Stewart, Hallmark keeping chins up

A deal that joins Martha Stewart with Hallmark Channel — it seems like a marriage made in heaven. It seems like the sort of they-lived-happily-ever-after pairing you might find at the fade-out of a Hallmark Channel movie.

Consider: After five seasons of scattershot scheduling in local TV syndication, Stewart last month moved her weekday home-and-lifestyles hour to the fixed address of a single cable network. "The Martha Stewart Show" now airs each day at 9 a.m. on the Hallmark Channel.

Every day, same time: a new episode of cooking, decorating, entertaining, gardening, with a live audience and celebrity guests (on Tuesday, Martha carved pumpkins with "Jackass" star Johnny Knoxville), all framed by the precision and deliciousness of Martha Stewart's signature do-it-yourself style.

But there's more.

As part of this multiyear strategic partnership, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. is supplementing the flagship "Martha Stewart Show" with other programs on Hallmark Channel's daily lifestyle block.

At 10 a.m., author-food-editor-mom Lucinda Scala Quinn hosts a feed-your-family-quickly-and-heartily cooking show, "Mad Hungry."

At 11 a.m., Martha's daughter, Alexis Stewart, teams up with her chum Jennifer Koppelman Hutt to co-host a sassy girl-talk hour, "Whatever With Alexis & Jennifer."

(Then repeats of "The Martha Stewart Show" from the day before and the same day air at noon and 1 p.m., respectively. An additional three hours of repeats have been cut for now.)

That's still not all Martha Stewart has up her sleeve. Added to the mix are occasional prime-time specials. In November, she will interview Seth Meyers and other comedians for "The Men Who Make Us Laugh," and her Christmas special will feature Jennifer Garner and Claire Danes.

"I've always wanted to produce more programs," Stewart says. "I've always wanted to do what the Food Network beat me to doing. I dreamed about having a station."

While Stewart wanted a TV domain to fill with a growing slate of programs, Hallmark Channel wanted her to develop its daytime real estate, which has mostly been a friendly neighborhood of off-network reruns of such shows as "Little House on the Prairie" and "The Golden Girls."

Hallmark Channel President and CEO Bill Abbott says Stewart's production company "has a stable of talent that's very, very strong, with a very strong point of view that centers on 'celebrating life's moments.' We have that, too. So the two brands work very well together."

The only problem after working together the first month: Their viewers haven't shown up in anticipated numbers.

Not surprisingly, neither partner in the venture is signaling defeat.

Stewart scoffed at naysayers who, after less than a month, have rushed to judgment in faulting the deal.

"The Hallmark Channel gives us this good home for good information," Stewart said. "And even though the ratings are inferior to what we hoped, they have been gaining strength."

Abbott said many fans of Stewart and the shows she produces haven't found her new address since she left the random airtimes on local stations she had occupied in syndication.

"Maybe we did underestimate the challenge of doing something that had never been done before — moving a syndicated original live show to cable," said Abbott.

"Maybe we underestimated how well-established viewing habits are in daytime. But we're up 30 to 40 percent from when we started," Abbott said.