Great American Family
Who knew Christmas movies could be so competitive?
While the Hallmark Channel is still the reigning leader in feel-good holiday flicks and rom-coms, Great American Family (formerly known as GAC Family) has been making waves since it launched in September 2021.
The cable channel first caught the eye of Christmas movie fans after it announced that several of the latter network's stars would be making the jump over to Great American Family, including Danica McKellar and Trevor Donovan, who signed on in October 2021. In April 2022, GAC Media revealed that Candace Cameron Bure, who previously starred in more than 25 Hallmark movies, had signed a deal to develop, executive produce and star in content for their networks.
On Oct. 6, 2022, Great American Family announced it would release 18 original Christmas movies for the holiday season, with air dates starting on Oct. 22. The lineup included Destined at Christmas, Catering Christmas and A Royal Christmas on Ice. Shortly after, the network made headlines again after Cameron Bure said it does not plan to feature same-sex couples in its Christmas movies.
Here's everything to know about Great American Family, from which stars have left Hallmark for the channel to the backlash surrounding Bure's recent comments.
What is Great American Family?
Great American Family
Great American Family, formerly GAC Family, is a cable television channel known for producing holiday programming and made-for-TV movies.
The channel was created by GAC Media, which acquired the Great American Country network in June 2021, aiming to use the platform to create family-friendly content. This seemed natural for the media company, which is led by the former CEO of Crown Media Family Networks (the parent company of Hallmark Channel), Bill Abbott.
Great American Country was rebranded as GAC Family and soon began producing original Christmas programming such as My Angel's Christmas List, starring Chad Michael Murray and Jessica Lowndes, and A Lot Like Christmas, starring Maggie Lawson and Christopher Russell. The network also produced season 2 of When Hope Calls, a spinoff of When Calls the Heart, which was previously on the Hallmark Channel. At the same time, GAC Media also acquired Ride TV, which it renamed GAC Living, to serve as the companion to GAC Family and produce unscripted lifestyle programming.
In July 2022, the company announced that GAC Family and GAC Living would be renamed Great American Family and Great American Living. In a press release, Abbott explained, "As the company expands across different media verticals, renaming our linear networks Great American Family and Great American Living better reflects our vision for each brand and firmly aligns the company under our new Great American Media umbrella."
Which stars left Hallmark for Great American Family?
Michael S. Schwartz/Getty ; Pascal Le Segretain/Getty ; Frazer Harrison/Getty
With Abbott, a former Crown Media Family Networks CEO, at the helm, Great American Family is clearly trying to compete with Hallmark Channel. Not only is the network working to attract loyal Hallmark viewers, but it has poached current and former Hallmark Channel actors.
One such actress is Candace Cameron Bure, who departed Hallmark in favor of Great American Media in April 2022. It was announced that Bure would be taking on a "prominent executive role at the company to oversee and curate programming for the networks as a whole."
A Crown Media spokesperson told PEOPLE that there were no hard feelings associated with Cameron Bure's departure. "Crown Media has enjoyed over 10 years of collaboration with Candace," the spokesperson said. "We respect her decision and thank her for her many contributions."
Similarly, longtime Hallmark actress Danica McKellar signed an exclusive four-picture deal with GAC Media. The Wonder Years alum went on to star in The Winter Palace, which premiered in January 2022 on Great American Family.
Twelve-time Hallmark movie star Trevor Donovan also signed a deal to star and executive produce with GAC Media in October 2021. Soon after, he appeared in Great American Family's Jingle Bell Christmas.
Lori Loughlin joined Great American Family in September 2022 and is set to star in the channel's upcoming movie Fall Into Winter. The project will mark Loughlin's first movie since 2018, after the Hallmark Channel famously dropped the When Calls the Heart actress following her involvement in the college admissions scandal in 2019.
Other Hallmark Channel stars that have signed on to projects with GAC Media include Nick Bateman, Rukiya Bernard, Cindy Busby, Sara Canning, Dillon Casey, Torrance Coombs, Brendan Fehr, Jennie Garth, Jen Lilley, Sarah Lind, Daniel Lissing, Cameron Mathison, Debbie Matenopoulos, Matthew MacCaull, Sam Page, Merritt Patterson, Becca Tobin, Jill Wagner and Dewshane Williams.
Hallmark Media's EVP of programming Lisa Hamilton Daly spoke about the cast crossover in August 2022 during a Television Critics Association press conference, according to Variety.
"We've kept a lot of our talent under options, say for Christmas movies. We're looking for new talent all the time," she said. "I think there's a lot of talent out there that we've worked with in the past that GAC is now working with, but I think that we also are constantly trying to evolve the talent pool that we're working with."
She continued, "We have, I think, retained almost everybody that we're really excited to have. So that's where we are."
What were Candace Cameron Bure's controversial comments about Great American Family?
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal published on Nov. 14, 2022, Bure, who serves as the chief creative officer for Great American Family, said, "I think that Great American Family will keep traditional marriage at the core."
Following publication, celebrities such as JoJo Siwa and Hallmark Channel star Holly Robinson Peete spoke out against the actress's comment. The Full House alum later addressed the controversy in a statement to PEOPLE.
"All of you who know me, know beyond question that I have great love and affection for all people. It absolutely breaks my heart that anyone would ever think I intentionally would want to offend and hurt anyone," she said, in part. "It saddens me that the media is often seeking to divide us, even around a subject as comforting and merry as Christmas movies. But, given the toxic climate in our culture right now, I shouldn't be surprised. We need Christmas more than ever."
Bure added of Great American Family, "I have long wanted to find a home for more faith-based programming. I am grateful to be an integral part of a young and growing network. I had also expressed in my interview, which was not included, that people of all ethnicities and identities have and will continue to contribute to the network in great ways both in front of and behind the camera, which I encourage and fully support. I've never been interested in proselytizing through my storytelling, but in celebrating God's greatness in our lives through the stories I tell."
On Dec. 5, 2022, actor Neal Bledsoe announced he was leaving Great American Family following Cameron Bure's comments.
"My life wouldn't be where it is today without the love, support, and guidance of the LGBTQIA+ community... I owe them a great debt," the actor said in a statement shared with Variety. "As someone who struggled as a young man with our society's extremely narrow definition of masculinity, it was their community that provided me with refuge and a guiding light when my life felt lost."
"And now, if I cannot stand up for that community in their time of need, my debt to them means nothing," he added. "So, I want to be very clear: my support for the LGBTQIA+ community is unconditional – nothing is worth my silence or their ability to live and love freely in a world that we are lucky enough to share with them."
While McKellar supports her costar Bledsoe, she told Fox News Digital that she took Bure's comments differently. "Neal is a wonderful person," she said in an interview published on Dec. 10, 2022. "He's such a great actor and I have enjoyed working with him so much. He and I both share our love and support of the LGBT community for sure … I don't agree with his interpretation of her comments. I just didn't see them the same way."
"When [Bure] was talking about the portrayal of heterosexual couples in the movies, she started the sentence with 'I think,' which is not definitive, and she ended it with 'at its core,' which doesn't mean exclusively," McKellar continued.
How can I watch Great American Family?
Great American Family
Great American Family programs can be found on streaming services like Frndly TV, Hulu (as part of an add-on package), Fubo TV, Sling TV and Philo.
The channel is also available on cable TV providers including Cox, DirecTV, Dish, Spectrum, Optimum and more. To find out which channel Great American Family is on in your area, use the network's Channel Finder.