The Real Reason Jen Lilley Left The Hallmark Channel

Actress and activist Jen Lilley has been a mainstay in the Hallmark world for years. With over 10 Hallmark movies under her belt, she's the unofficial queen of romantic comedies and feel-good stories, per Us Weekly. From her stint as a struggling marketing executive that is forced to work with an ex in "Where Your Heart Belongs" to an app developer in "Mingle All the Way," Lilley has played a plethora of characters — and nailed it. She's part of what makes the Hallmark Channel so addictive.

It's clear that Lilley approaches every role with the same level of love and care, no matter how demanding. Before the singer/songwriter brought love and holiday cheer to the Hallmark Channel, she won the hearts of soap opera fans everywhere while appearing on the classics "General Hospital" and "Days of Our Lives." Her transition from the soap world to Hallmark wasn't an easy one. Lilley told Showbiz Cheatsheet that the stress of memorizing between 150 to 200 pages of lines every day and the fear of replacement took a toll, eventually leading to her exit from "General Hospital."

As fruitful as her partnership with Hallmark has been, all good things must come to an end.

Jen Lilley signed a major deal with budding network GAC

Jen Lilley shocked fans with the whirlwind news she'd moved on from the Hallmark Channel. In January via an Instagram post, she announced a major partnership with competitor GAC Media, joining the ranks of other Hallmark stars who left the network. The list of Hallmark's top-billed stars who made the jump to rival company GAC include Danica McKellar and Trevor Donovan.

Bill Abbott, the former CEO of Crown Media Family Networks (which owns Hallmark Channel) who started the network, told Deadline that Lilley's drive made her an easy choice to lead GAC's films. He waxed poetic about her talent and kind nature and highlighted their long-lasting working relationship. During an interview with The List, Lilley revealed that her time filming "Royally Wrapped for Christmas" — her first with the network — was an uplifting and fun experience for her. She made connections with the background crew and was able to goof off while also following COVID-19 safety guidelines. 

It looks like the "King of Hearts" singer's relationship with GAC started off on the right foot. Lilley revealed to The List that the film (namely the parallels between her character's charitable nature and her own advocacy work in real-life) inspired her to create holiday bundles through her charity, Christmas is Not Cancelled. Her goal was to raise $10,00 for Toys for Tots.

GAC's controversial beginnings

Hallmark has long struggled with diversity, reports The Hollywood Reporter, and its slow attempts to become more inclusive have not gone unnoticed by fans. During a November 2019 appearance on the outlet's podcast "TV's Top 5," Bill Abbott himself pointed out that in 2019, only four of the films released featured Black leads. In his defense of the channel, he rejected the idea that this lack of inclusion or hyper-focus on traditional white, heteronormative couples was intentional.

In December 2019, a commercial featuring a lesbian couple was pulled from rotation and branded "controversial," per Vulture. The ad was reinstated after public backlash, and Abbott's departure came a month later. A year later, GAC Family came under Abbott's leadership, as reported by Parade

She addressed the controversy behind her decision to join GAC

Jen Lilley's decision to leave Hallmark for GAC was met with pushback. After her Instagram post announcing the move, her comments section was filled with disapproving messages from fans who criticized the company's controversial origins. One user questioned the company's commitment to representation and called for diverse stories featuring LGBTQ+ characters, while another accused them of "[catering] to racist, homophobic audiences."

Lilley confronted the criticisms surrounding GAC Family head-on. Cinemablend reports that she took to her comments section in defense of the channel and called the critiques on GAC's lack of representation hearsay. "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 argued. "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."