Hallmark Channel Turns 20: See Notable Firsts From the Channel’s History

The Christmas House Brad Harder Jonathan Bennett
Allister Foster/Crown Media

On the night of Sunday, August 5, 2001, actress Jane Seymour appeared on the channel hitherto known as Odyssey Network to announce its rebranding, welcoming viewers to Hallmark Channel.

And since then, the romance-friendly network has gone from a cable channel to a cable destination, ending 2020 as the most-watched entertainment cable network among adult women in Q4 for the seventh straight year in a row, according to a press release from the net.

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“From day one, Hallmark Channel set out to be the family-friendly destination for great storytelling,” Crown Media Family SVP Chad Harris said during the channel’s 10th anniversary in 2011. “In a sea of cable networks, with so many networks being so extreme — violent, going to the edge — we have remained true to the promise of the uplifting stories that everyone in the family can share.”

Here’s a recap of some notable firsts during Hallmark’s 20 years on the air, including its recent steps toward LGBTQ+ inclusion.

2001: First Broadcast

When Hallmark Channel launched, it began with a broadcast of the miniseries The Infinite Worlds of H.G. Wells. In a review for Variety, critic Steven Oxman said the production’s “notable lack of edge is clearly targeted to a broad, family demographic.”

2009: First Countdown to Christmas Event

Hallmark Channel’s Countdown to Christmas event is a yearly yuletide ritual for viewers. And it all started off with 2009’s The National Tree, a TV movie starring Pretty in Pink’s Andrew McCarthy as a man who teams up with his sons to bring a Christmas tree to Washington, D.C.

2013: First Original Scripted Drama

The channel got into the primetime scripted drama game in 2013 with Cedar Cove, a three-season romance starring Groundhog Day’s Andie MacDowell as a small-town judge living on a Puget Sound island.

2014: First Exclusive Hallmark Hall of Fame Movie

After 63 years on broadcast television, the Hallmark Hall of Fame franchise moved to Hallmark Channel in 2014 with the premiere of One Christmas Eve, a TV movie featuring Chicago P.D.’s Anne Heche as a newly single mother trying to make the perfect holiday for her two kids.

2014: First Partnership With Hallmark Cards

The year 2014 also marked Hallmark Channel’s first team-up with Hallmark Cards, joining forces to produce Northpole. The TV movie starred Saved by the Bell’s Tiffani Thiessen as a single mom who gets a dose of holiday magic from her 10-year-old son.

2015: First Countdown to Valentine’s Day Event

With its Countdown to Christmas event surging in popularity, Hallmark Channel debuted its first Countdown to Valentine’s Day in 2015. “We look forward to giving our audience more of what they want and to building on our foundation of annual franchises celebrating a variety of special occasions and holidays throughout the year,” Hallmark exec Michelle Vicary said in a press release at the time.

2020: First Hallmark Movie With LGBTQ+ Leads

Hallmark finally featured LGBTQ+ leads in a movie in 2020 — a year after controversially nixing Zola ads with same-sex couples. The Christmas House starred Jonathan Bennett and Brad Harder playing husbands trying to adopt a baby. (“It was so much to process and so exciting at the same time,” Bennett told TV Insider, reflecting on the milestone.)

2021: First Hallmark Series With a Same-Sex Kiss

Last month, Hallmark Channel made another stride toward inclusivity during the Good Witch series finale, with stars Kat Barrell and Kyana Teresa sharing the first same-sex kiss in a Hallmark Channel series.