By Heather Long
A scene from the Hallmark Channel’s hit series “When Calls the Heart.” The show follows Elizabeth Thatcher, a young socialite who moves to a small Canadian frontier town in the early 1900s. (Crown Media)
There’s a very good chance that you or someone in your close circle of friends watches the Hallmark Channel.
Ratings are booming. Hallmark was the only non-news channel in the top 15 to see substantial viewership growth last year. In November and December, when Hallmark aired Christmas movies almost nonstop, the channel often ran neck-and-neck with Fox News and ESPN for the title of most-watched TV network on basic cable. Ratings are up another 9 percent so far this year, Nielsen says, and the Christmas movie marathon hasn’t even started yet.
It’s feel-good TV. There’s no sex or gore. Hallmark movies and series like “When Calls the Heart” and “Chesapeake Shores” have happy endings. The main characters do the right thing. The problems get worked out. The guy and girl, whatever their age or grumpiness level at the start, always end up together. This kind of TV has always drawn in older women, but Hallmark’s appeal isn’t limited to them anymore. Ratings are growing fast among 18- to 49-year-old women, and a growing number of men are tuning in as well. Men account for some of the jump in the Nielsen ratings, and when the channel does focus groups, increasing numbers of men say they watch with their wives.
The few culture magazines that have noticed Hallmark’s popularity surge say it’s all about production value. “The movies look more high-quality now than they used to,” pop culture site A.V. Club said earlier this year. Crown Media, which owns Hallmark, confirms it has been spending a lot more on its movies and shows lately, but better acting alone …read more