Full disclosure, when I began this Hallmark journey, in no way, shape, or form did I envision a hangout with the ladies of Hallmark Channels’ Bubbly Sesh podcast. However, we live in New York City, where the impossible is possible. As I mentioned last week in my post about the Bundle Game, Jacklyn Collier, a.k.a Jacks, and I are neighbors on the Upper West Side, and Shawlini Manjunath-Holbrook, a.k.a. Shawl, is an Upper East Side girl, so what follows is our Real Life Hallmark movie “small-town moment.”
We didn’t just meet up at any old place; we chose the iconic New York location of The Plaza Hotel, located at Fifth Avenue and Central Park South, which also served as the location for Hallmark’s upcoming film Christmas at the Plaza, starring Elizabeth Henstridge and Ryan Paevey, airing November 28 (8 p.m./ 7 p.m. C). Although the hotel’s Christmas decorations won’t emerge until the day after Thanksgiving, we brought the Countdown to Christmas theme, with Shawl wearing a green dress, Jacks in a red dress, and me in a green velvet jacket.
I recognized them immediately and my nerves were calmed as I watched them engaged in the most normal of New York activities: a shoe change. For those who don’t live in the city, what you see in the movies isn’t accurate; we do not wear awesome high heels while traversing countless city blocks. The truth? 99.9% of us walk around with a second pair of cute shoes/awesome high heels stuffed in our bag to throw on after we’ve walked multiple city blocks in our walkable shoes. Podcast hosts or not, I thought to myself upon witnessing Jacks’s and Shawl’s shoe changes, these ladies are New Yorkers and Hallmark fans…we’re going to get along just fine. (And we did!)
On the Plaza website it states, “nothing unimportant ever happens at The Plaza,” and tea at this historic location is definitely special. When the clock struck noon, the staff called out my name, and walking beneath the stained-glass dome ceiling, we were the first to be seated in The Palm Court. (After spending the afternoon surrounding by the exquisite natural beauty of the Plaza, I cannot wait to see what sort of setting Hallmark will conjure up for its Christmas movie!)
Despite it being a first meet-cute, there were no awkward pauses, and the conversation flowed easily. Jacks and Shawl are as delightful in Real Life as they are on their podcast. The goal for our meeting was to meet in Real Life, no agenda. We’ve been communicating via social media for a while now, and although I took a few notes, this was not an interview with Jacks and Shawl—this was a girls’ outing in the city. And as with any good girls’ outing, a range of topics were covered. Top of mind, of course, was their friendship and their partnership with Hallmark.
Fans of the Hallmark Channels’ Bubbly Sesh (also known as Seshers) will enjoy some fun new holiday segments on their show as a tip of the hat to the Countdown to Christmas. The podcast’s traditional meet-cute moment is now festively titled “The Mistletoe Moment,” at which time Jacks and Shawl discuss the Hallmark leads’ chemistry. There is a new segment called “Top Pick,” where Jacks and Shawl pick out a favorite scene and replay a clip on the Sesh. Another new segment and the one that has the deepest meaning, in more ways than one, is The Christmas Tail. The Christmas season is a time when many families and individuals consider pet adoption. During the Christmas Tail segment, Jacks and Shawl spotlight a different animal adoption center. Not only is it appropriate for the Bubbly Sesh to embrace the animal theme because it aligns with the Hallmark Channel’s Adoption Ever After Program, but Shawl is mom to two rescue dogs, Lucy and Webster, and Jacks is mom to a rescue cat named Moriarty (Arty for short). Moreover, they discovered their shared love of all things Hallmark over a conversation about The Nine Lives of Christmas where a stray cat (Ambrose) finds a loving home with Zachary, played by Brandon Routh.
Before there was a Bubbly Sesh Podcast, Shawl and Jacks were two friends who met in acting school and after long days would look forward to a girls’ night out to enjoy each other’s company and a glass of bubbly. It was on one of these nights out after a particularly long day that Shawl confessed to Jacks that watching The Nine Lives of Christmas helped lift her mood. (Believe me, I get it! I wrote three blog posts about cat adventures as a homage to this movie, including finding a New York City firehouse that claims a cat as its mascot –link here – and I’m a dog person!)
Shawl and Jacks’ conversation blossomed from there as they discovered a shared love of all Hallmark movies (not just the Christmas ones; they love all of the Hallmark seasons!). As friends, they were interested in finding a way to collaborate creatively. They also felt that there were other fans, like themselves, who would enjoy participating in a conversation around the movies. Through their creative partnership, they launched the Bubbly Sesh Podcast in late 2017. Prior to the partnership with Hallmark, announced this past summer, Shawl and Jacks were fitting the podcast in with other aspects of their real lives. Last year they covered all 38 new Hallmark movie premiers! They would record the show from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m., Shawl would be up until 3 a.m. editing, and they’d drop the episode the next day after each movie premier. Plus, Shawl is a mom, so she’d be up again at 7 a.m. to take care of her daughter. I marvel at how they got it all done.
After investing so much energy into this passion project, Shawl who was producing the Bubbly Sesh Podcast, reached out to Bill Abbott, President and CEO of Crown Media Family Networks, to pitch Hallmark about partnering. A supportive and productive partnership was born, and Hallmark Channels’ Bubbly Sesh is now part of the Hallmark family. As a part of the family, Shawl and Jacks have received resources that allow them to dedicate more time to developing content and producing each segment. They have brought on an editor to help them put their show together, but they are still deeply involved in every aspect. Working in partnership with Hallmark has made the frenetic schedule of covering all 40 new Countdown to Christmas movies more manageable and they are loving every second of it.
Jacks and Shawl have always had enthusiasm for the podcast, but they cannot help but marvel that what once was a conversation between just the two of them is now a huge conversation that includes thousands of listeners who share their enthusiasm. We spent a lot of time discussing the incredible community of Hallmark fans and the graciousness with which they have embraced those of us entering it creatively. Plus, no conversation about the community would be complete without recognition and respect for Ruth Hill, who has a deep understanding of the Hallmark brand. (Ruth, your ears might have been ringing, as a lot of New York love was sent your way!)
By the end we were gabbing like old girlfriends. I learned that Jacks sees Shawl as her pop culture guru, and Shawl compliments Jacks on her matchmaking abilities. Needless to say, my dating life might become a new side project for these ladies, who are both happily attached. We all need good wing women in our lives, and who better to have in your corner then the ladies of Hallmark Channels’ Bubbly Sesh?
Shawl and Jacks both believe that any relationship needs to be intentional to thrive and they work hard on theirs—both their creative partnership as well as making time for their friendship, which was the foundation for everything that has come about. I can share that the chemistry and warmth you hear from them on the podcast is authentic and genuine in Real Life.
So make sure you tune in to their show! I always do, and I will be particularly interested to hear what they have to say about Christmas at the Plaza after our afternoon at the Plaza.