Odyssey Network Becomes Hallmark Channel

Capitalizing on its signature asset, the Odyssey Network, owned by Hallmark Entertainment and the Jim Henson Co., changed its name Wednesday to the Hallmark Channel and unveiled a new lineup of original programming.

Available in 29.5 million homes and seeking a similar audience as Fox Family Channel, with 70 million homes, Hallmark Channel hopes the name change will help build distribution to 35 million by the end of the year.

“By relaunching the channel we are increasing brand awareness with viewers demanding top-notch content,” said David Evans, president and CEO of Crown Media Holdings. Crown Media, owned by Hallmark Entertainment and other partners, owns 77.5 percent of the Hallmark Channel to Jim Henson Co.’s 22.5 percent.

Though Hallmark Entertainment will continue to produce programming for broadcast networks, it has committed to provide the Hallmark Channel with exclusive shows and has access to 50 years of Hallmark Hall of Fame productions.

Once a religious channel run by the National Interfaith Cable Coalition, which retains a minority stake and continues to produce some daytime programming, Odyssey was taken over by its current owners and broadened into a general entertainment outlet in 1998. But in the process it lost distribution by operators interested in a religions channel and has had difficulty building a “family” audience.

Like Fox Family, the Hallmark Channel wants to be known for wholesome, quality prime-time shows that adults want to watch — and will let their kids see, too.

Planned to be phased into the lineup through year’s end: six films, including Scandal in Bohemia, the third installment of its Sherlock Holmes film series; two mini-series, Stranded, a Swiss Family Robinson scenario, and an adaptation of Larry McMurty’s novel Johnson County War; and three scripted series, an adaptation of The Neverending Story, Lincoln Hall, described as a Dead Poets Society storyline, and 26 half-hour episodes of Jim Henson Co.’s Telling Stories with children’s author and illustrator Tomie dePaola.