one of the new Hallmark films this year is Christmas in Notting Hill, about football star Graham Savoy, who has always been too busy for love, who comes home to Notting Hill for Christmas and changes his mind after meeting his only girl. , who has no idea. who is he. Cue the impeccable people who hold mugs of warm drinks and solve minor romantic problems during the holidays.
A typical Hallmark Christmas movie plot sees a cynical city girl returning home to Smalltown after a breakup and meeting a goofy Christmas-loving boy living a simple life in the great outdoors. She FaceTimes her sassy best friend while avoiding a crush, but, what do you know? She falls in love and decides to stay. Or the hero/hero might discover they're a Duke or Duchess, they might get stuck in the snow with an initially annoying person/small group, or they might end up in a Hollywood knock-off where we know the plot but Christmas is thrown into the mix. .
Matches template: Christmas in July
In this latter genre, there's obviously Christmas in Notting Hill, as well as Three Wise Men and a Child, which is essentially Three Men and a Child at Christmas, and Magic in the Mistletoe, which is essentially , “As good as it gets for Christmas.” In this Catch Me If You video, Klaus isn't, strictly speaking, talking about how Santa's son took over from his father and tripped up Italy's news anchor Ritchie's chimney. They team up to catch Santa Crook, who has been orchestrating local robberies, and save Christmas.
Lately, films have featured real movie stars – 2017's The Christmas Train starred Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Dermot Mulroney, Danny Glover and Joan Cusack – but most of them are drawn from the vast collection of actors from what might be called Hallmark Christmas Repertory Company.
“People want to watch their favorite movies over and over again in different situations,” Lisa Hamilton Daley, Hallmark's vice president of programming, said in a recent interview. “It really speaks to the wealth of talent we've produced over the years and how passionate our audience is about them.”
Low-Budget Hit: Christmas at the Biltmore Posted by Hallmark
This also speaks to the small budgets of these films – often less than $2 million, and they are usually shot in three weeks. More than half of them are filmed in Canada throughout the year, although the UK is increasingly being used as a filming location: on Hallmark's turf, the UK is an exotic European location where Christmas crackers mean Christmas poppers, and the heroine falls in love with the guy who explains it. . Basically, where tax incentives make shooting cheaper and the locals speak English.
Forbes magazine estimates that the 80 million people who watch at least part of a Hallmark movie generate a third of the channel's annual advertising revenue. This is 350 million dollars. So, 42 films at $2 million apiece versus $350 million… That's a good business model.
It's the Rep Company that also sets Hallmark films apart from the deluge of imitators—Hamilton Daly joined Hallmark in 2021 from Netflix, where she developed some of Netflix's ever-growing library of Hallmark-style “content,” most notably Sweet Magnolias ” and “Virgin”. River.
Hallmark Rep Company favorites include Andrew Walker, who stars in Merry & “Bright”, “A Christmas Dream”, “Running Through the Snow” by Debbie Macomber and “A Bride for Christmas”). Lacey Chabert, who played Gretchen Wieners in Mean Girls, added sparkle to the films Santa the Matchmaker, A Royal Christmas, Family at Christmas, A Christmas Melody, A Christmas Wish, The Sweetest Christmas Ever and The Pride. prejudice and mistletoe.”
But Hallmark's all-time Christmas champion was Candace Cameron Bure, whose pre-Hallmark career peaked on the 1987 sitcom Full House. She went on to star in four of the network's 10 most-watched Christmas movies, including 2014's Nocturnal Animals Christmas, which remains the channel's highest-rated season premiere, but left Hallmark in 2022 to join Great American. Family.
And here comes the sand in Hallmark's pristine snow. Bure follows former channel chief Bill Abbott – the man who invented Countdown to Christmas and helped found GAFC. In an interview, she said Hallmark was “a completely different network than when I started.” She wanted to “tell stories that have more meaning, purpose and depth,” including ones with stronger religious themes, adding, “I think the Great American Family will keep traditional marriage at its core.”
We are talking, of course, about homosexuality. In 2019, Hallmark pulled an ad for a wedding planning website called Zola that showed two brides kissing under pressure from the conservative group One Million Moms. The response was swift, Hallmark apologized and reinstated the ad, but the snowball began to roll.
Abbott, then CEO, acknowledged that the channel only had four holiday movies with non-white casts. Former Hallmark Rep Company actress Hilarie Burton said she left after Hallmark refused to include LGBTQ people. character in her next film, and Saturday Night Live ran a “Hallmark Dating Show” sketch in which Scarlett Johansson chose from a selection of bachelors, including Prince Simon of the Caucasus, who counted one black man in town as a friend. “I just don’t know,” Johannsson agonized. “Giving up my job and my very funny friend in the city for really good things like Christmas and men?” p>Abbott left the company in 2020, and his replacement, Vonya Lucas, oversaw the hasty introduction of diversity into the casting while maintaining the same storylines. Hence Christmas at the Golden Dragon, about a family running a Midwestern Chinese restaurant; “Hanukkah on Rye,” a novel about two rival grocery store owners; and All Hallow's Eve, the story of an R&B singer heading home for the holidays, and the gay couple film The Christmas House, starring Mean Girls star Jonathan Bennett. By 2022, Bennett was starring in the network's first LGBT show. Christmas movie “The Holiday Nanny.” “Am I the gay King of Christmas?” he asked in an interview at the time.
Lucas left earlier this year, but her strategy of keeping everything exactly the same, albeit very different in very small ways, is still in place. “The rule was often Christmas in every frame,” says Hamilton Daly. “As we've started to diversify the stories we tell, we've perhaps relaxed those rules a little bit. I always joke with producers that they really need to put something in those cups they're drinking from because it's obvious there's nothing in them.
“This is my pet peeve about movies. I'm like, “Put some cocoa in these hot cocoa cups!” But people just love it. It lifts their spirits and it's fun. And if you can't walk through a Christmas tree farm in a Hallmark movie, then why are we even making this movie?