PASADENA, Calif. — It made sense when what had been the Faith & Values Channel became the Odyssey Channel back in April of 1999. It makes even more sense that it will become the Hallmark Channel on Sunday.

"This is a very big step for us, and it's a big step for Hallmark," said Margaret Loesch, the channel's president and chief executive officer.

The ownership of the company has been restructured, but it hasn't altogether changed — Hallmark, the Jim Henson Co. and the National Interfaith Cable Coalition were partnered in the previous incarnation of Odyssey and remain partnered (under different terms) in the Hallmark Channel.

Even Loesch admits that the channel's ownership is "a little confusing." The Hallmark Channel is a subsidiary of Crown Media Holdings, a publicly traded company that Hallmark Cards of Kansas City, Mo., holds a majority interest in. Crown Media has been operating the Hallmark Entertainment Network in about 100 countries, and all those channels — in addition to Odyssey — are all being rebranded the Hallmark Channel.

"The Jim Henson Co. is involved and is a major profit participant," Loesch said. "They basically rolled up, as did the other partners, their ownership position from Odyssey into the larger Crown Media holdings so that they participate also in the worldwide channels." The change to the Hallmark name marks the near-complete transformation of the channel over the past few years. The channel was once home to a variety of religious programming, which has been reduced to a handful of shows, most airing on Sunday mornings (including the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's "Music and the Spoken Word"). The schedule now is instead filled with a variety of old reruns — including "Happy Days," "Rescue 911" and "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman." Hallmark will also soon be adding repeats of "Northern Exposure" and "lost" color episodes of "The Honeymooners" that haven't been seen since they aired between 1966-70.

The channel's showcase is a nightly movie (7 p.m. MDT), which features various events (ranging from "Gulliver's Travels" to "Moby Dick" to "Merlin") from Hallmark Entertainment. And, more significantly, there are twice-weekly airings of vintage "Hallmark Hall of Fame" productions.

"Very few networks have launched with this degree of positive brand equity that we have here with the Hallmark name," Loesch said. "We're convinced that viewers will see and feel a significant change in this channel, and they will embrace the Hallmark Channel as a place they can count on for great entertainment that is family friendly, with the kind of great storytelling" Hallmark is famous for.

Kicking things off for the newly named channel is a three-part, six-hour miniseries from Hallmark Entertainment titled "The Infinite Worlds of H.G. Wells." It's actually six stories, based on Wells' short stories, tied together by an elderly Wells (Tom Ward) recounting tales from his life to a young newspaper reporter. The stories range from time travel of one kind or another ("The New Accelerator" and "Bownlow's Newspaper") on Sunday's Part 1; to different dimensions of reality ("The Crystal Egg" and "The Remarkable Case of Davidson's Eyes") in Monday's Part 2; to tales in which intentions go very much astray ("The Truth About Pyecraft" and "The Stolen Bacillus") in Tuesday's Part 3. "Infinite Worlds" drags in spots, but executive producer Robert Halmi Sr. resists his usual tendency to let special effects and spectacle overwhelm story.

Let's just hope there's room for a cable channel that at least attempts to do what Hallmark is attempting.

"We believe not only is there room in the market for a channel like this," Loesch said, "but the viewers have told us this is exactly what they want. . . . They wanted a channel with a classy environment that had family friendly programming targeted to adults, but you don't have to ask your children to leave the room."


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