Why Is a Trumpy Cable Network Poaching All of Hallmark’s Biggest Stars?

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Paul Archuleta/Getty
Paul Archuleta/Getty

It’s a sentence that would have blown minds in the ’90s: Full House star Candace Cameron Bure is now embroiled in a quest to build the TV empire of former President Donald Trump’s dreams.

Since her ABC sitcom days, the erstwhile D.J. Tanner has become something of an “it” girl on the Hallmark Channel; since 2008, she’s starred in dozens of titles for the cabler. On Tuesday, however, she announced her impending move to GAC Family—a Hallmark competitor funded by a group of investors with ties to the former president. Among the group’s previous reported pursuits? Assembling a far-right Fox News rival.

“I’m very excited to develop heartwarming family and faith-filled programming and make the kind of stories my family and I love to watch,” Bure said in a statement provided to TV Line. “We share a vision of creating compelling wholesome content for an audience who wants to watch programming for and with the whole family.”

Those of us who don’t spend December poring over made-for-TV romances about infinity-scarfed women and the burly men who help save their floundering candy cane companies might not even know what GAC is, but the fledgling network has already caused a stir.

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Last summer, Thomas Hicks and his private equity firm, Hicks Equity Partners, led an investor group that purchased cable networks Great American Country and Ride TV. The former became GAC Family; the latter, once a 24-hour equestrian network, is now GAC Living.

In 2020, however, Hicks Equity reportedly had its eye on a different corner of the media landscape. First the group tried to buy out the Trump-friendly One American News Network (OANN), and later that year they eyed Newsmax TV.

Rumors that Donald Trump wanted his own entertainment behemoth to rival Rupert Murdoch and Fox swirled from at least the moment he took office. In November 2020, days after the presidential election, the Wall Street Journal reported that sources claimed Hicks Equity had begun to explore “putting together a streaming service that would challenge Fox from the right”—a quest the paper described as a “longshot” based on the networks’ viewership.

(The Trump campaign declined to comment on the WSJ report, and the White House did not respond.)

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>Tom Hicks Jr. with his father Tom Hicks, co-owner of Liverpool FC. </p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Matthew Ashton/AMA/Getty</div>

Tom Hicks Jr. with his father Tom Hicks, co-owner of Liverpool FC.

Matthew Ashton/AMA/Getty

Hicks’ eldest son, Thomas “Tommy” Hicks Jr., is co-chair of the Republican National committee, longtime family friend of the Trumps, and Donald Trump Jr.’s hunting buddy. Beyond his personal ties to the Trump family, Hicks Jr. also served as national finance co-chair for the Trump campaign and chaired the pro-Trump groups America First Policies and America First Action. BuzzFeed reports he raised $75 million in his first two years alone.

A person close to the Hicks family told the Journal that Hicks Jr. would be unlikely to participate in any deal while holding an RNC position.

The news arm the Hicks group was trying to build, the Journal reported at the time, was part of a larger vision. A pitch made to investors reportedly described “a network of channels aimed at conservatives” that would also include channels focused on “family-friendly entertainment programming.”

That’s where GAC Family comes in.

To say that promotional materials for GAC Family are rife with conservative dog whistles would be akin to saying Santa Claus has a sweet tooth. The words “traditional values” and “American culture, lifestyle, and heritage,” for instance, loom very large. GAC Media CEO Bill Abbott left his post as the head of Hallmark owner Crown Media in early 2020, after the channel faced controversy for yanking a commercial featuring a same-sex couple off the air.

And yet GAC Media has had little trouble recruiting Hallmark talent. In addition to Candace Cameron Bure and her former Fuller House co-star Lori Loughlin, who served jail time after getting caught trying to pay her daughter’s way into college, several reliable faces have come aboard including Wonder Years actress Danica McKellar, Chad Michael Murray, and Hallmark stalwart Trevor Donovan.

Cameron Bure’s involvement will go a little deeper than her colleagues’. Beyond developing and starring in new productions for GAC Family and GAC Living, the actress will also oversee programming for both networks in an executive role. It seems Cameron Bure has officially decided to follow in her older brother Kirk Cameron’s footsteps and focus this stage of her career on evangelical-friendly programming.

As her statement put it: “Great, quality entertainment with a positive message is what my partnership with GAC is all about!”

But when GAC promises “safe” Christmas content, those of us who don’t fit into that equation know what they mean. The streamer’s films just happen to star white people in almost all lead roles—and in contrast to networks that have (belatedly) tried to embrace inclusivity in their holiday content, there’s not a same-sex couple or non-Christian celebration to be found in GAC’s slate.

When asked why GAC’s holiday offerings focused on Christmas exclusively, Abbott told the Journal that the company “wanted to just stick to our knitting” and run with “more of a typical fare” in its first year.

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Meanwhile, Ron DeSantis and the conservatives backing Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill continue their fight to brand any discussion of queerness with young children as “grooming.” While GAC brands itself as a “safe” alternative to one of TV’s most aggressively G-rated networks, DeSantis has branded enemies like Disney—Disney!—excessively “woke.” (Yes, the company that gave us the term “exclusively gay moment” and refused to let Oscar Isaac and John Boyega kiss is totally in the pockets of the gays; we love it when large corporations give us nothing.)

Much like the Journal labeled the Hicks’ dream for a Fox News rival something of a pipe dream, it seems unlikely that GAC—which I simply cannot stop pronouncing as “gack”—will become a real challenger to Hallmark in the near future. But that doesn’t make its existence or the philosophy behind it any less troubling.

At least two Hallmark stars have already made clear that unless GAC proves its commitment to inclusive programming, they’re not interested in collaborating.

Paul Campbell, among the channel’s go-to yuletide stars in recent years, tweeted that he will be watching the company’s output for meaningful inclusion, and that he “will not be quiet about it either.” Chesapeake Shores and frequent Hallmark holiday movie star Emilie Ullerup backed Campbell up. One has to wonder, however, how much of a difference inclusion on screen would really make when the money is coming from such a swampy well.

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