Odyssey will relaunch as Hallmark Channel

U.S. revamp to occur Aug. 6

NEW YORK — Backed by a multimillion-dollar promotion and advertising campaign, Odyssey Network will relaunch as Hallmark Channel this summer.

The change — an effort to take advantage of the name recognition value of the Hallmark brand — has been in the works since late 1998, soon after the Jim Henson Co. and Hallmark Entertainment each bought 22.5% of the cable net.

Crown Media Holdings, a co-owner of the cabler, plans to relaunch all of its global outlets under the Hallmark banner. The U.S. revamp will take place Aug. 6.

“I wish it had happened sooner,” Crown president and CEO David Evans said.

During a conference call Wednesday, Evans said the company is also working with the National Interfaith Cable Coalition, which owns a 9.7% stake in Crown, to develop a 24-hour “faith and values” digital cable network. “We have agreed to work with them to make that a reality.”

Until November 1998, NICC, a consortium of religious groups, managed Odyssey. Evans said faith and values programming on Hallmark Channel will be reduced from 40 hours per week to 14.5, primarily in early morning and afternoon timeslots. Additionally, Hallmark will work with the NICC to produce primetime holiday programming.

Slate announced

Hallmark Channel topper Margaret Loesch unveiled the net’s programming plans, which include a slate of original miniseries, movies and skeins produced in association with Hallmark Entertainment.

The mini “Johnson County War,” written by Larry McMurtry, and starring Tom Berenger, Rachel Ward and Luke Perry, will premiere this year, as will “Stranded,” a four-hour adventure pic inspired by “Swiss Family Robinson.”

The network also announced the two-hour telepic “Scandal in Bohemia,” the third in a series of movies produced for the net based on classic Sherlock Holmes short stories.

Hallmark has three original series in the works: “Lincoln Hall,” a one-hour drama set in a college philosophy class; “The Neverending Story,” a half-hour series based on Michael Ende’s bestselling novel; and “Telling Stories With Tomie dePaola,” a half-hour skein from the Henson Co. featuring the works of the illustrator and storyteller.

Odyssey is available in more than 29 million homes, although Loesch said she predicts that number will grow to 33 million to 35 million in the near future.

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