It's been a stressful year, but at least you can count on Hallmark, Lifetime, and Netflix to come through with the holiday cheer. After all, what's more relaxing than watching an overworked woman fall in love with a Christmas tree farmer? So decompress with all of our delightful holiday content right here.
Lacey Chabert played Regina George's loyal follower Gretchen Weiners in Mean Girls, one of those rare movies that's become more than just entertainment—it's a stitch in pop culture's very fabric. The Tina Fey–crafted film is quoted constantly and referenced religiously; it has a signature song and color. There's even a day named after it.
But with all that hysteria, Mean Girls still isn't the project Chabert is asked about the most. Rather, she says, the people who watch her Hallmark Christmas movies are the most passionate. "The fans of the Hallmark movies are incredibly loyal and devoted, and it's actually enabled me to connect more with them and the people that enjoy the movies," she says. "They’re so vocal on social media, and I don’t think I'd experienced that to the level I experience now."
"Loyal and devoted" is a bit of an understatement. Hallmark has turned its holiday-movie-making business into a full-on cultural phenomenon. A whopping 72 million people tuned into Hallmark's Countdown to Christmas lineup last year, according to figures provided by the network. Hallmark also brought in the highest ratings on TV for households and women ages 18–49 and 25–54 during the week of November 20, 2017, largely because of its Christmas content. These holiday movies are so popular, in fact, that Hallmark upped its premiere count from 37 in 2018 to to 40. Audiences truly can't get enough.
Nor can the actors who appear in the films. When I spoke to Chabert, she was about to start work on her sixteenth Hallmark movie, and she's not alone. Lori Loughlin has appeared in three Hallmark Christmas movies, not to mention dozens of other projects for the network; Danica McKellar has several Hallmark movies under her belt, including three holiday ones; Alicia Witt's done a Hallmark Christmas movie every year since 2013; and Holly Robinson Peete's holiday movie was so popular in 2017 that a sequel is coming out this year. [Ed note: This interview was conducted and published before Loughlin's involvement in the college admissions scandal. Hallmark has since cut ties with her.] These women all have busy schedules—both personally and professionally—yet they still carve out time each year for some Christmas magic.
But why? Why are the actresses so devoted to the network? "Usually the people I work with are great," Loughlin explains. "[The crew] is like family. They're my friends, so it's always fun to work with friends."
Chabert feels similarly. "Hallmark has really become like family," she says. "I really respect the programming. I feel really blessed to be a part of it. I’m really proud of the content, so it’s become a very close relationship. The values that are represented in their films are very much intrinsically who they are as a company."
Chabert realized this firsthand when the network supported her starting a family of her own. (She welcomed a daughter with husband David Nehdar in 2016.) "I did a movie when I was seven months pregnant, and they hid me behind Christmas trees and presents," Chabert says. "I went back to work right after the baby, and they allowed me to have the baby on set and travel with my family. They've been very supportive. My experience with them has been very special. They’ve supported all the chapters in my own life."
Peete echoes this sentiment—"Hallmark Channel is very family oriented, so they have respect for us hard-working mamas"—as does Loughlin. "Bill Abbott, the head of the network, and Michelle Vicary [EVP of programming and publicity at Hallmark] are parents," she says. "They have children. They really understand if you say, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t make it to this thing’ or ‘I can’t do this’ or ‘I have to leave set because it’s my kid’s birthday.' They're like, ‘Yup, go. You do whatever you need to do.’ They’re so understanding about kids and obligations that parents have in regards to their children. "
Accommodating the Hallmark actors who are mothers is a priority for Abbott. (He says three-quarters of the employees in his direct reports are women, and approximately half of them have children.) "We owe it to our employees who give so much, and our talent who give so much," he says. "It’s more than just a job. It’s a relationship—it’s a long-term relationship. It fits our brand and it fits our style and it just works for us, and we are very focused on it."
Of course, the actors without children have different reasons for staying in business with the network. Witt, for example, enjoys balancing her darker work (like on The Walking Dead) with Hallmark's lighter fare.
"It’s fun to come out with a movie where every day you have a happy ending and it’s a sweet love story [or] family story," she says. "I just spent the last week in winter clothes and people I really enjoy working with and Christmas lights everywhere and snow and gingerbread cookies and vegan eggnog. There’s very little heaviness on my psyche right now."
Witt says the more uplifting work makes Hallmark's movie sets really enjoyable—which is another reason she keeps coming back for more. "There’s something about the lighter material that I think lends itself to everyone just having so much fun," she says. "If you’re making a movie about something really dark, it does something different to your psyche. You’ll get home from work and try to shake it off, and you’re kind of in a darker place."
Loughlin agrees. "If you’re dealing with disturbing content, that affects everybody on set," she says. "With Hallmark, we’re not going to the dark side, so these sets tend to be super lighthearted and more fun because the content we’re working on is lighthearted and fun."
The whimsicality of these films is precisely why they're such a hit with audiences. Whether it's the recent rom-com boom or the popularity of movies like A Christmas Prince, people are looking for escape in entertainment now more than ever. Hallmark is arguably the trailblazer of this type of programming, which explains why its holiday movies feel so zeitgeist-y. Viewers are turning to them for refuge—and for a variety of reasons, according to the actors.
"I feel like the country is more divided than ever, and the extremists on both sides are not making things very pleasant for anyone," McKellar says. "People are looking for a break, they’re looking for an escape from all the noise created by this political climate that we’re in, and Hallmark Channel provides that."
Adds Loughlin, "We’re a society now where we’re news 24/7 no matter where you turn. There are a lot of sad or depressing stories out there. I think you want a place to escape and feel good and be transported. Hallmark’s a really good place to do that."
The channel is also, not so surprisingly, a great place to find friendships. The actors on Hallmark all follow one another on social media, promote each other's projects, and attend red carpets together. That camaraderie is one of Chabert's favorite parts about being in the network's, well, network. "We’re all very supportive of each other, and we’ve gotten to know each other over the years," she says. "What’s better than supporting another woman? I’m honored when [the women] tweet about my movies and try to help promote my movies, and I try to do the same for them."
It's safe to say the women of Hallmark aren't going anywhere. There's an enviable blend of happy content, a supportive work environment, and friendship that keeps Chabert, Loughlin, McKellar, Peete, and Witt interested year after year. It also doesn't hurt that there's a built-in, ever-growing fanbase. As long as they keep watching—and I have a feeling they will—we'll keep getting the Christmas movies we love, both from these women and more.
"I've heard the most heartwarming things from people who come up to me and tell me what a specific [Hallmark] movie has meant to them," Witt says. "I’ve had fans write to me and say, 'I lost my wife five years ago and Christmas has been really hard, but your movies help me get through that.' That sort of thing is why I wanted to be an actor in the first place: to help make the world a little bit of a better place. These movies give me a chance to do that. There’s no reason why I wouldn’t do them."
Christopher Rosa is the staff entertainment writer for Glamour.
Originally Appeared on Glamour