'The cheese ball of television': More networks gift treacly comfort food of holiday movies
We're nearing the most wonderful time of the year, and more television networks and streaming services than ever want in on the cheer.
The ghost of Christmas past could tell you about a time when Hallmark was the primary (reindeer) game in town for romantic holiday TV movies. While it's still the channel's highest-rated time of year, Hallmark now competes with Lifetime (unveiling 35 titles this season, including features with Reba McEntire and Kelly Rowland) and Netflix (which plans a third installment of "The Princess Switch" and "A Castle For Christmas" starring Brooke Shields and Cary Elwes).
But this year, plenty of others are hoping to find themselves on viewers' nice list, including CBS – airing two holiday movies, the network's first in more than 10 years – and Comedy Central, Food Network and VH1. GAC Family – the channel formerly known as Great American Country and headed by Bill Abbott, the former CEO of Hallmark Channel’s parent company – is also air its first Christmas movies.
"For the holiday season, we know a huge swath of our viewership and people who come to us for holiday baking and Christmas cooking also love holiday movies," says Courtney White, president of Food Network and related content for Discovery Inc. "So it felt like a natural fit to expand our already robust holiday programming into this new area."
Though Hulu released its heartwarming rom-com "Happiest Season" last year, with a same-sex couple at its center, the platform isn't expanding its love-focused features this holiday. HBO Max also is steering clear of the reliable genre.
White says the channel's audience grows during the holiday season as families prepare seasonal meals and sweets.
Its first feature film, "Candy Coated Christmas," arrives on Discovery+ Nov. 19. Business executive Molly Gallant (Molly McCook) travels to the “Peppermint Capital of the World,” Peppermint Hollow, Washington, to sell her late mom's childhood home and save her family's business. But she begins to have a change of heart when she meets the family renting her mom's home. Ree Drummond, the network's beloved "Pioneer Woman," stars as Bee, the owner of a bakery.
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White says programmers have observed the holiday magic Hallmark, Lifetime and Netflix have been able to create.
"They really proliferated as a genre," she says. "We were just basically watching the popularity and the search across the board."
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Comedy Central will release two original titles next month: "Hot Mess Holiday" (Dec. 11, 7 EST/PST) about a woman in need of a pick-me-up after her broken engagement, and "A Clüsterfünke Christmas" (Dec. 4, 7 EST/PST), a parody of the traditional holiday romantic film written by "SNL" alums Rachel Dratch and Ana Gasteyer, who also star. The two play "spinster" owners of an inn that an ambitious real estate executive wants to turn into a resort. But after meeting the owners' good-looking nephew, Frank (Cheyenne Jackson), Holly might just fall in love with him and small-town life.
Gasteyer describes the holiday TV films as "super-comforting junk food for the masses, in a great way" and compares them to another holiday indulgence: "They're the cheese ball of television."
"There’s a predictability that people like around the holidays, and I think (of) how those Hallmark movies capture that," Gasteyer says. "I watch them a lot with my teenage daughter, and we laugh at everything that we think is ridiculous about them, but we also find them really comforting."
Says Dratch: "We're hoping that people who watch it are those that are really into these movies and those that also hate these movies. We're hoping we capture both."
Whether you're a fan of the films or love to hate-watch, here are additional highlights of the holiday lineups coming to town, from players familiar and new.
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Netflix boasts retro star power with Brooke Shields, who stars in "A Castle For Christmas" (Nov. 26). She plays an author who goes to Scotland with dreams of buying a modest castle. But the current owner (Cary Elwes) isn't keen on handing over his property to a foreigner.
And get ready to sing (with gusto!) "Fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-Lohan!" The "Mean Girls" star stars opposite Chord Overstreet ("Glee") in an untitled project scheduled for 2022, portraying a “newly engaged and spoiled hotel heiress,” who suffers amnesia in a skiing accident. Overstreet, “a handsome, blue-collar lodge owner,” nurses her back to health. Sure, next year is a long time to wait, but we couldn't just not mention this movie, like an identical twin your parents never warned you about.
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If you've been wondering what your favorite singers are up to, tune in to Lifetime and Hallmark. In "Reba McEntire's Christmas in Tune" (Lifetime, Nov. 26, 8 EST/PST), the Grammy winner portrays a singer who reunites with her ex and former musical collaborator (John Schneider) when their daughter (Candice King) asks them to perform at a charity event.
Kelly Rowland stars in the network's "Merry Liddle Christmas Baby" (Nov. 27, 8 EST/PST) as expectant mom Jacquie Liddle, while Rowland's former Destiny's Child bandmate Michelle Williams stars in Hallmark's "Christmas in Harmony" (reairing Thursday at 6 EST/PST). And we're guessing Train lead singer Pat Monahan asked Hallmark to "Merry Me?" Monahan and comedian George Lopez bring star power to Hallmark's "Christmas in Tahoe" (Nov. 28, 6 EST/PST). In an effort to rescue the Christmas show at her family's hotel, a woman (Laura Osnes) reaches out to her ex (Kyle Selig), who plays guitar in a big-time band.
Smokey Robinson appears in "Miracle in Motor City" (Lifetime, Nov. 28 at 8 EST/PST), who Tia Mowry's character desperately needs to perform in her church's Christmas pageant. "My Love Is Like...Wo" artist Mýa plays an uninspired singer/songwriter recruited by a hometown high school teacher for his fight to keep the school's art program in Lifetime's "My Favorite Christmas Melody" (Dec. 5, 8 EST/PST).
Unique ho-ho-holiday offerings
If the typical holiday movies make you say "Bah humbug!" get ready for these more unusual treats. A Type-A woman in finance finds herself kicked to the curb by her unfaithful fiance during the Diwali holidays in "Hot Mess Holiday" (Dec. 11, 7 EST/PST). Her best friend comes to the rescue, but partying to get over a broken heart quickly becomes a dangerous escapade when they get their hands on a pricey diamond.
RuPaul and drag queens assemble for what VH1 is calling "the draggiest Christmas movie ever made." In "The (B----) Who Stole Christmas" (Dec. 2, 9 EST/PST), a fashion writer is assigned a story in a quaint town of Christmas zealots only to find "herself in the middle of cutthroat housewives, a high-stakes 'Winter Ball' competition and a sinister plot that could destroy Christmas fore-evah!"