Why Hallmark Dominates the Christmas Movie Business

Vox

There is a place where it’s always Christmas. Where there is always snow on the ground, where togetherness is the word to live by, where the horrors of the world reliably subside amid the flurries of a beautiful snowstorm. If, in Narnia, it was always winter but never Christmas, then on the Hallmark Channel, it’s always winter and always Christmas (at leastbetween the months of October and January).

The standard line about Hallmark’s endless parade of made-for-TV Christmas movies is that they’re dumb and super cheesy, but they give your grandmother something to watch. They embrace ideas of tradition and family, but only in the vaguest sense. They’re apolitical in a way that people who blanch at the idea that all art is political call apolitical.

I should admit up front that I love a good Hallmark Christmas movie. I’ll watch just about any Hallmark Christmas movie I stumble upon, but my favorite, 2014’s Nine Lives of Christmas,involves a fireman played by Brandon Routh who finds love at Christmas because he adopts a cat who befriends another cat, and the other cat just so happens to belong to the woman our hero is meant to be with.

Christmas and cats represent a pretty perfect Venn diagram intersection of my interests, to be sure, but Nine Lives also underlines why the best Hallmark Christmas movies work. They are always, unabashedly themselves, unashamed of coming off as square, corny, old-fashioned. Nobody so much as swears, and true love is always just around the corner, even for those who may seem like lost causes.

“People love their Christmas movies!” Hallmark Channel mainstay Kellie Martin (who’s only starred in one of the network’s Christmas movies) told me during a podcast we recorded in August. “They’re like candy. They’re delightful.”

Martin’s right. Hallmark Christmas movies feel nostalgic for something half-understood, like those episodes of The Twilight Zone where somebody travels back to the 1890s or the 1910s in hopes of chasing some America that has been lost to the mists of time. Except, where the Twilight Zone traveler eventually realizes the error of his or her ways, a Hallmark protagonist comes to love living in the bubble — or the snow globe, if you will. And when these movies are done well, their most fervent fans are right there, ready to embrace that snow globe themselves.

Of course, Hallmark movies are also a major, major economic engine for a cable channel you probably don’t think about that often — albeit one that has an intriguing, unique way of thinking about programming the TV year that has paid it back many times over.

Image: The Hallmark Channel

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