Created by Hallmark Cards to be a showcase around which to market its greeting cards, Hallmark Hall of Fame has become one of the most valued treasures in the history of quality television programming. Hallmark Hall of Fame made its debut on NBC on 24 December 1951, with "Ahmal and the Night Visitors," the first opera commissioned for television, and continued as a weekly series until 1955. The half-hour series was called Hallmark Television Playhouse during its first two years. Sarah Churchill served as the host of the program during this early period.
Beginning in 1955, Hallmark Hall of Fame has been a series of specials (appearing four to eight times a year throughout the 1960s, two to three times a year thereafter). Hallmark Hall of Fame usually aired around holiday times, in order to coincide with the sale of greeting cards. These specials were usually in 90-minute or 120-minute form, and were adaptations of works by major playwrights and authors (e.g., William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, George Bernard Shaw, and Rod Serling). Hallmark Hall of Fame specials often featured the leading stage actors and actresses from Great Britain and the United States (e.g., Maurice Evans, Dame Judith Anderson, Alfred Lunt, and Jessica Tandy).
Hallmark Hall of Fame ran exclusively on NBC from 1951 until 1979. The parting was a mutual one for NBC and Hallmark--NBC was disappointed with the low ratings the specials routinely received, and Hallmark was disappointed with poor time slots allotted to it. With the promise of better time periods, Hallmark Hall of Fame moved to CBS for the 1979-80 season. Despite a brief switch to PBS in 1981, Hallmark Hall of Fame continues to air twice a year on CBS. In 1988-89, Hallmark Hall of Fame made its appearance on ABC for the first time, thereby having appeared on all three of the major television networks, as well as PBS.
Hallmark Hall of Fame is one of the most honored programs in the history of television, having won over 50 Emmy awards, including 10 Emmys for best dramatic program of the year -- "Little Moon of Alban" (1958-59), "Macbeth" (1960-61), "Victoria Regina" (1961-62), "The Magnificent Yankee" (1964-65), "Elizabeth the Queen" (1967-68), "Teacher, Teacher" (1968-69), "A Storm in Summer" (1969-70), "Love Is Never Silent" (1985-86), "Promise" (1986-87), and "Caroline?' (1989-90). In addition, Hallmark Cards has won the Trustees Award in 1960-61 and the ATAS Governors Award in 1981-82. Judith Anderson won her first Emmy for her portrayal of Lady Macbeth in the Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation of "Macbeth" in 1954, and would win again for the same role when Hall remade "Macbeth" in 1960-61. Also of note, in 1971, one month after he refused to accept his Academy Award for his portrayal of Patton, George C. Scott accepted his Emmy for his performance in Arthur Miller's "The Price."
Some other notable Hallmark Hall of Fame productions included "Hamlet" (1953) with Maurice Evans, "Moby Dick" (1954) with Victor Jory, "Alice in Wonderland" (1955) with Elsa Lanchester, "Man and Superman" (1956) with Maurice Evans, "Twelfth Night" (1957) with Maurice Evans and Rosemary Harris, "Cyrano de Bergerac" (1962) with Christopher Plummer and Hope Lange, "Inherit the Wind" (1966) with Ed Begley and Melvyn Douglas, "Anastasia" (1967) with Julie Harris, "The Man Who Came to Dinner" (1972) with Orson Welles and Lee Remick, "Beauty and the Beast" (1976) with George C. Scott and Trish Van Devere, "The Last Hurrah" (1977) with Carroll O'Connor, "Return Engagement" (1978) with Elizabeth Taylor, "Gideon's Trumpet" (1980) with Henry Fonda, "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (1981) with Anthony Hopkins, "The Marva Collins Story" (1982) with Cicely Tyson, "My Name Is Bill W." (1989) with James Garner and James Woods, "Decoration Day" (1990) with James Garner and Ruby Dee, and "Sarah, Plain and Tall" (1991) with Glenn Close and Christopher Walken.
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O'Neil, Thomas. The Emmys: Star Wars, Showdowns, and the Supreme Test of TV's Best. New York: Penguin Books, 1992.
O'Connell, Mary C. Connections: Reflections on 60 Years of Broadcasting. New York: National Broadcasting Company, 1986.