Hallmark Christmas Movies & The Strategy Behind All Those Talent Deals Under Lisa Hamilton Daly

EXCLUSIVE: Increased competition in the Christmas movie business has prompted Crown Media Family Networks to adopt a more aggressive strategy under the fresh leadership of Executive VP Lisa Hamilton Daly — locking in beloved actors with exclusive, multi-picture deals. The latest to join the Hallmark repertory is Ryan Paevey, a General Hospital alum who’s already starred in flicks like “Unleashing Mr. Darcy” and “Harvest Love.” He’s set to headline the upcoming “Two Tickets to Paradise” for Hallmark in June.

“Ryan is a consummate professional who always brings a special spark to the characters he plays, making him a favorite among our viewers,” said Daly. “We’re excited to extend our partnership with Ryan and can’t wait to get started on his next project for us.”

“Being part of Hallmark is like no other experience I’ve ever had,” continued Paevey, who is repped byJustice & Ponder and Eric Suddleson at Felker, Toczek, Suddleson, Abramson, McGinnis, Ryan LLP. The creative people I’ve had the pleasure of working with both at the network and on every set have made this collaboration so special and I can’t wait to see what’s next.”

Paevey’s deal follows a flurry of others that have been completed by Crown Media in the last few months. Others include Tamera Mowry, Lacey Chabert, Holly Robinson Peete, Jonathan Bennett, Andrew Walker, Heather Hemmens, Brennan Elliott, Aimee Teegarden, Luke Macfarlane and Taylor Cole. More are expected, too.

Daly, who came to Crown Media in October after successful stints at Netflix and Lifetime, oversees programming and development across Hallmark Channel, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, and Hallmark Drama,  as well as its SVOD service Hallmark Movies Now and AVOD platform Hallmark Movies. Here, she talks about her talent strategy and how she decides who will make a perfect fit at Hallmark.

DEADLINE Tis the season … to make Christmas movies! Does it feel like there’s more competition than ever?

LISA HAMILTON DALY It does. Netflix continues to have a couple Christmas things at different price points. We have seen CBS get into it and Peacock. All these other places are now getting into the Christmas spirit and trying to grab some eyeballs. It feels like a very elastic business because I think people do love Christmas. But what’s funny is that whether people watched a Christmas movie on Lifetime or a Christmas movie on Netflix, they all called them Hallmark Christmas movies. That was the one thing that I thought was so funny. Hallmark is this essential brand to Christmas. You can look at Lifetime’s ratings and how many eyeballs they got, but we really are the place for Christmas and are still number one.

DEADLINE Can you address the flurry of talent deals you’ve done lately?

DALY It’s a strategy that we’re really pursuing. It’s usually for either two movies, and some of them are for a Christmas movie. It’s really to make sure that we have access to that talent during the year. We put a lot of thought into who we’re going after and who we’re locking down so that we have a range of people and a range of talent that we can say we pre-negotiated. When the time comes and we have the perfect script for them, we just pop them in there. The deals are basically done and we’re ready to roll.

DEADLINE How do you decide who to lock in with an exclusive deal?

DALY There’s like that familiarity factor of a good TV name. It’s somebody that you’ve had in your living room before who came off a series you liked. I think there’s an ethos around that person. Think about Lacey Chabert, who is truly the loveliest person, even as a real person. You see that in her movies. You have that warm and fuzzy feeling about a person. There are definitely people who we would never put in a Christmas movie. We see who fits in that family world, a good, strong TV name who has an actual kind of warmth about them as humans. We’re pitched people all the time, so I talk about this all the time. How are we building our talent? How are we retaining our talent? How are we making sure our talent knows we love them? We have our beloved fan favorites that we keep bringing back but we are also trying to build exciting new talent for both Christmas and the rest of the year.

DEADLINE When did you start to really focus on talent acquisition?

DALY When I got here in October. I sat down with our casting team and the creative team. We thought about everybody, and we still have people who are on our wishlist. We’re not doing a lot of deals with people that we haven’t already cast in something. Some people have turned us down, but we’re all still reaching constantly. We’re like, who can we get? We’ve also gotten a ton of people who we reached for and we are thrilled. What we’re trying to do is build out those relationships. If they’re in a movie that does well, we’re like, ‘yes, come back again.’ We pay the talent for these movies pretty well. We often pay the same as all the other places.

DEADLINE Did you have a number in mind, how many talent deals you want to make this season?

DALY We had a number and then of course when we started, everyone’s like, well, ‘I really wanna get this person.’ I literally had an email chain one day where they’re like, ‘well, we have to get this person.’ And I’m like, okay! It grows and grows. Apparently I’m very bad at saying no. I also have to say that, because we announced a lot of deals, some of our actors who we worked who didn’t wanna be under deals were all of a sudden calling me and saying, ‘where’s my deal?’ They’ve seen the drone beat of deals.  I’m like, ‘okay, we’ll do your deal.’

DEADLINE What’s the upside for these actors to do these films? 

DALY We have a lot of repeat customers because they have fun. They love it and they have fun. It is a bit of a pace. You’re usually standing in fake snow in the summer, although we have shot in the winter. Look at the world we’re living in right now, kind of dark and weird with so much going on. I actually think people like to be associated with something that’s positive and lovely and their whole family can watch. There’s something about it that feeds people’s souls. They’ve been in something positive and wonderful and sweet and they love it. And, they come back!

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