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Upfronts: Hallmark Channels Tout Investment In Originals

3/21/2013 11:22 AM Eastern

Hallmark Channel renewed freshman daytime series Home & Family, announced two new original primetime series in development, acquired off-network rights to sitcom Home Improvement and said sister network Hallmark Movie Channel is producing its first original holiday movie, all at an upfront luncheon in New York.

Hallmark Channel, premiering its first homegrown original scripted series, Debbie Macomber’s Cedar Cove, this July 20, said the plan is to have four new original scripted dramas on the schedule on Saturday nights by 2014.

“Adding original scripted series to our primetime lineup is the natural next step in Hallmark Channel’s evolution and one we feel will pay off in a big way for our viewers, distributors and advertisers,” Michelle Vicary, EVP of programming at the two Hallmark channels, said at the upfront.

Officials said the strategy of developing series tied to popular authors and book series minimizes the risk of building new originals because the franchises already have fans. In fact, channels CEO Bill Abbott said the Cedar Cove series, under showrunner Carl Binder, has been pushed back repeatedly to ensure that storylines will meet fans’ expectations for the show, about a small-town judge, played by Andie MacDowell (pictured), and her love interest, the editor of the local newspaper, played by Dylan Neal. The 74-minute pilot will air on July 20 and 10 one-hour episodes will follow, starting July 27, running through Sept. 28. There also will be a Cedar Cove Christmas movie.

The second series officially to be greenlit is When Calls The Heart, based on Janette Oke’s books about a teacher living in a Western frontier town. The movie pilot will premiere on Oct. 5, the Saturday after Cedar Cove's first season ends. The When Calls The Heart series will resume in January 2014 with at least seven more episodes, officials said.

Also in development (and likely to be greenlit if not already greenlit, Abbott told reporters) are Dead Letters, from Touched By An Angel creator Martha Williamson, and My Gal Sunday, based on a book of short stories by Mary Higgins Clark.

Abbott said Hallmark Channel’s viewer figures rose 10% in 2012. That rise, combined with the new original series and movies and such off-network acquisitions as CBS’s The Good Wife and The Middle and, announced today (for a September debut), Home Improvement, led the Crown Media Family Networks CEO to predict at least a 20% volume gain in sales from the upcoming upfront advertising auction following strong scatter-market ad sales.

The channel also greenlit a second season for Home & Family, the daytime series starring Mark Steines and Cristina Ferrare that is produced live to tape five days a week, 44 weeks a year from a working-home studio set at Universal Studios California. Steines and Ferrare spoke with reporters at the New York City upfront via a satellite hookup.

Hallmark Movie Channel is producing its first original movie, Christmas With Tucker, starring James Brolin, to run under the channel’s new “Most Wonderful Movies Of Christmas” tagline.

 

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