How Hallmark Took Over Cable Television

Sarah Larson in The New Yorker:

This year, Hallmark made headlines when it announced that it would produce two holiday movies with Hanukkah themes. In both, however, Christmas is the star. In “Holiday Date,” Brooke (Brittany Bristow) brings an actor, Joel (Matt Cohen), to Whispering Pines, her home town, for the holidays, to pose as her boyfriend—a common phenomenon on Hallmark, and perhaps less so in real life. One afternoon in September, I visited the set, in a house outside Vancouver. The downstairs was festooned with pine sconces, ornaments, and bows. “Tree on the move!” a crew member said. “I’ve never done Hallmark,” Cohen told me. For a decade, he’d played scary roles, including Lucifer, on shows like “Supernatural.” “I committed to the dark side and it paid the bills,” he said. “But this is who I really am. I’m a goofball.”

As “Holiday Date” unfolds, it’s revealed that Joel doesn’t know how to decorate a tree, or hang Christmas lights: he’s Jewish. The family is “surprised but unfazed,” Bristow explained. They incorporate latkes and a menorah into their festivities and teach Joel to deck the halls. “I’ve never celebrated Christmas, but I always wanted to,” he says. In the movie’s trailer, “Silent Night” plays in the background.

That afternoon, I watched as a scene was filmed in which Joel, handsome in a Santa-red sweater, helps Brooke’s young niece, Tessa (Ava Grace Cooper), rehearse for a Christmas pageant. On the monitor, I could see three Christmas trees in the frame. Tessa’s self-absorbed parents, played by the recurring Hallmark bro Peter Benson and the Hallmark villain Anna Van Hooft, walked by, looking at their phones, and opened the front door, obscuring a tree but introducing a wreath. The living room was a riot of Yuletide splendor: trees and garlands. A fire roared in the fireplace, and a row of Christmas stockings hung on the mantel. Above them, a string of blue-and-white letters spelled out “happy hanukkah.” Tessa’s pageant line was about family togetherness: “ ’Cause that’s what Christmas is all about.” Cohen beamed. “Perfect,” he said.

More here.