Hallmark goes for originals

Cabler plans 12 family pix, three miniseries

The Hallmark Channel is stuffing its schedule with original movies.

At a breakfast preview Wednesday of Hallmark’s upfront presentation, Dave Kenin, executive VP of programming, talked up 12 family movies scheduled for this year plus three 2004 miniseries produced by Hallmark’s partner Robert Halmi Jr.: “La Femme Musketeer,” “King Solomon’s Mines” and “Frankenstein.”

In addition to those movies, Kenin said Hallmark will begin casting 16 more pics as the network strives to create “a premiere Sunday mystery franchise,” beginning in January 2005.

These Sunday pics will consist of a rotation of four characters, each of which will be featured in four two-hour movies. The four are “Mystery Woman” (a young woman inherits a mystery bookstore), “McBride” (a former cop becomes a kick-ass attorney), “Jane Doe” (a housewife and crossword-puzzle expert who solves mysteries cerebrally) and “Thick as Thieves” (a gentleman thief in a battle of wits with a female insurance investigator).

The new roster means Hallmark is commissioning more original movies in 2004-05 than any other network — broadcast or cable.

Kenin said he’d like to do three more miniseries for next year and ramp up his family-movie package from 12 to 24 a year in 2005-06.

Bill Abbott, executive VP of ad sales for Hallmark Channel’s parent Crown Media, U.S., calls these original movies and miniseries “the revenue drivers” for Hallmark’s ad-sales department.

Hallmark has drawn up its most ambitious blueprint ever for upfront sales, Abbott said, targeting an average increase of 75% over last year’s total.

Abbott said he expects three categories to pony up big for the 2004-05 season: entertainment companies, led by DVDs of hit movies; telecommunications outfits; and pharmaceutical companies.

Abbott also predicted that three more categories will return with fatter ad budgets after holding back somewhat in the last year: financial services, technology companies and travel services. “There are also two wild cards, automotives and packaged goods,” he said.

As a lure to get advertisers to write larger checks to Hallmark, Abbott said he’s offering sponsorships, such as the deal with Kraft Foods to be the sole national sponsor of the June 13 and June 24 cablecasting of “The Parent Trap,” the 1998 Disney remake with Lindsay Lohan.

Instead of the usual 24 minutes of commercials for the two-hour showcase, Kraft will take only eight minutes, hoping that the reduction of clutter will score points with viewers.

In a similar deal, Abbott said that Claritin will sponsor the original movie “The Long Shot” on April 18, also with a reduced commercial load.

Ace Hardware and Subaru will be exclusive sponsors of Hallmark’s Father’s Day promotional campaign, centered on the premiere of “La Femme Musketeer” on June 20.

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