Martha Stewart block shortened at Hallmark


NEW YORK -- The Hallmark Channel has shrunk its lifestyle-programming block from Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia that launched only last month but has gotten off to a weak ratings start.

Stewart's fans haven't followed her to cable in large numbers so far, so the network has gone back to airing classic TV fare in the form of "Little House on the Prairie" in the 3-6 p.m. slot as of the first week of this month. Those three hours originally were part of what Hallmark touted as a 10 a.m.-6 p.m. MSLO lifestyle block.

Daytime viewership is staying with broadcast networks, which have a "crowded" offering of daytime content including shows from Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres, Hallmark Channels CEO Bill Abbott said.

"People don't yet think of cable, or Hallmark Channel, as having daytime original programming," he said. "So, we condensed the lifestyle block, focused on fresh, topical content and cut out library product that didn't do the ratings we were hoping for and lost us momentum."

Abbott told The Hollywood Reporter that Hallmark remains committed to lifestyle programming and hopes the shorter block will be easier to promote.

"We were very aggressive and likely a bit too aggressive," he said of the block. "But we are committed to our lifestyle programming and investment in Martha and believe we can make it work."

The channel mainly cut library content acquired in a broad deal with MSLO. Abbott said some might return if Hallmark manages to establish the block in the ratings.

"We made a big investment and will focus on trying to make it work eventually," he said. "We got to walk before we run. It is important to get the 'Martha' show right" along with the rest of the block.

This week will see Hallmark promote the core of its program block in primetime. The channel's website shows that a rerun of 10 a.m. Monday-Friday "The Martha Stewart Show" will shift from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. It will be followed by reruns of "Mad Hungry With Lucinda Scala" and "Whatever With Alexis & Jennifer," also part of the block and also weak performers.

A Hallmark spokeswoman said the "Daytime into Primetime" reruns from 8-11 p.m. are "an effort to expose our largest daily audience to the new programs." The change is planned for this week only.

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