On the family-friendly side of the TV world, there’s scrambling in both directions:
— Hallmark is shedding its old ways. Now it has more diversity of people, more variety of styles; that’s clear in several projects, including “Unthinkably Good Things” (shown here), which arrives Aug. 28,
— Meanwhile, others are grabbing chunks of the old Hallmark world. GAC (formerly Great American Country) has even signed some perpetual stars, led by Candace Cameron Bure and Danica McKellar.
“There’s a lot of talent … that GAC is now working with,” granted Lisa Hamilton Daly, the Hallmark programming chief. “But I think we are constantly trying to evolve our talent pool.”
Through all the changes, one thing remains constant about Hallmark: “It will always be G-rated,” said Wonya Lucas, the network’s CEO.
Other are in the G-universe including PBS, cable channels (Disney, Nickelodeon, Cartoon, etc.) and digital retro channels. Some make direct incursions.
Each Christmas season, Lifetime seems to transform into Hallmark II. This year, its plans include films starring Patti LaBelle and Mario Lopez and one with Melissa Joan Hart directing Rita Moreno.
UpTV also loads up on Hallmark-style films at Christmas time … and Easter and beyond. And GAC Family is becoming the most direct copy.
Bill Abbott was the Hallmark Channels’ CEO for a decade, until imploding: Pressured by a conservative group, the channel yanked ads that included same-sex couples. That brought pressure from liberal groups – and attention to Hallmark’s all-white stories. In January of 2020, Abbott was ousted; in June of 2021, he was part of the group that bought GAC and began converting it.
While those networks grab pieces of the old Hallmark, the new one has taken form. In July of 2020, the Hallmark channels chose Lucas as CEO; she had been running Atlanta’s PBS and NPR stations, after work with cable (TV One, Discovery, Weather Channel, more) and brands (Coca-Cola, Clorox).
As the daughter of Bill Lucas, baseball’s first Black general manager, she’s accustomed to change. The new Hallmark films have diverse casts, filmmakers and subjects.
During her job interview, Lucas said, she also pitched the idea of films linked to the Mahogany division of Hallmark cards. “Mahogany is a 34-year-old brand targeting African-Americans. I once had a friend say, ‘My husband drives 30 miles to get a Mahogany card.’”
So now Hallmark is making occasional movies under the Mahogany umbrella. Toni Judkins, the executive in charge, says they offer “the authenticity of strong, powerful, African-American women at each touchpoint … from the writing to the directing to the producing.”
That starts with an ambitious one: “Unthinkably Good Things” debuts at 9 p.m. Aug. 28 on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, with a strong story (three Black women at turning points) and gorgeous settings.
“Coming out of quarantine, … we got to see different parts of Italy that I haven’t seen before,” said Joyful Drake, who plays a semi-joyful restaurateur.
The result looks nothing like the standard, made-in-Canada shows Hallmark is known for. “We’re giving directors more freedom to shoot things that look a little different and are more artful,” Daly said.
Most of the Hallmark drama series have ended their runs, with the exception of “When Calls the Heart,” heading into its 10th season. But two new ones are being filmed: “Ride” focuses on a rodeo family; “The Way Home” spans three generations of women.
Even the Christmas movies no longer stick to the Hallmark traditions. One – which will debut on Thanksgiving weekend – is about the Rockettes in 1958, filmed at Radio City Music Hall.
That comes with a quirk: The story pretends that the Rockettes hired Black dancers back then; in truth, they didn’t until 1987. At times, two worthy goals — diversity and authenticity — collide.