Country of origin
First episode date
24 December 1951
Number of seasons
Number of episodes
Robert HartungJean HollowayHelene HanffGian Carlo Menotti
George SchaeferWilliam CorriganAlbert McCleeryKirk BrowningFielder CookJeannot Szwarc
Gian Carlo MenottiBernard GreenRichard AddinsellJerry Goldsmith
Brent Shields, George Schaefer
Julie Harris, Mare Winningham, Peter Ustinov, Trevor Howard, Geneviève Bujold
The Home and Family Show, Beyond the Blackboard, When Calls the Heart, Signed - Sealed - Delivered, Kraft Television Theatre
Hallmark Hall of Fame is an anthology program on American television, sponsored by Hallmark Cards, a Kansas City-based greeting card company. The longest-running primetime series in the history of television, it has a historically long run, beginning in 1951 and continuing into 2016. From 1954 onward, all of its productions have been broadcast in color. It holds a place in television history as one of the first video productions to telecast in color, a rarity in the 1950s. Many television movies have been shown on the program since its debut, though the program began with live telecasts of dramas and then changed to videotaped productions before finally changing to filmed ones.
The series has received eighty Emmy Awards, twenty-four Christopher Awards, eleven Peabody Awards, nine Golden Globes, and four Humanitas Prizes. Once a common practice in American television, it is the last remaining television program where the title includes the name of its sponsor. Unlike other long-running TV series still on the air, it differs in that it broadcasts only occasionally and not on a weekly broadcast programming schedule.
The series is the direct descendant of two old-time radio dramatic anthologies sponsored previously by Hallmark: Radio Reader's Digest, adapting stories from the popular magazine (though the magazine never sponsored the show); and, its successor, The Hallmark Playhouse, which premiered on CBS in 1948. The Hallmark Playhouse changed to more serious literature from all genres. The Hallmark Hall of Fame debuted on 24 December 1951 on NBC television with the first opera written specifically for television, Amahl and the Night Visitors, by Gian Carlo Menotti, featuring Chet Allen and Rosemary Kuhlmann. It was the first time a major corporation developed a television project specifically as a means of promoting its products to the viewing public. The program was such a success that it was restaged by Hallmark several times during a period of fifteen years. Amahl was also staged by other NBC television anthologies. Under the supervision of creative executives at its advertising agency, Foote, Cone, and Belding in Chicago, Hallmark also transformed its radio Hallmark Playhouse into a Hallmark Hall of Fame format—this time, featuring stories of pioneers of all types in America—from 1953 through 1955.
Early productions included some of the classical works of Shakespeare: Hamlet, Richard II, The Taming of the Shrew, Macbeth, Twelfth Night, and The Tempest. Biographical subjects were very eclectic, ranging from Florence Nightingale to Father Flanagan to Joan of Arc. Popular Broadway plays such as Harvey, Dial M for Murder, and Kiss Me, Kate were made available to a mass audience, most of them with casts that had not appeared in the film versions released to theatres. In a few cases, the actors repeated their original Broadway roles. Noted actors such as Richard Burton, Alfred Lunt, Lynn Fontanne, Maurice Evans, Katharine Cornell, Julie Harris, Laurence Olivier and Peter Ustinov all made what were then extremely rare television appearances in these plays.
Two different productions of Hamlet have been broadcast on the Hallmark Hall of Fame, one featuring Maurice Evans (1953) and the other a British one featuring Richard Chamberlain (1970). Neither one was more than two hours long. Evans and actress Judith Anderson performed their famous stage Macbeth on the Hallmark Hall of Fame on two separate occasions, each time with a different supporting cast. The first version in 1954 was telecast live from NBC's Brooklyn color studio while the second in 1960 was filmed on location in Scotland and released to movie theatres in Europe after its American telecast. The Richard Chamberlain version of Hamlet, which was also telecast in Britain on ITV Sunday Night Theatre, won five Emmys when telecast on the Hallmark Hall of Fame, out of a total of thirteen nominations. It may have set a record for the most-nominated Shakespeare production to ever be televised.
Hamlet, Macbeth and the other Shakespeare plays presented on Hallmark Hall of Fame were cut (sometimes drastically) to fit the time limits of a standard film or of the Hallmark Hall of Fame itself, which during the 1950s, '60s and '70s never ran longer than two hours and frequently even less. It was left to National Educational Television (NET) and Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) to be the pioneers in presenting nearly complete Shakespeare productions on American television.
As a result of Foote, Cone, and Belding Advertising executive and producer Duane C. Bogie's influence, Hallmark Hall of Fame began to offer original material, such as Aunt Mary (1979) and Thursday's Child (1983), although its lineup still primarily consisted of expensive-looking Masterpiece Theatre-style adaptations of American and European literary classics, such as John Steinbeck's The Winter of Our Discontent (1983), Robert Louis Stevenson's The Master of Ballantrae (1984), and Charles Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities (1980), Oliver Twist (1982), and A Christmas Carol (1984). A Tale of Two Cities was the first Hallmark production (and to date, one of the very few) to run three hours. The late 1980s featured productions such as Foxfire (1987), My Name is Bill W. (1989), Sarah, Plain and Tall (1991), O Pioneers! (1992), To Dance With the White Dog (1993), The Piano Lesson (1995), and What the Deaf Man Heard (1997). One installment, Promise (1986), featuring James Garner and James Woods, won five Emmys, two Golden Globes, a Peabody award, a Humanitas Prize, and a Christopher Award.
Through the 1980s and 1990s, Hallmark Hall of Fame movies often had twice the budget of other network movies. Hallmark movies also ran (in some cases) approximately 10–15 minutes longer (or up to 110 minutes minus commercials) because Hallmark Cards fully sponsored the movies and had fewer commercial breaks. Unlike most network movies of the period, Hallmark always filmed on location, and usually filmed for 24 days, compared to 18–20 days for most other TV-movies.
For nearly three decades the series was broadcast by NBC, but the network cancelled it in late 1978 due to declining ratings. Since then, the series has been televised by CBS from 1979 to 1989 (except for one episode, which was televised by PBS in 1981), then on ABC from 1989 to 1995, then CBS again from 1995 until 2011, when that network cancelled the series due to low ratings.
On November 27, 2011, Hallmark Hall of Fame returned to ABC with Have a Little Faith, which debuted to very low ratings for the night. The total number of viewers was estimated at 6.5 million, compared to 13.5 million for the Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation of November Christmas on the weekend after Thanksgiving in 2010.
Encore broadcasts of these ABC episodes aired on Hallmark Channel a week after their initial broadcast on ABC. The films were also available for streaming on the website Feeln.com a few days after airing.
In September 2014, it was announced that the Hallmark Hall of Fame will air exclusively on the Hallmark Channel for the foreseeable future, ending the program's 63-year run on broadcast television. The first episode to debut on Hallmark Channel was One Christmas Eve, starring Anne Heche.
In February 2016, Hallmark Cards, which had been directly involved in the production of Hall of Fame from its inception, would transfer their production duties to a subsidiary, Crown Media Productions. Hallmark Cards will still continue to sponsor the program and oversee the creative process.
Many recent Hall of Fame movies repeat on the company's Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movie Channel and are available on home video and DVD, distributed through Hallmark Gold Crown Stores and online at Hallmark Hall of Fame.
Only a small number of Hallmark Hall of Fame programming (considering how long the series has lasted) has been released on VHS and DVD. The 1960 production of the Tempest and the 1966 production of Lamp at Midnight were released as VHS tapes by Films for the Humanities; they have not been released in DVD format.