Net to relaunch April 4 with Hallmark fare

NEW YORK — The Odyssey Channel will show the first influences of its new investors Hallmark Entertainment and the Jim Henson Co. on the day the cable web relaunches in April.

As expected, the cabler will rely heavily on Hallmark’s library of movies and miniseries, and Henson’s kids shows such as “The Muppet Show.”

Under the direction of president and CEO Margaret Loesch, Odyssey is changing from a faith & religious-based channel that scheduled a few entertainment shows such as “Trapper John, M.D.,” to a family entertainment network.

In addition to Hallmark and Henson, Odyssey’s other owners are Liberty Media Corp. and the National Interfaith Cable Coalition.

Dollop of religion

The revamped Odyssey will still retain some of the NICC’s religious programming, but that will be trimmed back and scheduled in the midmorning on weekdays and overnight on the weekends.

Odyssey will relaunch at 6 p.m. on Sunday, April 4, with the entire four-hour miniseries “Gulliver’s Travels,” a co-production of Hallmark and Henson.

The channel will run four movies a day, packaged in blocks such as the Collection from the Hallmark Hall of Fame Library, the Odyssey Signature Movie, Prime Family Movie and Odyssey Morning Movie.

In April, the Collection from the Hallmark Hall of Fame Library will feature “The Piano Lesson,” “What the Deaf Man Heard,” “The Return of the Native” and “Redwood Curtain.”

‘Maltin Presents’

Twice each weekday (4 p.m.-5:30 p.m. and midnight-1:30 a.m.), Odyssey will run “Leonard Maltin Presents,” a collection of classic films and comedy shorts from the Hal Roach library. Movie critic Maltin will host the shows.

Brian Henson, son of the late Jim Henson, and president and CEO of the Henson Co., will make a rare on-camera appearance as host of specially produced interstitials that will introduce “The Muppets” (Monday-Friday, 6 p.m.-6:30 p.m.).

Beginning in the fall, Loesch said, Odyssey will begin premiering originally produced Hallmark films, with the goal of bowing one every month.

Building aud

Odyssey has 28 million subscribers, according to Nielsen Media Research, and Loesch predicted that figure will cross 30 million by the April 4 relaunch.

Loesch acknowledged that Odyssey will have to pay cash incentives to cable operators to gain additional distribution. She said that no budget had been worked out yet, but that Odyssey would probably pay toward the lower end of the $5 to $8 per subscriber payments that are common in today’s marketplace.

Loesch said that in addition to quality programming, the new Odyssey will have other attractive points for cable ops, such as fewer commercials. Odyssey will keep its commercial load to 10 minutes per hour, while many of its competitors pass the 14-minute mark.

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