Hallmark Christmas movies, explained – Vox
There is a place where it is always Christmas. where there is always snow on the ground, where togetherness is the word for living, where the horrors of the world are reliably calmed down amidst the flurries of a beautiful snowstorm. if, in narnia, it was always winter but never christmas, then on the hallmark channel, it’s always winter and always christmas (at least between the months of october and january).
The standard line on Hallmark’s endless parade of made-for-TV Christmas movies is that they’re goofy and super cheesy, but they give your grandma something to watch. they embrace ideas of tradition and family, but only in the vaguest sense. they are apolitical in a way that people who blanch at the idea that all art is political call apolitical.
I have to admit I love a good distinctive Christmas movie. I’ll watch just about any distinctive Christmas movie I come across, but my favorite, 2014’s Nine Lives of Christmas, involves a firefighter played by Brandon Routh who finds love at Christmas because he adopts a cat that befriends another cat, and the another cat just so happens to belong to the woman our hero is meant to be with.
christmas and cats represent a pretty perfect intersection of the venn diagram of my interests, to be sure, but nine lives also underscores why the best hallmark christmas movies work. they are always, unashamedly themselves, unashamed to appear boxy, corny, old-fashioned. no one gets to swear, and true love is always just around the corner, even for those who may seem like lost causes.
“people love your Christmas movies!” signature mainstay kellie martin (who only starred in one of the channel’s holiday movies) told me during a podcast we recorded in 2017. “they’re like candy. they are a delight.”
martin is right. Distinctive Christmas movies are nostalgic for something half-understood, like those episodes from the twilight zone where someone travels back to the 1890s or 1910s in hopes of hunting down an America that has been lost to the mists of time. . except, where the traveler from the twilight zone finally realizes the error of his ways, a distinctive protagonist comes to love living in the bubble, or the snowball, if you will. And when these movies are done right, their most ardent fans are there, ready to embrace that snowball themselves.
Of course, iconic movies are also a major economic driver for a cable channel you probably don’t think about all that often, albeit one with an intriguing and unique way of thinking about programming in the year of television that has brought it back. many times.
The two hallmark networks made 37 original Christmas movies in 2018, and more than 80 million people will watch them
The obvious answer to why Christmas completely dominates Hallmark’s winter programming lineup (and that of its sister channel, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries) is that it makes the channel money. Lots and lots of money.
While hallmark routinely ranks in the top 20 and even top 10 among cable channels in its key demographics (women 25-54 and women 18-49) for the rest of the year, it jumped immediately to first place in November, a position it should maintain throughout December. The first weekend of the channel’s annual Christmaspalooza drew 15.2 million unique viewers in 2016, but in 2017 it drew 17.6 million unique viewers, a 16 percent increase.
Those numbers have only continued to rise in 2018, which has seen 69.2 million unique viewers across the various hallmark channels (hallmark, hallmark movies and mysteries, and hallmark drama, which all fall under the umbrella of family networks). crown media) through Sunday, December 16. on that trajectory, the company could hit 90 million viewers by the time its big holiday extravaganza wraps up in early January. and should have no problem topping last year’s total of just over 85 million viewers.
I could overwhelm you with facts about how Christmas animates both signature and signature movies & mysteries (which posts more modest ratings overall, but also sees solid increases during the holiday season), but if you really want to dig into the raw numbers, adweek has them here. Suffice to say, the holiday season is so massive for Hallmark’s television properties that it even powers the company’s streaming site, Hallmark Movies Now, which grew 49 percent between October and December 2017.
In addition, this whole operation is enormously profitable. while he spends more on some movies than others, it’s not like he has to pay for extensive special effects sequences or stunts on any of them. casts often feature actors you recognize, but also actors who haven’t done much undistinguished work in recent years. and the channel mainly works with independent production companies that know how to make movies like these quickly, usually in two or three weeks. product placement also occasionally enters the equation. the 2017 christmas swap, for example, was sponsored by christmas emporium balsam hill.
and most (if not all) of these movies will air year after year: 2006’s entry, the christmas card, which first helped hallmark realize it could participate in christmas in november and december, will be it has continued to broadcast every holiday. season since its debut. Even if the network didn’t turn a profit in 2006, the film has since paid for itself many times over, thanks to its enduring popularity. That kind of long-term success allows the channels to keep making new holiday movies, including 37 new ones that premiered on hallmark channels in 2018 alone.
And with its hallmark movie streaming service now, hallmark has essentially created an endless media ecosystem just for itself. you first see a distinctive movie on TV (and take all the commercials that finance the movie’s production budget). then if you want to watch it again right away, you can subscribe now, and all that money goes back into the crown media coffers.
Meanwhile, Christmas has also become an unlikely year-round programming strategy for Hallmark. Despite the fact that its channels don’t air Christmas movies 365 days straight, its Christmas strategy is gradually colonizing the rest of its calendar, from its winter festival in January to its countdown to Valentine’s Day in February and its month of Christmas. harvest festival in the fall.
“[Christmas] serves as a great promotional platform to prepare all of [our programming] for the following year. It comes at the perfect time to really look at our strategy around our franchises and lay out the schedule, almost like a retail company would,” says Bill Abbott, CEO of the network.
Few TV networks schedule changing stations like Hallmark does, and it’s part of the network’s contradictory appeal. turn it on and you’ll find something that feels vaguely timeless (in the sense that it probably could have been made in the 1940s) but also applicable to whatever time of year you find yourself in right now.
“The change of seasons is such a big time for people,” michelle vicary, executive vice president of programming and advertising at crown media, told me in 2017. “We celebrate all year with the people.” But, she laughs, “That’s not to say that in the halls we haven’t said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we did Christmas all year?'”
how to make an iconic Christmas movie
When I brought up Nine Lives of Christmas to Vicary and mentioned, offhand, that the movie’s climactic Christmas events take place in a town full of green grass and leafy trees, she immediately asked Hallmark’s PR rep when the movie was made. After learning it was shot in 2014, she began to explain just how extensively Hallmark has upped its efforts in recent years to make sure all of its movies look like Christmas, even if they’re filmed in July. (Yep, Hallmark Christmas movies are produced year-round. Martin told me she filmed hers during the summer: “You wear hats and scarves, and you’re sweating all the time.”)
“We’ve continued every year to make an even deeper concerted effort to make sure everything looks Christmassy,” Vicary told me, to replace the summer sun with a faux winter chill. “[We want to make sure] that the decorations are really seasonal and that everything looks snowy and beautiful.”
And to achieve that atmosphere, as an anonymous writer of iconic Christmas movies explained in an interview with Entertainment Weekly:
The first rule is snow. we really wanted to make one in which the basic conflict was the fear that it wouldn’t snow at Christmas. we were told you can’t do that, there must be snow. they can’t be waiting for snow, there has to be snow. you can’t threaten them without snow.
As you can see, snow is of the utmost importance for the Christmas movie machine feature. Right now, as you read this story, Hallmark’s development team is deciding which of their Christmas movie scripts for 2019 are their top priorities, so they could be filmed in January and February and have the benefit of real snow. (Most hallmark movies are filmed in the Vancouver area; you can read more about the perils of finding credible small towns that haven’t been overused for hallmark productions in The Wall Street Journal.) other factors, such as the availability of certain actors or directors. , could have priority, but snow, snow is a big problem.
The effort to find real snow also underscores something key about Hallmark’s Christmas movies: Some of them are much more “high end” than others. the network’s biggest debut of 2017, The Holiday Train, which leaned into distinctive and distinctive films and movies; mysteries on the same night, drawing 6 million viewers, was dubbed a “hallmark hall of fame” performance. The film stars Danny Glover and Joan Cusack, and is based on a popular David Baldacci novel; it is, as these things go, an image of prestige.
in fact, the hall of fame tag also explains the distinctive channel’s existence in the first place. Since December 24, 1951, shows classified as part of the “Distinctive Hall of Fame” have aired occasionally, across several different (non-Distinctive) networks, including NBC, CBS, and ABC, before dropping out for Completed the Signature Channel in 2014. They’re also the reason Hallmark’s greeting card company (owner of Crown Media Networks) has a major presence on television, let alone cable networks.
Originally designated as such because the greeting card company sponsored the shows, hall of fame hall of fame movies and specials now comprise the only remaining programming on American television to continue the common practice of a project that has led the name of your sponsor in the title.
the hall of fame has been extremely successful, winning 80 emmy awards, among other awards, throughout its 67 years. It began as a series featuring shakespeare, opera, and other high culture programming, but gradually came to mean “family friendly but done right” and often enjoys larger budgets than most movies made. for television (a practice that continues now that it airs exclusively on the hallmark channel).
But actual snow on the ground and a “hall of fame” nod aren’t the only ways to know which hallmark holiday movies are considered the network’s top priorities. certain artists have large enough fan bases among the distinctive audience that their projects essentially receive top billing by default. Candace Cameron Bure (originally Total Fame) has made a Christmas movie for Hallmark every year since 2013. She has traveled back in time. She has switched places with an identical twin (also played by Candace Cameron Bure, of course). she moved to a remote town in alaska. and distinctive viewers have seen them all.
(Not to be outdone, mean girl high fives alum lacey chabert has starred in a signature holiday movie every year except 2013 since 2012, including entries in which she marries a prince and travels to a parallel universe).
But when you’re producing 37 Christmas movies in a single year, some of them are going to flop a little bit. A great hallmark Christmas movie feels like the fulfillment of a handsome grandpa’s wish, complete with gorgeous snow falling from the sky and just the right amount of cheese. he’s not citizen kane, or even how to lose a guy in 10 days, but he has a spirit of his own. a less successful signature Christmas movie can feel indifferent, mass-produced by a factory that’s simply assembling enough product to fill the schedule.
and yet even the least successful movies can end up building the hallmark in a weird way. Abbott points out how the channel’s Christmas movies can be spoofed in the kinds of places that rarely talk about Hallmark programming in other contexts. there are jokes from twitter and gags and podcasts from youtube. It may seem like signature Christmas movies are everywhere.
“I don’t think any of us, when we decided to do it, realized that we really hit on something that was going to be as big as it turned out to be,” says Abbott, who has worked for Hallmark for 18 years and has been the CEO of the network for 10.
However, what’s surprising is how often iconic Christmas movies hit the mark. Vicary attributes the movies’ success rate to Hallmark’s relentless focus on Christmas, capitalized. “There’s a wide range of things that happen to people during the Christmas season, and we try to represent them,” he told me. “What we won’t do is we won’t make Christmas just a backdrop. it has to be infused. the spirit of the season has to be represented in the film.”
signature Christmas movies always maintain a traditionalist and conservative streak, one the channel is loathe to deviate from
What we know today as the Hallmark Channel began life as two different religious programmers sharing space on the same satellite transponder. The two eventually merged, in 1993, to form the Faith and Values Channel, which was later renamed the Odyssey Network. The Hallmark greeting card company, with an assist from the Jim Henson Company (yes, really!), bought Odyssey in 1998, eventually relaunching it in 2001 as the Hallmark Channel.
hallmark doesn’t carry religious programming, but its roots as a religious network, combined with its family standard, have produced an m.o. That’s very, very traditional.
“sometimes it bothers me when they say, ‘oh, you can’t wear that shirt, because it shows too much cleavage,’” martin told me, amidst praising hallmark for its ability to produce family-friendly programming. “But they know their audience and they’re fiercely loyal to their audience, which is why they use all the same actors. their audience likes those people.”
hallmark specializes in films about single women finding love at christmas, families reuniting at christmas, or families of single women reuniting and finding love at christmas. the characters in these films tend to be white, and many of the films conclude with a career woman giving up her life’s work for love. if she has a progressive political bent, it’s easy to feel vaguely taken aback by all of this.
When I asked vicary about the network’s diversity record, in particular, his response wasn’t particularly encouraging. She pointed out that two of the network’s 2017 Christmas offerings, Christmas at Holly Lodge and Christmas in Evergreen, featured black performers in prominent roles (and she might have also mentioned Danny Glover’s turn on the 2017 Christmas train), but these films are still all led by white characters. the black characters have more to do than they might have in previous hallmark holiday movies, but they’re still very supportive friends, for the most part.
that’s not to say hallmark doesn’t try hard. its 2018 holiday offerings did a better job of diversifying its supporting casts than the network has ever done before, not to mention Christmas Everlasting, which featured a cast of mostly black actors. But even being charitable to the network, it’s natural to wonder if it hasn’t realized that non-white audiences can also enjoy wholesome, cheese-dripping family entertainment.
And yet, distinctive Christmas movies don’t have an open agenda like, say, Fox News. They may lean toward social conservatism, but the network isn’t telling these stories in hopes of making Christmas great again, at least not in a way that the movies preach that message to your face.
That said, no one in a distinctive Christmas movie would greet someone with “Happy Holidays.” the channel tells these stories because there is an audience and because that audience is not particularly well served elsewhere. if you just want to see a good story about christmas, with no seemingly objectionable elements and a touching ending, well, hallmark christmas movies are your only option.
“Entertainment tells stories about the human condition and where people are in their lives. a lot of our competitors focus on the darker and cutting edge and current and fractured place that a lot of people find themselves in,” vicary told me. “What we do so well is illustrate the other side of the human condition, which is coming together. We don’t really feel like what people are looking for is another example of hard times.”
And really, in a way, isn’t that what Christmas is all about? it is commercialism and capitalism that are blowing their trumpets to herald the arrival of one day a year when it is entirely acceptable to yearn for a dim, barely remembered past filled with sleigh rides, ice skating, and family togetherness. we gather our loved ones close to us, sometimes to shout and air our grievances, but also, perhaps, to find a way to be a little nicer to each other. And those moments of kindness, few and fleeting, are worth remembering, even if they’re buried under an avalanche of fake snow melting in the Vancouver sun.