I love a Christmas movie. In my top ten favorite movies of all-time, it’s Family Stone.

Christmas is magical and brings people home and all that sappy shit. Yea it has the highest rates of suicide and suicidal ideations, but in general, the idea that things can be good on Christmas is one I like.

2020 has sucked and I think a lot of us are looking forward to the end of the year. I know people are joking that we should just put up our Christmas decorations and be done with it.

Which leads me to how I’ve been passing the time, watching a lot of Hallmark and Lifetime movies. They have simple plots and happy endings. During a pandemic, we all need happiness, a distraction from the chaos.

Then I started to think about –

“How the hell did this whole Hallmark Christmas movie thing get started?”

I know here at LMO it tends to be male-oriented, but I think we all have a family member who is obsessed with Hallmark movies, so knowing the history of them is interesting.

So, The Hallmark Channel that we know now is based on two faith-based channels that shared the same transponder/channel slot in 1988. Vision Interfaith Satellite Network (which ran for 16 hours a day with a range of faith-based entertainment that included Jewish and Islamic entertainment.) and American Christian Television Systems (which was more… not as PC-friendly like the Southern Baptist. They ran their programming in the morning and evening hours.).

In 1993, the two formed the Faith and Values Network, which in addition to Christian and faith-based programming, aired cooking and exercise programming along with faith-heavy family dramas and movies. In 1995, the cable conglomerate Liberty Media acquired 49% of the network, rebranded it the Odyssey Network, and reduced faith-based programming to only 10 hours a day.

In 1997, the CEO of the network passed away, which significantly changed the network. Then, in 1998, the Jim Henson Company and Hallmark Entertainment Company paid significant stakes in the company with programming commitments. Liberty Media convinced Hallmark not to launch its own network. So the National Interfaith Cable Coalition and the Hallmark-Henson would have equal stakes in the company/network, while Liberty would increase their stakes.

Meanwhile, all of them would have equal power on the board. On April 4th, 1999, the channel had a major relaunch with a tagline that it was the Hallmark-Henson Network with a decrease in faith/religious programming. One of the programs included in this change was reruns of (my favorite) Fraggle Rock.

And in 2000, the network aired its first holiday movie. In 2001, another major programming change, then for the next decade, more and more. The network became less religious.

In 2008, the network realized their light-romance movies were doing better than their mysteries. They decreased their dependence on Western movies and television programming as well (I remember this because my uncle wouldn’t stop bitching about where is his Bonanza). The idea was to de-age and market to a younger audience without alienating the network’s base and match the Hallmark brand.

In 2009, the first airing of Countdown to Christmas aired. This started what we know and love.

In 2019, there was a ton of controversy regarding the Hallmark movies having primarily white couples in their Hallmark movies, a big lack of diversity. And in December of 2019, Zola.com paid to have an advertisement with a pair of lesbians kissing on their wedding day, the group One Million Mom’s, protested the ad. The Hallmark Channel pulled the ad but later backed down when called out for their lack of inclusivity.

This looks like a whole lotta inclusion. Look! The redhead! See they’re diverse!

That year, the network vowed to have more diversity in their annual Christmas movies. Also that year, Freeform (which also has a faith-based network heritage) said they’re all about their diversity and their LGBTQ inclusivity. They also promised to have a gay Valentines Day movie.

I watched this. It was adorable. The soundtrack was great.

So now in the shit storm that is 2020 (a pandemic, race riots, murder hornets in the PAC Northwest, at one point feral wild pigs in Texas got a hold of a shit ton of cocaine and went wild…), Hallmark has shown us what we are going to watch for their Christmas movie season.

This year there is a Hanukkah movie with Ben Savage.

(One thing that surprises me is there aren’t a lot of romantic Hanukkah movies. The is a lot of candles and small gifts in Hanukkah. It could be a set up for a really romantic ending to one of these movies surrounded by candles.)

There will also be a big family queer rom-com with Jonathan Bennet trying to adopt a baby. Here’s the official plot from Hallmark –

“Working through some difficult decisions, Wade family matriarch Phylis (Lawrence) and patriarch Bill (Williams), have summoned their two grown sons — TV star Mike Wade (Buckley) and Brandon Wade (Bennett) — home for the holidays. It is their hope that bringing the family together to recreate the Christmas house will help them find resolution and make a memorable holiday for the entire family and community. As Brandon and his husband Jake (Harder) make the trip home, they are anxiously awaiting a call about the adoption of their first child. Meanwhile, Mike reconnects with Andi (Ayora), his high school sweetheart.”

The movie has Sharon Lawrence, Treat Williams, Robert Buckley, Brad Harder, and Ana Ayora.

The Hallmark website for Countdown to Christmas is up and running.

The network also has included diverse casting like Katrina Law, Ronnie Rowe Jr, Rochelle Aytes, and Tamera Mowry-Housley all show that the network is trying to be more diverse and inclusive.

The network is obviously trying to make strides to show American cable subscribers that they can show what more and more American families look like and that in the time of cutting cables and getting rid of cable subscriptions, The Hallmark Channel is a reason to keep your cable.

The question is, with this move, will people be into it? Will the Hallmark base (which tends to be more conservative and more right-wing) be into seeing the network branch out? And is the network willing to branch out more? Could we see something like The Thing About Harry on this network?

Lifetime is also branching out this year with movies that have queer male leads, and movies executive produced by Tiffany Haddish.

These networks are banking on diversity and inclusion this holiday season. Maybe they want to show that everyone’s holidays should be merry and bright?

(Brendan Fehr! Remember when he was the edgy Michael on Roswell back in 1999? Now he’s trying to be smooth.)

(I put this one in because Bennet is going to be In Hallmark’s gay movie.)

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