There aren’t many options for those of us that want an escape from the 24/7 whirlwind of politics and culture. Sometimes we just want to spend a couple of hours watching a cheesy Christmas movie about couples making sugar cookies.
But when the race and sexual orientation of that couple are placed into scrutiny by members of the media, the walls of escapism are torn down and the battlefield of yet another culture war is exposed. The Hallmark Channel has been seen as a refuge for traditional family-friendly entertainment in an industry that has become aggressive in its promotion of progressive ideology. As a result, Hallmark has grown a strong following among red-state audiences. However, it is now progressives that want a piece of the action and they are campaigning for more ‘representation’ on the channel’s platform. Recent comments by the network’s executives tell us that they are ready to make some concessions.
Recently, media outlets The Wrap and The Hollywood Reporter have called out Hallmark for what they call a lack of diversity and LGBT representation. In 2019, Hallmark and Lifetime combined to have 70 new holiday movies, but none of those films feature an LGBT character as the lead. This comes weeks after the network was targeted for only having 4 black leads out of 24-holiday movies. With increasing pressure to make their content more progressive friendly, Crown Media Family Networks executive vice president of programming Michelle Vicary said the network is looking to add more ‘diversity’ to their content.
“We are looking at pitches for LGBTQ movies and we are looking to expand and represent the United States as a whole.”
“I think that we are making great strides,” she added. “And we are, but like the industry, there is a lot of work to be done to catch up in that area.”
Hallmark Channel CEO Bill Abbott added to those comments by stating that the network is “open” to featuring same-sex romances in its seasonal Yuletide offerings.
“We’re open to really any type of movie of any type of relationship in any space,” he told The Hollywood Reporter’s “TV’s Top 5” podcast last week.
Calls for more LGBT Hallmark Films has caused a stir with Hallmark’s fanbase that residences in the heartland of America. According to the Los Angeles Times, Hallmark’s appeal is strongest in the Midwest and the South where social conservatives have a political stronghold. Not only do these viewers favor traditional family households, but they oppose homosexuality and negative portrayals of religion. If Hallmark was to shift their programming to fit a more progressive audience, there is a strong possibility of losing those markets which would hurt the company’s bottom line as they push for more subscribers of their Hallmark Movies Now streaming service ($4.99 per month).
Hallmark films have become a clear alternative for those who want wholesome programming, but the industry as a whole is pushing for more unconventional families and relationships. Last year, GLAAD called for 10% LGBT inclusion in the television industry and 20% in the film industry by 2021. Many see this as an attempt to overrepresent the population of LGBT individuals on television to normalize larger agendas such as gay marriage and gender reassignment, especially with younger audiences. Getting the Hallmark market to conform to GLAAD’s wishes would be seen as a major win in the effort for more LGBT representation in entertainment but at what cost? Unless Hallmark could make up the difference in major progressive cities like New York and Los Angeles, Hallmark’s viewer base is unlikely to support entertainment that looks exactly what they are trying to get away from. The efforts to please the LGBT lobby would be counteractive to the loyal fanbase that they have spent years building up.
In a recent bout of controversy, Hallmark Channel initially rejected an ad from online-weddings firm Zola which showed two women getting married pondering how their wedding might have improved with the use of Zola’s services. However, by Sunday, they reversed the decision citing that it was not in keeping with the company’s well-known slogan, “When you care enough to send the very best.” Sarah Kate Ellis, CEO of GLAAD commented:
“The Hallmark Channel’s decision to correct its mistake sends an important message to LGBTQ people and represents a major loss for fringe organizations. LGBTQ people are, and will continue to be a part of advertisements and family programming and that will never change.”
Mounting political pressure by progressives organizations has put the company in the position to draw a line in the sand. Do they choose to please their viewer base and continue with business as usual? or do they attempt to please the media and risk their content becoming like everyone else? Time will tell but the wrong decision could mean curtains for the entertainment platform.