Why don't they just launch a 24/7/365 Christmas channel already? Surely an audience awaits. Because Friday is the night — six days before Halloween! — when Hallmark and Lifetime start debuting their fall 2019 holiday film slates. And they will continue right past the big date of Dec. 25.
TV now runs annual Christmas-in-July festivals when it's 90 degrees outside. Hallmark Movies & Mysteries even produced a fresh holiday film, "Christmas Camp," to premiere last summer. HMM also has the honor of kicking off the Hallmark group's fall festivities this week. Its Miracles of Christmas slate debuts with "A Merry Christmas Match" (Friday at 9 p.m., HMM), starring Ashley Newbrough and Kyle Dean Massey. The company's flagship cable channel starts its 10th annual Countdown to Christmas a night later, premiering "Christmas Wishes & Mistletoe Kisses" (Saturday at 8 p.m., Hallmark), featuring Jill Wagner, Matthew Davis and Donna Mills.
Another early starter, It's a Wonderful Lifetime begins, too, led by "Sweet Mountain Christmas" (Friday at 8 p.m.), with Megan Hilty and Marcus Rosner. That's followed the next night by "The Road Home for Christmas" (Saturday at 8 p.m.), starring Marla Sokoloff, Rob Mayes and Marie Osmond. And the night after that, there's "No Time Like Christmas" (Sunday at 8 p.m.), with Kyla Pratt and Ed Ruttle.
This Christmas season, Lifetime plans to premiere 28 holiday movies. Hallmark's channels jointly deliver 40 new films. UPtv is debuting 10 titles (starting with Sunday's 7 p.m. "A Christmas Movie Christmas," filmed in the holiday-themed town of Frankenmuth, Mich.).
Confused enough? Wait till the films roll out this weekend. Really, who can tell these titles apart? Each seems to include some mix of the words Christmas, wish, merry, mistletoe, home, holiday, magic, miracle, gift, date/match or family. Hey, start your own Christmas TV-movie bingo card. Some films do attempt to distinguish themselves with specifics. Take Lifetime's "Sweet Mountain Christmas." The title makes clear it's a hometown tale. Don't be surprised if the country-star lead gets stranded during her Podunk pit stop. Could she also fall for a homey hunk? Like you didn't know that already.
Which makes keeping the plots straight yet another challenge. HMM's "A Merry Christmas Match" declares its romantic bent in the title equivalent of flashing tree-lights. As HMM publicity elaborates, "Corey lives in a ski village where she works at a local antique shop. When When L.A. Hunk Ryder Donnelly comes into her shop, sparks fly, and she starts to wonder what could be." Gee, has Corey never seen a holiday flick?
Here's the thing. She's played by Ashley Newbrough, a lovely 32-year-old brunette styled to look like almost every other holiday-movie heroine. These films have bourgeois black casts, too.) In fact, this is actually the little-known Newbrough's third Hallmark lead. And why? Because she's Canadian-American. That means she counts when Canada calculates how many nationals are working on a north-of-the-border production. (The country enforces Canadian cast/crew minimums, to prevent the vastly greater number of Americans from taking all the jobs.) Turns out many, if not most, of these Christmas TV movies are made in Canada, where costs are lower and tax incentives abound. Which leads to more holiday films with similar stars, stories, settings and low-in-the-sky sunlight.
So there's another holiday-movie game for you: Spot the Canadian. In "Sweet Mountain Christmas," it's Marcus Rosner (also in last year's new "Poinsettias for Christmas"). In "No Time Like Christmas," it's Ed Ruttle (of last year's new "Christmas Lost and Found"). Just don't try this as a Christmas drinking game. Or you'll be out by Halloween.