SAN FRANCISCO (CBS/AP) — The Hallmark Channel on Sunday moved to reinstate ads featuring a same-sex couple that had been removed from the cable network. The decision came after considerable backlash over the initial decision to stop airing the ads from the wedding-planning company Zola.
“The Crown Media team has been agonizing over this decision as we’ve seen the hurt it has unintentionally caused,” Hallmark CEO Mike Perry said in a statement Sunday night. “Said simply, they believe this was the wrong decision.”READ MORE: Puppy Stolen From Vehicle In San Francisco; Suspect Refuses To Cooperate
“Hallmark will be working with GLAAD [Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation] to better represent the LGBTQ community across our portfolio of brands,” the statement continued. “The Hallmark Channel will be reaching out to Zola to reestablish our partnership and reinstate the commercials.”
Perry also used the statement to apologize, saying, “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.”
The hashtag #BoycottHallmark was trending at one point on Twitter, and celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres and William Shatner assailed the decision. “Put the commercials back!” Shatner wrote. “Isn’t it almost 2020?” DeGeneres asked. “What are you thinking? Please explain. We’re all ears.”
The LGBT advocacy group GLAAD called the decision to remove the Zola ads “discriminatory and especially hypocritical coming from a network that claims to present family programming and and also recently stated they are ‘open’ to LGBTQ holiday movies.”
The group said it would be asking other Hallmark advertisers where they stand on the issue and if they now will pull their advertising. Zola has said it won’t advertise on the channel.
Hallmark, which is in the midst of its heavily watched holiday programming, said Saturday it had removed the ads because the controversy was a distraction.
Zola had submitted six ads and four had a lesbian couple. After Hallmark pulled those ads but not two featuring only opposite-sex couples, Zola pulled its remaining ads, the company said.
“The only difference between the commercials that were flagged and the ones that were approved was that the commercials that did not meet Hallmark’s standards included a lesbian couple kissing,” said Mike Chi, Zola’s chief marketing officer, in a statement. “Hallmark approved a commercial where a heterosexual couple kissed.
In an interview, she added: “The Hallmark brand is never going to be divisive. We don’t want to generate controversy, we’ve tried very hard to stay out of it … we just felt it was in the best interest of the brand to pull them and not continue to generate controversy.”
The conservative group One Million Moms, part of the American Family Association, had complained about the ads personally to Bill Abbott, CEO of Crown Media Family Networks, Hallmark’s parent company.
A post on the group’s website said that Abbott “reported the advertisement aired in error.” The group also wrote: “The call to our office gave us the opportunity to confirm the Hallmark Channel will continue to be a safe and family-friendly network.”READ MORE: Bay Area COVID-19 Roundup: Crimes Linked To Lockdown-Violating Underground Gatherings; Santa Clara Relaxes Outdoor Gathering Rules
Zola had submitted six ads, and four included a lesbian couple. After Hallmark pulled those ads, but not two featuring only opposite-sex couples, Zola pulled its remaining ads, the company said.
“The only difference between the commercials that were flagged and the ones that were approved was that the commercials that did not meet Hallmark’s standards included a lesbian couple kissing,” said Mike Chi, Zola’s chief marketing officer, in a statement sent to the AP. “All kisses, couples and marriages are equal celebrations of love and we will no longer be advertising on Hallmark.”
One marketing analyst said the family-friendly Hallmark network now finds itself in the middle of a PR crisis that it should have seen coming.
“They’ve got trouble on their hands, and they’ve got to do something fast,” said Paul Argenti, a Dartmouth College professor of corporate communication. “They should never have accepted the ads if they weren’t willing to stand up for them. If you didn’t believe in gay couples getting married, why did you take the ads in the first place?”
The question Hallmark will now have to answer, he said, is: “What are your values? Do you stand for all families?’”
In one of the pulled ads, two brides stand at the altar and wonder aloud whether their wedding would be going more smoothly if they had used a wedding planning site like Zola. The lighthearted ad ends with the just-married couple sharing a quick kiss.
Actress Sandra Bernhard, who played one of the first openly bisexual characters on network TV in “Roseanne,” also criticized Hallmark’s decision.
“All the groovy gay ladies i know won’t be watching your Christmas schlock,” she wrote on Twitter, addressing Hallmark.
The Hallmark decision was also mocked on “Saturday Night Live,” and Netflix US tweeted stills from a TV show and movie that it labeled “Titles Featuring Lesbians Joyfully Existing And Also It’s Christmas Can We Just Let People Love Who They Love.”
The developments came as Hallmark appeared to be considering more same-sex themed content.
Asked about the possibility of holiday movies based on same-sex relationships, Abbott was quoted in The Hollywood Reporter in mid-November as saying on its TV podcast: “We’re open to really any type of movie of any type of relationship.”MORE NEWS: Los Altos Hills Man Arrested For Child Porn Possession, Distribution
© Copyright 2019 The Associated Press and CBS. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed