A couple of years ago, I had some fun (as did Saturday Night Live) at Hallmark Channel’s expense. It’s December if you haven’t noticed, meaning that network is now two months into their Countdown to Christmas movie extravaganza. And while the movie titles number in the several dozen (perhaps several hundred?), the whole block is the same old same-old: Charming setting, festive decorations everywhere, handsome male lead makes cute with pretty female lead… and little to no LGBT+ representation.
But if for one brief, shining moment, the thought of a slight change in that Countdown to Christmas formula was raised: Hallmark Channel CEO Bill Abbott, in a podcast talk with The Hollywood Reporter last month, indicated that the network was open to producing holiday movies with gay lead characters. Abbott’s passing statement resulted from the podcast’s hosts/interviewers challenging Abbott over Hallmark’s prioritizing content for a broad audience ahead of those that reflect the unique aspects of American society. Separately, Michelle Vicary, who heads the Hallmark-owned studio that produces these films for the network, indicated that they were “looking at pitches” for movies with LGBT+ characters.
Note that the statements from Bill Abbott and Michelle Vicary indicate that Hallmark Channel is only considering LGBT+ leads in its holiday fare, not actually going forth on such a plan. The apparent hesitation on Hallmark’s part, I think, has to do with their serving three masters, as it were:
They want to make quality (for them) films. Yeah, I’m acknowledging the fact that quality is in the eye of the beholder. But understand it’s the desire of any network, Hallmark included, to present to viewers the best projects they can, including weeding out the bad scripts from the good ones. That obviously shouldn’t be an excuse to ignore characters who are queer or not otherwise part of the WASP hegemony; we’re still a diverse country the last time I checked. But if the script quality is akin to a public access production, it won’t flatter any character no matter how they identify.
They want their holiday fare enjoyable for everyone. Yes, Hallmark’s holiday movies are not just sugary but are in keeping with the network’s standards and practices that ensure wholesome content, especially during the Christmas season. Note emphasis on “season” there since Hallmark in its movies value the feel-good aspects of this time of year ahead of anything overtly religious. That’s why even the films centering around a Hanukkah celebration have a generic “Holiday” title. Speaking of religion, however…
They don’t want to offend the red states. Or at least those who wear their red-state attitudes on their sleeves. A reason Hallmark Channel’s holiday content is so wholesome is that they need to keep happy their core audience — a demographic that is both culturally and religiously, red-state conservative. Any deviation of content, potential or otherwise, and the audience will raise a ruckus. Want proof of that? Bill Abbott’s and Michelle Vicary’s announced considerations of LGBT+ characters became a call to action for so-called “pro-family” groups. One such group set up a petition that supposedly went viral… but in all likelihood, according to Out magazine, was a product of manufactured outrage.
It’s these reasons that lead me to believe we are at least several years away from seeing a Countdown to Christmas film with an LGBT+ lead. Next year at this time, Hallmark’s roster of films will be pretty much like the record-breaking 40(!) new holiday films it’s putting out this season: Films whose casts are almost whiter than a snowbank, straighter than a Christmas tree, and more cheery than the wives from Stepford. (Yeah, I said it.) Just like Victoria’s Secret in its attitudes toward women who aren’t sinewy, Hallmark’s slow moves put it behind the changing times — and behind networks such as Lifetime. Yes, the same Lifetime whose own stock in trade is “women in peril” and, in recent years, holiday movies up the wazoo. And the same Lifetime who, just a few days ago, and without fear, put a same-sex couple in a holiday movie.
But at least give Hallmark Channel management credit in one aspect: They finally seem to acknowledge that their films should reflect the world we actually live in. Let’s just hope that actions towards diversity won’t take longer than “happily ever after.”