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Friday, February 7, 2020

Hallmark Channel

For John, BLUFYes, Hallmark movies are pretty formulaic.  That actually makes them easier to watch, since you don't have to worry about the story swerving off the road and everybody burning to death in a big crash.  Nothing to see here; just move along.

Here is the sub-headline:

By “leaning into Christmas”—and claiming to avoid politics—the greeting-card company has come to dominate screens across America.

From The New Yorker, by Ms Sarah Larson, 16 December 2019.

Here is the lede plus five:

A few months ago, in a house near Vancouver, nine actors in festive aprons gathered around a kitchen island to shoot a montage for the Hallmark Channel movie “Christmas in Evergreen:  Tidings of Joy.”  The island was covered in cookie-making ingredients.  The director, Sean McNamara, a veteran of Hallmark movies and Disney kids’ series, sat at monitors nearby. “O.K.!” he called out.  “You’re having fun, you’re making cookies, it’s Christmas, and action!”

The actors rolled dough and picked up cookie cutters. The montage would be dialogue-free, overlaid with music; to set the tone, McNamara cued up “Jingle Bell Rock.”  The cast began to bob.  “Good, but we probably shouldn’t be dancing!” McNamara yelled.  One actor, looking serious, lifted an icing bag.  “Remember, you’re having fun, and there’s funny stuff going on!” McNamara said. The actors burst into smiles and laughter.  “Now the cake!” McNamara said.  Paul Greene, a former J. Crew model and the male lead, presented the group with a white fondant cake topped with pine trees.  They shook powdered sugar on it.  “Cut!” McNamara yelled.  “Brilliant!”

The Hallmark Channel is a cable network owned and operated by the greeting-card company. This year, the channel and a sister network, Hallmark Movies and Mysteries, produced a hundred and three original movies; forty are about Christmas.  Since 2011, from late October to January, Hallmark has broadcast Christmas movies nearly twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.  (The Hallmark Movie Checklist app, which helps guide viewers to new films, has 1.5 million users.)  During this year’s holiday season, the programming, called Countdown to Christmas, has made Hallmark the No. 1 cable network among women between the ages of twenty-five and fifty-four, and, in some prime-time slots, No. 1 in households and total viewers.  Last year, seventy-two million people watched Countdown to Christmas. Fans talk of turning it on and leaving it on all season; it dominates TV screens in hospitals and nursing homes. “Guys come up to me on the golf course and whisper, ‘I love your Christmas movies!’ ” the actor Cameron Mathison (“The Christmas Club,” “The Christmas Ornament”) told me.  Lifetime, the women’s network long known for movies with titles like “In Bed with a Killer” and “Your Husband Is Mine,” now airs its own Hallmark-esque Christmas movies, in a block called It’s a Wonderful Lifetime.  Netflix, Ion, Freeform, and own have started making them, too.

Hallmark films tend to center on independent women with interesting jobs (novelists, chocolatiers) and appealing romantic prospects (princes, firemen). Programming is seasonal; as the year progresses, characters pair up amid winter wonderlands, Valentine’s Day chocolate-making contests, fireworks celebrations, pumpkin patches, and Christmas parties. The familiarity of the films is essential to their success. Hallmark screenplays have nine acts, each of which hits specific plot points—a meet-cute in Act I, before the first commercial, an “almost kiss” in Act VII.  The shots are lit with a distinctive warmth.  Actors recur.  The settings often recall Saturday Evening Post covers by Norman Rockwell, whose painting “Shuffleton’s Barbershop” inspired a Hallmark movie of the same name, and several productions have been filmed at ersatz pioneer villages.  As Danica McKellar, a Hallmark regular once best known as Winnie Cooper, from “The Wonder Years,” told me, many actors “bring nostalgia with us.”

In Hallmark films, townspeople care for one another, run viable small businesses, and compete in gingerbread bake-offs—America as we might wish it were, and as some believe it once was.  It has thrived in the Trump era.  Last year, it was one of the only networks to gain viewers besides Fox News and MSNBC.  It also depicts a purple America, without guns, maga hats, rage.  Bill Abbott, the C.E.O. of Crown Media, Hallmark’s entertainment company, told me that it’s “your place to go to get away from politics, to get away from everything in your life that is problematic and negative, and to feel like there are people out there who are good human beings that could make you feel happy to be part of the human race.”

Hallmark’s America is also straight, often Christian, and, until recently, mostly white.  Meghan Markle, whose biracial parentage made headlines after her engagement to Prince Harry, starred in two Hallmark movies; in the Fourth of July romance “When Sparks Fly,” from 2014, her character had white parents.  In 2017, the African-American TV and film actor Holly Robinson Peete pitched a wholesome reality show about her family to Hallmark.  “Meet the Peetes” aired for two seasons.  “There were six of us—seven, including my mom—so that was a lot of diversity at once,” she told me.

First I would like to note that Ms Sarah Larson did a great job with this story, reporting in a straight forward manner and avoiding the snark I normally associate with the Magazine (I am a subscriber).

This article, which is long, does a good job of introducing us to the Hallmark Channel.

The Author is mention of the fact that Actress Danica McKellar, also writes Math Textbooks for school students.

Regards  —  Cliff

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