One could argue that a presentation of the Hallmark Hall of Fame is no longer special--you can view similar movies any time on the Hallmark Channel. It wasn't always that way, though. For decades, the Hallmark Hall of Fame meant first-rate entertainment for the whole family. It was "event programming," too, with only three or four specials per year.
|Amahl was broadcast on NBC, Hallmark|
Hall of Fame's home for 27 years.
|Chamberlain as Hamlet.|
For its first three decades, the Hallmark Hall of Fame relied on classic literature and, most prominently, stage plays for its program content. The plays ranged from A Doll's House (Julie Harris and Christopher Plummer) to Inherit the Wind (Melvyn Douglas and Ed Begley) to Harvey (with James Stewart reprising his role 22 years after the 1950 film version). The classic literature adaptations included The Master of Ballantrae, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Anthony Hopkins), and The Secret Garden.
A trend toward recent "feel good" novels in the 1990s ignited with Sarah, Plain and Tall, an adaptation of Patricia MacLachlan's 1986 Newberry Medal-winning novel. Glenn Close starred as the mail order bride who moved to Kansas in 1910 to care for a widower (Christopher Walken) and his children. The telefilm was nominated for nine Emmys, but only won one for Best Editing for a Miniseries or Special. Still, its popular success spawned an encore showing and two sequels with Close and Walken: Skylark (1993) and Sarah, Plain and Tall: Winter's End (1999).
The "feel good" formula found ratings success and the Hallmark Hall of Fame thrived for most of the next 20 years. As recently as 2010, it pulled in over 13 million viewers with November Christmas, the story of an optimistic young girl with cancer. However, a network switch from CBS to ABC proved disastrous and 2011's Have a Little Faith, adapted from Mitch Albom's bestseller, attracted less than 7 million viewers. Subsequent Hallmark Hall of Fame specials have performed about the same--a far cry from the days when they were ratings blockbusters.
Hopefully, it's not the end of the line for the long-running series, which has amassed an impressive 81 Emmys. I suspect that even if ABC drops it, the greeting card company may retain the franchise on its Hallmark Channel. If the Hallmark Hall of Fame continues, I'd love to see a return to its stage and literary adaptations which starred the likes of Jason Robards, Ralph Richardson, Bette Davis, Basil Rathbone, Ossie Davis, Faye Dunaway, Alec Guinness, and Deborah Kerr.