Last weekend, Lifetime’s film-focused sister station Lifetime Movie Network aired 16 hours of tales about women being stalked and, on occasion, violently assaulted by psychopaths. This marathon included Lethal Admirer, Stalked by My Neighbor (not to be confused with the Eric Roberts-starring Stalked by My Doctor franchise of films), Stalker’s Prey, and I’ll Be Watching (which I happened to catch and highly recommend). Over on Lifetime, meanwhile, it was a bonanza of snow-dusted meet-cutes, Christmas-cookie bake-a-thons, and latte-swilling, big-city ladies returning home to save folksy family businesses from being destroyed by evil corporations before December 25 rolls around.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year for a lot of reasons, but mostly because of the made-for-TV-Christmas-movie arms race. As early as the days leading up to Halloween, traffickers in original movies—Hallmark Channel, Lifetime, Freeform (formerly ABC Family), and now Netflix—began churning out Yuletide fare at an unprecedented rate. Between October 27 and December 29, Hallmark will premiere 22 original holiday movies; no slouch, Lifetime has a total of 14 coming down the pike.
Lifetime may spend ten months of the year delighting suburban moms by bringing to life their most irrational (or are they?) fears in highly entertaining ways, November and December are for delighting that same audience with films that tap into the society-sanctioned escapism of the holiday season. As the network’s senior vice president of original movies, co-productions, and acquisitions, Meghan Hooper makes sure its viewers can mainline Christmas movies from the moment they’ve unbuttoned their pants after Thanksgiving dinner till they’ve unwrapped their last disappointing gift Christmas Day. When we spoke over the phone in late November, she and her team were already a month into working on the 2019 holiday slate.
But there’s more to the job than just churning out Christmas movies—it’s producing the right type of seasonal movies. “I’ve been with the network for seven years,” Hooper says. “We’ve done some different things around the holidays, but hopefully we’ve found the type of movies the audience really responds to. It doesn’t seem like they can get enough of them.”
So what’s the formula? If you’ve watched any of these things, you probably get it. There has to be a romance (one between an aforementioned big-city lady and her hometown boyfriend is a super popular trope) or, better yet, multiple romances—if a main character’s best friend or mom can get her holiday swerve on, too, it’s gravy. TV stars from the 1990s (MJH, Bev Mitchell) frequently star. An element of magic—often in the form of a “Santa-like” character—is also big. But the most important factor, according to Hooper, is that the movies are “intrinsically” Christmas tales, that there’s “a reason they’re set around the holidays, as opposed to taking a movie and putting a Christmas tree in the corner and calling it a Christmas movie.”
As of today, fans of the genre have six more Lifetime premieres to watch in the coming weeks (full schedule here), including one about a “savvy venture capitalist from New York City, (who) escapes to a quaint town in Vermont for the holidays”—where she meets a hot bookstore owner, naturally. Christmas is a couple of weeks away, but Santa’s already been generous as hell.