ABC Revives Hallmark Hall of Fame

Throwback pulled from the mothballs by Disney broadcaster

Two months after being mothballed by CBS, the 60-year-old Sunday night movie franchise Hallmark Hall of Fame has been given a new lease on life. Beginning with the 2011-12 broadcast season, the family-friendly film series will debut on ABC before encoring on Hallmark Channel.

CBS in May pulled the plug on its 16-season Hallmark Hall of Fame partnership, opting not to renew the low-rated Sunday showcase. The final film to air on CBS, the April 24 drama Beyond the Blackboard, delivered a respectable 8.58 million total viewers but a meager 1.3 rating/3 share among adults 18-49.

Over the course of its run on CBS, a new Hallmark Hall of Fame title would air three or four times per year. ABC’s deal will hew to that model, with plans to premiere a new film before Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Mother’s Day.

It’s no coincidence that the three target dates overlap the biggest sales periods for Hallmark’s greeting cards division. In a bid to make the most of the inherent synergies between Hallmark Channel and its sibling retail unit, the network strategically programs its own original movies around key holidays

Terms were not disclosed. ABC and Hallmark began talking about a possible arrangement late last year, well before CBS officially announced it had severed ties with the series.

Since it bowed on NBC in 1951, Hallmark Hall of Fame has won 80 Emmys, nine Golden Globes, and 11 Peabody Awards. NBC dropped the series in 1978, whereupon it moved to PBS and ABC. CBS began its association with the series in 1995.

A throwback in many ways, Hallmark Hall of Fame is the last regularly recurring broadcast TV program that carries the sponsor’s name in its title.

The first movie to bow on ABC will be Have a Little Faith, based on the 2009 Mitch Albom book of the same name. The movie, which will air before Christmas, stars Laurence Fishburne, Bradley Whitford, and Martin Landau.

ABC and Hallmark Channel will cross-promote this and subsequent titles.

The three annual Hall of Fame titles can only serve to help boost Hallmark Channel’s ratings. In the second quarter, the cable net averaged 595,000 viewers in prime time, down 19 percent from 733,000 in the year-ago period. Adults 25-54 were flat at 184,000, while women 25-54 dipped 5 percent to 129,000.