For the first time, the Hallmark Channel presented at the Television Critics Association press tour on Tuesday morning with three panels: one featuring their Hallmark Movies & Mystery talent, one highlighting their “Loveuary” film, “Sense and Sensibility;” and the final with the cast of “The Way Home.”
The network has had a presence at the press tour with cocktail parties or receptions for more than a decade, but now was the time to take that a step further, says Lisa Hamilton Daly, Hallmark Media’s EVP of programming.
“I think we felt the range of programming that we had to offer this year was so unique and so varied. I am very respectful of Hallmark’s history, the brand and what they did, but I think they had a very clear function for the movies. A lot were like, everybody has that same experience when you’re coming over,” Daly tells Variety. “I believe we are in a somewhat more competitive world now, where programming needs to be differentiated from each other. It needs to feel more unique and more special. There has to be a reason that people are coming to you, whether it’s on cable or on streaming, they have to like to come to you now because there’s so many options.”
Following their presentation, Daly spoke with Variety about what’s to come at the network, the 2024 “Countdown to Christmas” lineup, whether they’ll follow in Lifetime’s “grown-up” storylines and more.
Only one of the “Loveuary” movies has debuted, but how are you feeling about it and the focus on Jane Austen stories?
We’re really excited. Each one of them occupy a special little niche; they really are different from each other, but they kind of cover a whole range of ways of approaching Jane Austen. I think it’s a fun evolution for us to really dig into period and think about the origins of the romance genre — which we are so much a part of in contemporary — and really think about what that means.
Wonya Lucas stepped down at the end of last year and her main initiative was around inclusivity and diversity. “Sense and Sensibility” is a big example of this, but how are you continuing to keep that a priority since her departure?
We really think about casting. I think making sure that our casts are diverse, that the stories were telling are diverse — that’s still a big front-and-center issue for us. It hasn’t gone away and it won’t, because I think we are trying to tell everyone’s story so that means making sure people see themselves when they come to us, so it’s not gonna change.
Right now, the the Hallmark Movies Now app and Peacock get some of the network’s movies but only for a limited time. Will that change, where maybe all holiday movies will be available all year round on streaming?
That’s still a work in progress, I think we’ll have more to say about that probably later this year. On Peacock right now, you can get the movies for three days afterward; Peacock would like them for more days than that, but right now, just three days. We also have the day-after catch-up with series, which is important because that feels like the right strategy. Our movies need to be on linear and we need to monetize across linear for a bit longer. I do know that our fans come to streaming to see everything.
Reunions are such a big deal on all networks, Hallmark included. You had Scott Wolf and Lacey Chabert last year and Erin Krakow and Daniel Lissing this year. Is that something you’re planning to do more of as you’re planning out your Christmas lineup?
100%. That’s sort of one of our categories that we think of: Who can we reunite on screen that the fans are just going to be so excited about?
So, do you have more set for this Christmas season?
We are in the middle of Christmas planning right now, so I can’t announce anything yet.
Where are you in that slate process?
We know what most of our movies are going to be for Christmas 2024, and we’re starting to shoot them. We have international destinations that everyone is excited about again, plus comedies.
I think this year was the first year that Hallmark aired a sequel to a holiday movie in the year directly following the first movie with “Haul Out the Holly: Lit Up.” Are there any other movies from the last two years you’d want to do a sequel for or that could be in the works?
In that same realm, there’s an opportunity to bring some of these couples from holiday movies into another season’s movies — a la, Jack (Kris Poloha) and Lucy (Bethany Joy Lenz) could tie the knot in a “June Weddings” movie. Have you discussed those kinds of crossovers?
We have not had that idea. Thinking across seasons like that is interesting. Certainly, we have a lot of recurring pairs of people we know who work well together, so we do lean into that quite often. We love both Kris and Bethany.
So, this year, Lifetime featured a love scene in one of their Christmas movies and said their audience was hungry for more of a grown-up romance. Would you guys go in that direction?
In a Christmas movies? No. I think our series occupy a little different space. Our movies are very much leading up to that final kiss. It’s all built up to that. Our series have a different pattern to them. Some of those kisses go a little longer, they get a little spicier, but we are never going to be anything but pretty much PG. I consider us to be pretty living room friendly. You know your kids are never going to walk in and you’d have to turn it off.
Understood. Speaking of your series, “When Hope Calls” is seemingly on pause. Have you guys discussed any other expansion of the “When Calls the Heart” universe?
We always have conversations about how to expand our IP. It’s a constant conversation, but for that one, it’s going so well still. It’s hard to think, who would you peel off? Erin is really central to the show, as many of the cast members are. It’s possible, were that show to reach a conclusion, then we might think about what to do, but at this point, we plan to keep going.
Staying on the series course, you said in 2022 that there was a chance that you could revisit “Good Witch” or “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” universes. Is there any movement there?
Again, standby… The “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” fans are all over me every day. I love it, I hear them. As we said today, we really do listen to what our fans want, and when possible, we try to lean into that.
For some networks, cast exclusivity deals are still very important. Where does Hallmark stand with that?
We have actually backed off exclusivity a little bit. When I got here, we were sort of on a talent exclusivity spree, and I think we’ve backed away from that, partly because we like our talent to be a lot of other places too. We like people to be able to find them in other places and be excited to come back and see them here. And we’re also constantly looking to expand our talent pool, so getting people for a one-off movie is really exciting for us. We definitely have some of those core Hallmark favorites. They know that they have a place here and that they’re gonna get a Christmas movie, and then maybe another movie and we definitely lean into that, but we’ve sort of backed away from exclusivity.
Last but not least, you really leaned into NFL this year — first with the ESPN segment and later with the Chiefs’ playoffs campaign, starring Tyler Hynes and Janel Parrish. How long until you lean into that with a football-centered movie?
I cannot say.
This interview has been edited and condensed.