You know the content bubble is about to burst when HGTV starts making original movies, and baby, the soap is about to go everywhere. (Hopefully just not on any tufted suede sofas.)
I’ll admit, I’m a little late to this news; HGTV and Food Network announced and released their slate of holiday originals last year. But as a person of “just spent a lot of time watching TV on my mom’s couch after only watching things for work” experience, this news only just reached my consciousness. And having now watched all of them nearly halfway through January, I had some thoughts—chief among them, “We’re removing shows and movies from HBO Max for this?!”
Maybe this is just a holiday thing. Christmas movies are, after all, a booming market for pretty much everyone in the #content biz. In fact, there were enough holiday releases last year, and on enough networks, to need a whole guide. Perhaps the big bosses over at Warner Bros. Discovery just wanted to get in on that pine-scented action while promoting some of their biggest stars—like the Food Network’s Bobby Flay and Love It or List It host Hilary Farr.
Then again, maybe we’re all sitting on a very slippery ski slope. What’s next—a Valentine’s Day movie starring Giada De Laurentiis? An Arbor Day movie starring Christina Hall? Groundhog Day with the Barefoot Contessa? (In fairness, I absolutely would watch that last one.)
One Delicious Christmas
Having now watched all four of last year’s releases—Designing Christmas and A Christmas Open House from HGTV, and One Delicious Christmas and A Gingerbread Christmas from Food Network—I’m here to guess what our made-for-TV future holds.
On the Food Network side of things, everything felt par for the course. There were, of course, some B-list stars—like Vanessa Marano, who played Gilmore Girls‘ most widely hated character, April Nardini, who funnily enough wound up paired with Alex Mallari Jr. of Ginny & Georgia in One Delicious Christmas. (To add an even more bizarre coincidence to the pile, that film is all about a young woman trying to save the inn that she runs; her fellow innkeeper, Lorelai Gilmore, would be proud.)
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There were some improbable plotlines—like the idea of trying to save a languishing restaurant through a gingerbread competition. And, of course, there were appearances by two of the network’s biggest stars: Bobby Flay plays a food critic in One Delicious Christmas, while Duff Goldman hosted the gingerbread contest in A Gingerbread Christmas.
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As with 2021’s Candy-Coated Christmas—which features “Pioneer Woman” Ree Drummond as a bakery owner in the small, snowy, idyllic town of Peppermint Hollow—the Food Network stars’ roles in these films are minimal at best. One gets the impression that each star gave the production a couple hours to get what they need and then fled the set as soon as possible, and their roles don’t exactly require heavy lifting in the acting department.
But things get more interesting when we move over to the HGTV side of things. The home improvement stars in these films don’t exactly put in more work, but these originals feel a little more distinct from the usual holiday offerings. Unlike the others, these films seem to exist somewhere in the middle ground between “holiday movies” and “tinsel-trimmed home improvement advertisements.”
I will say this: As an HGTV hound, I was pretty excited to see what these films would do with Hilary Farr (who appears in both) and HomeTown hosts Ben and Erin Napier, who lend their time in A Christmas Open House. Farr, best known for her slightly haughty attitude on Love It or List It, is not exactly a natural in either of her films, but there’s something genuinely entertaining about her stilted delivery.
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The Napiers, meanwhile, fared pretty well playing local craftspeople who decided to start their own family business. As with the Food Network stars, these cameos are small, but as viewers might note, another HGTV standby seems to steal the show in both titles.
the real star of HGTV’s holiday fare is really HGTV itself; the network’s fingerprints are all over the concept—from the animated home transformations, as designers imagine new looks for the spaces in both films, to various characters’ insistence upon remarking on various features throughout the home.
By making pretty much all of their characters professionals in the home improvement and real estate business, the network also makes a convenient advertisement for the idea of home improvement in general—which might just prompt viewers to watch more HGTV in the hopes of giving their own space a facelift.
All of that said, the B-listers in these films did not disappoint, either. design Christmas, which stars Gossip Girls alum Jessica Zhor, allows us to imagine what it might look like if Vanessa Abrams stopped carrying the torch for Dan Humphreys and became a star interior designer instead. (Her mission? Renovating her dilapidated family home by Christmas—a feat that goes surprisingly smoothly, as she discovers multiple layers of intact wallpaper and a secret, perfectly preserved fireplace behind a false wall.)
A Christmas Open House
And A Christmas Open House gives The BoldType star Katie Stevens a chance to try her hand at real estate as her character works to refresh and sell her childhood home—alongside The Baker and the Beauty star Victor Rasuk.
All of these movies revolve around the themes one might expect: young women flocking back to their “small town” homes after trying to make it in the big city; former grinches discovering what “home” and “community” and “family” really mean; and conventionally attractive straight women falling in love with conventionally attractive scruffy men in flannel.
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But this all just feels like the tip of an iceberg. As Warner Bros. Discovery continues to cancel loved shows on HBO Max (while apparently jacking up prices for said service), content like this—with or without the holiday bent—feels likely to flood Discovery+ and whatever new service will result when that and HBO Max merge.
Surely one day we’ll get something starring the Property Brothers, who tried their hands at acting before they got into the home improvement game. But are we ready to live in that world? Guess we’ll have to watch Drew and Jonathan Do Easter to find out.
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