Did Hallmark Channel CEO Step Down Over Same-Sex Ad Scandal?

The departure follows the network's decision to pull commercials featuring lesbian brides.

It was announced this week that Bill Abbott, president and chief executive of Hallmark Channel’s parent company, Crown Media Family Networks, is stepping down from his position after 11 years.

Abbott’s exit comes six weeks after Hallmark Channel, responding to targeted campaigns by anti-LGBTQ Christian groups, yanked TV ads featuring a same-sex wedding, NBC News reports.

While Mike Perry, president and CEO of Hallmark Cards, did not offer a reason for Abbott’s departure, he said in a statement that it was “more important than ever that we find relevant new ways to grow our business.”

“I want to thank Bill for his many years of success and contributions to Crown Media and wish him continued success,” Perry continued. Abbott’s replacement has not yet been announced.

“Bill Abbott’s departure from Hallmark just months after the disastrous and wrongheaded decision to censor an ad on their network featuring a loving, same-sex couple continues to make clear: opposing equality isn’t just wrong, it’s bad for business,” said HRC president Alphonso David in a statement, adding that companies and their leaders “must continue to provide visibility to LGBTQ people across the nation and speak out for equality.”

Last month Hallmark Channel removed four commercials from wedding registry website Zola that included lesbian brides kissing. As a result, Zola pulled all of its ads from the network.

Asked why the Zola ads had been rejected, a Hallmark Channel spokesperson explained that the women’s “overt public displays of affection” violated the channel’s policies. However, in one of two ads that continued to air, a bride and groom kiss at the altar.

Crown Media confirmed in a statement that it had made the decision to remove the ads: “The debate surrounding these commercials on all sides was distracting from the purpose of our network, which is to provide entertainment value.”

Hallmark yanked the ads following a public complaint from One Million Moms, a boycott-crazy conservative Christian group affiliated with the American Family Association, one of the nation’s leading anti-LGBTQ hate groups.
The complaint was posted online shortly after Abbott told The Hollywood Reporter that Hallmark was “open” to producing and airing a holiday film with gay leads.

In a petition signed by more than 35,000 conservative Christians, the group warned parents that they are coming “face-to-face with the LGBT agenda when they sit down to watch the Hallmark Channel”—and that family-friendly TV movies are “not the outlet in which to be politically correct by forcing tolerance and acceptance of homosexuality, a sinful lifestyle that scripture clearly deems as wrong.” A group spokesperson added, “Shame on Hallmark for airing commercials with same-sex couples and even considering movies with LGBT content and lead characters.”

Celebrating its victory, the group posted an update claiming they had spoken directly with Abbott. “He reported the advertisement aired in error, but he was informed about it after hearing from concerned 1MM supporters,” the statement read. “The call to our office gave us the opportunity to also confirm the Hallmark Channel will continue to be a safe and family friendly network. Praise the Lord!”

Evangelical website LifeSiteNews had also launched a petition demanding Hallmark Channel “keep sex and sexual practices—including the promotion of homosexuality, transgenderism, etc.—out of their movies.”

“As so many other TV and cable networks showcase, LGBTQ families are part of family programming,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, in a statement. “Advertisers on The Hallmark Channel should see this news and question whether they want to be associated with a network that chooses to bow to fringe anti-LGBTQ activist groups, which solely exist to harm LGBTQ families.”

Following swift criticism and backlash, Hallmark Channel reinstated the Zola ads. Perry confessed in a statement that Crown Media execs had been “agonizing over this decision as we’ve seen the hurt it has unintentionally caused.”

“Said simply, they believe this was the wrong decision,” Perry continued. “Our mission is rooted in helping all people connect, celebrate traditions, and be inspired to capture meaningful moments in their lives. Anything that detracts from this purpose is not who we are. We are truly sorry for the hurt and disappointment this has caused.”

Adweek reports that Hallmark Channel recently canceled its event at the Television Critics Association winter press tour to avoid questions about the Zola controversy.

While Nielsen ratings rank Hallmark Channel as the sixth most popular cable network, Crown Media has reportedly been cutting costs and reducing its staff.

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