Hallmark Seeks Aid From 'M*A*S*H'

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Hallmark Channel last week began its drive toward becoming a top-10-rated network by acquiring one of the most popular television shows ever —M*A*S*H.

The network purchased all 255 episodes of the acclaimed wartime series, to air beginning in 2003, Hallmark Channel executive vice president of programming David Kenin said. The acquisition is one of several off-broadcast network series the general-entertainment service is expected to make in the near future to help boost viewership.

All 255 episodes of the 1970s sitcom, set during the Korean War, have been digitally remastered, according to the network. While Hallmark hasn't determined where to schedule M*A*S*H, Kenin said it could secure a primetime slot.

"We'll certainly strip it, but a lot depends on our fall schedule," Kenin said. "But a prime-time slot is possible."

"M*A*S*H
represents quality to a continuing generation of viewers and remains relevant today, he added. "It was about values, which fits into what Hallmark is about and from a business point of view, it will provide a base of audience support throughout the network."

Hallmark's acquisition of M*A*S*H
is a loss for FX, which has generated strong primetime ratings from the sitcom. FX executives could not be reached for comment at press time.

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Kenin said Hallmark plans to announce several other series acquisitions in the near future, as the network looks to build its programming schedule.

Those buys will complement the array of original movies Hallmark plans to roll out over the next three years. Beginning in January 2003, the network will launch 30 original movies within 30 months, Kenin said.

In addition, Hallmark plans to develop original programming tailored to major holidays throughout the year. Currently, the network has three original movies and a miniseries set for the Christmas season.

Earlier this year, Hallmark executives said the network would emphasize original movies and acquired programming thrust it into the top 10 over the next couple of years.

The network finished the second quarter in 29th place with a 0.5 rating, up 25 percent from last year, according to Nielsen Media Research numbers.

Original scripted series, however, are not in the network's immediate plans, Kenin said. Hallmark has no plans to launch future original series this year, although several scripted series are on the drawing board for 2003 and beyond, he said.

"We may also do a series of specials around the holidays that would work for diverse events like Mother's Day, Valentine's Day and Halloween," Kenin said.

The network's only current original series, Adoption, has averaged a 0.6 rating. Hallmark, however, hasn't decided whether to renew the 13-episode series or tackle another weighty subject in the future.

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