ESPN Revives The Ocho, Hallmark Sets Christmas Marathon as Networks Shake Up Schedules

Helping homebound audiences who need a distraction from coronavirus news

espn8 the ocho logo and a hallmark christmas movie still photo
Marathons like ESPN8: The Ocho and Hallmark's We Need a Little Christmas will give viewers a much-needed distraction. ESPN, Hallmark Channel
Headshot of Jason Lynch

Media companies have been coming up with strategies over the past week to entice the growing number of Americans who are homebound as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Streaming services have taken an early lead on the front, offering up early releases and promotions to woo audiences, but now linear networks are unveiling their own efforts to give people a much-needed distraction from all things coronavirus.

This morning, a pair of cable networks announced they would be shaking up their weekend schedules for marathons of comfort-food programming. ESPN is bringing back ESPN8: The Ocho, its annual roundup of “seldom seen sports,” on Sunday, while Hallmark Channel will air a We Need a Little Christmas marathon of holiday movies.

ESPN8: The Ocho, an annual tradition since it debuted in 2017, was inspired by the 2004 comedy film Dodgeball: An American Story, which featured the (then-fictional) network. The Ocho commentators Cotton McKnight and Pepper Brooks (played by Gary Cole and Jason Bateman) offered scintillating on-air commentary such as: “They’re definitely not on the court, Cotton. Their absence is noticeable.”

The fourth edition of ESPN8: The Ocho, airing Sunday on ESPN 2, will largely be a collection of previous Ocho programming. It kicks off at noon with the Johnsonville ACL Cornhole Championships: 2020 Kickoff Battle, and concludes with Moxie Games 3 at 10:30 p.m.

Other featured programs on The Ocho include the Stupid Robot Fighting League, featuring a face-off between two life-sized hanging puppets, each controlled by an operator. There’s also 2019 Jelle’s Marble Runs, in which the participants and spectators are all marbles; the 12th annual World Sign Spinning Championship; the 46th annual Cherry-Pit Spitting Competition; the 2007 World Sport Stacking Championships; and the 2019 Death Diving World Championship.

On Wednesday, as Disney ad sales chief Rita Ferro shared the company’s coronavirus strategy for live sports advertisers, she mentioned that “we are working around the clock with our colleagues at ESPN to determine replacement programming for the remainder of March and April so that we are able to best support the plans you have in place.”

Meanwhile, Hallmark Channel has pulled together a We Need a Little Christmas marathon, featuring Countdown to Christmas movies starring “fan favorites” like Candace Cameron Bure, Lacey Chabert, Holly Robinson Peete, Danica McKellar and Chad Michael Murray.

Airing this Friday through Sunday, the marathon will allow audiences to “watch the movies they asked for,” the network said in a release.

We Need a Little Christmas Kicks begins at noon on Friday with A Christmas Detour, and ends with Christmas in Rome on Sunday at 6 p.m.

The network will still air its previously scheduled Saturday premieres of programs In the Key of Love, the 2020 Spring Fling Preview Special and 2020 Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Preview Special.

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.