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TCA, Day 3 – A&E has Lowe, Lifetime has Smart, and Hallmark has a Whole Lot of Christmas
July 28, 2017  | By Ed Bark

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- It's no brag, but again just fact when Hallmark Channel promises the "premier gala" of the summer Television Critics Association (TCA) "press tour."

Its latest dinner under the stars, garnished with onetime Big Dippers and a wealth of Little Dippers, commenced Thursday evening on the immaculate grounds of the Warner Estate. Hallmark throws these pricey bashes twice a year out here, with this one subtitled "Where Hallmark Meets Hollywood." And the unabashedly retro repository of full-blown "family entertainment" clearly is doing something right under the Crown Media banner. They're even adding a third outlet, Hallmark Drama Channel, scheduled to launch Oct. 1 with a "wholly distinct lineup from Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Channel."

Critics are always invited, but the main function of these gatherings is to treat the network's stars like kings and queens, princes and princesses. President and CEO Bill Abbott and programming and publicity executive VP Michelle Vicary never fail to introduce each and every on-camera participant in Hallmark's array of feel-good series, soft-serve mysteries and of course, enough gooey Christmas movies to make Scrooge recant and revert to being Scrooge.

Some of the more notable attendees included Wendie Malick (below), Kellie Martin, Jon Voight, Nancy Grace, Catherine Bell, Bruce Boxleitner, Andie MacDowell, Holly Robinson Peete, Treat Williams, Al Roker, Kathie Lee Gifford, Diane Ladd, Barry Bostwick and Patrick Duffy (left), who sat immediately to my left at one of the long, ornately decorated dinner tables also populated with Performance Carved Filet Mignon, Salmon Coulibiac, Truffled Pommes Purée and Summer Orecchiette.

The former Dallas star and your TVWW correspondent go all the way back to the "Who Shot J.R.?" frenzy of the early 1980s, which coincided with my first year as TV critic for The Dallas Morning News.

Duffy's now comfortably encased in a beard and longish, unruly hair after recently appearing in Hallmark's July 15 premiere of The Christmas Cure, in which he played a doctor on the verge of retiring from his small-town practice and closing it down. But his daughter, also a doctor, returns home from afar for a rare holiday visit and is reunited with her high school sweetheart. Might she stay much longer than planned? Will the family practice be saved?

"I bet you didn't see that coming," Duffy cracks.

Yes, of course, Hallmark does Christmas in July -- 10 days of it this time around. And in just a few months, the network's official onslaught of holiday cheer gets its earliest start ever, on Oct. 27th, with a record number of 33 new movies (up from 26 last year).

It's a wonder there are any titles left, but Hallmark is plowing ahead with the likes of Enchanted Christmas, Magical Christmas Ornament, The Christmas Cottage, The Christmas Train, The Sweetest Christmas, Christmas Castle, Christmas Shuttle, Christmas Sister Swap and Never Too Late For Christmas (or too early).

During holiday breaks, Hallmark houses franchises such as Al Roker's Midnight Talk Show Murders, Garage Sale Mysteries, A Fixer-Upper Mystery the Murder She Baked Mystery Movies and the Hailey Dean Mystery Movies.

And coming soon, Abbott announced Thursday night, is The Best In Show Shelter Dog Championships, climaxed with The Biggest Heart grand prize winner after competitions for Best Smile, Most Cuddly and Messiest Eater.

Abbott began his remarks with the declaration that "we are big believers in the linear television business." In part, that's watching TV programs on their appointed days and at their appointed hours rather than DVRing them or searching "On Demand" menus or streaming sites.

But who watches TV like that anymore? The great majority of Hallmark's faithful viewers, that's who. Its top execs remain convinced of this -- at least until the next Christmas in July.


Friday morning brought a panel for A&E network's The Lowe Files, starring the ubiquitous Rob Lowe (top and right) and his two sons, Matthew and John Owen (top and right), both in their early 20s.

Beginning on Aug. 2, they'll be traipsing around the country in search of ghosts and other oddities such as Sasquatch, a k a Big Foot.

"Since I was a little boy, I've loved spooky stories and scary mysteries," said Rob, who later described the series as "Anthony Bourdain in a blender with Scooby Doo.'

Absolutely nothing is staged, all three Lowes emphasized. For his part, Rob said he'd never seen a ghost, but now believes he has. But "I don't want to seem like a nut," he added. "I don't want to end my career here."

Mostly, though, The Lowe Files affords an opportunity for father and sons to share a series of mini-road trips together. "It's the journey and creating memories for us and having an excuse to be together," dad said.

He later dropped the nugget that his friend, Charlie Sheen, believes the moon is hollow. But this is not something they further investigate.

Sheryl Lowe, Rob's wife and his son's mom, is pretty sure what she makes of all this.

"She thinks this is ridiculous," Rob said. "She could give a hell if we were killed by Sasquatch. But she was really concerned that we might get ticks."


Elizabeth Smart (right), famously kidnapped in June 2002 as a 14-year-old, is now the assured 29-year-old narrator and co-producer of Lifetime's two-part movie I Am Elizabeth Smart.

For nine months, she was drugged and sexually abused by religious fanatic Brian Mitchell (played by Skeet Ulrich) and an accomplice. A quickie 2003 CBS movie, The Elizabeth Smart Story, was made without her authorization and "shied away from the reality of what Elizabeth went through," according to Lifetime. This time the details aren't spared, with Alana Boden (right, Mr. Selfridge) cast as Elizabeth. The two regularly consulted on the set of the film, which is scheduled to premiere sometime this fall.

"It is the best, worst movie I've ever seen," Smart said. "I was very proud of it, but I hate it at the same time."

Smart said that upon her return home as a teenager, "I swore up and down that I was never going to write a book, never do a movie."

She since has done both and sees the upcoming Lifetime production as "a unique opportunity to share my story . . . I need to speak out because I can."

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