About Deck the Hallmark
Instead of us writing our own bio and trying to make ourselves sound cool, here is an article from our local paper: The Greenville News
Greenville guys behind Deck the Hallmark podcast turn Christmas movie reviews into full-time gig
In an office space in downtown Greenville, three guys relax in recliners in front of a big screen. They’re not watching football. They’re watching Hallmark.
A lot of Hallmark. Every single Hallmark Christmas movie made this year.
After the movie stars fall for each other, fight to maintain their relationship and finally kiss on screen as the movie wraps — as they always do in Hallmark — the three friends gather their thoughts, march into an adjoining room and critique what they’ve just seen.
There, against the backdrop of an artificial Christmas tree, crackling fire in the fireplace, giant Christmas lights and a red-and-white mailbox labeled "North Pole Express Mail," the pals hit record on a podcast that’s become a must-listen for Hallmark fans known colloquially as #hallmarkies.
The podcast is called Deck the Hallmark, and from the get-go, listeners know exactly what the guys think of the movies.
“Hi, I’m Bran, and I love Hallmark Christmas movies,” says Brandon Gray, who also produces the podcast.
“Hey, I’m Panda, and I like Hallmark Christmas movies,” says Daniel Pandolph.
“I’m Dan, and I despise Hallmark Christmas movies,” says Daniel Thompson.
Journey from Shannon Forest Christian School to full-time Hallmark podcast
Once upon a time, the three worked together as educators at Shannon Forest Christian School in Greenville and spent a lot of time together. But in recent years, Gray and Pandolph had taken different jobs, and they weren’t spending as much time together.
So in 2018 Gray proposed the podcast idea. It was really just a way to spend time with his friends, and since Gray has always loved the cheesy rom-com Hallmark Countdown to Christmas movies and the channel had begun to make more of the movies each holiday season, the idea fit.
They recorded a few episodes and began to figure out their schtick. A few hundred people listened to each one. But as Christmas drew near, they began to get some write-ups in the press.
Three funny guys. Watching every Hallmark movie. The idea was gold.
The execution was even better. The guys had been doing improvisation and bouncing jokes off each other for years in each other’s classrooms with students as the audience.
“We always were trying to put each other in bad improv situations because we thought it was funny and we had a very natural camaraderie,” Thompson said.
“We were on 'Good Morning America' live and I didn’t turn my phone off, and we’re halfway through and I can hear bzz, bzz, bzz,” Thompson said.
They’d just formed the company a week before in case they wanted to sell some T-shirts. They’d built their website in an airport before flying to New York City.
The podcast took off.
“It was overwhelming,” Pandolph said.
Oprah and Nightline calls as 'Good Morning America' calls again
Hallmark stars reached out. Oprah Magazine wrote about them. Nightline produced a feature. "Good Morning America" had them back on the show.
Listeners loved them because they gave honest reviews. They aren’t affiliated with Hallmark, so they could pick apart the movies. But they did so while keeping a light tone, especially Thompson, who thinks the movies are “dumpster fires” and relishes pointing out the clichés, plot weaknesses and faults.
“I want to be known as sarcastic,” Thompson said. “I don’t want to be known as cynical.”
Their rise coincided with Hallmark’s rise as a network that’s defying cable’s overall viewership declines. In 2018, 85 million people watched a Hallmark Christmas movie, according to the network. Hallmark expects to surpass that number this season, the network told Buzzfeed News.
There’s something about the predictable plot lines, over-the-top Christmas décor and small-town charm that draws viewers in.
“They’re there for the formula, which is mind-boggling to me,” Thompson said. “It’s comfort food, the same thing every time.”
And so the podcast gave a measure of formula as well. They split it into four segments: a “Hot Take” where each gives his overall review; “All the Feels” where they can say what about the movie made them feel good or elicited Christmas feelings; “Wait, What?” where they point out parts that don’t make sense; and “What the Hallmark” where they list something they’d like to know more about from the movie.
After Christmas last year, burned out from the movie-watching and reviewing marathon, the friends thought they’d take some time to regroup and figure out how they’d keep the podcast alive.
Fans wanted more Deck the Hallmark
Fans wanted more. The audience stuck around, and so the guys began recording podcasts throughout the year. They reviewed Hallmark’s winter lineup, spring movies, Christmas in July and began regular interviews with actors, writers and directors.
Episodes regularly attract 10,000-15,000 listeners. Deck the Hallmark had more than 1 million unique downloads its first year, Thompson said.
Now, a year-and-a-half after releasing their first episode, the trio have launched the BrambleJam Podcast Network with plans to launch multiple podcasts, some featuring themselves and eventually other personalities.
Two of the three men, Gray and Thompson, are pursuing the podcast as their full-time jobs. Gray still works part-time as a youth pastor at Summit Church in Mauldin. Thompson stepped away from his job as principal at Shannon Forest at the end of the 2018-19 school year. And Pandolph runs a company to assist churches and nonprofits called Ministry Assistant Services and is a Facebook marketing specialist for online entrepreneurs.
Thompson, a former history teacher, hosts History of His Story, a history-themed game show in which he tells three stories and the other two have to guess which one is fiction. And Pandolph plans to launch a podcast soon where he interviews authors of the books Hallmark turns into movies. More plans are in the works, they said.
Somehow, despite being the anti-establishment outsiders, as Thompson puts it, Hallmark has invited them on its daytime talk show and to the first ChristmasCon Hallmark convention held in New Jersey this fall.
“I don’t think they really know what to do with us,” Gray said.
Despite despising the movies themselves, “Grumpy Dan,” as Thompson is often called by fans, said he’ll keep doing the show as long as it’s fun.
“I really still just do it to hang out,” he said. “It’s such a joy. These guys make me laugh on a regular basis, and it’s just fun.”
The joy was evident on a recent episode taping in Greenville. "Dan" asked why the lead character would move all the way across the country with her son to a city where she didn't know anyone just to take a job as a secretary. "Bran" and "Panda" argue about whether Rudolph is more well-known than Frosty, and they each riff about a jazz album where there are no musical rules whatsoever.
It was a typical podcast episode, a light-hearted escape from reality, and it seemed to leave listeners in stitches.
Then the three friends stepped outside into the cold to head to lunch, and Gray watched an officer place an orange parking ticket on his car windshield. It was a reminder that life is nothing like a Hallmark movie.