PASADENA, CALIF. — Hallmark Hall of Fame's signature series debuted during TV's infancy with "Amahl and the Night Visitors" on Dec. 24, 1951. A decade later, Hallmark was the first sponsor ever to receive an Emmy. Over the past five decades, the series has garnered a record 78 Emmys, dozens of Golden Globes, Peabody and Christopher Awards, as well as Humanitas Prizes. Impressively, a quarter of all Academy Award-winning actors have appeared in Hallmark productions. For half a century, this showcase has led the way for serious, yet family-oriented programming that celebrated the best in American life. It's fitting that the venerable institution would mark its 50th anniversary with "The Flamingo Rising" (CBS, Sunday, 9-11 p.m.), a film that deals with the core values of its franchise: family and relationships.
"Our movies are always designed to be thoughtful," says Brad Moore, president of Hallmark Hall of Fame Productions. "They're always about relationships. If you see a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, there may seem to be a particular subject, but the real subject is always the relationship."
"The Flamingo Rising" takes us to the drive-in movies, a local fixture which in its heyday was a virtual town meeting of the American family. "There were all kinds of wonderful things about drive-in movies that are particularly great," says William Hurt, who portrays a local undertaker who protests and finally must come to terms with the arrival of the drive-in across the street. He says he has memories of going to the drive-in as a family, with all the "kids in their jammies.... You keep the family intact, and it keeps your sense of community intact."
"It's more like television than anything else," says Mr. Moore of the drive-in motif in the film, "in that it focuses on the community relationship as much as the movie." This theme of looking beneath the surface of popular culture is at the heart of the Hallmark tradition, Moore says.
"We have a kind of phrase that we say: 'We don't want to just entertain, we want to inform and inspire,' " he says. "It doesn't mean that we try to preach, but [the shows] have substance, and that substance sometimes can really be mainly entertainment with some wonderful, interesting characters." The production did encounter a few problems in re-creating the 1960s era of summer drive-ins: There were so few functioning drive-ins left that producers opted to create a venue from scratch, and the fact that they chose a lush oceanside site in Florida only added to their challenges. "We had to build a screen that was hurricane-proof, because we were in hurricane season, and you couldn't have your drive-in movie theater screen blowing over and destroying homes."
The patient - and costly - detail is a testament to Hallmark's commitment to quality, Mr. Hurt says. The Oscar-winner ("Kiss of the Spider Woman, 1985), whose career has been primarily in film and onstage, says Hallmark's reputation is what convinced him to consider the role.
"For an actor with my background and my training, a lot of TV can be short-order cooking," he says. "But in this case, it wasn't. I knew Hallmark, and I had seen a lot of things that I valued."
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society