Hallmark Channel has a mandate for the talent on its midday lifestyle show, HOME & FAMILY: Keep it clean.
“The other day we had a live mammogram on the air,” co-host Cristina Ferrare tells me.
“One of our family members is 42 years-old and never had a breast exam. So we confronted her right then and there on the air. And we did a live mammogram. But we couldn’t say the words nipple or breast or implant. And she had implants.
“There are millions of women who have implants and my concern was in a mammogram…could your implants break? These are things I wanted to discuss, but Hallmark wouldn’t let us do that. So we had to respect that.”
Christina — a former former teen model and movie actress, who also hosted the original incarnation of HOME & FAMILY in the ‘90s — says the network has a long list of words on its naughty list.
“You can’t even say ‘pee pee,'” she laughs. “A woman this morning said ‘pee pee’ and they are going to bleep that out. I was like ‘That is what people do!’ We wish we could be as real as in real life without being offensive. But if you have breasts and you have nipples and penile implants, you can’t talk about those things!”
Hallmark’s squeekly clean image goes back to its beginnings in the the early ‘90s. The network actually started out as a partnership of two separate religious cable channels, the American Christian Television System (ACTS) and the Vision Interfaith Satellite Network (VISN).
In 1993, it was renamed The Faith Channel. On August 5, 2001, it was rebranded again as The Hallmark Channel, dropping all religious programming, but maintaining a strong focus on wholesome family values.
HOME & FAMILY is Hallmark’s most high profile original show — two hours a day of cooking demonstrations, home improvement tips and interviews with celebrities who represent the network’s core values.
“Hallmark is very aware of their audience,” says co-host Mark Steines. “They have their feedback and they know their sensitivities, whereas we are still finding that line about what can and can’t be said. I am not saying you or I are offended by [some of these things], but they know the people who tune in.”
The co-hosts told me more — and previewed Monday’s primetime holiday special — when I visited the set at Universal Studios last week.
This show is taped the day before it airs. Why not do it live?
CF: We would have to be here at 4:00 in the morning to prepare.
MS: And we wouldn’t get too many good guests then.
CF: We used to do it live from 10:00 – 12:00, but then the show wouldn’t go on until 1:00 in the afternoon in New York, so we were able to do it live. I like it [live] because when you make a mistake it is out there. You just have to live with it. I love that ‘cause that is real life.
What made you want to work for Hallmark Channel?
MS: I am a family guy. I enjoy building stuff. I build stuff for my kids. I am still trying to find my way through the kitchen… I enjoy the DIY stuff. And I love what a house represents. Whether it is fixing a water heater or I just converted my garage into a gym. My boys are 10 and 11 and they are still to young [to help].
So you are learning stuff at work and applying it at your house?
MS: I do all the time. Tonight we are making the slow cooked brisket that we did [on the show] a few weeks ago.
What can you tell me about the primetime special?
CF: They did it the first time we did HOME & FAMILY in the ‘90s. Every year we would have a countdown to Christmas, then they would put us on at night for a primetime special. The house would be all lit up and we would have all of our families come in.
MS: Having the primetime special is Hallmark’s way of saying, “We are going to introduce you to our primetime viewers. You mean that much to us.” So we get to dip our feet into that audience that is already there that is so into Hallmark Channel and the movies they put on.
Will the primetime special be different from a regular show?
CF: It will be more of a party. There is a choir coming in. There is an ice skating rink going in as well. We are Griswolding the outside of the house. Naomi Judd is one of the guests. She is doing a Hallmark movie. It is very Hallmark friendly.
MS: You have to remember, too, that we don’t have a huge props department. They will be here on ladders all night, three guys, putting Santa on the roof and putting out fake snow and the decorations.
Be honest — is there anything you would really like to say on the air, but can’t because of Hallmark?
CF: Yeah. I would like to say sh-t! [laughs] But I like the fact that Hallmark is family friendly. I really do. It is safe television.
The HOME & FAMILY PRIMETIME HOLIDAY SPECIAL airs Monday, November 25 at 8:00 PM ET.
Will you be watching? Let us know in the comments below.