In Donald Trump’s America, Hallmark Channel is tops on TV. Here’s why

Jesse Metcalfe and Meghan Ory star in 'Chesapeake Shores.'. Hallmark/W Network

It’s been called feel-good fluff by both critics and viewers alike, but the fact of the matter is Hallmark Channel, with its sugary sweet TV movies and shows, is currently one of the highest-rated TV channels in the United States. (Hallmark Channel content airs on W Network in Canada.)

Shows like Chesapeake Shores (starring Jesse Metcalfe) and saccharinely titled movies like A Dash of Love and Love at First Bark provide the mindless, wholesome entertainment people are turning to in Donald Trump’s America.

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Hallmark Channel is also a home for actors who’ve outlasted their heyday — Metcalfe, along with others like Lori Loughlin, Danica McKellar and Jack Wagner — to find new and lasting work with dedicated audiences. Considering the insane nostalgia lust currently dominating TV, it’s only a boon for Hallmark to have all of these actors populating the channel’s shows with familiar faces and names.

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An astounding statistic shows that Hallmark is the only U.S. non-news channel to show a gain in ratings in 2016. The channel’s prized Christmas movies, which run shamelessly consistently in November and December, certainly help boost it even further, putting Hallmark shoulder-to-shoulder with huge competitors like Fox News in those months last year.

Things are looking good in 2017, as well. Pre-Christmas movies, Hallmark’s ratings are already up nine per cent, and they only stand to grow further once the yuletide festivities begin.

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So what’s the deal here? Why are people flocking so heavily to Hallmark?

“It makes sense that in an era of war and political conflict, people turn to their TVs for feel-good escapism,” said Amber Dowling, TV critic and former president of the Television Critics Association. “Historically that’s been true over the years, and has usually led to an increase in production on family comedies and stories. Hallmark churns this type of programming out, so they’re able to easily fit that current appetite.”

Indeed, it’s true: Hallmark shows and movies, for the most part, are squeaky clean. No swears, no sex, closed-mouth kisses, and enforced “family values” can go a long way when the rest of TV is a melange of excessive violence and sex. Many contemporary TV shows try to go the other way, towards whatever forbidden button needs pushing. Hallmark and channels like it are salves, oases away from the chaos of network and cable TV. It’s no surprise its tagline is “The heart of TV.”

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“The environment is undeniably contentious,” said Bill Abbott, chief executive of Crown Media, which owns Hallmark. “We are a place you can go and feel good. We intentionally branded ourselves as the happy place.”

While Hallmark’s ratings have been going up consistently over the last few years, it’s gotten a noticeable bump since late 2015, when the latest presidential election cycle started. It might not just be an American phenomenon, either; ratings have been on the rise here, too.

Good Witch, a Hallmark/W Network TV series which tells the story of an enchantress and her daughter in a small town, broke records on W Network in 2016. In Canada, its first season is still the highest-rated series for women aged 25-54 to air on the channel in the past decade.

TV series Nashville (its original broadcaster is CMT, but the show is still fairly wholesome) also migrated to W Network for its resurrection, and it has been performing spectacularly as well, also breaking ratings records.

One thing is clear — the harder the news gets and the more divisive society becomes, people searching for an outlet will have one in PG-rated TV.

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