The only thing Hallmark Channel seems to love more than Christmas? A nostalgia-inducing female lead.
Candace Cameron Bure, Lori Loughlin, and Danica McKellar seem to be the network's holy trinity, with a solid roster of returning players, Lacey Chabert, Alicia Witt, Ashley Williams, among others, all ready to step up to the poinsettia-plate for the network's wildly successful "Countdown to Christmas" programming.
But if there were ever a Miss Christmas Pageant at Hallmark (hey, that might not be a terrible idea), Candace Cameron Bure would surely be crowned the winner, with her relationship to the network's beloved holiday programming going back to 2008, and she's starred in one every season since 2013.
Speaking to her appeal with the channel's loyal viewers, Bill Abbott, CEO of Hallmark Channel, said Bure, 41, is "the girl next door who represents so much good. Just very, very wholesome."
And on a network where most couples don't kiss until the final scene of a two-hour movie, Bure's brand of innocence was a match made in heaven.
Bure first teamed with the network in 2008, starring alongside Tom Arnold in Moonlight and Mistletoe, in which she played a woman who reluctantly returns to Santaville, an amusement park dedicated to celebrating Christmas 365 days a year, after her father, the owner, is injured.
Aside from a brief guest appearance on the Disney Channel sitcom That's So Raven, it was Bure's first major acting role since 2001.
But it was The Heart of Christmas that really tied Bure to the network's holiday programming, as 2011 was the first year Hallmark packaged their original movies as the "Countdown to Christmas." And it also had a plot that perfectly encapsulated the message at the heart of the line-up (and the brand).
Based on a true story, The Heart of Christmas starred Bure as a successful business woman who reevaluates her priorities after her encounter with a family taking care of a child with a rare form of leukemia. Bure also served as an executive producer on the film.
"She's been so smart about her career and who she is and what she says about who she wants to be," Michelle Vicary, Hallmark Channel's executive vice president of programming, said. "She's been incredibly smart about the role she picks and her participation, as an execute producer, she's really hands on and really smart about it."
In 2013, Bure starred in Let It Snow, where she played a—you guessed it—successful businesswoman whose icy heart is thawed by the holiday spirit of the small town she's set to try and commercialize.
Christmas Under Wraps, her 2014 effort, proved to be the most successful of not only her career but of the network's holiday programming history: The original movie attracted 5.8 million viewers and a 5.0 demo rating (for comparison's sake, an episode of Real Housewives of Atlanta notched a 1.3 rating that same weekend), making it cable's highest rated original movie of the year.
And then in April 2015, something magical happened that was out of Hallmark's control but seemed like a gift from Santa Claus himself: John Stamos announced Full House would be returning via Netflix, with Bure as the star of Fuller House. The reaction was overwhelmingly positive, with the network able to ride the nostalgic wave to their advantage.
Following the Fuller House announcement and excitement, Bure's 2015 movie, A Christmas Detour, helped land the network its largest-ever weekly audience as part of a five-night Thanksgiving Weekend Event, now a staple for the network.
Abbott acknowledged there is a "nostalgia factor" at play with many of their female leads, and Vicary explained it was the feeling a familiar face can provide to viewers that the network hoped to tap into by casting veteran TV stars that audiences watched grow up.
"We're all about creating traditions and celebrating family and celebrating who people want to spend time with, whether it's a romantic relationship or a friendship or a parent or a sibling," said Vicary. "Why couldn't we recreate that as a television experience? We know our audience would like to see these people because they are iconic television stars who they can relate to, who they aspire to be like or that they feel like are family or friends and would like to see more of them. When we strategically cast them that way, our audience said, 'Yes, that's exactly what we want.'"
Following in Bure's footsteps, Full House co-star Lori Loughlin has become a favorite at the network, starring in their original series When Calls the Heart, along as well as acting in original movies, while Jodie Sweetin also has a movie that is part of this season's Thanksgiving Weekend Event (Finding Santa premieres Nov. 24).
Bure's more recent holiday ventures for the network were a bit more ambitious: In 2016, Journey Back to Christmas, which found Bure playing a time-traveling World War II nurse (breaking more ratings records as part of the second-annual Thanksgiving Weekend Event and marking the highest rated movie of "Countdown to Christmas" that year), and in 2017, she's set to star as estranged twins in Switched For Christmas. "We've got a little special effects things going on and we upped the production value to make sure we really execute," Vicary said of having the star play both roles.
And the beloved star was tapped to host The Countdown to Christmas special, with appearances by her Full House co-stars (and fellow Hallmark movie leads) Sweetin and Lori Loughlin, which aired on Oct. 22, and previewed the season's original movie line-up.
"It's been not only a privilege but an honor to work with her because she knows how to build her career and her brand, and that's what we do for a living too," Vicary said.
Switched For Christmas airs Sunday, Nov. 26, at 8 p.m. on Hallmark Channel.