Hallmark Channels, reeling over the lackluster ratings of its recently launched Martha Stewart programming block, forced out a key executive who had been hired just four months ago to work closely with the lifestyle maven.
Laura Sillars, a former HGTV programming executive, joined Hallmark in June as senior vice president for lifestyle programming. On Friday, her tenure with the Studio City company ended abruptly.
"We mutually decided to go in different ways," said Bill Abbott, chief executive of Hallmark Channels. "It was not a good fit for either of us."
Sillars was not part of the team at Hallmark that decided in January to attempt a wholesale makeover of the channel's programming and bring in Stewart. Hallmark is trying to wean itself from its reliance on reruns of classic feel-good programs such as "Little House on the Prairie" and tear-jerker movies. Sillars was tasked with developing additional self- and home-improvement shows. She also was the company's day-to-day liaison with Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc.
"It takes time to find the right chemistry and the right mix when you are dealing with high-profile talent," Abbott said.
Sillars, reached late Friday, declined to discuss the reason for her departure. "I wish the Hallmark Channels much success with their Martha Stewart programming and their future programming," Sillars said.
Abbott's big bet — to turn over eight hours of Hallmark's daytime schedule to Stewart — has not gone well. In the four weeks since it launched Sept. 13, "The Martha Stewart Show" has produced anemic ratings. It has been averaging fewer than 200,000 viewers — less than half the audience of reruns of "The Golden Girls," which ran in the 10 a.m. slot on the channel a year ago. A show featuring Stewart's daughter, Alexis, has produced even more dismal ratings.
"We are off to a slow start, but the ratings have started to improve," Abbott said.
He noted that Wednesday's telecast marked the highest ratings for "The Martha Stewart Show" so far, with 250,000 people tuning in.
Hallmark, which is controlled by Kansas City, Mo.-based Hallmark Cards Inc., might have to give advertisers free commercial time to make up for the disappointing ratings. Not only that, but Hallmark was hoping Stewart would introduce younger viewers to the network — but that hasn't happened. Advertisers pay higher rates to reach younger viewers.
Hallmark's shift in September to lifestyle programming was a radical move that alienated many longtime viewers. Meanwhile, many of Stewart's fans have not made the switch to cable. Until this season, Stewart's show ran in syndication and aired on NBC-owned TV stations.
This week, Hallmark will try to boost the numbers by running Stewart's show at 8 p.m., when more viewers are available.