Celebs Who Left The Hallmark Channel For Great American Family

The Hallmark Channel has been the leader in providing viewers with feel-good holiday films, especially with its beloved "Countdown to Christmas" schedule. However, a new network has slowly rivaled Hallmark since its launch in 2021, giving viewers similar content with made-for-TV films and holiday programming. The network, Great American Family (formally known as GAC Family), was started by former Hallmark CEO Bill Abbott. Though it has a long way to go in overtaking Hallmark, it surely is coming up the ranks. 

And it's not only the family-friendly content that is very similar to Hallmark. Great American Family, which is much more faith-based, has poached many beloved Hallmark stars, too. Viewers have seen many Hallmark mainstays switch to GAF, with the likes of Danica McKellar, Trevor Donovan, and even Hallmark queen Candace Cameron Bure signing major contracts with Great American Family. 

Bure stirred up controversy when she shared, "I think that Great American Family will keep traditional marriage at the core," during an interview with The Wall Street Journal, prompting speculation that some stars left after Hallmark began to make movies about LGBTQ couples. However, these stars have shared an array of reasons for the switch-up, including new movie deals, production contracts, creative opportunities, and more.

So, which actors have made the decision to leave Hallmark behind and join the Great American Family? See for yourself below.

Danica McKellar was one of the first to sign a multi-picture deal

Hallmark Channel star Danica McKellar was among the first stars to ink a deal with Great American Family. Having starred in 16 films for Hallmark since 2015, including the "Matchmaker Mysteries" series on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, McKellar was a fan favorite. In October 2021, Deadline announced that McKellar signed a four-picture deal to star in and executive produce films for Great American Family.

In September 2022, McKellar spoke about the switch with Us Weekly. "Part of it was because I had the opportunity to do a multi-picture deal, which I hadn't done at Hallmark, and also not just multi-picture, but also really being a producer, really helping to develop these stories from the beginning. And that's really exciting for me as a storyteller. I love that," McKellar said. She added, "In some ways feels more like Hallmark than probably if I were still at Hallmark."

For the 2022 holiday season, McKellar starred in the Great American Family films "The Winter Palace" and "Christmas at the Drive-In." As of this writing, she's set to star in "A Royal Christmas Romance" in late 2023.

Trevor Donovan is also producing Great American Family movies

Actor Trevor Donovan was a regular face on the Hallmark Channel. He first starred in the 2012 film "Strawberry Summer," followed by 2016's "Love on a Limb." The following year, he made his holiday movie debut with "Marry Me at Christmas." Donovan then acted in a few more Christmas films, including 2019's "Nostalgic Christmas" and 2020's "USS Christmas," with his last film for Hallmark being 2021's "Nantucket Noel." That October, he signed a multi-picture deal with Great American Family. Like most of his acting counterparts who moved away from Hallmark, Donovan's contract also included a producer role.

"My move to Great American Family was largely due to [CEO] Bill [Abbott]'s support for my Team Upstanders program while we were both at Hallmark," Donovan told Variety in 2022 of his anti-bullying campaign. Regarding his creative prospects with the network, he added, "It has always been my goal to create films that bring people together without being overtly political or religious, and I will continue to do so."

Donovan's first movie for Great American Family was "Jingle Bell Princess" in December 2021, in which he acted opposite Merritt Patterson. The following year, Donovan starred in "Aloha with Love" and "The Engagement Plot." As of this writing, upcoming movies for the actor include the network's "Twas the Text Before Christmas" and "Harvest Homecoming," a film that would also star Jessica Lowndes (who also made the switch to Great American Family — but more on that below).

Candace Cameron Bure's move was met with backlash

Candace Cameron Bure was the reigning queen of holiday films for the Hallmark Channel. She debuted on the network in 2008 and starred in over two dozen films, 10 of which were Christmas favorites. She has also starred as the amateur sleuth Aurora Teagarden in 18 Hallmark Movies & Mysteries films.

In April 2022, Deadline reported that Bure signed a deal with Great American Family, in which she would act, executive produce, and develop films for the network, including creating and overseeing content for their Great American Christmas franchise. That means Bure would no longer appear in any Hallmark Channel movies and was not going to reprise her role as Aurora Teagarden. 

In a 2022 interview with The Wall Street Journal, Bure did not discuss her reasoning for leaving Hallmark for Great American Family much, but did say of the former, "It basically is a completely different network than when I started because of the change of leadership." However, she also struck a chord with her controversial comments about not expecting the conservative network to star same-sex couples as leads in their films, something the Hallmark Channel began to do with its 2020 film "The Christmas House." Bure starred in her first-holiday movie for Great American Family in November 2022, "A Christmas ... Present." As of this writing, she is also set to star in Great American Family's 2023 holiday movie, "My Christmas Hero."

Jill Wagner said goodbye to Mystery 101

Fans of the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries series "Mystery 101" found plenty to be upset over after they learned it was ending after its seventh installment, "Deadly History." The film, which aired in September 2021, also happened to end on a cliffhanger, which further annoyed fans. Was "Mystery 101" canceled because of its leading lady Jill Wagner? Some have speculated on a Hallmark Movies Reddit thread that the actor, who has starred in 15 Hallmark Channel originals, was saying goodbye to Amy Winslow to star in movies for Great American Family.

In April 2023, Wagner said farewell to her "Mystery 101" character in an Instagram post. Thanking her co-star, Kristoffer Polaha, film crew, and fans, she shared alongside a wink-face emoji, "Just so you know in my mind, Amy and Travis get married and go on a super long honeymoon to Fiji!!" Wagner added, "Stay tuned for the next chapter with me, lots of fun things coming your way ... and you know I always love a good mystery." "Mystery 101: Deadly History" was the last movie Wagner did for Hallmark.

Moving to Great American Family proved true when she starred in "A Christmas Miracle for Daisy" in 2021. The following year, she starred in 2022's "A Merry Christmas Wish." In July 2023, Deadline reported that the actor was to star in another holiday film for Great American Family, titled "Bringing Christmas Home," a film she would also produce.

Jesse Metcalfe didn't want to be just a TV star

Actor Jesse Metcalfe has been a Hallmark fixture since starring in the 2010 movie "Fairfield Road." He went on to star in six other films for the network, and for five seasons, Metcalfe portrayed songwriter and musician Trace Riley in Hallmark's Original Series "Chesapeake Shores." However, he abruptly left the show and, in a 2021 interview with ET, explained that his departure was in part due to creative control and wanting to pursue other projects. 

"I just felt like it was time to turn the page and start the next chapter of my career. I definitely wanted to pursue my film career with greater focus and also find the next challenge," Metcalfe shared. The actor's departure didn't mean he left Hallmark for good. In a statement to Deadline, the Hallmark Channel shared that Metcalfe would continue his role in Hallmark's Movies & Mysteries series, "Martha's Vineyard Mysteries," and would continue to star in Hallmark original films. As of this writing, Metcalfe has yet to star in a Hallmark original movie, with his last film being 2019's "Christmas Under the Stars."

In 2022, Metcalfe starred opposite Jessica Lowndes in the Great American Family original movie "Harmony From the Heart." Is Metcalfe slowly making the switch? Though there is no definite answer if the actor signed a deal with the network, he has been busy pursuing more prominent movie roles, including starring opposite Dennis Quaid in 2023's "On a Wing and a Prayer."

Jessica Lowndes made the switch

Jessica Lowndes starred in six movies for the Hallmark Channel, which included several Christmas films like "A December Bride," "Magical Christmas Ornaments," and "Christmas at Pemberley Manor." As reported by Deadline in early 2022, Lowndes said farewell to the network and signed a multi-picture deal with Great American Family. 

However, Lowndes wouldn't just be starring in original movies for the network. Her deal included writing, directing, and executive producing films for Great American Family. Before the news that she was leaving Hallmark, Lowndes had already starred in one of Great American Family's first films, "An Autumn Romance," which was changed to "Colors of Love," opposite Chad Michael Murray.

For the 2021 holiday season, Lowndes appeared in "Angel Falls Christmas" with Murray. The following year, she starred in "I'm Glad it's Christmas" and acted alongside Jesse Metcalfe in "Harmony of the Heart," for which Lowndes wrote, executive produced, and performed songs. In an interview with The List, Lowndes spoke about the process of writing what was her very first film. "It was the first time I wrote 'The End' on a blank document," she said. Lowndes added, "It was Bill Abbott who was at Hallmark who believed in me as a writer." Next up, Lowndes starred in Great American Family's "Harvest Homecoming" with Trevor Donovan in September 2023.

Jen Lilley defended Great American Family

Actor Jen Lilley switched over to Great American Family in January 2022 after Deadline reported that she signed a multi-picture deal, which included starring in four films for the network. Lilley was a regular face on the Hallmark Channel, having starred in 13 movies, including "Eat, Play, Love," "Mingle All the Way," and "Snowkissed." 

In 2021, Lilley starred in one of Great American Family's first Christmas films for its Great American Christmas franchise titled "Royally Wrapped for Christmas." The following year, she starred in "B&B Merry" and would later star in 2023's "A Paris Christmas Waltz" alongside "Glee" star Matthew Morrison.

All that said, Lilley had to defend herself for leaving the Hallmark Channel for Great American Family. After sharing Deadline's report about her new deal with the network on Instagram, she faced backlash from social media users. After one user commented that the faith-based network was allegedly "hate-filled, judging and bigoted," Lilley replied, "This comment couldn't be farther from the truth. GAC Family is completely loving, diverse and does so much behind the scenes for the kingdom of God that I get compelled as a Christian to support them wholeheartedly." She added, "I hope you're not believing the rumors you hear that have an agenda, but I can tell you personally, I know this channel is full of genuine love, rooted in truth, and will do so much for so many."

Daniel Lissing is glad he changed networks

For five seasons, actor Daniel Lissing portrayed Jack Thorton in the Hallmark Channel's original series "When Calls the Heart" until his character was tragically killed. In 2021, a spin-off of the show, "When Hope Calls," premiered its first season on Hallmark's streaming service Hallmark Movies Now. The show's two-part second season moved to Great American Family, with Lissing reprising his role when his character comes back in Abigail Stanton's (Lori Loughlin) dream in "When Hope Calls: A Country Christmas Part 2." Lissing's first film with Great American Family was 2021's "A Christmas Star." In 2022, he starred in "Catering Christmas" along with Hallmark actor Merritt Patterson. 

In an interview with Digital Journal, Lissing commended former Hallmark CEO Bill Abbott for making the network what it is today. "I am certain that he is going to take the reins of Great American Family, and he is going to turn that into the No. 1 family programming channel in America," Lissing said. He added, "Great American Family are very good to their talent, they build relationships and they honor those relationships. It's a pleasure to be on that journey with them. It's a great company to also be a part of. Also, they put out great content for their audiences as well."

Susie Abromeit is creating more projects for Great American Family

Susie Abromeit is mainly known for her role as Pam in the Netflix series "Jessica Jones," but she made her debut on the Hallmark Channel when she starred in 2013's "Snow Bride" and made her return to the network in 2016's "A Perfect Christmas." As reported by Deadline in October 2021, Abromeit signed a multi-picture deal with Great American Family, in which she would star in four films and host the network's Original Movie Nights.

Abromeit starred in one of Great American Family's first holiday-themed films with 2021's "Much Ado About Christmas." The following year, the actor appeared in "Love in Bloom," and also starred in "Romance at the Vineyard" in 2023. As of this writing, she is also set to return with another Christmas film for the network titled "Mistletoe Moments," which would also star Liam McIntyre.

During a 2022 interview with Numéro Netherlands, Abromeit stated that she had more projects with Great American Family, including a potential tennis film. Fun fact: She was a professional tennis player before she began acting. Abromeit added, "I love working with GAC and they've just been a dream company to work with."

Neal Bledsoe said goodbye to Great American Family after two films

Actor Neal Bledsoe acted alongside former Hallmark actor Danica McKellar in the 2017 Hallmark Channel original movie "Coming Home for Christmas" and would find himself starring with McKellar again for Great American Family. For the 2022 holiday season, Bledsoe and McKellar starred in "The Winter Palace" and "Christmas at the Drive-In." However, the two movies would be his last with the faith-based network. 

In December 2022, Bledsoe announced to Variety that he was stepping away from Great American Family following Candace Cameron Bure and CEO Bill Abbott's aforementioned controversial The Wall Street Journal interview. "I hope GAF will change, but until everyone can be represented in their films with pride, my choice is clear. I look forward to working with creators who put no limits on stories we tell and follow through on their message of values with open arms," Bledsoe said in a lengthy statement. In their joint interview, Bure and Abbott had shared that content for Great American Family would most likely not focus on same-sex couples, with Bure adding that she'd like to "keep traditional marriage at the core." Bure also serves as the chief creative officer for the network.

During an interview with Fox News Digital, McKellar spoke about Bledsoe's departure from the network following Bure's statements and ultimately defended the "Full House" star. "He and I both share our love and support of the LGBT community for sure," she said, but added, "I don't agree with his interpretation of her comments. I just didn't see them the same way."

Lori Loughlin made her return to acting on Great American Family

In 2019, Lori Loughlin was let go by the Hallmark Channel following her involvement in the college admissions scandal, for which she served two months in prison. Before being dropped, the actor was a regular face on the network, having starred as Abigail Stanton in "When Calls the Heart," portraying Jennifer Shannon in her "Garage Sale Mysteries" movie series, and starring in a few Christmas original movies.

Loughlin made her grand return to acting in 2021. She reprised her popular role as Abigail in the "When Calls the Heart" spinoff special, "When Hope Calls: A Country Christmas." "When Hope Calls" had premiered its first season on the Hallmark Channel, while this second season two-part special was broadcast on Great American Family. In January 2023, Loughlin starred in Great American Family's original film "Fall Into Winter" and would star in the Christmas movie "Blessings of Christmas" that holiday season. Of her move from Hallmark to Great American Family, CEO Bill Abbott previously told Variety, "She's America's sweetheart, regardless of whatever happened. At the end of the day, she represents all that is positive about entertainment, and has had a stellar career."

The Hallmark Channel even brought back a few of Loughlin's beloved "Garage Sale Mysteries" movies in 2022.