Entertainment Industry

Category: Crown Media

Hallmark Channel revamps daytime programming block

Marie Osmond

The Hallmark Channel is setting a new table for daytime with two original programs set to launch this fall: a talk show featuring Marie Osmond and a lifestyle show called "Home & Family," which will be shot in Los Angeles on the Universal Studios lot not far from Wisteria Lane of "Desperate Housewives" fame. 

The Studio City cable network is regrouping after its 2-year-old partnership with Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia produced more lemons than lemonade. 

In the coming months, the Hallmark Channel plans to begin phasing out Stewart's programming.

The lifestyle maven's signature how-to show, shot before a studio audience in New York, will end production in late April.  Hallmark Channel will continue with reruns of "The Martha Stewart Show" until September. Stewart's other shows, including "Mad Hungry with Lucinda Scala Quinn," are expected to continue on Hallmark -- at least through the end of the year, Hallmark executives said.

"It's time for us to provide our own take on lifestyle programming," said Bill Abbott, chief executive of Crown Media Holdings, parent company of the Hallmark Channel and its sister Hallmark Movie Channel.

After failing to squeeze money from Stewart's programs, Crown Media intends to own the shows that it runs on its two channels. 

The Hallmark Channel's daytime strategy switch comes as the company embraces, once again, its trademark brand of wholesome family fare. The Hallmark channels have ordered 34 original movies this year, representing a 48% increase over their 2009 slates.

Read the full story in the Los Angeles Times.

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-- Meg James

Photo: Marie Osmond in 2001. Credit:  Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times

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. 

Martha_wash_windows_24 (2)"We mutually decided to go in different ways," said Bill Abbott, chief executive of the Studio City-based Hallmark Channels. "It was not a good fit for either of us."

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

 

Hallmark Channel goes dark on AT&T television

Hallmark Channel pulled the signals of its two cable channels from the AT&T U-Verse system late Tuesday, less than two weeks before the launch of Hallmark's high-profile programming makeover.

The company, operated by Crown Media Holdings and controlled by Hallmark Cards, has been heavily promoting the Sept. 13 arrival of Martha Stewart on the Hallmark Channel.  The style maven plans to provide eight hours of programming to the channel each weekday, replacing such classic programs as "I Love Lucy" and "Little House on the Prairie."  

The action came as Crown Media, based in Studio City, and AT&T failed to reach a new carriage agreement.  The sticking point was over how much AT&T would pay Hallmark Channel for the programming. 

Hallmark declined to say how much it was seeking from AT&T for the right to carry its Hallmark Channel and the Hallmark Movie Channel.  The  previous pact expired at 9:01 p.m. Pacific Time (12:01 a.m. Eastern time Wednesday).

"We are the nation's family networks, and we will continue to produce quality programs that connect people emotionally," Bill Abbott, Hallmark Channel's chief executive, said in a statement announcing the blackout. The statement added that Hallmark would be willing to restart negotiations.

Until late Tuesday, the Hallmark Channel was available in nearly 90 million homes and the Hallmark Movie Channel was available in about 38 million homes.  AT&T provides television service to about 2 million customers in the country.  Dallas-based AT&T contends that Hallmark has been demanding  AT&T pay more for the channels than what Hallmark charges "similarly-sized and smaller TV competitors."

"We want to reach an agreement that is fair to our subscribers and for all parties, as we have with numerous other content providers," AT&T said in a statement distributed last week after the discussions with Hallmark began to fall apart.

-- Meg James

 

Is this a good thing? Crown Media mulling Martha Stewart channel

It sounds like a good thing, but we're not so sure.

Crown Media, parent company of the Hallmark Channel, is apparently in talks with lifestyle guru Martha Stewart about creating a new lifestyle cable network for her. According to Broadcasting & Cable ace Claire Atkinson, Crown is in very preliminary discussions with Stewart's Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia about such a venture. Martha Stewart

Here's a better idea. Just give her the Hallmark Channel to run. Stewart is practically taking over the network anyway, and it already has mass distribution. Why go through the hassles of trying to launch a new channel, which will struggle to get carriage on cable and satellite systems?

As Atkinson notes, starting today, Stewart will be responsible for practically one-third of Hallmark's programming. The cable network, which was on the block for years but couldn't find any takers, has struggled to make a name for itself and has gone through some pretty high-profile executives in the process, including Henry Schleiff and Margaret Loesch.

Ratings for the Hallmark Channel have taken a dive. As Company Town noted last week, in the first quarter of 2010, its audience fell by 34%.

Part of the challenge for Hallmark is trying to attract a wealthier audience. For a while, it had some decent ratings with mainstream family programming, but that did not necessarily translate into big ad dollars. It also is at a disadvantage when it comes to distribution fees. It doesn't get the same rates as channels that have similar ratings but are owned by bigger media conglomerates such as Viacom and Walt Disney Co.

Getting into business with Stewart was smart for Hallmark. Certainly Martha Stewart is a big brand with a following. Since she is already programming seven hours of the channel, just give her the other 17. It'll be a lot cheaper in the long run than trying to start a whole new network.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: Martha Stewart. Credit: Associated Press

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