Hallmark Channel holiday movies under fire from the diversity police

The liberal scolds are coming for the Hallmark Channel and Lifetime Channel, too. During the holiday season, the channels run Christmas-themed movies around the clock. It’s a nice diversion from the craziness in everyday life, so naturally, it must be destroyed.

A manufactured controversy has developed at the hands of the LGBTQ community, as well as the racial diversity police. Let’s be honest – the Hallmark Channel and Lifetime are female-oriented networks. Both networks target women viewers and they are successful at it. Ratings are high for Hallmark Channel, in particular, because there is a demand for their type of wholesome programming. Hallmark outperforms big-name media outlets on a regular basis, including CNN. The president and CEO of Crown Media Family Networks, the in-house production company of Hallmark parent Crown Media, Bill Abbott acknowledged the reason for its success – positive programming.

“Hallmark continues to thrive in an environment characterized by widespread ratings attrition,” said Bill Abbott, President & CEO, Crown Media Family Networks. “While the industry and media seem to predominantly reward and highlight more ‘edgy’ content, our network’s ongoing success is testament to the fact that viewers crave the kind of positive, celebratory programming that only the Hallmark brand can provide.”

The Hollywood Reporter ran a story last week on the Hallmark Channel. The focus was on how white and heterosexual the network’s movies are, essentially. This year there will be 24 original holiday movies broadcast. The holiday movie tradition began in 2009. The number of black leads in those 24 movies, for example, this year is four. Last year, there were five black leads in holiday movies. Abbott pushed back on the generalization that the movies only feature white people. “In terms of broadening out the demographic, it’s something we’re always thinking about, always considering and we’ll continue to make the movies where the best scripts are delivered to us and what we think have the most potential.”

Also noted in the Hollywood Reporter interview was the lack of religious diversity in the movies. Mostly that criticism revolves around the movie titles. The word “Christmas” is frequently used – not, for instance, “Hanukkah”. The whole series of holiday movies is called “Countdown to Christmas”, after all. Abbott pointed out that two Hanukkah-themed movies will run this year, though the word “Holiday” is used in their titles, not “Hanukkah”. Abbott explained that the Christmas movies are not religious movies, which is true. The movies don’t revolve about the celebration of the birth of Jesus, the movies revolve around family and community coming together during this time of year.

“It’s hard if we start to slice up the pie, so to speak, and make movies based off of specific holidays. So, if we were to look at Kwanzaa, for example, or other religions and how they celebrate the holidays it’s a little bit more difficult because we don’t look at Christmas from a religious point of view, it’s more a seasonal celebration,” he said. “[O]nce you start to slice it more finely within individual religions it’s a little bit tougher to necessarily tell that story in a way that doesn’t involve religion and we always want to stay clear of religion or controversy.”

Abbott also noted that Hallmark’s approach is less about religion and more about appealing to a broad base of viewers given that its holiday programming tends to skew younger and attract more family co-viewing.

“I think Christmas has become almost a secular type of holiday more than Hanukkah, which really does have more of a religious feel,” he said, calling his movie titles “subjective.” “I think Hanukkah, from a religious point of view, is not necessarily as commercial and not necessarily as much about gift giving and it’s really about what those eight nights signify from the religious point of view. So I’m not ruling it out as something we would not do but this is kind of our first foray into this type of double holiday mix with a lot of Hanukkah in both movies [and] a lot of the celebration of how those nights are celebrated and experienced by those who practice the religion.”

At lgbtqnation.com on Friday, an opinion piece was published that asked both Hallmark and Lifetime when LGBTQ characters would be leads in the holiday romance movies.

So, Hallmark and Lifetime, how long are we going to have to wait for that LGBT holiday romance movie? After all, the channels will produce at least 32 new movies each for the holiday extravaganza — 64 films between the two of them. Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple TV and other streaming services also add to the holiday-movie producing spectacle with many of their own. We don’t exist in them, but we should, since the demographics, ratings and advertising dollars for LGBT shows are already there.

That opinion piece wasn’t criticizing the movies, mind you, it was just asking for a gay holiday movie. The beauty of both Hallmark and Lifetime, though, is that the networks haven’t bent to any specific agenda. That is exactly why women, like me, and some men, too, tune in. There is a formula that is used for each movie. A romance develops between a man and a woman, the most physical activity that will be shown is kissing, and not much of that. There is always a happy ending. There is no vulgar language, no politics at all, and every scene is family-friendly. If a child walks into the room, you won’t grab the remote to change the channel. I’ve written before about why women watch Hallmark. I don’t really know a lot about Lifetime’s holiday movies because I focus on Hallmark. Lifetime is often more ‘progressive’ than Hallmark.

I have no doubt that the movie formulas will change with more pressure from outside groups. The networks will get defensive about their winning formulas and cave. It’s interesting that this kind of criticism doesn’t happen to the all-black programming on BET, though. Gen X and Baby Boomer women gravitate to Hallmark at Christmas time. It’s not a big statement against diversity. It’s just predictable, wholesome entertainment that serves as a distraction from the day to day hecticness in our lives.