Entertainment Saturday: Hallmark holiday movies offer viewers balm in tough year

NEW YORK (AP) — For the past decade, the Hallmark Channel has been a reliable destination for holiday programming. And in a year when many Americans are homebound because of the COVID-19 pandemic, network executives say there’s been a craving for the feel-good movies.

Hallmark’s ratings are up 2% over 2019′s holiday season, the Nielsen company said. That may not seem like much, but year-to-year increases are the exception rather than the rule in modern television.

The network turned its programming over to holiday fare on Oct. 23 and has been the top-rated entertainment cable channel, excluding news and sports, for the fourth quarter, Nielsen said.

“What we have seen is just how much our movies mean to our viewers,” said Michelle Vicary, programming chief.

When coronavirus-related closures began in March, Hallmark tried to calm anxieties by airing a series of its holiday movies then.

But this season, COVID-19 did not affect the type of movies Hallmark made or how they were scheduled, Vicary said. Of the 40 new movies planned for this season, only one had to be canceled because filming couldn’t be done because of the pandemic.

“We made a choice not to let COVID affect us thematically,” she said. “There are a lot of places you can find information about COVID. What we provided was a respite from that.”

This season’s most popular movie has been “If I Only Had Christmas,” about a perky publicist who teams with a cynical executive to help a charity. It stars Candace Cameron Bure, probably the most reliable draw among a collection of actors who often return to Hallmark each holiday season.

Hallmark says it has also been pleased with the reception for “The Christmas House,” the first time the conservative programmer has prominently featured gay characters in a holiday film.

CBS was the top-rated broadcast network last week, averaging 4.4 million viewers in prime time. NBC had 3.8 million, Fox had 2.9 million, ABC had 2.7 million, Univision had 870,000, Ion Television had 830,000 and Telemundo had 620,000.

Fox News Channel was the most popular cable network, watched by an average of 2.38 million people in prime time. ESPN had 2.07 million, MSNBC had 2 million, Hallmark had 1.72 million and CNN had 1.68 million. The only non-news or sports programs among cable’s 40 most popular last week were two Hallmark movies.

ABC’s “World News Tonight” won the evening news ratings race, averaging 9.7 million viewers. NBC’s “Nightly News” had 7.9 million and the “CBS Evening News” had 5.9 million.

For the week of Dec. 14-20, the 20 most popular prime-time programs, their networks and viewerships:

1. NFL Football: Cleveland at N.Y. Giants, NBC, 15.61 million.

2. NFL Football: L.A. Chargers at Las Vegas, Fox, 12.96 million.

3. NFL Football: Baltimore at Cleveland, ESPN, 12.42 million.

4. “60 Minutes,” CBS, 11.59 million.

5. “NFL Pregame,” NBC, 11.31 million.

6. “NFL Postgame,” Fox, 10.96 million.

7. College Football: Alabama vs. Florida, CBS, 8.92 million.

8. “The Masked Singer,” Fox, 7.41 million.

9. “NFL Pregame,” Fox, 7.34 million.

10. “The Voice” (Tuesday, 9 p.m.), NBC, 7.27 million.

11. “The Voice” (Monday), NBC, 7.09 million.

12. “Football Night in America,” NBC, 6.92 million.

13. “Young Sheldon,” CBS, 6.86 million.

14. “Blue Bloods,” CBS, 6.38 million.

15. “Monday Night Kickoff,” ESPN, 6 million.

16. “The Voice” (Tuesday, 8 p.m.), NBC, 5.89 million.

17. “Garth & Trisha Live!” CBS, 5.82 million.

18. “Grey’s Anatomy,” ABC, 5.66 million.

19. “Station 19,” ABC, 5.63 million.

20. “Magnum, P.I.,” CBS, 5.48 million