Day 6

Why Hallmark Christmas movies are so exasperatingly addictive

This year marks the 10th anniversary of Hallmark's Countdown to Christmas. The movies are cheesy, formulaic, and annoyingly addictive. TV critic Caroline Siede tells us why, and how Hallmark Christmas movies have become such a big deal.

'There is a manic devotion to Christmas in the world of these movies,' says Caroline Siede

Jodie Sweetin and Andrew Walker star in the 2019 Hallmark Christmas movie, Merry and Bright. (Crown Media/The Hallmark Channel)

It's November, and you know what that means? Goodbye Halloween and hello to everything Christmas, including 24/7 broadcasts of Hallmark Christmas movies.

Hallmark Christmas movies are cheesy, campy, predictable — and people absolutely love them.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of Hallmark's popular Countdown to Christmas, a series of film premieres leading up to Dec. 25. This year includes 24 new movie premieres that will air on The Hallmark Channel, and on the W Network in Canada.

Let's be clear: these are not high-brow films with deep character or plot development. They are formulaic and sentimental, but somehow they draw huge audiences.

This year, The Hallmark Channel hosted Christmas in July — a 16-day marathon of 225 Hallmark Christmas movies — so that fans could watch their favourites in the summer.

So why are these movies so addictive? Caroline Siede is a film and TV critic and she says the Hallmark formula is part of the draw.

I think it combines what a lot of people love about romantic comedies with the Christmas season.- Caroline Siede, Film and TV critic

The Template

While the plot of every film varies, each Hallmark Christmas movie draws from a similar template.

"I would say that the classic Hallmark plot involves a successful career gal from the big city who somehow, begrudgingly, ends up in a quaint small town where she meets a hunky local who helps her realize that the thing missing in her life is love," Siede explained to Day 6 host Brent Bambury.

So why is that cookie cutter template appealing?

"I think it combines what a lot of people love about romantic comedies with the Christmas season," said Siede.

"And in both cases I think what people love about those genres is the familiarity. So this is a way to get something that you like in a slightly new format, even if it ultimately ends up feeling pretty familiar."

Candace Cameron Bure, left, and Beth Broderick star in the Hallmark's Christmas Town. Cameron Bure is a perennial star of Hallmark Christmas movies. (Crown Media/The Hallmark Channel)

Siede says that template also makes it easy to tune in and out of the films throughout the holiday season.

"If you need something to throw on, you can come in in the middle of one [and] leave halfway through the next one. You always know how they're going to end, so they're an easy thing to have on in the background," she said.

With popularity comes change

According to Crown Media, the parent company of Hallmark, the first Countdown to Christmas weekend of 2019 had millions of viewers and was the "highest-rated and most-watched network all weekend long, excluding news."

The first film to premiere this year was Christmas Wishes & Mistletoe Kisses starring Jill Wagner and Matthew Davis. Crown Media says it was the "highest-rated and most-watched program on Saturday [Oct. 26]" among women aged 18-54.

There is a manic devotion to Christmas in the world of these movies.- Caroline Siede

But Hallmark has drawn criticism for the lack of diversity among its casts. Last year, two black actors were featured as lead characters in a Hallmark Christmas film for the first time. 

This year, even more black actors have been added to their casts — something Siede says is better late than never.

"This Countdown to Christmas has been around for the past 10 years. But I will give them credit for at least eventually making some progress.... certainly far too late, but I'm glad to see it finally starting to happen," she said. 

Jill Wagner stars in Christmas Wishes & Mistletoe Kisses, which premiered last month as part of Hallmark's 2019 Countdown to Christmas. (Crown Media/The Hallmark Channel)

There are currently petitions for the Hallmark Channel to feature LGBT characters as well, but that's not in the playlist this year.

"Unfortunately, that's another place where this genre needs far more diversity," Siede said.

"Last year I watched one where there was a brother of the main character who was lightly quoted as being gay, although that was never clarified. And that's about as much LGBT representation as unfortunately you're going to find in these films." 

Big business

In a press release, Crown Media says that it's Oct. 26 premiere of Christmas Wishes & Mistletoe Kisses reached 3.8 million unduplicated viewers.

That means big business for The Hallmark Channel.

Fans love to cozy up and watch the films, despite their corniness and predictability, and that has spawned Hallmark Christmas movie watching fan gear and paraphernalia.

The Hallmark Channel sells its own products, including sweaters, socks, wine glasses, mug and even candles and doormats.

Day 6 producer Laurie Allan drinks from her Hallmark Christmas movie watching mug. (Yamri Taddese/CBC)

But Siede says first and foremost what appeals to fans is a love of Christmas.

"There is a manic devotion to Christmas in the world of these movies. I would say either you are at a 100 with your love for Christmas or you're at a zero. And the whole movie revolves around you coming to love Christmas," she told Day 6.

"Sometimes you might go to a small town and you run into an old love interest or ex-boyfriend. Sometimes that's a whole new small town and you're meeting someone new. So there are some slight variations in there, but the love of Christmas definitely is across the board with all of these movies."

To hear the full interview with Caroline Siede, download our podcast or click Listen above.