They've become seasonal fixtures as perennial and omnipresent as wreaths, stockings and neatly trimmed trees -- and for both their devoted audience and their regular stable of leading ladies, warm-hearted Hallmark Christmas movies are an irresistible annual treat.
"I look forward to it every year," says actress Alicia Witt, who for the past four years has headlined an annual Hallmark holiday-themed film, one of a slate of several new, original productions the cable network unveils beginning at Thanksgiving and airs alongside repeat showings of its previous releases.
The wall-to-wall airings of stories of Christmas-themed romances, family reconciliations and comedies of errors, typically starring familiar female faces from television have become a heartwarming and reassuring holiday viewing stable that's proven popular year after year.
For Witt -- who headlined this year's "Christmas List" after previously starring in "A Very Merry Mix-Up" (2013), "Christmas at Cartwright's" (2014), and "I'm Not Ready For Christmas" (2015) -- the Hallmark roles are a refreshing change of pace from an increasingly edgy television landscape.
"I do so many dark jobs and play so many dark characters -- like this year on 'The Walking Dead,' and a real conniving kind of girl on 'Nashville,'" Witt tells Moviefone. "I tend to have this career where I play these characters who are either dark, twisted characters who are killing people or screwing them over or I play these really happy, life-affirming characters on Hallmark!"
"And I honestly look forward so much to getting to make my annual Hallmark Christmas movie," Witt adds. "Because I wish that life were more like a Christmas movie. I love the characters I'm playing there, and the girl I'm playing in this year's movie is maybe my favorite one yet."
Along with starring in sister channel Hallmark Movies & Mysteries' series of TV movies based on author Charlaine Harris's novels featuring librarian/murder enthusiast Aurora Teagarden, actress Candace Cameron Bure found a home on Hallmark each holiday season with movies including "Let It Snow" (2013), "Christmas Under Wraps" (2014), "A Christmas Detour" (2015), and this year's "Journey Back to Christmas."
The exposure there was a key part of Bure's career re-ascendance as a contestant on "Dancing With the Stars," a co-hosting slot on the daytime talk show "The View," and as the star of "Fuller House," Netflix's revival of the sitcom that first made her a star, "Full House."
"Hallmark's my family." Bure tells Moviefone. "We've had such a great relationship and I've been working with them for so long. And it's grown over the years: developing the projects that I work on and producing the projects that I work on. They have a wonderful brand that lines up with my brand, what their core values are and what they represent -- that's what I do, and that's why it works so well."
"And then they're very generous in the way that I was able to do 'Fuller House' and be on 'The View' all year long," Bure adds. "And still I find the time to make these movies with them, because that's how much I love the company."
Bure's "Fuller House" co-star, Lori Loughlin, has also found a holiday home with Hallmark, appearing in "Northpole: Open for Christmas" (2015), "Christmas Makeover" (2016), as well as starring in the network's non-Christmas themed fare, including the drama series "When Calls the Heart" and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries' recurring telefilm series "Garage Sale Mystery."
"Oh, they've been great to me," says Loughlin. "I love that it's family-friendly. I love that it's feel-good and it's uplifting. That makes me really happy. All the Christmas movies and the joy -- I mean, you know when you put the channel on you're going to feel good and you're going to forget about your problems for a little while. It's just going to take you away, and I like that it has a positive message."
There another benefit to working with the Hallmark Channel: prime roles aren't easy to find in Hollywood for actress over a certain age, but the network is much more open to casting its stars along lines closer to its demographic. "As you get older as an actress, you don't think you're going to work as much," she says. "What I love about Hallmark is they have so many roles for me where I still get to be the leading lady."
"As an actor -- and especially as a female actor -- it's so rare and nice to have a company that keeps hiring you," Sokoloff says, "because generally it's like, 'Bring in the next new girl,' and 'Oh, we already know Marla Sokoloff, we've seen her in this. We don't need to see her for this, she's not right for that.' So it's really beyond touching and nice as an actress to know that people are behind you and believe in you still. We're all getting older and it's harder to do what you love to do. So it's just really lovely."
And the audience has a seemingly never-ending appetite for new holiday romances -- including her own social circle. "A lot of my friends are just, like, obsessed. Whenever I do do a Hallmark movie, the first question they ask is, 'Is it Christmas? Please tell me it's Christmas!'" Sokoloff laughs. "Honestly, at this time in this crazy world, anything positive on the television is fine by me. I can barely go on Facebook anymore because I just think I'm terrified right now, so yeah, I think bring more positivity, bring more light. That's what we need."
"I love working with Hallmark," says Boston. "They're incredibly loyal people. The messages that you see in their films are definitely what they put into practice behind the scenes too. And I like telling stories about hope and faith, and I think I can turn on the news, and there are so many things I can watch if I want a different type of story. Just real life has enough pain and suffering in my opinion. So doing a film that brings people and uplifts people and makes them happier than they started it, that's the kind of programming I'm interested in being part of."
Boston says she appreciates the channel's family-friendly sensibility -- "You're always going to be safe leaving this network on, and that's rare in today's world," she says -- and its dedication to happy endings -- and then there's the fact that she's a sucker for Christmas movies. "My favorite movie when I was growing up was 'It's a Wonderful Life,' so I might have channeled some of my inner seven-year-old!"
And, as Witt points out, the fanbase for Hallmark's holiday fare just keeps growing -- and the ones watching aren't always who one might suspect. "One of the coolest responses I get pretty regularly is that guys will come up to me at the gym and say 'Hey, I feel kind of lame telling you, but you're the only one that, when my wife is watching the Hallmark Channel, I watch it with her.'"