Crowning achievement

Dec 3, 2001  •  Post A Comment

The Hallmark Hall of Fame will celebrate its golden anniversary this month, and with 210 presentations, 78 Emmys, 9 Golden Globes, 11 Peabodys, 24 Christopher Awards and 4 Humanitas Prizes behind it, the event-TV program series has much to pay tribute to.
Born in the era of fully sponsored TV programming, the Hallmark Hall of Fame was Hallmark Cards founder Joyce Hall’s idea. In 1961, 10 years after Hallmark sponsored its first program, Mr. Hall was presented with an Emmy by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. As he accepted the award, Mr. Hall said, “I’m grateful to the academy for recognizing the sponsor, at last.” (Indeed, it was the first Emmy ever given to a marketer.) “But tonight I want to pay a particular consideration to our audience, who has made this all possible. And to them who have been very understanding through the stumbling years that we had in television in the early days through our failures and our successes, we were always trying, and we’re grateful. Thank you.”
Eventually, one by one, companies dropped their single program sponsorships in favor of buying commercial time on a variety of shows so they could reach more people. But not Hallmark. “I’d rather make 25 million good impressions than 50 million mediocre ones,” Mr. Hall once famously said. “The Hall of Fame should always be a guest, not an intruder, in the viewer’s living room.”
“He could say that-it was his company,” said Bradley Moore, president, Hallmark Hall of Fame Productions. Today, he said, Hallmark Hall of Fame movies bring in an average of 10 million to 20 million viewers each.
Much of the series’ success, said Mr. Moore, is due to the commitment and insight of the Hall family. J.C. Hall’s son Donald Hall, current chairman of Hallmark Cards, and Don Hall Jr., who will succeed Irvine Hockaday Jr. as president and CEO on Jan. 1, read every script before any decision is made to pour money into a production. Mr. Moore said they commit to a $6 million to $ 9 million production budget for each movie.
The company’s full-time development group consists of a three-man team based in Los Angeles. Hallmark Hall of Fame Productions gets its stories primarily from books, plays and literary agents. Each year, it produces about four broadcasts and televises them during high-card-giving seasons: Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
People and their relationships are the focus of most Hallmark presentations, Mr. Moore said. “Whatever the subject matter, whether it’s alcoholism, child abuse, whatever it may be, the real story will be about the relationships among the characters,” said Mr. Moore. In “My Name Is Bill W.,” for example, a movie based on the story of Bill Wilson, founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, James Woods starred in a story that was essentially about Bill W.’s relationship with his wife. “Through the course of the movie, you find out how AA was founded, but it isn’t the focus of the story,” Mr. Moore said.
Hallmark Hall of Fame signed its first exclusive broadcast arrangement with CBS in 1995. The companies recently agreed to extend the relationship until 2004. “They have worked really well with us creatively, and we’ve had excellent results w ith our audience,” said Mr. Moore. “CBS is traditionally very strong on Sunday nights, and their style was a really good match. [CBS Television President and CEO] Les Moonves was involved in the production of our “O Pioneers!” when he was at Lorimar, so he already knew what we were all about, and that worked to our benefit.”
The 211th Hallmark Hall of Fame production, “The Seventh Stream,” will air on Dec. 9. This love story, based on an Irish-Scottish fable, is a tale of a man who loses his wife, then meets a woman whom he later discovers is a creature from the sea. Productions for 2002 include “My Sister’s Keeper,” a true story by Margaret Mormon about two sisters, one of whom is suffering from schizophrenia, starring Kathy Bates, Elizabeth Perkins and Lynn Redgrave.
“Hallmark Hall of Fame has always aimed to entertain but also to inform and inspire,” said Mr. Moore. “To have an audience, first of all you have to entertain, but we also want them to feel like time was well spent enough that they have learned something.”