Finding holiday (ratings) magic with MOWs

Chesler/Perlmutter Productions' Lewis Chesler shares some of the key ingredients needed to create a successful holiday MOW.
best christmas party ever

Toronto’s Chesler/Perlmutter Productions has been in the business of producing holiday MOWs for more than 15 years, making the adage “practice makes perfect” particularly apt.

Earlier this week, the prodco announced two of its 2014 original holiday MOWs for the Hallmark Channel in the U.S. – Best Christmas Party Ever on Dec. 13 and The Christmas Parade on Dec. 14 – were not only each the number one movie of their scheduled day, but tied for the number one movie of the week on an ad-supported cable channel.

Both series premiered as part of Hallmark Channel’s annual “12 New Movies of Christmas” promotional programming block.

Best Christmas Party Ever averaged 5.4 million viewers for its Dec. 13 premiere (a 3.1 share for 2+), while The Christmas Parade was close on its heels with 5.2 million. As well, Best Christmas Party Ever was the top non-sports original in the 18-49 demo, with a .5 share.

Christmas is something of a home run for the prodco: in 2013 A Very Merry Mixup was the most-watched Hallmark telecast ever and the third highest-rated Hallmark Channel program in the network’s history, earning 6.1 million unduplicated viewers.

Over this holiday season, four Chesler/Perlmutter MOWs will also air on CTV.

Leading up to the holidays, Playback spoke with Chesler/Perlmutter Productions’ founder Lewis Chesler learn more about his prodco’s strategy to conjure up holiday ratings magic:

Financing

The films need to have presales that are generally divided between the Canadian, U.S. and world markets. The MOWs also take advantage of the various tax credits and subsidies available to Canadian-shot productions, Chesler said. Chesler/Perlmutter MOWs have sold into numerous markets around the world including major European markets and Latin America. Angles and Ornaments, a recent holiday MOW from Chesler/Perlmutter, is currently slated to air in the U.K. this holiday season and in France in 2015. Beta Films and Starz distributes Chesler/Perlmutter films internationally.

Casting

Given Christmas is celebrated in territories all over the world, holiday MOWs are cast with travel in mind. “It’s concept and casting so that it travels. You are creating for different universes – you need an internationally recognized name,” Chesler said. Generally, the actors cast in the Chesler/Perlmutter holiday MOWs are those who have appeared in other television series or limited series, Chesler said. For example, the cast of The Christmas Parade includes Drew Scott, who transfers his cross-border brand of hunky renovator on Property Brothers to the scripted screen for the MOW; AnnaLynne McCord of soapy dramas Dallas, 90210 and Nip/Tuck and Jefferson Brown of Rookie Blue and Degrassi. As time goes on, Chesler said, casting has started to skew younger.

Writing/Production

Chesler said the majority of their holiday MOWs are developed internally, adding that writing for holiday movies is an art. “They need to write with charm and they need to write with heart. They need to be able to have story sense,” Chesler said of the writers’ rooms. “These stories need to satisfy. People want to feel good.” And on the production side, audiences do expect a higher production value than they have in the past, but the prodco has been able to meet those demands thus far, Chesler said. “As it has for all things, it’s become more competitive,” Chesler said of the holiday MOW game. “The product is I believe – not just ours – is looking better and better.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Lewis Chesler as Lewis Perlmutter. Playback regrets the error.