Backdoor pilots join 'Marie' on cabler airwaves

Hallmark Channel is developing its first two original series via backdoor pilots, execs announced at parent Crown Media’s upfront gathering Wednesday in New York.

Movie pilots “Cedar Cove” and “When Calls the Heart” will be produced this year for broadcast on Hallmark Channel in the 2012-2013 season. Each is based on concepts from authors (Debbie Macomber and Janette Oke) who have previously seen works adapted into Hallmark original telepics. Dan Wigutow and Michael Scott will exec produce “Cedar Cove,” set in a smalltown filled with stories big and small. Macomber’s book-to-film adaptations include “Mrs. Miracle” and “Trading Christmas.”

“Heart” is a period drama, centered on a frontier schoolteacher, that will be exec produced by Brad Krevoy and Michael Landon, Jr.

“In Hallmark Channel’s 10-year history, the network has produced a number of successful movie franchises that we know have the story potential to go forward as episodic programs,” Crown Media/Hallmark networks prexy and CEO Bill Abbott said. “Hopefully, these two projects will pave the way for development for other series based on our movies. Going into series is the next right step to bolster our strong foundation in original programming.”

In daytime, Hallmark Channel has set a fall launch for “Marie,” an hourlong talkshow hosted by Marie Osmond, and is readying the weekday two-hour talker “Home & Family,” exec produced by longtime daytime producer Woody Fraser.

“Woody Fraser has created more news and talk show hits than any other producer,” Abbott said. ” ‘Home & Family,’ promises to blend all of the brand attributes consumers love about Hallmark’s celebration of special occasions with high-energy entertainment and information that benefits families every day.”

The cabler has also acquired off-net rights to the first 88 episodes of ABC comedy “The Middle,” starring Patricia Heaton, with a premiere date scheduled for March 2014. Additional full seasons will air as they become available.

As for movies, Hallmark has 28 in development or production that are targeted for air in 2012-13, including one exec produced by Heaton, “The Christmas Heart,” starring Teri Polo and Tess Harper. Sister network Hallmark Movie Channel has nine original movies in its 2012-13 slate.

Hallmark Channel has a reach of 87 million U.S. homes, Hallmark Movie Channel nearly 47 million.

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