A civil war has been brewing in the world of family entertainment ever since the Hallmark Channel bent the knee to progressive critics and shifted their focus away from making family entertainment in favor of projects focused on promoting “Diversity & Inclusion”.
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The VP of network programming for Hallmark parent company Crown Media Family, George Zaralidis told NBC in 2020 that “Diversity and inclusion is a top priority for us and we look forward to making some exciting programming announcements in the coming months, including announcements about projects featuring LGBTQ storylines, characters, and actors.”
Shortly after this statement, then-Crown Media Family Networks CEO Bill Abbott stepped down from his role and joined competitor GAC Media – operating name Great American Media – in order to push back against his former company’s new direction.
Abbot has made it clear that he means business, as ever since joining Great American Media as its new CEO and President, he’s managed to recruit a number of Hallmark’s biggest film and television stars to join him in his new venture.
Earlier this year, former Hallmark Channel favorite Candace Cameron Bure signed a multi-year deal with GAC Media.
In the weeks that followed, she was joined by fellow stars Danica McKellar, Jen Lilley, Jessica Lowndes, Cameron Mathison, and Debbie Matenopoulos.
These Hallmark defectors intend to write, produce, and even direct their own content on the new network, all in service of providing a truly family-friendly oasis in the world of entertainment.
“It’s more than just turning on a show, it’s turning on the channel and feeling something,” Abbott recalled of his time at Hallmark during a recent interview with YouTube channel Family Savvy concerning his goals for Great American Media .“You turn it on and you know what you’re going to get. There’s an expectation and we deliver on that expectation.”
Returning to the present, Abbott continued, “That’s what I think’s missing in the environment right now. Networks are all over the place and you never really know what you’re going to get”
“I got so many letters at Hallmark about people who would say they’d get home from work and they’d have a difficult day and they’d be able to turn on our channel and just have two hours where they didn’t have to think about dark situations, violence, sexual situations, things that just…create anxiety,” he added.
Turning to the stars themselves, Abbott then explained to Family Savvy host Jamie Tarence, “fans are so passionate about the talent… about what they do and about the experience they create for them, and so when I made the move over here [to GAC], those relationships certainly continue and transcend anywhere that any of us work.”
“So Candace Cameron Bure certainly is in all likelihood the one that is most well known,” said the CEO. “She’s the queen of the genre, queen of Christmas.”
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Further praising his stars, Abbott asserted, “I think the best part about the talent we work with is they’re great people.”
“They’re not only talented on screen,” he declared, “but they are good people who do the right thing, who you’re not going to read about in the news, who have families, who are supportive of faith, family, and country.”
To that end, Abbott noted that Great American Media had made it a point to work with actors who exemplify the best humanity has to offer.
“We’ve been very conscious to work with people like Candace, like Danica McKellar, Jen Lilley, who is a quality person who has a big family and a big heart,” he said. “Jen is a great example with the amount of charity work that she does for children… Trevor Donovan has an anti-bullying initiative that he takes and goes to schools throughout the country… He’s a role model.”
“We want our talent to be role models and represent us well…” the CEO continued. “Overall reinforce … the positive sides … that are life-affirming.”
And the feeling is mutual, as in a recent sit down with Variety, Bure said of her move to Great American Media, “It’s been so wonderful. I feel like Bill gave me my first shot after taking a very long hiatus from work.”
“Anyone who works knows how difficult that can be, no matter what your job is,” she said. “Any mom knows that when they take a break from working, they’re nervous to come back — if it’s 10 years later, 20 years later, wondering are they even too old to get the job anymore.”
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“There’s a real fear there for a lot of people, so I felt like Bill gave me my first shot coming back into the business and I will always be grateful to him for that,” she recalled. “I really grew alongside of him as he built the network.”
Continuing to shower Abbott with gratitude, Bure affirmed, “Bill has just always been a champion. He’s been a champion for others through his whole career and that’s what has made him an incredible president and CEO of a company — because he knows he’s not doing it himself.”
“It takes a team and it takes loyalty and it takes people doing their best,” she explained. “And he acknowledges that always, which makes him a great leader.
“It’s been an almost 15-year relationship,” Bure concluded. “I trust what Bill has done over the years and that really means a lot to me.”That’s also why a move to Great American Family was a good move for me because of the long standing relationship with Bill.”
Great American Media has a number of projects slated to debut this Fall.
Danica McKellar is slated to executive produce her debut holiday feature for the channel, “Christmas at the Drive-In,” which will be part of the network’s Great American Christmas celebration, a holiday programming marathon set to run from Oct. 21 to the end of 2022.
Lori Loughlin will also make her Great American Family debut in “Fall Into Winter,” a January movie for the network that begins production next month.
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