Please note: This transcript has been automatically generated.


Susie Banikarim (00:04):

Everything is very soothing in a Hallmark movie.

Jessica Bennett (00:07):

Like fires.

Susie Banikarim (00:08):

Fires are always roaring. Ice skating is always happening.

Jessica Bennett (00:12):


Susie Banikarim (00:12):

There’s tons of hot cocoa. I’m Susie Banikarim.

Jessica Bennett (00:17):

And I’m Jessica Bennett.

Susie Banikarim (00:19):

And this is In Retrospect where, each week, we revisit a cultural moment from the past that shaped us.

Jessica Bennett (00:24):

And that we just can’t stop thinking about.

Susie Banikarim (00:26):

Today we have a special holiday version of In Retrospect where we’re going to talk about the past and present of Hallmark Christmas movies. Jess, have you ever watched a Hallmark Christmas movie?

Jessica Bennett (00:40):

Susie, I’m proud to say the answer to that is, no.

Susie Banikarim (00:44):

Well, I cannot say the same. I have watched-

Jessica Bennett (00:47):

How could I have guessed?

Susie Banikarim (00:49):

… so many Christmas movies this season that the other day Mike walked in on me watching one and said-

Jessica Bennett (00:55):

Mike, your boyfriend?

Susie Banikarim (00:56):

Mike, my boyfriend, and said, “How many of these have you already watched this season?” And I did not like the judgment in his voice.

Jessica Bennett (01:07):


Susie Banikarim (01:07):

I was like, “What is that tone, mister?” No, he was actually laughing. He thought it was hilarious, but I feel some judgment about it. So I thought it would be interesting to query why I am so interested or into these movies.

Jessica Bennett (01:18):

Okay, I want to hear that. But also, what is a Hallmark movie? What makes something a Hall…? Are these movies produced by Hallmark? What am I missing here?

Susie Banikarim (01:26):

Okay. Yeah, this is a great question. Hallmark Christmas movies are made by Hallmark-

Jessica Bennett (01:31):

Like the card company?

Susie Banikarim (01:32):

Yeah, the card company. The backstory on the Hallmark channel, which is where Hallmark Christmas movies are aired is-

Jessica Bennett (01:38):

What channel is that? That’s a channel on television?

Susie Banikarim (01:41):

That’s a channel on television as part of your cable package.

Jessica Bennett (01:44):

Like cable? Like cable, okay.

Susie Banikarim (01:44):


Jessica Bennett (01:44):

Okay, okay.

Susie Banikarim (01:46):


Jessica Bennett (01:46):

I didn’t have cable growing up, so that makes sense then.

Susie Banikarim (01:49):

Okay. Yeah, that makes sense that this is very confusing for you. So actually, it started as the combination of two religious channels that came together and became a Christian network called the Faith and Values Channel.

Jessica Bennett (02:02):

Oh my God, that makes sense why they’re so strident.

Susie Banikarim (02:04):

Yes. Well, they’re not actually strident. They’re very soothing, but we’re going to get to that.

Jessica Bennett (02:08):

Okay. Okay. We’ll get to that.

Susie Banikarim (02:10):

And so it started as a religious thing. Then there was a rebrand in 2001, and that’s when it became the Hallmark Channel. And the original content had very explicitly religious and traditional themes. And it wasn’t really until the 2010s when the channel began to be known for these made for TV movies, romance, comedies. And then really, it began to be known for Christmas movies in particular when it started this thing called Countdown to Christmas in 2009.

Clips (02:44):

Countdown To Christmas, coming this October. Only on Hallmark.

Susie Banikarim (02:48):

And that is literally, every night to Christmas, they premiere, I don’t know if it’s every night, but they premiere all the new Christmas movies of that season.

Jessica Bennett (02:58):

Okay. So you’ve been really busy.

Susie Banikarim (03:00):

I’ve been very busy. That’s one way of putting it. And the idea is that these movies evoke the same warm traditional values that Hallmark greeting cards, and I don’t know if growing up, you ever went to a Hallmark store, but I always loved the Hallmark store.

Jessica Bennett (03:15):


Susie Banikarim (03:16):

They have greeting cards and ornaments, and so it’s supposed to evoke those same feelings in you. And I should say, that I’m not the only one watching these movies because that’s how I feel-

Jessica Bennett (03:28):

Talking to me.

Susie Banikarim (03:29):

Yeah, exactly.

Jessica Bennett (03:31):

So, I think I’m the minority here. People love these.

Susie Banikarim (03:34):

To give you an idea of what a big business it is, it is literally, defying the fate of most other cable channels. Hallmark is one of the most popular cable channels on television. New York Magazine recently did a piece called Nobody Told Hallmark Channel that Cable is Dead. And in it, it mentioned that it is not uncommon for Hallmark to have the most watched program in all of cable on any given night, especially during the holiday season.

Jessica Bennett (03:59):

Wow, okay.

Susie Banikarim (04:01):

And per Nielsen, Hallmark Channel is the number two most watched entertainment channel of 2023, just behind HDTV, but ahead of other channels that people watch a lot, like TNT and USA and Food Network. And also, in the last week of November, they premiered seven brand new Hallmark Christmas movies. And that pushed the channel to be the number two most watched channel across all of cable, not just entertainment cable, meaning, that it beat Fox News. And of those seven movies, six of them were watched by more than 1.7 million people on their premiere night. So that’s just the people who watched it on the first run. Most of these movies are run over and over again. And they’ve made for this season 40 original movies just to air in 2023.

Jessica Bennett (04:51):

So what are they about? Is there really that much to say? Why are there so many movies? What are they about?

Susie Banikarim (04:57):

Well, they’re all very formulaic. They’re all very similar. They have a lot of rules. There’s a standard story format. Now, some of this is starting to change a little bit as these shows have become more popular and as there’s more diversity and inclusion. But the traditional formula is basically this. A relatable single, sometimes very recently single, like a girl who’s just literally broken up with her boyfriend or isn’t single, scandalous, but her boyfriend is a big dumb jerk and you hate him right away. And it’s clear you’re supposed to hate him.

Jessica Bennett (05:36):

It’s always a boyfriend.

Susie Banikarim (05:36):

It’s always a boyfriend, yes. And so this single girl has lost faith and love. She’s pursuing life in the big city, and somehow, she ends up in a small town for some reason. She’s either going home for the holidays, sometimes she’s a reporter who’s working on a story about a secret Santa that nobody knows the identity of.

Jessica Bennett (05:55):

Okay, okay.

Susie Banikarim (05:56):

Sometimes she has an accident and she has amnesia-

Jessica Bennett (06:00):

Oh my God. Okay.

Susie Banikarim (06:00):

And she’s in this small town and she falls in love, but she doesn’t know who she is. It’s always some excuse for why she’s now in this idyllic town-

Jessica Bennett (06:08):

With snow.

Susie Banikarim (06:10):

There’s snow everywhere. And a thing that Hallmark actually says themselves, is that a classic Hallmark Christmas movie has to have Christmas in every frame. Meaning, every single shot of the movie has to have some element of Christmas like an ornament or a tree or a cookie. There has to be something visually, that indicates it’s a Christmas movie.

Jessica Bennett (06:31):

That’s so crazy. Okay, so there’s no Jews in Hallmark movies?

Susie Banikarim (06:34):

Well, now they’re are Jews. Now they’ve released a few Hallmark movies that are Hanukkah movies.

Clips (06:40):

Aha. So the Matchmaker was right.


Hanukkah on Rye on Hallmark.

Susie Banikarim (06:46):

But that is fairly recent. So again, we’re just talking about the basic formula that has existed for years.

Jessica Bennett (06:51):

So funny.

Susie Banikarim (06:51):

We’ll talk about what’s happening now, later. So here’s this girl, she’s in this small town and she meets a handsome local man, a kind of modern Prince, charming, and almost always he is also single, but sometimes he also has an awful girlfriend who doesn’t appreciate how sweet and perfect he is. And his job is always something like baker or-

Jessica Bennett (07:13):

Oh my God, are you living a Hallmark movie?

Susie Banikarim (07:16):

I’m kind of living a Hallmark movie because my boyfriend is a baker.

Jessica Bennett (07:18):

Your partner is a baker, so just saying.

Susie Banikarim (07:21):

He really rejects that comparison, because trust me, I’ve made it.

Jessica Bennett (07:24):

Yeah, don’t tell him I said that.

Susie Banikarim (07:25):

But yeah.

Jessica Bennett (07:26):

All right. So they’re bakers or they’re like-

Susie Banikarim (07:28):

Bakers, or they’re a firemen or they are the owner of the local Christmas tree lot. They’re usually small business owners or small town charmers. And while she spends time with this charming stranger, he reminds her of the simpler joys of small-town life.

Jessica Bennett (07:48):

Okay, got it.

Susie Banikarim (07:48):

So community and warmth and comfort. Everything is very soothing in a Hallmark movie

Jessica Bennett (07:55):

Yeah, like fires.

Susie Banikarim (07:56):

Fires are always roaring. Ice skating is always happening.

Jessica Bennett (07:59):


Susie Banikarim (08:00):

There’s tons of hot cocoa. It’s just showering in hot cocoa.

Jessica Bennett (08:04):

Yeah, like caroling.

Susie Banikarim (08:05):

Caroling, there’s always caroling. So often there’s also, I just want to say, a child involved. Sometimes the man has a child and his wife has passed. They try not to talk about divorce a lot, but sometimes he’s divorced-

Jessica Bennett (08:17):

Widowed, okay.

Susie Banikarim (08:18):

… and less often, the woman has a child and the child is always adorable and precocious. And the way the formula works is there’s also kind of a formula to the story structure. So she gets to the town, she meets the stranger, somewhere, they start to get to know each other a little bit better. There’s a near kiss about three quarters of the way through the movie.

Jessica Bennett (08:40):

Okay, you can time it.

Susie Banikarim (08:41):

Yeah. And then eventually, there is a challenge they face or a challenge to their relationship or a misunderstanding that briefly pulls them apart and then they’re brought back together by the end. And there is one perfect chaste kiss at the end of every movie. And that is the happy ending.

Jessica Bennett (09:02):

And that’s end. That’s it.

Susie Banikarim (09:02):

And that’s the end.

Jessica Bennett (09:17):

So wait, tell me some of the ones you’ve watched so far, this season.

Susie Banikarim (09:21):

The thing is, I can’t really tell them all apart, so I won’t be able to tell you all the names. I’ve watched so many of them.

Jessica Bennett (09:25):

But were they all romantic? What’s the general plot?

Susie Banikarim (09:29):

So yeah, there’s really a romance component to all of these, but I want to say that the fantasy isn’t really just about romance. I mean, that’s certainly part of it, but it’s also just kind of an idyllic world where everybody loves their family and everyone’s really supportive of each other and everything is incredibly optimistic. It is a world that is very different from the world we live in. And so there are these rules that govern this world. And some of these rules are explicit, Hallmark executives have talked about these rules, and some of them are less explicit, but clear, if you are a consumer of many of these films, which I am. So here are some of the rules that I have put together for you.


So it always has to be two conventionally attractive, very classically American, traditionally white main characters. In recent years, there’s been some diversification in race and sexuality, but that’s kind of the standard setup. And then, a lot of the stars are not super famous, but they’re recognizable from some sitcom or teen show you watched as a kid. So like Lacey Chabert of Party of Five fame and Danica McKellar from the Wonder Years, who played Winnie Cooper. Holly Robinson-Pete from 21 Jump Street was the most prominent black actress on the network for a long time. Now there are others. Even Meghan Markle was in two Hallmark movies when she was just an actor from Suits and not married to Prince Harry.

Jessica Bennett (11:04):

Okay. Do these pay a lot of money? Is this good money for actors?

Susie Banikarim (11:09):

Yes. Actually, a lot of actors compare the Hallmark system to the old school studio system because actors can sign exclusive contracts with these networks. It just means that there’s steady work, good pay, decent hours. It’s the kind of thing where, if you get into the Hallmark system, which is actually not easy to do, then you can have steady work every year. And these movies shoot fast so it’s a very efficient process.

Jessica Bennett (11:35):

It’s like a journalist doing corporate work on the side-

Susie Banikarim (11:37):

Kind of.

Jessica Bennett (11:38):

… to fund their art.

Susie Banikarim (11:39):

The Christmas movies generally get shot in 15 days. There’s minimal takes. It’s really efficient and affordable.

Jessica Bennett (11:46):

It’s like doing ads.

Susie Banikarim (11:47):

Yeah. Most of them are shot in Canada, so they use existing locations. They don’t have to use sound stages. So there is a whole industry around this that just churns out these Christmas movies, and it’s a year-long process because they have to all be made and ready to go.

Jessica Bennett (12:05):

And if you’re an actor, is this the kind of thing where you’re like, “Don’t put that one on my website”?

Susie Banikarim (12:10):

I think actually, a lot of these actors get really into it. There’s an annual convention every year called Christmas Con, which I wanted to go to for this episode, but they rejected me. They said they didn’t have room for podcasters this year. I’m just very offended by that.

Jessica Bennett (12:24):

Rude. Wow. Too many podcasts, man.

Susie Banikarim (12:27):

But a lot of the actors from these movies have been posting from Christmas, like Jesse Metcalfe, who’s one of the male stars who used to be an actor on Desperate Housewives, he was posting from there just a couple days ago. Chad Michael Murray from One Tree Hill is one of these actors.

Jessica Bennett (12:42):

Okay. All right. This is basically a world that I just had no idea.

Susie Banikarim (12:46):

No idea existed, but it is a whole universe.

Jessica Bennett (12:48):

Okay, so they’re proud.

Susie Banikarim (12:50):

So they’re proud of it, I think.

Jessica Bennett (12:51):

I don’t mean to dismiss them.

Susie Banikarim (12:52):

No. I mean, I’m sure there are some people who wouldn’t be, but I think, if you’re a working actor, and it’s been a while since you’ve been cast in something and you get plugged into the system, this is a great way to have regular work, and I think they all become friends.

Jessica Bennett (13:06):

Like wear a lot of chunky sweaters.

Susie Banikarim (13:08):

Yeah. I think they’ve become friends. It’s like uplifting content.

Jessica Bennett (13:11):

Okay, great.

Susie Banikarim (13:12):

Okay, so let’s go back to the rules. So the rules are the vibe has to always be uplifting and a little magical. There’s no darkness in this world. The world makes sense here. There’s no evil, no war, there’s no famine.

Jessica Bennett (13:25):

Okay. That sounds kind of nice.

Susie Banikarim (13:27):

Yeah, it’s kind of nice. So very deliberately, there are no politics. The former CEO told the New Yorker for an article once that, “The only thing we promote is pet adoption. We make no apologies about that.” It’s very clearly apolitical. And I think that’s because the accusation was always that they were conservative because they came from a religious background, but they’re actually trying to stay out of politics. I want to mention another thing, which I think makes them very soothing, which is, there’s rarely economic hardship of any kind.

Jessica Bennett (14:00):

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Susie Banikarim (14:01):

Small towns and small businesses aren’t doing great in the real world, but in these small towns, the small businesses are-

Jessica Bennett (14:08):

We’re not talking about Detroit businesses on Main Street, shuttered or whatever.

Susie Banikarim (14:12):

Yeah. Everything is viable. Sometimes there’s a challenge like business is down or dad wants to retire and sell the business, but that challenge is always met and everything is fine by the end of the movie.

Jessica Bennett (14:23):

So soothing.

Susie Banikarim (14:24):

And another thing that’s interesting is that, there are usually some hijinks and disagreements, but they literally cannot be too angry. When the New Yorker reporter who did that article I mentioned was on set, she witnessed a scene where the guy seemed really angry and the director was like, “Cut. You got to take it down a notch. You’re too mad.”

Jessica Bennett (14:48):

They’re not doxing each other on Twitter?

Susie Banikarim (14:49):

Nobody’s doxing each other on Twitter. Nobody’s having a crying jag and throwing things. It is a very civilized world, and the relationships are all basically, healthy. Sometimes there are madcap misunderstandings, but at the root of this are good people who just love each other, families who get along, all the children are adored and cherished, parents are either kind of saints or imperfect, but only because they’re misunderstood. And it’s very important to note that there’s also very little sex in these movies.

Jessica Bennett (15:28):

Right. Just like a few kisses.

Susie Banikarim (15:30):

Just like chaste kisses, near kisses. But there’s no heat in these movies. It’s all very safe.

Jessica Bennett (15:36):

Do they get a rating?

Susie Banikarim (15:38):

No. I mean, if they got a rating, it would be family friendly.

Jessica Bennett (15:40):

I guess TV movies don’t get a rating.

Susie Banikarim (15:41):

Yeah. No.

Jessica Bennett (15:42):

This is PG though.

Susie Banikarim (15:43):

Yeah, but I mean, think it would be less than PG. I don’t know what less than PG is, but it would be less than PG.

Jessica Bennett (15:48):

Got it. Okay.

Susie Banikarim (15:49):

And I mentioned the Christmas in every frame, and what that means is, that there have to be heartwarming holiday themes all through the movie. Christmas tree decorating, cookie baking, cocoa, Christmas lights, snowball fights. There have to be a million cliches about Christmas thrown in. And then ultimately, there’s always the happy ending.

Jessica Bennett (16:24):

So why do you like these? I mean, let’s be real.

Susie Banikarim (16:28):

Let’s just get down to it.

Jessica Bennett (16:28):

Well, this sounds horrible. This sounds so corny. Why do you like these?

Susie Banikarim (16:34):

Okay, this is a great question. So first of all, yes, it’s incredibly corny, and obviously, I know you well enough to know that you hate corny things, so I knew that you would find this hilarious, but also disturbing. And so I have spent a lot of time thinking about it in the last couple of weeks as I’ve been thinking about what we’re going to talk about. And I think, for me, it just represents a certain kind of Americana and small town life, which, as an immigrant, is what I thought America was. That idealized version of America is what you imagine America is. When you come here and your life is nothing like that.

Jessica Bennett (17:10):

Right. Right. Right.

Susie Banikarim (17:10):

You Come from a world where there certainly is war and politics and danger, and your life has just been completely thrown into disarray, and you’re far from your family. You don’t have this sweet world, and you imagine that that’s the world everyone else has. So I think, for me, they represent this kind of comforting idea that there is a part of the world that makes sense. And I feel like-

Jessica Bennett (17:38):

That makes a lot of sense until you realize, unfortunately, it’s not. But yeah, that makes a lot of sense.

Susie Banikarim (17:46):

Yeah. Well, what you’re saying is, is that it’s a fantasy, which of course it is. So now I obviously know that. I mean, I think I always kind of inherently knew that, but the reason I think it’s kind of important around the holiday season is, I think that’s a time where people really feel not having those fantasy family lives. If you’re someone who doesn’t have a big family or doesn’t have a family or lost your parent or whatever, this is a time where you feel very alone. The holidays can feel really isolating. And so I think a lot of people just watch these movies as a way to feel the warmth that they’re not getting in their personal lives. And I think also, the formulaic nature is very appealing to me, if I’m honest. I don’t really have to be watching. It’s a perfect second screen activity.

Jessica Bennett (18:36):


Susie Banikarim (18:39):

I usually just put it on, and I know the basic plot points are always essentially the same. So I can be doing other things. I can be texting or doing a crossword puzzle or whatever.

Jessica Bennett (18:49):

Yeah, I was going to ask because I feel like maybe the few times, I don’t know, I’ve been in other people’s houses where they’ve been playing, they’re on in the background, and you can go in and out.

Susie Banikarim (18:55):

It’s kind of background noise in a way, and sometimes they’re good. You’re like, “Oh, this is actually kind of entertaining me.” And so you dial in. But for the most part, it’s just this sign of soothing Christmas background

Jessica Bennett (19:08):

With some nice music.

Susie Banikarim (19:09):

Yeah, some Christmas music gets played, some adorable children come out in costumes. It’s just a nice vibe to have in the background. It kind of makes my brain feel smooth, like butter.

Jessica Bennett (19:21):

Okay. Yeah.

Susie Banikarim (19:22):

That’s how it feels. I have a lot of anxiety as you know, and so sometimes I just want to watch something that just irons out all the kinks in my brain. But I thought what would be funny would be for me to describe to you the plot of the most popular Hallmark Christmas movie of all time, because it’s fairly deranged in ways that I find really amusing. This is definitely a movie I’ve seen more than once. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen it start to finish, because the other thing about Hallmark Christmas movies is, I have cable, which a lot of people don’t have, but if you have cable, one of the benefits of it is that, you just happen upon them. It’s like, you’re just flipping through channels and you’re like, oh-

Jessica Bennett (20:07):

Are they on other channels too?

Susie Banikarim (20:08):

No. But they did make a deal this year with Peacock, and so now some Hallmark movies are available on Peacock, and now lots of other people make Christmas movies. But it’s kind of one of those things where if there’s nothing else on, I’ll just default around Christmas to Hallmark and just have it on in the background.

Jessica Bennett (20:24):


Susie Banikarim (20:24):

So this movie, I can’t just wait to tell you all about it. So this movie is called Christmas Under Wraps and it stars Candace Cameron Bure, who is arguably, the queen of Christmas movies. She has been in so many of them. She has starred in four of the 10 most viewed Christmas movies on Hallmark.

Jessica Bennett (20:47):


Susie Banikarim (20:48):

This movie debuted in 2014, and it, to this day, holds the record for Hallmark’s highest ever broadcast premiere. It is credited by Hallmark executives as being the breakthrough moment for Christmas programming on the channel, and it re-airs every year. So an important thing to kind of understand about the ecosystem is that they make all these new movies every year, but then they mix in all these old movies that you remember. And that’s also part of the appeal. It’s like when people watch friends over and over again, it’s kind of familiar and soothing to have one of these show up.


So here’s the story of Christmas under Wraps. After a breakup, Dr. Lauren Brunell, played by Candace Cameron Bure, is forced to move to Alaska for a new job.

Jessica Bennett (21:40):

Okay. Alaska, love that. So she’s been passed over for a prestigious fellowship in Boston, and her boyfriend breaks up with her.

Clips (21:48):

Everything I’ve worked for my entire life is gone.

Susie Banikarim (21:50):

She temporarily accepts an offer to go practice in a small town called Garland.

Clips (21:56):

Garland, Alaska.

Susie Banikarim (21:57):

Get it? It’s got a Christmas theme.

Jessica Bennett (21:59):

It’s a real town?

Susie Banikarim (22:00):

No, the towns are never real.

Jessica Bennett (22:01):

That’s not. Okay, got it.

Susie Banikarim (22:02):

The towns are always like, Evergreen or whatever, fake names.

Jessica Bennett (22:05):

All right, got it.

Susie Banikarim (22:06):

And this job is supposed to be temporary while she waits for another chance at the Boston Fellowship. When she gets to Alaska, she meets Andy, who is a handsome local handyman.

Clips (22:18):

Welcome to Garland, Dr. Brunell.

Susie Banikarim (22:19):

She quickly starts to fall in love with Garland, but as Lauren becomes more familiar with the town, she starts to notice some odd things. Most people in this town actually work for Andy, the adorable handyman she met when she arrived. His father, Frank, who owns a warehouse business called Holiday Shipping because their last name is Holiday. And Frank likes to eat cookies for breakfast.

Jessica Bennett (22:48):

Oh, wow.

Susie Banikarim (22:49):

And she can’t quite figure out what Frank’s business exactly is, beyond shipping. But she starts to get to know Andy better and it turns out that he used to be an architect in Seattle, but he moved home because his dad really needs help with the family business.

Jessica Bennett (23:07):

Okay. Okay.

Susie Banikarim (23:08):

What is the family business? Still unclear.

Jessica Bennett (23:10):

Santa. Okay.

Susie Banikarim (23:11):

Yeah. Okay, shh.

Jessica Bennett (23:13):


Susie Banikarim (23:14):

Wait, just wait. He confides in Lauren that he’s ambivalent about his future, and here is the almost kiss moment. And then later, there’s an emergency and Lauren is summoned to the holiday home. But when she gets there, she realizes it’s not a medical emergency that she’s been summoned for, but there’s a reindeer.

Jessica Bennett (23:38):

A reindeer emergency?

Susie Banikarim (23:39):

Yes. And the reindeer’s name is-

Jessica Bennett (23:39):

Is injured?

Susie Banikarim (23:40):

… Rudy, presumably short for Rudolph, who is injured. His ankle is injured, and it’s a crisis because they need him to be well, for the Christmas Eve-

Jessica Bennett (23:51):

Yeah, duh.

Susie Banikarim (23:53):

… Festival.

Jessica Bennett (23:54):

Okay. Okay.

Susie Banikarim (23:55):

So still she’s like, things here are strange, but-

Jessica Bennett (23:58):

She’s like, “I don’t get it.”

Susie Banikarim (24:00):

“I don’t get it. What is happening here that feels odd?”

Jessica Bennett (24:03):

What could this be?

Susie Banikarim (24:03):

What does it all mean? But she’s smart, so she’s starting to become suspicious.

Jessica Bennett (24:09):

Is she, though?

Susie Banikarim (24:10):

Something strange is afoot. Well, she is a doctor. Right?

Jessica Bennett (24:13):

Interesting. Okay. So did she know how to fix Rudy’s foot?

Susie Banikarim (24:17):

She patches up Rudy’s ankle.

Jessica Bennett (24:18):

Oh, she does? Okay. Yeah.

Susie Banikarim (24:20):

Yes, and everyone is extremely grateful. And then some other things happen I won’t get into, but it’s important to note that somewhere in all of this, Andy gets Lauren a Christmas tree and they decorate it together.

Clips (24:35):

This is the best Christmas I’ve ever had.

Jessica Bennett (24:37):

And then they kiss.

Susie Banikarim (24:38):

Nope, the kiss doesn’t come until the end. It’s just near kisses until the end. I’m sure they bake some cookies or go ice skating, I don’t remember all the fun Christmas activity, but that’s how their romance unfolds. And then, right after all of that, comes the challenge. Lauren finds out that a spot has opened up in Boston after all. So she tells Andy-

Jessica Bennett (25:01):

Oh, her job, okay.

Susie Banikarim (25:01):

… that she’s leaving and she can’t give up what she’s wanted her whole life-

Jessica Bennett (25:03):

Her dream.

Susie Banikarim (25:03):

… and they’re both really sad. And the question here is, Jessica, is this going to be the first time that a Christmas movie doesn’t have a happy ending?

Jessica Bennett (25:13):

Okay, but maybe the happy ending is getting her executive job.

Susie Banikarim (25:18):

Okay. You are clearly wrong about that.

Jessica Bennett (25:19):

A girl boss.

Susie Banikarim (25:21):

What are you even thinking? The happy ending is never that the career girl goes back to her career. She always discovers that small-time life is better than her New York career.

Jessica Bennett (25:33):

Okay, so what happens?

Susie Banikarim (25:34):

So that’s so silly, but obviously, I’m wrong. There will be a happy ending. Before Lauren can leave, Andy gets a call that his father has collapsed, and so they rushed to be by his side. And Andy is so worried about his father’s health that he realizes that he has to help his dad with the business. Again, no one is being explicit about what the business is, but in seeing him and his dad come together, Lauren has a realization of her own. She’s decided she’s going to stay in Garland. She turns down the fellowship and she goes to find Andy at the Christmas Festival to tell him, and then they kiss. And it is a happy ending after all. But one last thing, it turns out that Frank is, in fact, Santa Claus.

Jessica Bennett (26:21):

Okay. So does that mean, I guess, she’s not going to be Mrs. Claus?

Susie Banikarim (26:25):

One day.

Jessica Bennett (26:26):

Anyway, she’s going to be a homemaker now.

Susie Banikarim (26:27):

One day she’s going to be Mrs. Claus, she’s going to be a doctor and Mrs. Claus. And the way we find out that Frank is, in fact, Santa Claus is, he comes out in a full Santa outfit in a sleigh being led by Rudy the reindeer, and then it goes up into the air.

Clips (26:44):

Let’s get this show underway.

Susie Banikarim (26:46):

And that’s how the movie ends.

Jessica Bennett (26:49):

Are these… Okay, this is kitsch, this is like, “LOL, this is so ridiculous.” Or this is like, I don’t get it. Why would you want to watch this?

Susie Banikarim (27:00):

Good question. That’s a great question.

Jessica Bennett (27:03):

Maybe it’s just like you’re trying to get away from your family over the holidays-

Susie Banikarim (27:06):

Well, I think that’s some of it.

Jessica Bennett (27:06):

… and this is something to do.

Susie Banikarim (27:08):

Some of it is, you’re just trying to look for entertainment anywhere you can find it. I think that for a lot of people who watch it, for me, it is kitsch. I find it hilarious. It’s unintentionally a comedy for me, right? I’m like, “He’s Santa Claus? That’s the story?”

Jessica Bennett (27:22):

Yeah. Okay. It’s funny when you tell it, yeah.

Susie Banikarim (27:25):

Right. But I don’t know that that’s how it’s intended, but it’s certainly how I receive it. So I think I would love to hear from people who have different reasons why they love these movies. For me, it’s always hilarious. And the more deranged the storyline, the more I love it. ‘Cause I’m just like, “What’s happening now?”

Jessica Bennett (27:41):

Okay, that’s fun. I could see that.

Susie Banikarim (27:42):

You can kind of see that, right? And I think there are people who play Hallmark Christmas games, like drinking games, where when something happens…

Jessica Bennett (27:49):


Susie Banikarim (27:50):

There’s a lot of ways to make it fun. But I think what’s interesting is that Candace Cameron Bure herself is a really interesting part of the Hallmark universe because she really is the queen of Christmas or the Queen of Hallmark Christmas, but I don’t know how much you know about her, but she’s quite conservative. She’s an openly conservative celebrity, obviously, of which, there are not a ton. And she’s been creating content for the channel since 2008. And her first Hallmark movie was called Moonlight and Mistletoe and just FYI, Tom Arnold was in it-

Jessica Bennett (28:29):

Oh, okay. Yeah.

Susie Banikarim (28:30):

… just in case you’re wondering. But in 2022, she announced that she was ending her contract with Hallmark, and she was going to go to this other channel called the Great American Family Channel, which she claimed was more in line with her traditional and religious values. And this created a controversy because it seemed very much like a veiled way of saying she rejected that there were now LGBTQ themes and more diversity in the stories. And this is what she said at the time, “My heart wants to tell stories that have more meaning and purpose and depth behind them. I know that the people behind Great American Family were Christians that love the Lord and wanted to promote faith programming and good family entertainment.”

Jessica Bennett (29:12):

Were there some gay uncles in Mistletoe and Mischief? What was it called? Holiday Mistletoe and whatever.

Susie Banikarim (29:22):

So they had started to introduce characters that were obliquely gay, like they would have two men who were friends. They would never explicitly talk about there being gay, but you could kind of get a sense. But at this point, they make movies where there are two leads who are gay and who end up together. There has been a push towards more diversity and inclusion on the channel. And there was kind of this scandal because at some point, there was an ad on the channel from a wedding registry site where two lesbians kissed and a conservative group started to organize a boycott. And initially, they pulled the commercial, but then, there was a boycott of the channel from the other side. And competitors like Netflix and other streamers who now make these movies touted that they have more LGBTQ diversity. So Hallmark reversed its decision and said it would reinstate the advertisements and work with GLAAD and other LGBTQ groups to have more inclusive programming.


All of that happened in 2019. So that was before she kind of made the statement that made it clear that she wanted more love of the Lord in her programming. And she said this thing, which was very coded, but clear, which is, she was like, “Hallmark is now a completely different network than when I started thanks to a change in leadership.”

Jessica Bennett (30:45):

Bye Candace. Bye Candace. See ya. Creative American Family or whatever.

Susie Banikarim (30:51):

I mean, honestly, I don’t miss her, but this was a big thing in the Hallmark universe.

Jessica Bennett (30:56):

So I have no connection to Hallmark movies whatsoever except for one thing, which is that my friends that I grew up with, Neil Bledsoe, we went to high school together. He’s a pretty well-known Hallmark actor or this type. I’m still-

Susie Banikarim (31:14):

I’m sure I’ve seen all his movies, yeah.

Jessica Bennett (31:16):

… Great American Family versus Hallmark, whatever. He was a successful actor in other realms, then he started doing Hallmark movies. He starred at one point in something with Winnie Cooper, whose name I forget, but who you mentioned earlier.

Susie Banikarim (31:27):

Danica McKellar, yeah.

Jessica Bennett (31:29):

Oh yeah, Danica McKellar. And then when this all was happening, he took a stand and was like, “I’m out. If you can’t support LGBTQ issues, that’s not a network that I want to be involved in.” And so there were all these headlines about Neil, my high school dance Tolo date, being the right kind of ally. So that’s where my-

Susie Banikarim (31:50):

Okay. So, I just Googled this, and you’re right. So this is actually exactly what we’re talking about. Neil, I guess, had also gone over to Great American Family. So basically, Great American Family was started by this guy who used to run Hallmark, this guy Bill Abbott, who sort of created-

Jessica Bennett (32:05):

Oh, so he left [inaudible 00:32:06] this other channel?

Susie Banikarim (32:07):

… this concept. And after all of this stuff happens with the lesbian ad, he abruptly leaves the channel in February of 2020, and he starts trying to recruit the famous actors of Hallmark to come over to Great American Family, which he sort of strategically says is going to be more traditional, but never explicitly says that it’s not going to have inclusion or LGBTQ, et cetera. So when Candace makes these remarks, two years later, it becomes a controversy. And Neil was, I guess, signed on to make some films with the Great American Family Channel, and he said he would no longer do that. So hopefully, he’s still making Hallmark movies and wants to come on and tell us all about that ’cause I want to hear everything about that experience, but…

Jessica Bennett (32:58):

Yeah, I’m curious. I don’t know.

Susie Banikarim (32:59):

Yeah. See, now, aren’t you more curious about what it’s like to be part of this world?

Jessica Bennett (33:03):

Kind of.

Susie Banikarim (33:05):

Not really. Well, Neil, I really appreciate you, even if your friend Jessica from high school can’t understand why.

Jessica Bennett (33:14):

No, I appreciate what he did. I just don’t know that I need to watch the movie. Anyhow. Okay. So is there a movie that you’re currently watching right now?

Susie Banikarim (33:26):

Oh, I mean, don’t always even watch a movie to the end. Sometimes I’ll just watch an hour of it and finish. I’m not like DVRing the movie.

Jessica Bennett (33:35):

I got you.

Susie Banikarim (33:36):

I’m not in the middle of a movie. I’m trying to think if I watched anything last night. I mean, I’ll just sort of flip through channels and sometimes there’ll be one that I know. There’s another famous Candace Cameron Bure one where she plays twins. She plays both parts.

Jessica Bennett (33:49):

Right, right.

Susie Banikarim (33:49):

They’re sisters that are estranged and they swap lives. And for some reason, even though that movie is very bad, I love it. So whenever that’s on, I watch it. There’s a lot of themes around royalty.

Jessica Bennett (34:01):

Oh, interesting.

Susie Banikarim (34:01):

So it’ll be like small-town girl gets asked to be a nanny in fake European country, like Genovia. And she’ll go there to be the nanny and she’ll fall in love with her charge’s brother, who happens to be the Prince.

Jessica Bennett (34:18):

Okay, got it. Got it, got it, got it.

Susie Banikarim (34:20):

There’s a lot of these-

Jessica Bennett (34:21):

These are all like fairy tales in one way or another?

Susie Banikarim (34:22):

… fantasy, fairy tales. Yeah. I mean, essentially, that’s what it is. It’s a fairy tale about what life could be like in a fantasy. I remember once I actually brought this up with my therapist, it was a holiday season where I was feeling a little depressed and I was like, “Why don’t I have a family like this?” And she was like, “What are you talking about?”

Jessica Bennett (34:42):

Yeah, that’s deranged.

Susie Banikarim (34:45):

“These are fantasies. Nobody has families like this.” Like, “This is not the real world.” And I was like, yeah. I mean… Honestly, what I thought in that moment is, I can’t believe I have to pay someone to say this to me.

Jessica Bennett (34:56):

You better move to a small town. Like, “Get out of New York City, you careerist.”

Susie Banikarim (35:04):

Yeah. Do you think that if I-

Jessica Bennett (35:06):

You can take your Baker boyfriend with you because clearly, he belongs in a small town. Open up your little bagel shop.

Susie Banikarim (35:13):

Okay. I just want you to know that I do want to move to a small town and open up a bagel shop and Mike is like, “No, I want to live in New York. Why would I want to go to some small town?”

Jessica Bennett (35:23):

I don’t know.

Susie Banikarim (35:25):

He’s just refusing to participate in my fantasy. But I guess, that’s a happy ending of its own because I’m pretty sure if I ended up in some small town, I’d be tearing my hair out in a week.

Jessica Bennett (35:36):

Or maybe you would love it.

Susie Banikarim (35:38):

Maybe I would love it. I think we can leave this episode here. Do you feel like you know everything you need to know about Hallmark movies?

Jessica Bennett (35:44):

Yeah, I think I know enough and I will file this away in my head and I’m still never going to watch them.

Susie Banikarim (35:53):

Okay. All right. Well, I feel like my job here is done then.

Jessica Bennett (35:56):

Great work.

Susie Banikarim (35:57):

Happy holidays.

Jessica Bennett (36:02):

Susie, just before we wrap this episode up, I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge some of the ideas that our listeners have been sending in. So every week, we’ve been asking you to tell us what you think we should explore. And as we wrap up season one, we’re getting ready to tackle all of these new subjects for season two. And we love some of these ideas that have been sent in.

Susie Banikarim (36:24):

Yeah, I mean, we’ve had such great response and I just want you guys to know we read every email and-

Jessica Bennett (36:29):

We really do.

Susie Banikarim (36:31):

… every DM, and I love all of them. And I always say that I kind of want to write a thank you note, like a handwritten thank you note to all of you. So if you DM me your address, I probably will do that. But yeah, let’s go over some of these ideas ’cause we have great episodes coming up, but hopefully, there’ll be an opportunity to incorporate some of these.

Jessica Bennett (36:48):

One that I am really excited about came from Beth Lipton, who actually sent a couple of great ones about Lilith Fair and the Riot Girl era of the nineties. I was always so upset I didn’t go to Lilith Fair.

Susie Banikarim (36:59):

I know, me too. I mean, I have seen Indigo Girls in concert five times, so I feel like it’s kind of the closest you’re going to get to Lilith Fair. But I am really sad I missed it.

Jessica Bennett (37:08):

And there has been a funny TikTok going around recently of a young person being like, “What? There was a festival that was all women. It was called Lilith Fair?” So I think, good fodder for us.

Susie Banikarim (37:22):

Yeah. And also, maybe it will inspire someone to make another Lilith Fair. I would totally go to that now. Beth sent in another good idea about doing something around Sandy’s transition in Grease, like how she had to become a bad girl to get the guy-

Jessica Bennett (37:35):

Oh, yeah. The big hair.

Susie Banikarim (37:36):

… and I always loved that. There’s a great thing in here about something I don’t know about, but I feel like I should do a lot of research on, which is Mariah Carey’s Glitter meltdown. I’m like, I want to know everything about that.

Jessica Bennett (37:48):

I don’t remember what that was.

Susie Banikarim (37:49):

I don’t know what that is either.

Jessica Bennett (37:50):

Okay, that came from Maddie Lambert. So thanks, Maddie. We’ll look that up.

Susie Banikarim (37:53):

Yeah, I think that’s a good one.

Jessica Bennett (37:56):

But all of these are so great and we hope people and listeners will keep sending them because we really do look into them and maybe we’ll pursue them. So thank you.

Susie Banikarim (38:05):

Yeah, thank you so much. We really love all of you.


This is In Retrospect. Thanks for listening. Is there a cultural moment you can’t stop thinking about and want us to explore in a future episode? Email us at [email protected] or find us on Instagram @inretropod.

Jessica Bennett (38:24):

If you love this podcast, please rate and review us on Apple or Spotify or wherever you listen. If you hate it, you can post nasty comments on our Instagram which we may or may not delete.

Susie Banikarim (38:35):

You can also find us on Instagram @jessicabennett and @susiebnyc. Also check out Jessica’s books, Feminist Fight Club and This is 18.

Jessica Bennett (38:44):

In Retrospect is a production of iHeart podcast and The Meteor. Lauren Hansen is our supervising producer. Derrick Clements is our engineer and sound designer. Sharon Attia is our researcher and associate producer.

Susie Banikarim (38:57):

Our executive producer from The Meteor is Cindi Leive. Our executive producers from iHeart are Anna Stumpf and Katrina Norvell. Our artwork is from Pentagram. Additional editing help from Mary Dooe and Mike Coscarelli. Sound correction and mastering by Amanda Rose Smith. We are your hosts, Susie Banikarim.

Jessica Bennett (39:15):

And Jessica Bennett. We’re also executive producers. For even more, check out inretropod.com. See you next week.