Lifetime is spicing up the Christmas movie season by featuring its very first sex scene in the new holiday film, the Jana Kramer-led A Cowboy Christmas Romance. Could this be the start of a creative shift in the holiday movie genre for the network — and possibly others?
Written by Grey’s Anatomy alum Sarah Drew and set in a Yellowstone-inspired Arizona ranch town, A Cowboy Christmas Romance co-stars Adam Senn as the hunky rancher who catches Kramer’s eye when she returns to her hometown to secure a real estate deal. Unlike the genre’s typical family-friendly fare, this holiday movie breaks from tradition and depicts a more mature, grown-up romance.
“There is such an appetite for Christmas movies. And for different audiences who like different kinds of Christmas movies, we’ve never given them a ‘sexy romance novel’ Christmas movie that feels grounded, real and adult,” Drew told Yahoo Entertainment.
Pearl-clutchers were sweating after Kramer shared details on the Nov. 27 episode of her Whine Down podcast about the steamier-than-usual love scenes.
“We’re on this — spoiler alert — he lays me down on some hay and then we, you know… and then, you know. Obviously, it’s still Lifetime, it’s still family. But it was pushing limits there too,” the 40-year-old Kramer, who was pregnant during filming, said on the podcast.
Another passion-filled scene involves Kramer and Senn’s characters on a kitchen counter, which Drew said on the podcast she fought to keep in. “I was like, ‘Don’t take the steam and the sex away from me. I wrote it on purpose, I want it in there.'”
The Lifetime movie, which premieres Dec. 9, has already become a cultural touchpoint. It was spoofed on Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update” in the Dec. 2 episode, prompting Kramer to celebrate the sketch comedy show’s call-out and Drew to joke that Lifetime “officially made the naughty list.”
Testing the boundaries
“We were eager to try something a little different,” Tia Maggini, senior vice president of scripted programming at Lifetime, told Yahoo Entertainment. “There are a lot of perceived rules of what a Christmas movie can and can’t be — and sometimes I wonder if we made those rules up ourselves. So it’s kind of fun to try something a little different and see if the audience responds.”
On paper, A Cowboy Christmas Romance reads like the one-in-a-dozen holiday movies that often populate the TV schedule this time of year. Taking place a week before Christmas, big-city real estate agent Lexie Crenshaw (Kramer), returns to small-town Tubac, Ariz., as she tries to convince Coby Mason (Senn) to part ways with his family’s land. Sparks begin to fly, inspiring Lexie to reevaluate her life decisions and mend broken relationships with her family.
It wasn’t until Kramer’s podcast where she and Drew made it clear this isn’t the standard Christmas film audiences are used to seeing on Lifetime, or elsewhere for that matter.
“I wanted to push boundaries,” Drew said, explaining to Yahoo Entertainment that the sexiness in the storytelling isn’t there without intention. “It made sense for their characters in the story because she has all this pent-up frustration. She’s back in her hometown. It’s not going the way that she wanted it to go. And I was really excited to tell a sexy story.”
On the podcast, Kramer admitted she was “surprised” Lifetime “didn’t cut anything.” “I was so happy that they really left it all in there,” she said.
Is there an audience for steamier holiday movies?
Lifetime, for its part, already has a track record of testing the limits with its programming outside of the holiday season – from “Ripped From the Headlines”-type films inspired by real-life cases to salacious thrillers. It only made sense for the network “to push into slightly new territory” within the holiday movie genre, Maggini said.
“We’ve made a lot of movies in the romantic comedy space and to do something that felt more dramatic and was more of a pure romance was interesting,” the network executive explained. “The audience has shown with Bridgerton that there’s a lot of appetite for traditional romance and they don’t get enough of it. To do something that leans in a little bit more to that ‘need’ state was something that was exciting to us.”
It’s also a way for Lifetime to differentiate itself from competitors like Hallmark Channel, whose Christmas films are almost exclusively G-rated.
“This sets Lifetime apart and almost gives them a leg up on the competition, in terms of pushing the boundaries,” Emily Longeretta, senior TV features editor at Variety, told Yahoo Entertainment. “By creating more of an adult storyline and having a love scene, it really proves that Lifetime is willing to try new things and try to gain a bigger audience.”
Rachel Wagner, host of the Hallmarkies Podcast, believed there’s a void that hasn’t been tapped into yet. “It’s something that nobody else — as far as the [holiday] TV movie — is really doing,” she told Yahoo Entertainment. “It’s a smart move to make their movies stand out a little bit more.”
Why is sex, or the suggestion of it, often left out of these movies?
There are several factors. The go-to producers of holiday TV movies such as Hallmark, Lifetime and Great American Family have standards and practices they adhere to as basic cable networks — the specific rules of which may vary depending on specific values and priorities.
Additionally, movies that fall under the holiday umbrella are often made with family viewing in mind.
“The idea of a holiday TV movie is that you have it on [and watch] with your family. They have this feel-good, ‘at the end of the day nothing is wrong with the world’ emotion that we love,” Longeretta explained. “Part of the comfort of that goes with knowing, if your kid walks in the room, you’re not going to have to have a conversation with them about [what’s on the TV screen].”
A Cowboy Christmas Romance “is hardly Red Shoe Diaries,” Maggini said, a reference to the ’90s erotic TV film with David Duchovny and later a Showtime drama series. Still, there’s optimism that an audience exists who feel like conventional Christmas movies don’t always serve their interests.
“There’s enough out there that appeals to the traditionalists that we can try something a little bit different,” Maggini said.
Could this signal a shift in holiday movie fare?
It’ll depend on if viewers tune in to watch A Cowboy Christmas Romance, either out of curiosity or genuine interest. In success, it could be the beginning of more adult holiday romances if ratings prove there’s a thirst for this type of Christmas movie content.
“I would assume that this will lead to more daring movies,” Longeretta forecasted, “because it proves that [Lifetime] can take a risk, make headlines and be spoofed on Saturday Night Live. It has people talking about the network and has people excited again about Christmas movies at a time where every network is trying to do what Lifetime and Hallmark have done for so long.”
But Wagner cautioned against placing too much weight on A Cowboy Christmas Romance for being a potential trendsetter in that way. “They need a reason to stick out at this point. If they were asking me for advice, absolutely, I think they should [do more movies like this].”
Lifetime has been in the holiday movie business for a long time and the tried-and-true Christmas formula has “served us well,” Maggini acknowledged.
“But there’s a lot of those movies out there and I think there’s room for a couple that are a little outside the box.” If the viewership is there, “we could do more” in the future, the exec said. “We’ll let the audience tell us whether it’s something they want or not.”
A Cowboy Christmas Romance premieres Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on Lifetime.