Hallmark Channel shakes up programming ranks in wake of Martha Stewart ratings woes
Amid the disappointing performance of Martha Stewart on the Hallmark Channel, the company Friday forced out a key programming executive who had been hired just four months ago to work closely with the lifestyle maven.
Laura Sillars, a former HGTV programming executive, joined Hallmark in June as senior vice president for lifestyle programming.
Sillars was not part of the team at Hallmark that decided in January to introduce Stewart to the channel and attempt a wholesale makeover of its programming.
She had been tasked with developing a slate of other original lifestyle shows so that Hallmark could wean itself from its reliance on reruns of classic feel-good programs such as "Little House on the Prairie" and tear-jerker movies. She also was the company's day-to-day liaison with Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia.
"It takes time to find the right chemistry and the right mix when you are dealing with high-profile talent," Abbott said.
Abbott also said that the demands of the job became too much for Sillars, who was commuting to the company's New York offices from New Orleans.
"I wish the Hallmark Channels much success with their Martha Stewart programming, and their future programming," Sillars said Friday night.
Abbott's big bet this season was to turn over eight hours of its daytime schedule to Stewart. But in the four weeks since Stewart's marquee show launched, it has produced anemic ratings. Telecasts of "The Martha Stewart Show" on Hallmark have been averaging fewer than 200,000 viewers -- less than half the audience of "The Golden Girls," which ran in the 10 a.m. slot on the channel a year ago. A show featuring Stewart's daughter, Alexis, has produced even more dismal ratings.
"We are off to a slow start but the ratings have started to improve," Abbott said. Wednesday's telecast marked the show's highest ratings on the channel to date, with 250,000 people tuning in.
The problem, Abbott said, is that viewers are used to watching original shows in the daytime on stations affiliated with the major networks. Hallmark's shift to lifestyle programming was a radical move that alienated many of its longtime viewers. Meanwhile, many of Stewart's fans have not made the switch to cable. Until this season, Stewart's show ran in syndication and was on NBC-owned TV stations.
Next week, Hallmark will try to boost the numbers by running Stewart's show at 8 p.m., when more viewers are available.
-- Meg James
Photo of Martha Stewart courtesy of Crown Media Holdings