Valentine’s Day is almost here, which means it’s time for hearts and chocolates and cards and … yes, those beloved Hallmark Channel movies that many people just can’t get enough of. More so than other years, TV programming offers the comfort and escape that many are seeking right now. And what better way to find joy on the day of love–amid a global health crisis–than by curling up on the couch and watching a romantic movie that warms your heart?
One of our favorite networks to watch during holidays, the Hallmark Channel, has undergone some exciting changes and developments over the past year, and viewers continue to benefit. This past Christmas season, the network doubled down on its efforts to mimic the inclusivity of its brand even more closely and released its most diverse and inclusive set of holiday movies yet. And with 2021 well underway, consumers can look forward to seeing increased representation among its casting choices and more of the kinds of diverse and inclusive storylines that the network released last year.
Representation for All
During the Television Critics Association’s virtual tour this week, Wonya Lucas, CEO of Crown Media Networks—the parent company of Hallmark Channel—spoke with TV critics about the network’s goals to continue to evolve its movies in terms of representation. She spoke alongside Executive Vice President of Programming Michelle Vicary. Lucas, who is African-American, took the helm this past summer and said she is excited to work with Vicary and her team to make fresh content that appeals and speaks to all viewers.
“All you have to do is walk in a Hallmark store and you can see stories, you can see cards for the LGBTQ [community], Mahogany [one of Hallmark’s card collections] for the African-American female community, and so on and so forth. And so we are really seeking to make sure that everyone can see themselves in our movies,” said Lucas. “Before I arrived, we had begun to expand our brand inclusiveness in front of and behind the camera. I’m proud of the progress this team is making to expand diversity in our programming and it is nothing short of seismic,” said Lucas.
The World of Hallmark
You see, “Hallmark” is much more than just a TV network. Yes, the network produces 90-100 movies, plus their scripted series, in any given year. But Hallmark is also a brand that has become a staple in American households. From ornaments, socks, tea, wine, to its custom Monopoly games, the brand prides itself on offering products that aim to spark love and connection with others, which is what many of us crave and have in common despite our differences and backgrounds. There is a reason why people are getting together over Zoom to have Hallmark movie watch parties. There is also a reason why there are so many parodies and spoofs on Hallmark movies. They make people smile and bring out those warm fuzzy feelings in everybody. It’s that simple.
This is also why over the past year, the network has been working extra hard to ensure that its movies not only include people of all races, ethnicities, and sexual orientation, but that the stories they tell about these characters are authentic and deep so that everyone watching can see and appreciate differences while also recognizing the common values we all share.
Modern Storytelling for a Growing Audience
Despite the challenges the pandemic threw their way, Hallmark Channel still managed to safely produce 66 movies and continued on its mission to prioritize diversity and inclusivity in its holiday lineup.
“The significant achievements made in the diversity & inclusion space in 2020 laid the groundwork for us to branch out in our storytelling to approach the complexity of what it means to love and be a family in a more authentic, varied, and inclusive way,” Lucas remarked. “We will continue to strive to defy common stereotypes and give our characters more depth and dimension; in short, to more broadly represent the human condition.”
Movies with this focus that debuted last year include Christmas Comes Twice, which centers around a biracial female astrophysicist and former engineer. “I just love seeing a strong biracial woman who is a scientist, and I think that’s something that’s really new and fresh for us and realistic,” said Lucas. The Christmas House also features a heartwarming storyline of a gay couple contemplating whether to adopt a child. And then there is the upcoming Mix Up in the Mediterranean, which premieres on February 19, and features the network’s first gay man in a leading role.
“I think that there is representation where you’re just dropping somebody in a movie, and then there’s really trying to represent people as they truly live, as they truly are, and not in a stereotypical way,” said Lucas. “And again … it’s part of our brand. It has been part of our brand in terms of the Hallmark global brand. And so what I see, moving forward, and I can speak for myself, is that we’re going to continue to lean into that and you’re going to see more of that.”