'TV's Top 5': How Hallmark Channel Is Expanding Its Holiday Cheer

The Christmas House

Welcome to a special holiday-themed episode of TV's Top 5, The Hollywood Reporter's TV podcast.

Every week, hosts Lesley Goldberg (West Coast TV editor) and Daniel Fienberg (chief TV critic) are break down the latest TV news with context from the business and critical sides, welcome showrunners, executive and other guests and provide a critical guide of what to watch (or skip, as the case may be).

Instead of taking the Thanksgiving holiday off, we are breaking format this week and joined by Michelle Vicary, the longtime exec vp programming at Hallmark Channel parent company Crown Media. As our loyal listeners recall, last year around this time we featured a newsworthy interview with then-Hallmark CEO Bill Abbott in which he proceeded to … effectively light his own Christmas tree on fire.

"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. "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."

Abbott also effectively made excuses about the lack of diversity and LGBTQ representation in the interview, which you can hear in its entirety in episode 48 from last November.

The network followed that up with a national firestorm last December after Hallmark pulled four commercials featuring same-sex couples, citing the "debate" surrounding them from conservative groups as a distraction. The network would reverse course shortly afterward and Abbott was fired in January after 11 years with Hallmark.

Vicary, who was Abbott's longtime No. 2, joins the show this week to discuss how last year's debacle(s) impacted the types of holiday programming on the network this year — look for movies with "Hanukkah" actually in the title and others, like The Christmas House, featuring a same-sex couple. Vicary also opens up about how Hallmark was able to overcome covid-related production issues to pull off the same volume of originals as last year, the outlet's greater focus on diverse writers and how to film the Hallmark kiss during a pandemic.

"We put out invitation to expand the pool. We have more women writers than we've ever had, more writers of diversity and more gay writers — and there's more to come in 2021," she says.

Listen to the interview, below. And don't fret, Dan weighs in on the (second) One Day at a Time cancellation and uses Critic's Corner sift through what to watch (or skip) this holiday weekend.

Hear it all now on TV's Top 5. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to never miss an episode. (Reviews welcome!) You can also email us at TVsTop5@THR.com with any topics or questions you'd like to hear us discuss as part of our recurring Mailbag segment.