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Hallmark Channel serves up cheesy, cheery holiday programming

You can deny it all you want, but many of you were watching holiday movies on the Hallmark Channel this weekend.

Numbers don't lie: Nearly 6.1 million viewers tuned into original movie A Very Merry Mix-Up on Sunday, and 5 million watched Snow Bride on Saturday.

Truth is, you've been merrily flipping on movies like Hitched for the Holidays, Fir Crazy and It's Christmas, Carol! for more than a week already. The Hallmark Channel started its nonstop holiday programming earlier than ever this year on Nov. 2. Just two days after Halloween.

Why so early?

"It's really viewer demand," says Michelle Vicary, Hallmark Channel's executive vice president of programming. "The more we give, the more people want."

Last year, when the channel kicked off its Countdown to Christmas feature on Nov. 10, 65.4 million people tuned in for the entire run, a whopping 1,100 hours of holiday programming. The months-long holiday movies bonanza (even their website boasts "holiday movies all day! all night!") features rotating Hallmark Original Movies, with new premieres, about 13 this year, every Saturday and Sunday at 8 p.m.

Now, about the movies. They're basically the equivalent of a potent glass of eggnog: a syrupy sweet treat that goes down easy and leaves you feeling slightly bad about yourself the next day. It'd be easy to write them off as a guilty pleasure. Maybe a few of us could even admit to hate-watching them. They're too cheese-tastic to take completely seriously, for sure.

But there's also something special about them. Something simple and comforting about the formulaic set-up and the predictably heartfelt conclusions. Something about being reminded of visiting in-laws and hot cocoa as early as humanly possible.

Vicary said people tune in earlier and earlier because they know Hallmark Channel will deliver those warm holiday feelings, however cliched. "The holiday season is the best time of year. You feel good. You want to be in that spirit of Thanksgiving and Christmas," she said. "Our movies heighten the emotional connection you have with family, friends."

In other words, sometimes we all just need a good cry.

Vicary said this aspect — not just the crying, but the emotional connection — evolved seamlessly into original movies for Hallmark. "The Hallmark brand has been around in the public consciousness for over 100 years," she said. "It's a loyalty to the cards. This seemed like a natural progression."

Hallmark Channel Original Movies — there's a library of about 80-90 by now — have also become the go-to place for actors who have been out of the public eye for a few years. Or, as Vicary puts it, audiences "know and love these faces from shows they used to watch, so there's a multigenerational enthusiasm," she said.

Certainly there's some appeal in the Spot the Fading Star aspect of these movies. There's Snow Bride, with erstwhile Home Improvement matriarch Patricia Richardson (out now). Desperate Housewives' Nicollette Sheridan and Oscar winner Olympia Dukakis in The Christmas Spirit (Dec. 1). Grammy Award winner Naomi Judd in In Window Wonderland (Nov. 23). And, our personal favorite for its overwhelming '90s connections, Let It Snow, starring Hallmark stalwart Candace Cameron Bure (Full House) and Alan Thicke (Growing Pains, father to Robin), Nov. 30.

Plus, James Brolin is starring in the first original movie for the Hallmark Movie Channel, an offshoot of Hallmark Channel the company is developing in a similar vein. Oh yes, that means more holiday movies. They'll start with one this year, maybe two next year, Vicary said, before ultimately launching the channel's own Most Wonderful Movies of Christmas feature.

Thinking ahead to next year's holiday programming weeks before Thanksgiving didn't seem to phase Vicary: "We're already making Christmas movies for 2014. It's Christmas all year long here!"

Michelle Stark can be reached at mstark@tampabay.com.

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Go to hallmarkchannel.com/christmas for a complete Countdown to Christmas schedule.

Hallmark Channel serves up cheesy, cheery holiday programming 11/13/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 13, 2013 11:02pm]

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