The Hallmark Channel is losing its top brass over the network pulling away from “family entertainment.”
The Hallmark Channel is experiencing an exodus of talent as family entertainment goes to war over what types of shows to air. This includes the departure of Bill Abbott, CEO of Crown Media Family, which owns the Hallmark Channel. He and a few of Hallmark’s stars have been dissatisfied with the channel’s move away from family programming in favor of “diversity and inclusion.”
The Hallmark Channel has been very excited to promote new “projects featuring LGBTQ storylines, characters, and actors,” according to VP of programming George Zaralidis in an interview with NBC. Each year, the Hallmark Channel announces its lineup of Christmas movies, and LGBTQ activists have long protested the lack of LGBTQ plots and characters in these offerings. The 2020-2021 season saw the channel’s first LGBTQ lead in a Christmas movie and a promise to expand such programming down the road.
Abbott left Crown Media shortly after this interview took place and has now joined Great American Media (GAC). Many of Hallmark Channel’s stars, such as Candace Cameron-Bure, Danica McKellar, and Jen Lilley, have followed Abbott to the new company, with Bure signing a multi-year deal. Abbott’s intention is to respond to the Hallmark Channel’s initiatives by providing the family entertainment his former employer became known for prior to Zaralidis’s announcement.
Critics of the Hallmark Channel’s diversity and inclusion initiatives believe that they will change the tone of a channel where once, viewers could expect light-hearted fun without having to consider “dark situations, violence, sexual situations, things that just…create anxiety,” says Abbott. His goals for Great American Media involve the integrity of its stars and heartwarming stories.
Of the stars who followed him, Abbott said, “They’re not only talented on screen… but they are good people who do the right thing, who you’re not going to read about in the news, who have families, who are supportive of faith, family, and country.”
The stars who followed Abbott feel as much goodwill toward him as he feels toward them. Candace Cameron Bure, for example, is grateful to him for helping her return to the business after “a very long hiatus” and giving her the opportunity to become what Abbott calls “the queen of Christmas.” She credits her relationship with Abbott as her reason for moving to Great American Media.
Danica McKellar, who fans may remember as Winnie from the original version of The Wonder Years, has also found opportunities at Great American Media. She will be producing “Christmas at the Drive-In,” one of many shows included in the channel’s holiday marathon, which starts on October 21 and concludes at the end of the year. This will be McKellar’s debut production.
Abbott stands by the integrity of his stars, pointing out their charity work in areas such as anti-bullying and child advocacy and their support of family values. He wants to push back against the Hallmark Channel’s direction and remind viewers that not everything has to be violent, gritty, sexual, or civic-minded. Sometimes, people just want to come home from a rough day and not have to think about such things.
The moves between Hallmark Channel and Great American Media have created a civil war in family entertainment media, as the latter attempts to re-create the ambiance that made the reputation of Abbott’s old company. His recruitment of Hallmark Channel’s talent has a goal that he hopes Great American Media will fulfill: “It’s more than just turning on a show, it’s turning on the channel and feeling something.”