New Hallmark Channel sitcom revamps old sitcom formula

The morning after President Trump’s Inauguration, Comedy Central broadcast an off-the-cuff sketch with Mark Hamill in character as Luke Skywalker to a TV audience of about 1 million people who happened to be tuning…

New Hallmark Channel sitcom revamps old sitcom formula

The morning after President Trump’s Inauguration, Comedy Central broadcast an off-the-cuff sketch with Mark Hamill in character as Luke Skywalker to a TV audience of about 1 million people who happened to be tuning in to “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.”

Four days later, “The Shrink Next Door” aired on the Hallmark Channel, hitting about 1.8 million homes.

What the heck happened?

Hamill hosted the segment, playing a real psychologist with a more mainstream channel in mind. He talked about how Donald Trump’s ascent to the presidency has touched off alarm about global affairs.

“How many of you were scared to death of the man? How many of you watched him hand out jobs on the golf course?” Hamill said in the sketch. “How many of you were like, ‘Wait a minute. This is a good guy?'”

Hamill aimed to be serious and ironic at the same time, portraying himself as an imaginary therapist with international flair. The segment became the biggest “shorter” entertainment hit of 2018.

“It’s kind of a meta-gimmick,” explained Dan Goldberg, Hallmark Channel’s director of original programming. “This thing has been so big, the show feels very much like a very big conglomerate.”

And there are more shows like “The Shrink Next Door” coming soon to Hallmark viewers. Goldberg says the channel has begun commissioning comedy pilots to evaluate before it adds a series to its lineup.

Hallmark TV movies have generally long been its bread and butter, but Goldberg says the channel has big hopes for the comedic possibilities.

“Obviously, you’re going to have drama and you’re going to have action, but we always want to push it to the edge,” he said.

The network wants shows that play to its core viewers, who tend to be in their 40s and 50s.

Hallmark announced Monday that it will debut a scripted drama, “Sandcastle Summer,” on Feb. 27. It was created by an actress who currently appears on the network in “Santa Barbara,” a character that may be inspired by Sarah Michelle Gellar’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

Beth Hoppe, Hallmark’s chief content officer, declined to discuss the show’s plot, but said, “There’s a unique story that will appeal to our core audience.”

The series will star Cherilyn Wilson, who plays a single mother and aspiring actress.

The sitcom “Nathan for You” will move the following week, while “The Solutrean” is expected to air in the spring, both stars said in recent interviews.

“There is so much great programming, so many good things on TV,” said Rhea Butcher, who plays “The Solutrean” star. “If you tell a good story and you’re funny, you can come into any TV channel and find people watching it.”

Ashley Williams, who stars as the TV star in “Nathan for You,” echoed that, arguing that TV viewers want something they haven’t seen before.

“When I get these tweets and stuff like, ‘This has to be canceled! There’s nothing like this!’ I’m like, ‘Really?’ It’s brand new.”

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