Hallmark Considers Entering the Scripted Prime-Time Battle

New Series Could Boost Evening Schedule Now Filled With Movies and Syndication

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Hallmark Channel has stayed away from original scripted prime-time series so far, but that strategy may be in for a change.

While no decisions have been finalized, the network is at least considering adding a scripted series to the all-important 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. slot, according to a company executive. An announcement could be ready as soon as the network's upfront presentation to marketers in March.

That would mark an expansion in Hallmark's focus, which has traditionally primarily encompassed original movies and daytime. Its prime-time schedule is currently usually filled with episodes of "Little House on the Prairie" and "Frasier." Last year the channel said it was planning a 13-episode unscripted series, hosted by poet Maya Angelou, called "The Spirit Table" and intended for prime time. With filming on that show completed, executives are now deciding where it fits best on the schedule. But Hallmark hasn't previously shown any sign of entering scripted prime-time programming.

Many ad buyers prefer original scripted programming to other formats, which has benefited cable networks before Hallmark.

"Hallmark's success historically has been built on original movies," said Ethan Heftman, senior VP at Initiative , where he oversees entertainment accounts. "They have tried to boost daytime, but that hasn't worked out they way the wanted. So to refocus on that original scripted content is a little closer to what consumers and advertisers expect."

One key for any original scripted series at Hallmark will be appealing to the network's older audience, one of its strengths, said Marc Morse, senior vice president of national buying at RJ Palmer.

"We buy a lot of [Hallmark] movies for our older brands," Mr. Morse said. "They are the No. 1 or No. 2 network for the 35-to-64 or 50-plus demographic, and that population is only growing."

But a new look for prime time could appeal to marketers, he added. "They are taking some chances, and advertisers want to see networks that are taking risks."

Hallmark Channel, part of Crown Media, is also continuing to figure out how to improve its daytime programming, where it briefly ran as many as eight hours of Martha Stewart-related programming and now runs five. Ms. Stewart's talk show will cease production in April, with new episodes concluding in September.

Hallmark is now very close to signing Marie Osmond for a talk show to replace "The Martha Stewart Show," the network executive said, confirming a recent report. "She tested well against our core audience," the executive said. "Her life experiences resonate with our audience."

In addition to the show with Ms. Osmond, Hallmark plans to launch a talk-based daytime series that focuses on the family, home and celebration.

The network has targeted about five to six names to host that program, which will be in a unique format that will differentiate the program from others in the same genre, according to the company insider.

"These are names that resonate with the viewer and that are recognizable, but are not necessarily big names," the executive said. "We want a talent that we can build to be the face of the network."

Mr. Morse said he has heard of a two-hour daytime program called "Home and Family" in the works at the network.

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