Network commissions 30 original pics for '08

NEW YORK — Hallmark Channel is planning to commission 30 original movies for 2008, marking the largest made-for slate in the network’s history.

That boast will come at today’s TV Critics Assn. summer press tour in a presentation by web prexy-CEO of Henry Schleiff , who said Hallmark has a number of movies in development with such veteran producers as Gerry Abrams (“Nuremberg”), Orly Adelson (“Ruffian”) and Dan Wigutow (“Fatal Vision”).

Most of the movies would be modestly budgeted at $2 million-$3 million, and Hallmark’s license fee would typically cut off at about $1.8 million. But David Kenin, exec VP of programming for Hallmark, said a couple of these movies each year would be more expensive and treated as event programming, maybe even premiering in U.S. theaters before gravitating to the network.

Because of the Hallmark Cards brand, Kenin said the network’s movies have to be “family-friendly, predictable and consistent.” Hallmark’s target demo is adults 25-54, but skewed toward the older end of that range. A detailed Magna Global report two weeks ago said that the average age of people who watched Hallmark’s primetime schedule from October through May was 63, making it the second oldest cable network, behind Fox News, which averaged 65-plus.

The first of the Hallmark movies exec produced by Abrams is “When You Listen,” written by Karen Struck and starring Tom Bosley as an ailing elderly man whose goal before he dies is to reunite his workaholic widowed son and 12-year-old granddaughter. It premieres Jan. 5. Abrams’ second, “Daniel’s Daughter,” a love story written by Tracy Rosen, is in the early stages of pre-production.

Hallmark is in something of a state of flux; it’s weaning itself away from its previous dependence on the two Robert Halmis, father and son, who were responsible for the vast majority of the network’s made-fors between 2004 and 2007.

The Halmis have moved on to making pictures for Lifetime, the Sci Fi Channel, Ion Media Networks and other outlets, which has caused Hallmark to “open its doors wide” to other movie suppliers, as Kenin puts it. For 2007, Hallmark will schedule only about 21 or 22 movies, well below the pace of previous years.

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