Commentary: A new TV network wants to make Christmas great again. Why its message is a harmful one
Make Christmas great again.
That should be the motto of GAC Family, the network launched this fall as a wholesome, family-friendly alternative to the Hallmark Channel.
Yes, you read that correctly. For those who feel that the TV equivalent of a pine-scented Yankee candle is too risqué or that Hallmark — which has joined in an industry-wide effort to diversify its holiday content, including, last year, its first gay romance — has become a mouthpiece for woke warriors, there’s a new channel where the only snowflakes allowed are the kind that fall during sappy rom-com climaxes.
The Hallmark connection isn’t exactly a coincidence. GAC Family and its sibling, GAC Living — “GAC,” formerly Great American Country, now stands for Great American Channels — are helmed by Bill Abbott, the former chief executive of Hallmark’s parent company, Crown Media.
Go-to Christmas movie director Ron Oliver (“The Housewives of the North Pole”) knows what makes the genre work. In fact, it’s in his blood.
Abbott famously oversaw the company during perhaps its biggest scandal to date. In late 2019, a series of ads for the wedding-planning website Zola featuring brides kissing at a same-sex wedding caused an outcry from conservative pressure groups like One Million Moms, which said the spots went “against Christian and conservative values that are important to your primary audience” and threatened that the network would lose viewers for “caving” to the so-called LGBTQ “agenda.” Hallmark pulled the ads, sparking an even larger backlash, and eventually apologized. Abbott left the company a month later.
Clearly, Abbott had some unfinished business, including finding a solution to the decline in all the excellent Christmas programming he’d helped build over the years. (Your Hallmark Christmas movie joke here.) He’s since created the new GAC Family, a network that promises to deliver family-friendly, holiday-themed movies and TV series that celebrate “American culture, heritage and lifestyle” — or at least the narrowly “aspirational” picture of America that he and the folks funding the place envision. (An investor group with ties to former President Trump is backing the network, according to Vulture.)
As you might expect from the dog whistle of “American culture, heritage and lifestyle,” dreaming of a white Christmas takes on a whole new meaning when looking over the network’s original lineup of holiday movies, including “A Kindhearted Christmas,” “A Christmas Miracle for Daisy” and “A Christmas Star.” All but one of the channel’s 12 movies this year revolve around straight, white characters. On its website, GAC Media states that the company’s mission is to “celebrate great American traditions and invest in timeless, family-friendly entertainment that honors Americana.” Abbott said in a separate press release that he hoped the networks would “deliver on the promise of safe ... storytelling.”
And who, you ask, is the headlining star of this safe harbor of holiday entertainment? Why, felon Lori Loughlin, of course. Last year, the “Full House” actor spent two months behind bars after pleading guilty to paying half a million dollars in bribes to get her two daughters into college. GAC is helping facilitate her comeback in its spinoff of Hallmark’s “When Calls the Heart,” “When Hope Calls.” She’ll also appear in the two-part Season 2 premiere on Dec. 18.
Irreverent, diverse and brought to life by big-name talent, VH1’s “Naughty or Nice” movie slate aims to break into a crowded field.
So is the holiday fare on GAC better or worse than the stuff on Hallmark, Lifetime and the other competitors in the Christmas movie space? It’s worth noting that the network isn’t exactly overflowing with yuletide titles. At this point, the majority of its programming still consists of reruns: “I Dream of Jeannie,” “Bewitched,” “Hazel,” “Father Knows Best” and the comparatively modern sitcom “Who’s the Boss.” The dozen films in its “Great American Christmas” collection are essentially well-made, boy-meets-girl romantic comedies, as unremarkable and sickly sweet as drugstore candy canes. Even the titles are interchangeable. In other words, they are to television what the ugly Christmas sweater is to fashion: an unfortunate holiday tradition.
Americana. American traditions. Safe storytelling. It’s the coded language the network uses about its content, as much as the content itself, that reveals its underlying message, one echoed across conservative media and politics: The “real” America is suburban or rural, predominantly white, heterosexual and Christian. Especially when tied up with a holiday bow, it’s a message far more dangerous, and demonstrably false, than any Christmas movie (or wedding-planning ad) with a gay couple at its center. And for this alone, GAC — a channel whose name sounds more like a bout of indigestion than a celebration — may leave you with an upset stomach.
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