NEW YORK - If the holidays still seem a long way off, you clearly haven't done much television channel surfing lately.
The Hallmark channel has already begun two months of wall-to-wall holiday programming. Lifetime has ramped up its seasonal selections with 10 new made-for-TV movies, the first one airing last weekend. ABC Family's annual "25 Days of Christmas" programming isn't enough, so they do a "Countdown to 25 Days of Christmas," starting Sunday.
This is in addition to all the old favorites, from Charlie Brown to Frosty the Snowman, that will fill broadcast network schedules during the next month. An already popular television genre is growing in power, judging by the 22 new movies Hallmark and Lifetime are rolling out between them, and a new Disney holiday musical.
This image released by ABC Family shows Tori Spelling, center, in a scene from the ABC Family original holiday musical, 'The Mistle-Tones,' also starring Tia Mowry. The special is part of the network's '25 Days of Christmas' Premiering Sunday, Dec. 9 at 8:00 p.m. EST.
"This is a strategy that developed naturally from demand," said Rob Sharenow, executive vice president of programming at the Lifetime networks. "It's really giving people what they want."
A sneak preview of the movie "Christmas Song" on Hallmark Nov. 3 was a hit that left the network second behind ESPN in cable viewership at that time, the Nielsen company said. Hallmark's 2006 movie, "The Christmas Card," is still the network's most-watched original movie and will be repeated again this season.
Lifetime's aggressive investment makes it the relative newcomer in this area. The longtime maker of TV movies that appeal to women is coming off its biggest success in years, October's "Steel Magnolia" remake with Queen Latifah, which surprised even network executives with its potency.