UPFRONT & CENTER: The Golden Girls to Move to Hallmark Channel

Hallmark Channel has bought the rights to The Golden Girlsfrom Disney-ABC Domestic Television.

The Emmy Award-winning show will begin running on the cable network after February 2009, when it will leave its longtime home, Lifetime Television. The deal does not give Hallmark exclusive rights, however.

The Golden Girls has been on our wish list for a long time, so we’re delighted to reach this agreement,” said Michelle Vicary, Hallmark’s senior vice president of acquisitions and scheduling. “This is the perfect complement to our schedule of family-friendly programming.”

Golden has run on Lifetime since March 1, 1997, and while it has a devoted core fan base, it takes up a big chunk of its schedule -- six episodes per day -- and doesn’t bring in huge enough ratings to justify such a big presence for a network trying to establish branding based on its original programming.

Last week’s most-viewed episode averaged about 800,000 viewers at 1 a.m. on a Thursday night, according to Nielsen Media Research.

The show, produced by ABC Studios, ran for seven seasons beginning in 1985.

Hallmark announced the acquisition at its upfront presentation to press Tuesday night at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

The network made several other announcements, among them the acquisition of 99 classic family Disney movies also from Disney-ABC Domestic TV, including The Shaggy Dog, Flubber, Old Yeller, The Parent Trap, The Incredible Journey, The Princess Diaries and Freaky Friday. They will run on Hallmark and sister channel Hallmark Movie Channel.

“The ‘classic’ series will depart our schedule after a 12-year run to make room for our next generation of off-net comedies such as the very popular Reba, Still Standing and Will & Grace, as well as numerous original comedies in development, along with the return of the smash hit Army Wives,” Lifetime said in a statement. “We wish Dorothy, Rose, Blanche and Sophia all the best of luck in their new home.”

For complete coverage of the upfronts, click here.