Valentine's Day fast approaches, and more so than other years, many couples will likely celebrate in their homes and enjoy romantic movies throughout the weekend. There is also a good chance that their TV browsing will lead to the Hallmark Channel. As anyone who has ever scanned the cards section in a store or walked into a Christmas shop knows, Hallmark, owned by Crown Media Family Networks, is much more than a TV network. Hallmark is a brand known for its holiday franchise and for its association with love and connection, and in this way, the TV network has become an integral part of this pop cultural phenomenon. To achieve and maintain this status, the network follows the Hallmark brand's formula and brings audiences family-driven plots and joyful endings year after year. In a virtual panel for the Television Critics Association press tour yesterday, executives from Crown Media Family Networks shared a few of the changes and exciting developments the network has experienced over the past year, and what plans are in store to evolve the network's programming while remaining true to the brand and its roots.
Crown Media Family Networks CEO Wonya Lucas, who took the helm last summer, said Hallmark movies will only become more inclusive, and will strive to mimic how the brand speaks to all audiences. "All you have to do is walk in a Hallmark store and you can see stories, you can see cards for the LGBTQ [community], Mahogany [one of Hallmark's card collections] for the African-American female community, and so on and so forth. And so we are really seeking to make sure that everyone can see themselves in our movies," said Lucas. "Before I arrived, we had begun to expand our brand inclusiveness in front of and behind the camera. I’m proud of the progress this team is making to expand diversity in our programming and it is nothing short of seismic," said Lucas.
Last year, Hallmark Channel safely produced 66 movies—an incredible feat amid a pandemic and large-scale shutdowns. Michelle Vicary, executive vice president of programming for the network, relayed that each of those productions were possible because the network followed every health protocol recommended by state guidelines in order to ensure the safety of the production crews and the communities where they shot. Even while facing these increased challenges, the network moved forward and produced its most diverse and inclusive slate of holiday programming yet.
"The significant achievements made in the D&I space in 2020 laid the groundwork for us to branch out in our storytelling to approach the complexity of what it means to love and be a family in a more authentic, varied, and inclusive way," said Lucas. "We will continue to strive to defy common stereotypes and give our characters more depth and dimension; in short, to more broadly represent the human condition." As Lucas explained, the network is directing its energy towards not only continuing to increase representation across its movies, but to giving the characters rich storylines that closely represent real lives. Vicary added, "I think in terms of our casting for our entire productions, whether they’re leads or whether they are secondary leads, we will continue to make sure that people are represented authentically and in the proper way."
Lucas and Vicary offered examples of recent and upcoming Hallmark movies that spoke to them personally. One of Lucas' favorites is "Christmas Comes Twice," which centers around a biracial female astrophysicist and former engineer. "I just love seeing a strong biracial woman who is a scientist, and I think that's something that's really new and fresh for us and realistic," said Lucas. Then Vicary is excited about the upcoming "Mix Up in the Mediterranean" which premieres on February 19, and features the network's first gay man in a leading role. She also said that her team was proud to air "The Christmas House" this past holiday season, a multigenerational story which features as one of the storylines a gay couple contemplating whether to adopt a child.
Vicary and Lucas are also making it a priority to "develop that next Hallmark star." While the network always has a special place for its returning stars—the familiar faces that audiences have grown to love and count on seeing each holiday season—Vicary said "we're excited to have new stars come into the tent.”
There is never a shortage of productions or new projects for the beloved TV network. The network produces 90-100 movies every year in addition to its scripted series, which means new productions and ideas are always underway at the Hallmark Channel. The network's movies have become a staple in so many American households during the holidays. Many would feel remiss, especially during the pandemic, if they couldn't cozy up on their couch and experience the escape and joy that Hallmark movies provide. As Lucas pointed out, people of all races, ethnicities, and generations are looking for common themes in Hallmark movies that they can all share in together.
Vicary added, "We honor our brand, first and foremost, and we honor that experience that viewers have and consumers have when they come to our network. It’s a very different proposition to come and watch a Hallmark movie than it is anywhere else, and that is because of our brand."