MOVIES

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Hall­mark movie ... they will end up to­gether,” said Michelle Vi­cary, ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of pro­gram­ming and net­work pub­lic­ity for Crown Me­dia and Fam­ily Net­works.

With broad­cast-net­work prime-time pro­gram­ming typ­i­cally tak­ing a hia­tus dur­ing the hol­i­day sea­son, the end of the year is the Hall­mark Chan­nel’s time to shine. Hall­mark’s hol­i­day movies are so pop­u­lar, the cable net­work be­gins show­ing them in late Oc­to­ber (Oct. 26 this year) and wraps up on Jan. 1.

“When view­ers kept telling us by virtue of the rat­ings that they wanted more (Christ­mas movies), it was a nat­u­ral to ex­tend the time that we were pro­gram­ming for them,” Vi­cary said.

Hall­mark has in­tro­duced a Count­down to Christ­mas app for view­ers to track the pro­gram­ming on the Hall­mark Chan­nel and its sis­ter chan­nel, Hall­mark Movies and Mys­ter­ies (which of­fers more spir­i­tual fare). The app fea­tures op­tions for set­ting alerts on your phone and adding movie start times to your cal­en­dar. On launch day, Count­down to Christ­mas had 140,000 down­loads.

This year, Hall­mark Chan­nel has films star­ring LeAnn Rimes, Kel­lie Pick­ler and Patti La­Belle, but the net­work also fea­tures re­cur­ring ac­tresses, dubbed the “Christ­mas queens” in­ter­nally by Hall­mark, who front a new movie ev­ery sea­son on the net­work: Can­dace Cameron Bure, Lacey Chabert, Dan­ica McKel­lar and Lori Lough­lin.

Bure said the re­sponse to her Hall­mark Christ­mas movies en­cour­ages her “to keep mak­ing them but also to find in­ter­est­ing ways to tell sto­ries that fit the for­mula.” From left, James (Ev­er­ick Gold­ing), Alexis (Toni Brax­ton) and Ly­dia (Glo­ria Reuben) ap­pear in Life­time’s “Ev­ery Day Is Christ­mas.”

“It’s a big deal to de­cide which movie to do,” she said. “The com­pet­i­tive side of me says, ‘Hey, I want to keep top­ping those charts and help­ing the com­pany im­prove and help­ing my num­bers.’”

This year’s film, “A Shoe Ad­dict’s Christ­mas,” is based on a novel by best-sell­ing au­thor Beth Har­bi­son.

Lough­lin, who de­vel­oped her own film for Hall­mark this year, also tries to push the en­ve­lope a bit, she said.

“They def­i­nitely have a for­mula, and you do have to fol­low it,” she said. “If you don’t, they rein you back in. As ac­tors, we want a lit­tle bit of drama — so you try to put some highs and lows in there, but you can’t ar­gue with (Hall­mark). Their for­mat is 100 per­cent work­ing.”

The big­gest mo­ti­va­tion for re­turn­ing to Hall­mark year af­ter year is the fans, Bure said. She re­called a let­ter from an older man whose wife had passed away af­ter 50-plus years of mar­riage. She loved Christ­mas and would dec­o­rate for the sea­son early, and par­tic­u­larly loved Bure’s Christ­mas movies. He forced him­self to not only con­tinue his wife’s tra­di­tion of dec­o­rat­ing but

also sat down to watch Bure’s movie that year be­cause it’s what they would have done as a cou­ple. He said the rou­tine made him feel closer to her.

“It’s more than rat­ings,” Bure said. “It’s more than a cheesy hol­i­day spirit. There’s a deep mean­ing be­hind (these movies) for some peo­ple. I love all of them, and that’s why I keep do­ing them.”

Chabert, also known for roles in “Party of Five” and “Mean Girls,” said she con­sid­ers it “an honor” to keep mak­ing Christ­mas movies for Hall­mark.

“I’ve been in this busi­ness a long time,” she said, “but the fans of Hall­mark are some of the most de­voted and some of the most kind.”

She, too, said the movies speak to im­por­tant themes: “dis­con­nect­ing from the world, spend­ing time with fam­ily and just be­ing in touch with what’s most im­por­tant.”

McKel­lar agreed: “I re­ally be­lieve these movies en­cour­age con­nec­tion,” she said, jok­ing that she can’t count the num­ber of times she has said “fam­ily tra­di­tions” in her films.

The ac­tress is es­pe­cially ex­cited about her of­fer­ing this year, “Christ­mas at Grand Val­ley,” be­cause it re­unites her with for­mer “Won­der Years” co-star Dan Lau­ria, who plays her fa­ther in the movie.

The Hall­mark Chan­nel is hardly the only net­work show­ing hol­i­day fare. Life­time, too, is do­ing it again this year, in­clud­ing the film “Ev­ery Day Is Christ­mas,” star­ring Toni Brax­ton.

Life­time also has its own crop of “go to” tal­ent, in­clud­ing Tatyana Ali of “The Fresh Prince of BelAir” and Melissa Joan Hart of “Sab­rina the Teenage Witch.” Tia Mowry-Hardrict of “Sis­ter Sis­ter” has the dis­tinc­tion of ap­pear­ing in new movies this year on both the Hall­mark Chan­nel (“A Gin­ger­bread Ro­mance”) and Life­time (“My Christ­mas Inn”).

“There’s cer­tain tal­ent that our au­di­ence re­ally con­nects with around the hol­i­days,” said Meghan Hooper, a se­nior vice pres­i­dent at Life­time. “We like bring­ing back some of the same per­form­ers. ... It’s lean­ing into that com­fort and nos­tal­gia.”

Hart’s “A Very Nutty Christ­mas” made its de­but Fri­day on Life­time.

“I don’t want to make Christ­mas movies just my thing,” the ac­tress said, “but it’s the only place where TV movies still thrive. ... Just hav­ing some­thing to watch that’s uplift­ing and light and ro­man­tic. I think it’s some­thing re­ally miss­ing in the­aters and main­stream tele­vi­sion these days.”

Net­flix has also fol­lowed suit with orig­i­nal hol­i­day movies. Last year, the stream­ing ser­vice of­fered “A Christ­mas Prince,” star­ring Rose McIver; This year, it has a se­quel: “A Christ­mas Prince: The Royal Wed­ding.”

Net­flix has also added new movies star­ring Kurt Rus­sell (“The Christ­mas Chron­i­cles”), Kat Gra­ham (“The Hol­i­day Cal­en­dar”) and Vanessa Hud­gens (“The Princess Switch”).

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