How Hallmark Channel Is Using Nostalgic Stunt Casting to Bring the Whole Family Home for the Holiday Movies

“It gives everybody an extra layer of stuff to talk about,” new programming chief Lisa Hamilton Daly tells TheWrap

Hallmark Christmas movies
Hallmark Channel

One week out from Thanksgiving, Hallmark Channel is almost a month into its annual “Countdown to Christmas” block of holiday TV movie programming and holding onto its title as the most-watched entertainment cable channel during this festive season.

But being No. 1 and staying No. 1 are different things. And though Lisa Hamilton Daly didn’t take over as Hallmark’s executive vice president of programming until September, and therefore was not in charge of selecting this year’s titles, she’s very excited by two particular themes running through out the 2021 slate: mini-reunions of former co-stars from iconic TV shows and movies over the past few decades, and a lot of Christmas music.

First up, the nostalgic stunt casting, with pairings like “Desperate Housewives” alums James Denton and Teri Hatcher smooching in “A Kiss Before Christmas” (which debuts Sunday at 8/7c) and “Fuller House” vets Candace Cameron Bure and John Brotherton re-teaming for “The Christmas Contest” on Nov. 28 at 8/7c.

Earlier in the Hallmark holiday-movie season, “Back to the Future” stars Christopher Lloyd and Lea Thompson appeared in “Next Stop Christmas” and “The Wonder Years” actors Danica McKellar and Jason Hervey led “You, Me and & The Christmas Trees.”

This mix of genres in the reunions is intentional, in order to give as many viewers as possible an opportunity to find something to get excited about.

“I think we’re looking to plug into people’s nostalgia and into people’s love for these shows and these characters,” Hamilton Daly said. “We have Teri Hatcher and James Denton, which, for a lady of my age, is super interesting. It’s so funny, in our house, the stunts that are coming up are each aimed at a different member of our families. The Candace Cameron Bure and John Brotherton movie, my daughter is like beside herself with excitement to see that one, because she loved ‘Fuller House.’ My husband is excited about the ‘Back to the Future’ reunion with Lea Thompson and Christopher Lloyd. It’s like they kind of bore into our brains for these. And I think that it’s just fun. It gives everybody an extra layer of stuff to talk about, to see those actors reunited in a different way.”

Then there is the increase in singing, which Hamilton Daly loves so much she plans to up the caroling in 2022.

“Peter Gallagher sings in ‘One December Night.’ He’s amazing. I love him. We actually have a lot of great music in the movies this year,” Hamilton Daly said. “We have Jordin Sparks in ‘A Christmas Treasure,’ she’s singing. We have Michelle Williams from Destiny’s Child, and she’s in a movie, which I adore, called ‘Christmas in Harmony.’ And we have a Pat Monahan and Train singing in a movie called ‘Christmas in Tahoe’ (which airs Nov. 28 at 6/5c). And I, personally, maybe it’s giving too much away, but I would love to lean into more music in future years, because I do think that holiday music is such an integral part of the holiday season. So looking into that, that, for me, is one of the highlights this year.”

As TheWrap previously reported, Hamilton Daly plans to take Hallmark Channel in a more inclusive direction in terms LGBTQ on-screen representation next season, a diversity issue the cable channel has been criticized for in the past. But there are several staples of what Hallmark is and what it offers its fans that she doesn’t see changing.

“We’re very aware of what our our fellow Christmas lovers are doing out there,” Hamilton Daly said, referring to Lifetime, Netflix and other platforms who lead the original-holiday-season-content space. “And I think it’s all of these different places have discovered that this programing is incredibly meaningful to people. And I think my job is to just make sure that Hallmark continues to be that No. 1 destination for these. Keeping that spirit of the season in a way that’s uniquely ours. And I think we’ll continue to lean into that special sauce that is the Hallmark way of doing it. People are trying different things, but I think we’re just going to continue being us, the best us we can be.”

The “us” that Hamilton Daly says Hallmark Channel, a division of the greeting-card giant, is looking to continue to be is a brand that extends beyond what they air on screen.

“I think you can’t underestimate the extent to which Hallmark movies are shared, it really is a deep part of a lot of people’s holiday experience because they are so living-room friendly and so lovely and become part of people’s holiday traditions,” she said. “Especially watching with moms and daughters, watching with your grandma. I think it’s really deeply woven in. And Hallmark is offering such an immersive experience around holidays now, too, so that whether you’re in or out, you could be like drinking your your Hallmark wine with your Hallmark blanket and your Hallmark socks watching a Hallmark movie and your husband can have his Hallmark sweater on. So there’s just so many options, and I think it’s really fun. And I think that people build their family traditions around some of this stuff, which is really exciting for us.”