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Odyssey Channel now Hallmark Channel

Sunday, August 05, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

PASADENA, Calif. - Change is a hallmark of the television industry, so it's no surprise the Odyssey network becomes the Hallmark Channel today (available on AT&T Broadband and some Adelphia cable systems). It's a move that makes sense. People know the Hallmark brand name, they're considerably less aware of what Odyssey stands for.

TV Review
"Hallmark Channel"
When: Today on area cable systems

"Very few networks have launched with the degree of positive brand equity that we have here with the Hallmark name," said Hallmark Channel president Margaret Loesch. "It's perceived as representing quality and craftsmanship. That built-in reputation and recognition is a big advantage to us as a channel trying to stand out in today's crowded television landscape."

The Hallmark Channel launches today with the six-hour miniseries "The Infinite Worlds of H.G. Wells" (9 tonight, tomorrow and Tuesday), which includes the dramatization of six short stories written by Wells, largely regarded as the father of science fiction ("The Island of Dr. Moreau," "The Invisible Man," "War of the Worlds").

Hallmark also will preview "Tales from the Neverending Story" (based on Michael Ende's novel) Saturday at 6 p.m., which becomes a weekly series Oct. 6. A new children's show from Jim Henson Productions, "Telling Stories with Tomie dePaola," premieres tomorrow at 7:30 a.m. On Sept. 1, Hallmark will broadcast the entire 30-hour "North and South" miniseries that aired on ABC in the 1980s.

Weekday afternoons the network will air back-to-back reruns of "My Three Sons" (3 p.m.), "Bewitched" (4 p.m.), "I Dream of Jeannie" (5 p.m.), "Happy Days" (6 p.m.) and "America's Funniest Home Videos" (7 p.m.).

In addition, Hallmark has acquired rights to 43 hour-long color episodes of Jackie Gleason's revamp of "The Honeymooners," most of which have not aired since their original broadcast between 1966 and 1970. The network also will air reruns of the early '90s hit "Northern Exposure" beginning in October.

Some programs produced by the Henson company, which still owns a part of the network, will disappear from the Hallmark airwaves for a while, but they will return for a Christmas marathon and be back on more regularly next year.

"Hallmark Hall of Fame" programs from CBS will air Sunday nights on Hallmark Channel, with a repeat Wednesday.

"After their initial runs they do come into our 'Hallmark Hall of Fame' collection," Loesch said. "The Hallmark Channel is the only place where the public can see, in a weekly installment, the 'Hallmark Hall of Fame' collection, all those 50 wonderful years of programming."

Name changes for cable networks aren't unusual, but it's rare for a cable network to change its name five times since its inception in the late '80s. That's the track record of the new Hallmark Channel.

The greeting card company actually bought into the network in November 1998, but the name didn't change immediately because it had only recently become Odyssey (it was previously the Faith & Values Channel).

"They had spent a lot of money rebranding it and [the partners in the network's ownership] wanted us to stick with it," Loesch said. "I had hoped we could brand it at the very beginning, but in an effort to be good partners, we kept the name and sub-branded it 'a Hallmark and Henson network,' which was never the best of both worlds."

Agreement by the partners and a lot of financial machinations resulted in the move to re-name the network.

"We've had to prove to Hallmark we would do well by their brand," Loesch said. "We've had to have a series of meetings where I've gone back to [Hallmark headquarters in] Kansas City to show them what our vision was, explain our programming plan to gain their confidence. When we passed that bar and reached that confidence level, they formally agreed to let us call it Hallmark."

The National Interfaith Cable Coalition, which initially started the network that has become Hallmark, still has an ownership stake in the channel, but they've agreed to reduce the number of hours of religious-themed programming from 30 hours a week to 14 1/2 hours, mostly on Sunday.

"Hallmark felt that they didn't want to necessarily be identified as being with any one particular faith group," Loesch said. As part of that, a daily Catholic mass will no longer air, though a mass will air Sunday morning.

"We know we have a small but very loyal audience [for the daily mass], but even the [Interfaith coalition] agreed because they were having some issues too about not featuring religious pulpit shows from other faiths," Loesch said. "We anticipate a little bit of fallout from that, but favorite shows like 'Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman' and our mini-series on Saturday afternoon and our parenting shows will all stay on."

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