Inside the Wonderful World Hallmark Channel Fandom

Hallmark Channel Stars Share Their Favorite Holiday Tunes

A handsome shirtless man appeared and a roomful of women went absolutely wild.

No, this wasn’t an experience at a Magic Mike Las Vegas show. This was the scene at the opening night of RomaDrama Live! in West Palm Beach, Fla., a three-day convention dedicated to made-for-cable romantic comedies that took place June 24-26. (The shirtless man, by the way, was Ryan Paevey in the feel-good summer movie Two Tickets to Paradise.)

While talent from Lifetime and GAC Network projects were in attendance, the biggest draw were the stars from the Hallmark Channel, including popular actors like Andrew Walker and Tyler Hynes. What Comic-Con is to those who attend midnight screenings of every MCU installment, RomaDrama is for people whose TVs remain on Hallmark all year-long, whether to watch their “Countdown to Christmas” movies or their other seasonal offerings. (Fall Harvest and Spring Fling are just a few.)

While arguably not as large or vocal as The Lord of the Rings stans, the loyal following for Hallmark’s heartwarming programming is just as passionate—and for RomaDrama Live! co-founder Gabrielle Graf Palmer, who first conceived of the idea of a convention for romance lovers when she met the cast of Outlander at Wizard World Comic-Con in 2018, they were an underserved community.

“While there, we watched this huge group of women navigate the show, surrounded by superheroes, sci-fi characters, and comic book characters,” Palmer explained to E! News. “It was then we realized we could produce an event delivering exactly what we and all of the fans of this specific genre would want to experience, in a beautiful, special way, while offering the ultimate level of access to the celebrities. So, we went to the bar at the convention center and started mapping out our plan.”

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Two years later, the first RomaDrama Live! took place in Nashville, and, after being postponed due to COVID-19, the second event in Palm Beach, Fla. saw 5,000 attendees across three days of panels and parties. And come early December, a Christmas-themed convention will be held in Chicago, where fans will get to create their own cozy winter memories at events including a gala, a grown-up breakfast with Santa and an advanced screening of Hallmark’s upcoming movie, A Fabled Holiday. 

“I believe the Hallmark fandom has grown because it is a true form of peaceful escape,” Palmer said of the network’s following. “Hallmark Channel and the like offer a beautiful, kind, inclusive outlet from the chaos and stress of the current world landscape.”

What heightens the experience, ultimately, are the actors, who all have amassed their own devoted fanbases after entering longterm creative partnerships with the network.

“They do an outstanding job,” Vicki Mangulson, who traveled from New Jersey to meet her two favorite leading men—Hynes and Ryan Paevey, the Unleashing Mr. Darcy actor whose autograph she proudly sported on her arm—at the event. “Their kind hearts, their warm eyes, their loving souls, we have to follow them.”

And the feeling is mutual, with many of the network’s top talents expressing their disbelief at the audience’s loyalty.

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“It’s one of the biggest surprises of my life,” Hynes, whose devotees have taken on the moniker of—you guessed it—”Hyneys,” admitted. “I’ll never forget these conventions, every single one of them.”

As for Paevey, he hopes to convey to the fans that he cares just as much as they do.

“I subscribe to a weird thought in terms of acting where they are like customers of mine,” he explained. “The films I produce are the products and I have to work all the time to make sure they are happy with what I am bringing to them—because if they’re not, then I’m fired, dude.”

While female viewers make up the majority of the fanbase (almost all of RomaDrama’s attendees are women), their connection to the leading ladies is just as potent. 

“The girls and the boys are different,” star Ashley Williams, who also produces movies for Hallmark, said. “For me, it’s like I am meeting a bunch of girlfriends, and I’m like, ‘Hi, how are you?’ And they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, my mother passed away. Can I tell you about it?’ But I feel like with the boys, they’re like, ‘Can I feel your abs?’ No one is asking to feel my abs and I’m glad! I just want to hang out with a bunch of women!”

With specifically curated experiences like a bridal shower for actress Brittany Bristow, the chance to perform a scene with an actor, karaoke night and health and wellness sessions, RomaDrama offers fans “the ability to live their dreams,” Palmer explained, by having up-close and personal access to the talent. Basically, you can call yourself a Hallmark movie lead and live out your fantasy for the weekend. 

“This is not your standard pipe and drape convention,” Palmer explained. “RomaDrama guests walk away with so much more than an autograph and a selfie. We are helping them create memories through once-in-a-lifetime experiences…where fans and their favorite celebrities become friends.”

But a key part of the experience is the community among the convention goers, who traveled from across the country because of their shared love for feel-good content. Events like RomaDrama, as well as That’s 4 Entertainment’s annual Christmas Con, provide this niche fanbase the rare opportunity to congregate IRL. (“I had no idea they had conventions like this,” Trevor Donovan, who recently made the move to Hallmark’s competitor GAC Network, told E!. “I never thought for a second I would be doing something like this.”)

“When you’re in high school, you have these different groups, like the drama club or the chess club and you have your people where you like something similar and that’s why you become friends,” Holiday Date star Bristow said. “As adults, its not as often that we go out of our shells and join a group. For the most part, it’s harder to find a space where you find the safety to participate in that activity. So for all of the fans to love these movies so much, it’s like their drama club, their common theme. It’s so cool.”

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In a time where there are more TV channels and content to watch than ever before, Hallmark has managed to remain a constant contender in the ratings rat race since its debut in 2001. Most notably, their annual Countdown to Christmas programming, which officially launched in 2011, has consistently made Hallmark Channel the most-watched cable network from October-December. 

And, according to Andrew Walker, who has fronted 19 movies, the audience never fails to show up. 

“I knew we were part of a very special community when around eight to 10 movies in where it felt like even if I did a bad movie, people would still support me,” he said. “Even if I felt super critical about the performance I put out, people would still be like, ‘Andrew, you were so great. I loved that movie!'”

Paevey believes it’s the network’s commitment to feel-good entertainment that has helped it hold onto its dedicated audience, despite the somewhat formulaic nature of the movies.

“You’ve got to have one bastion where the content is consistently uplifting and nice and happy,” Paevey said. “And yes, that means people are going to be able to predict the ending. Yes, these two people are going to end up together, neither of them is going to die. The whole idea is that they have a place to go where they can consistently watch content that will make them feel better. And so if the worst things that can be used against you is that it’s predictable, I think you are probably doing okay, especially if the predictability is happiness.”

That warm and fuzzy safe space that the movies provides takes on an even deeper meaning for some of the convention attendees. Palmer recalled meeting a fan named Debbie Anderson, who was recently widowed and had been diagnosed with throat cancer, at the 2021 RomaDrama event in Tennessee. Debbie had skipped chemo to be at the convention, and this year she left her hospice center in Pennsylvania and made the trip to Florida on her own. Her “only wish,” Palmer said, was to see Hynes one more time.

“I was moved to tears when I saw her beautiful face light up in Tyler’s presence,” Palmer shared, “and at that moment, I felt the beauty and power of our show’s true purpose… love, hope, and joy.” 

Hynes said often overwhelmed by the emotional conversations he has with fans.

“This is some of the heaviest stuff that is being shared with me,” he explained, “and the most gracious individuals that I am meeting who are sharing these things and to somehow have any kind of impact on their life, as humble as it may be, it seems to be meaningful to them, and this is incredibly meaningful to me.” 

And Hynes isn’t the only actor to  encounter a fan who has leaned on Hallmark for comfort during a challenging time.

“I’ve had several tear-jerking, tear-inducing stories,” Donovan said, “A woman came with her mom in a wheelchair and they both cried telling me about how she was going through chemo and watching these movies was the one thing that would bring a smile to her face and made her forget about her sickness for a while.”

Williams shared a similar encounter, explaining, “These are real people and they are crying and telling me my movie got them through their cancer treatment because they would sit there during the infusions. It’s so amazing.”

Bristow, who starred in her first Hallmark movie in 2019 after a series of supporting roles, feels she’s received even more from the fans, crediting them for her promotion.

“I know that I am where I am in terms of my career because of the fans,” she said. “I know these fans have so much to offer because when I was just the sidekick in my very first Hallmark movie, these people gathered around me, lifted me up and cheered me on and the network noticed and that’s why I am where I am now.”

Hey, there’s a reason why Hallmark Channel is the place where love happens. 

Watch E! News Mondays through Thursdays at 11:30 p.m., only on E!.

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