Hallmark Channel executives believe that the recent acquisition of JAG, CBS's edgy military drama, will not compromise the network's family-values positioning.
Rather, the network views JAG as the first of several programming acquisitions it expects to make in the near future, with the goal of becoming a top 10-rated service over the next couple of years, Hallmark Channel executive vice president of programming David Kenin said.
Hallmark reportedly paid around $36 million for a seven-year window for the 181 JAG
episodes that will have aired on network television through the 2003-04 season. It would also purchase new installments beyond that point. Under the pact, the series will air in primetime and the late-fringe period. During Hallmark's run, USA Network, the series' longtime cable home, will air JAG
during the afternoons.
The acquisition of JAG
is a departure from Hallmark's light, family-oriented fare, ranging from Touched By an Angel
to original, Hallmark Entertainment-produced movies like Gulliver's Travels.
"We see the Hallmark Channel as Main Street and mainstream, and the concept of a quality, drama-based series with a military background that is contemporary provides a nice dimension for the voice of the channel," Kenin said. "We're trying to find a contemporary voice that is appropriate to the brand and serves a broad contemporary audience."
Kenin said the network is aggressively looking for more mainstream programming — complete with built-in audiences — that will help boost its ratings and distribution. Currently in nearly 52 million households, the network has seen consistent growth in ratings over the past year. In May, the network ranked 22nd, averaging a 0.7 primetime household rating, up 40% from May 2002.
In order to crack the top 10, though, Kenin said it will have to reach beyond traditional Hallmark Channel programming without alienating viewers.
"We want to be fully distributed and top-of-mind as a choice for American consumers," Kenin said. "We need to have ratings that, on a day-to-day basis, place us in the top 10 for us to become the competitive big, network that we know we can become. We have to go after programming that has built-in, powerful commercial appeal."
In addition to JAG, Kenin's proud of the recent acquisition of M*A*S*H
and the July debut of a completely digitally remastered version of the 1980s miniseries Shogun.