Hallmark’s milestone “The Holiday Sitter” (Sunday, 8 EST/PST) showcases the chemistry between its leads Sam (Jonathan Bennett), a work-obsessed uncle who ditches his dreams of a Hawaiian holiday when he’s asked to watch his niece and nephew. Overwhelmed, Sam gets a helping hand from his sister’s neighbor Jason (George Krissa).
The Countdown to Christmas feature is the network’s first holiday movie starring a leading gay couple.
Bennett (“Mean Girls”) previously starred in Hallmark's 2020 feature "The Christmas House," the channel's first holiday movie to include a same-sex storyline, and last year’s sequel, “The Christmas House 2: Deck Those Halls.” (Bennett and his onscreen husband, Brad Harder, were not the main storyline.)
“What's so special about ‘The Holiday Sitter’ is that it's the first time we'll see two men meet-cute and fall in love at Christmas,” says Bennett, 41. “We tell a story that's really important, so people that are watching it feel seen when they watch it. But just like Christmas is for everybody, ‘The Holiday Sitter’ is for everybody... It just happens to have two men as the lead.”
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It’s clear from the clip that Bennett’s Sam has made quite an impression on Krissa’s Jason, though the two have known each other for just a few days. Jason presents Sam with two sweaters as an early Christmas gift. One is a tacky holiday sweater with a stuffed stocking that reads “Nice.” The other is a more practical emerald knit for the evening’s Christmas pageant. “I figured you’d want something for tonight,” Jason says with a smile. “And I thought that color would look really good on you.”
“Thank you,” Sam replies, looking adoringly into Jason’s eyes. “It’s perfect.”
Bennett, an executive producer for the feature, says that he incorporated experiences from his own life. Bennett wed host Jaymes Vaughan in March, about seven years after the legalization of same-sex marriages nationwide.
Sam grew up “being told that you can't get married and that you can't have a family,” says Bennett. “And then all of a sudden, the world changes, and there are options and possibilities now that there weren't when you were growing up. So you have to step back and look at it and say, ‘Well, what do I want now that I can get legally married and have a family? What does that look like for me now?’
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“Even though the world is saying, ‘Yes,’ for the most part, there's still that subconscious voice in your head that's saying, ‘No,’” continues Bennett. “I think a lot of gay men, especially my age, are going to be able to identify with that.”
Hallmark’s recent embracing of LGBTQ storytelling is a point of differentiation between the No. 1 home for holiday movies and its new competitor Great American Family.
Under the leadership of Bill Abbott, who developed Countdown to Christmas, Hallmark was criticized for its lack of diversity. Abbott left his post as president and CEO of Hallmark Channel’s parent company in early 2020 and co-founded Great American Media, which launched Great American Family in September 2021.
While Abbott told USA TODAY, “we always want to be inclusive, and it's certainly it's always an area of focus," Candace Cameron Bure, an executive for the new Great American Family, caused an uproar when she said “traditional families” would be the channel’s focus.
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Lisa Hamilton Daly, head of programming at Hallmark Media since September 2021, says stories like “The Holiday Sitter” are integral to the network’s mission of diverse romances.
“It’s important because we really do want to show everybody gets their love story,” she says. “It's not just straight couples. It's not just white couples, it's everyone gets their love story.”
“We definitely love our core story of like, ‘Girl goes back to save the Christmas tree farm.’ Everyone loves that one," Daly said. "I think we have that one pretty much every year, but we wanted to tell different kinds of stories, also.”
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Hallmark's The Holiday Sitter star Jonathan Bennett, an exclusive clip