Hallmark's buying for boomers

Net acquires rights to classic series, holiday films

Hallmark Channel has completed one of its biggest series acquisition deals, nabbing rights to "7th Heaven," "Cheers" and "I Love Lucy" along with additional episodes of "Matlock" and "Touched by an Angel," all from CBS Television Distribution.

The deal also includes rights to 12 off-net holiday movies, including "Finding John Christmas," "Town Without a Christmas" and "When Angels Come to Town."

"7th Heaven" will be the first of the three newly acquired series available to the network, where it will launch as early as January, while "Cheers" will become available later next year and "Lucy" in January 2009. The deal includes rights to all episodes of all three series.

Hallmark senior vp acquisitions and programming Michelle Vicary said the plan is to strip the three series. Executives also are considering weekend runs along with possible stunt programming involving the shows.

Vicary said the shows will appeal to Hallmark's regular viewers -- the baby boomer audience -- and attract the "occasional" viewers who tend to tune in primarily for the network's original movies. She added that they also will complement Hallmark's other acquired series, including "M*A*S*H," "Little House on the Prairie" and "Murder, She Wrote."

"All (three) shows are what you think of when you think of Hallmark Channel," she said.

Meanwhile, "Angel," which previously aired on the network, will return in January, while the newly acquired episodes of "Matlock" will join those already running on the channel. "Matlock" has been on the schedule for more than four years and is averaging a 1.0 household rating as part of the Sunday night lineup.

Vicary noted that the acquisitions, along with its upcoming original movie slate, put Hallmark in a good position should the writers strike carry on for several months. She said the network has or will have completed enough original movies to take it through third-quarter 2008.

"These acquisitions will complement those movies and also supplement them if the strike continues," she said.

Hallmark and CBS declined comment on the financial terms of the deal.