Odyssey to change name to Hallmark Channel

— The little-known Odyssey cable network will change its name to the Hallmark Channel and shuffle the programming to slightly reduce its religious fare, executives said Wednesday.

The new Hallmark Channel will start Aug. 6.

Odyssey, formed in 1990 largely as a religious network, already shows reruns of old Hallmark-produced movies, as well as series like "Happy Days" and "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman."

The basic cable channel is available in just under 30 million homes. But it suffers from a lack of identity, admitted network President Margaret Loesch.

"One of the most often-asked questions is, 'Odyssey, gee, is that a travel channel or a sci-fi channel?"' she said. "I think this will end some of the confusion."

Hallmark Inc. recently bought a majority stake in the company that owns the network, Crown Media. Hallmark, which usually produces more than 50 made-for-TV movies a year, will continue supplying other networks with programming along with the new Hallmark Channel.

It's the third cable network to change its name during the past few months. The Nashville Network became The National Network, dropping the country music orientation but keeping the initials, and Romance Classics became WE: Women's Entertainment.

Odyssey has found its two-hour block of religious programming each weekday morning off-putting to many young viewers, Loesch said.

It will change to a daily one-hour program at noon and a 30-minute early morning show and work with the National Interfaith Cable Coalition to make the programming more compelling, she said.

In the fall, the Hallmark Channel plans to offer two one-hour dramas, "Lincoln Hall" and "The Neverending Story," and a storytelling series.

Hallmark is also negotiating to air several broadcast network reruns, Loesch said.

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