Hallmark Channel, once known strictly for original movies and acquired family-friendly series like Little House on the Prairie, has successfully ventured into original scripted series. The network yesterday (April 20) premiered Signed, Sealed, Delivered— The Series, its third original series following the 2012 debuts of romantic dramas Cedar Cove and When Calls the Heart. Audiences for both of those series surpassed Hallmark’s overall primetime average, drawing in new viewers across all demos. Michelle Vicary, executive vice president of programming and network publicity for Hallmark parent Crown Media Family Networks, spoke with Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead about the network’s move into scripted originals, including plans to offer as many as five scripted shows by 2016.
MCN: What prompted you to join the scripted arena?
Michelle Vicary: We came in very aggressively and optimistically that we could be not only a player in original series, but a leader. We are a 12-year-old network, and the growth of Hallmark Channel has been pretty meteoric, with 90 million homes and Hallmark Movie Channel approaching 60 million homes, so we felt it was time for us. We had actually seen, in some ways, the benefit of [returning characters] through some of our movie franchises, having made 11 of the Love Come Softly movies and seven of the Good Witch movies. We know that our audience comes back for the characters and the stories that we do well.
MCN: Most of cable’s more successful one-hour drama series tend to offer edgy, adult-themed content. How have you found success off ering more family-friendly dramatic content?
MV: I think, overall, we knew it was a place we could really do well because what we offer is unique in television, and that without compromising quality or entertainment we can own the space that is family friendly, that is something that you can watch with your kids, something that you can be entertained with your family and can bring groups of people to watch.
That’s something that’s been missing in the television landscape and it’s something that we can do better than anybody, when you think of the heritage of the “Hallmark Hall of Fame” movies. We also heard from our viewers that Hallmark would be a network they would come to for original series that are high-quality and are interesting and entertaining and deliver on the Hallmark brand, because our audience is very loyal and very enthusiastic and wants more of what we do.
MCN: Are you looking to build a stable of original scripted programming?
MV: Yes. We had great success with When One Calls the Heart and we’re evaluating whether to do a season two, but it looks very positive. We’re in production for season two of Cedar Cove, and we’re very enthusiastic about Signed, Sealed and Delivered. We are in pre-production of The Good Witch, which is moving from a movie franchise to a scripted series starring Catherine Bell. Overall, we’re still determining what the scheduling is going to be on a night or multiple nights. Then, as we look out even further into 2016 with perhaps another series added to the mix, we’re looking to build multiple nights. We’re looking to have three or four series on air in 2015 and four or five series in 2016.
MCN: What does an original series bring to the network that your original movies can’t deliver?
MV: It does bring new audiences to the network looking for original series, and it also provides incredible value to advertisers who spend dollars on original series. For our distribution partners, it provides a unique experience for their subscribers, which creates additional value for them. Original series are additive when you can bring [them] to the mix of original movies that we’re doing, which exceeds 50 for 2014.