Life at Hallmark: Usually pleasant, always busy

At 9 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 5, two new shows collide -- "Chesapeake Shores" and a "Garage Sale Mysteries" movie. Both are pretty, both are pleasant (usually) and both are Hallmark.

Even in summer, Hallmark is busy. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

is the world of the 10-week Christmas.

It's the spot for
secret princes, long-lost loves and good intentions. In pretty
places, pretty people confront mildly ugly problems, then resolve

It's the land of the
Hallmark channels, which have been busy lately.

In her semi-annual
dinner with the Television Critics Association and the Hallmark
stars, programming chief Michelle Vicary offered extreme numbers: In
a one-year stretch, her two channels will have 90 new movies ... four
scripted series ... a dozen specials ... a Christmas marathon that
stretches for 10 weeks ... and a two-hour block each weekday morning.

Personifying that is
Cameron Mathison, who could be the Hallmark prototype. He's tall,
handsome, cheerfully Canadian and fully employed; he's making two
Hallmark movies and taking over as the new co-host of the daily “Home
and Family.”

That requires him to
chat about endless subjects. Mathison has had experience with some of
them – especially parenting and do-it-yourself projects – but not
all. “I don't know anything about cooking,” he said, “but I'm
looking forward to surprising my family.”

He'll start in
September; before that, Hallmark gets a jump on competition. Each
Sunday in August – a sleepy month for other channels – it has:

-- A new “Garage
Sale Mystery” on the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries channel. Lori
Loughlin – who also co-stars in Hallmark's “When Calls the Heart”
-- plays a crimesolving antiques dealer.

-- A new season of
“Chesapeake Shores” -- a four-generation drama – on Hallmark.

Before Vicary's
speech, two “Chesapeake” stars – Treat Williams and Jesse
Metcalfe – chatted cheerily. Williams had been back to New York; he
recalled doing Broadway shows (including three years in “Grease”)
and then grabbing the bus to his apartment. “That was my life for
nine years.”

A few minutes later,
Vicary was showing a clip of them in verbal combat: Mick O'Brien
(Williams) was battling Trace Riley (Metcalfe), his daughter's true

Mick does that a
lot. In the season-opener, he shatters his son with a sharp business
deal. In another episode, he demands that a daughter (a successful
playwright) ditch the novel she's written.

In Hallmark's
low-stress world, those are major problems. And by Hallmark
standards, the “Home and Family” change was startling: On May 31,
Mark Steines was suddenly dropped as host.

Steines had been
there from the start, hosting more than 1,200 episodes over six
years, alongside Paige Davis, then Cristina Ferrare and then Debbie
Matenopoulos. Both sides insisted there was no scandal – just the
usual talk of “creative differences”; but the change was abrupt
and ... well, un-Hallmark.

The show promptly
had a summer of guest hosts ... then chose close to a Steines copy:

Steines, 53, and
Mathison, 46, have both been “Entertainment Tonight” hosts. Both
are athletes; Steines was an all-state linebacker and played at
Northern Iowa; Mathison played basketball at McGill University, golfs
with a 5 handicap and recently tied Terrell Owens for a celebrity
dunk championship.

Both bring the
direct manner you expect from Iowans and Canadians. Mathison hopes to
learn a little about parenting – his kids are 15 and 12 – and a
lot about food.

And linking with
Matenopoulos? “Debbie and I are great friends,” he said. “And
we hosted a show on the Style Network.”

The world promptly
forgot Style's “Instant Beauty Pageant.” On Hallmark, things seem
to last longer.

-- “Chesapeake
Shores” season-opener, 9 p.m. Sunday (Aug. 5), Hallmark

-- “Garage Sale
Mysteries: The Pandora Box Murders” debut, also 9 p.m. Sunday,
Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, preceded by previous “Garage Sale”
films at 1, 3, 5 and 7 p.m.

-- Three more
“Garage Sale” movies will follow on consecutive Sundays; also,
the Hallmark Channel promises it will have something new (series or
movie) every remaining Saturday and Sunday in 2018.

-- “Home and
Family,” 10 a.m. to noon weekdays, Hallmark. New episodes resume in