Hallmark Channel Brings the Women’s Lit

Readies new series from Macomber, Oke; develops Mary Higgins Clark show

Hallmark Channel is making good on its promise last year to bring more long-form originals to its bandwidth.

It starts with the network's first scripted ongoing series, Debbie Macomber's Cedar Cove, announced last year and now set for a July 20 premiere; then comes new special When Calls the Heart, based on the Janette Oke novel and debuting in October.

The network has had to move the timelines back for both projects—originally Cedar Cove was scheduled for this month and When Calls the Heart was slated for June—but there's more scripted material in development from another writer beloved of the network's demographic: Mary Higgins Clark, whose short story collection My Gal Sunday is being considered alongside Dead Letters, a series developed by Touched by an Angel exec producer Martha Williamson.

Hallmark Channel also has an ongoing "Wonderful World of Disney"-style venture with Narnia Chronicles production company Walden Media, which began its family-film partnership last week with Return to Nim's Island, a sequel to its theatrical film.

The network's revitalized slate would seem to point up exactly how much its partnership with Martha Stewart Omnimedia drew from its coffers. Stewart's show was produced on a revenue-sharing model, through which Stewart received all the producing costs on the show and Hallmark got the overage. The deal was officially torpedoed in April after Hallmark failed to renew it.

Bill Abbott, CEO of parent company Crown Media Networks, was very bullish on the upfront, saying he expected to see "volume up twenty-plus percent above last year," and "categories like auto that we've never had before." The volume increase, he said, wouldn't affect the company's mix at all—increases in ratings over the past year give Hallmark and the Hallmark Movie Channel that many more GRPs to sell.

The network's transformation, said programming head Michelle Vicary, would come to fruition next year. "We will be a completely different network in 2014 than we were in 2010 and were really excited about that," Vicary said.