Photo Credit: Copyright 2013
Crown Media United States, LLC
I’ve been calling it “Love Comes Softly meets Little House.” Though I usually lean more toward Jane Austen than pioneer era romance, I gladly confess that I absolutely adore this series. And I’m not alone. WCTH’s audience has grown quickly and continues to grow each week, and for good reason. It is very well-written, well-cast, and well-acted. Each week, WCTH delivers heart-tugging drama and a superbly developed, chaste love story without being shallow or melodramatic. It's subtle yet powerful—the perfect blend. There is so much to love about this series! The best part: it’s an engaging drama adults can thoroughly enjoy and feel good about watching with their kids. The worst part: waiting an entire week until Saturday. Oh, the hours . . . And when it’s finally here, if only time would stop . . .
Photo Credit: Copyright 2013 Crown Media United States, LLC
“When Calls the Heart tells the captivating story of Elizabeth Thatcher (Erin Krakow), a young teacher accustomed to her high society life, who receives her first classroom assignment in Coal Valley, a small coalmining town where life is simple, but often fraught with challenges. Lori Loughlin (Full House) plays Abigail Stanton, a wife and mother whose husband, the foreman of the mine, along with a dozen other miners, has just been killed in an explosion. The newly widowed women find their faith is tested when they must go to work in the mines to keep a roof over their heads. Elizabeth charms most everyone in Coal Valley, except Constable Jack Thornton (Daniel Lissing) who believes Thatcher’s wealthy father has doomed the lawman’s career by insisting he be assigned in town to protect the shipping magnate’s daughter. Living in a 19th century coal town, Elizabeth will have to learn the ways of the frontier if she wishes to thrive in the rural west on her own. The series is inspired by Janette Oke’s bestselling book series about the Canadian West, and reunites Oke with Executive Producer and Director, Michael Landon, Jr.”
Constable Jack Thornton, newly assigned to Coal Valley, is rattled by Elizabeth Thatcher’s presence, especially after he realizes the lovely young heiress is the reason he’s been assigned to this dead-end post. But as a Royal Canadian Mountie, he will fulfill his duty to serve and protect, and he takes his job seriously. Elizabeth continues to rattle Jack in more ways than he would like to admit, while Elizabeth finds the Constable stubborn, over-protective, and irritatingly attractive. Working together in various situations, they mix about as well as oil and water. Yet in spite of their differences, you can't miss the crackling chemistry between them.
Photo Credit: Copyright 2013 Crown Media United States, LLC
As the story progresses, Jack accidentally insults Elizabeth while trying to protect her from hurt and fumbles to apologize, revealing his deeper feelings (the one scene in all of DVR history that ranks the highest number of rewinds and replays. Just a guess.). Elizabeth also struggles with the confusing direction her feelings have taken and is forced to decide what she believes to be true about love, faith, and trust. Of course we know there is more in store for Jack, Elizabeth, and the others, but we fans are fully prepared to hang in there and see them through.
Photo Credit: Copyright 2013
Crown Media United States, LLC
"I do miss my family, but I feel so blessed to be working on this show. And I can’t wait for the audience to see it. I don’t believe there will be anything like ‘When Calls the Heart’ anywhere else on TV. Yes, this is a family show, but I think we are creating something very radical. In between shots yesterday, I was asking one of our crew if they could think of another show on TV right now a whole family could watch together, and he just scratched his head. I couldn’t come up with an example either. Think about that. There used to be a time when all the networks had ‘family hour’ in prime time every night. Now it seems Hallmark Channel is the only one brave enough to put a show on like this. I pray all the hard work, ours and theirs, will be rewarded with a large audience. This is a real opportunity for people across America to make a loud statement that they are tired of all the vampires, zombies, meth dealers and dead bodies on TV. That they are ready for themes like redemption, courage, sacrifice, forgiveness and hope to rule the airwaves once again."
And now . . . meet “When Calls the Heart” Producer and Creator Brian Bird!
BB: We know just as much as the fans do about this decision. The truth is it's up to the fans to make their voices heard with Hallmark and with spreading the word with their own friends about this show. That's the way hits are usually born anyway... word of mouth. There are a million choices about what to watch and a lot of cultural noise out to try to break through. One of the best ways to break through all the distractions is if our fans are very noisy themselves about the show. We have made the best show we know how. Now it's up to the culture and the network to decide if they want more.
BB: We have plenty of good ideas in the story bank and are ready to begin developing scripts. In season 1 our initial order was for 6 episodes, so that's what we developed ahead of time. And then when we were shooting Episode 3, Hallmark let us know that they wanted the rest of the season's worth, so we jumped into developing those scripts.
BB: Of course we will have a cliffhanger. In fact, a few of them. It wouldn't be a good season finale without them, right?
BB: You're way ahead of us, and it could begin by the end of the season... hint-hint, but there's no spoilers we'll be giving long-term.
BB: When Michael and I started out with the first novel in Janette's series, we soon came to realize that as wonderful as the story of Elizabeth Thatcher in Pine Springs was, that world probably wouldn't sustain potentially 100 episodes of a TV series. That's why we decided to add another town and another branch of the family to the storytelling. And Janette Oke felt it was a brilliant way to expand the creative palette. In this way, it became a multi-generational world we could work with.
CE What an unexpected bonus! Where does the writing team look for ideas?BB: Janette has been very involved with our creative process. She has read every script and given us notes and ideas along the way. In fact, Janette loved the new world of the series so much she decided to create a series of When Calls the Heart-branded novels following Elizabeth and Mountie Jack in Coal Valley. The first of those novels is now out and is called "Where Courage Calls." A second one is in the works.
BB: I have been a writer-producer on half-a-dozen network TV series in my career, and the process is always the same in the writers' room. We bring our own life experiences to the table, along with true stories we find out of history (which is very important to a period drama). For instance, in episode 7, we decided to do a dyslexia story because one of our writers went through that experience with her own son, and it seemed like a really fascinating idea to see how we could do that story in a 1910 setting before there was much science about dyslexia.
BB: When I was a writer-producer Touched By An Angel for five seasons, we believed that "water cooler" conversations were started all over America about the some of the great lines the Angels spoke to their "assignments" in the episodes. The angels would quote biblical themes with the people they were helping such as the idea that God loves us and has plans for our welfare. I think we have the opportunity to do something similar with When Calls the Heart, but the goal is just to stir up cravings with the great virtues of western civilization. The fact that some of those themes come from the bible can't be disputed. For instance, in Episode 4, when Reverend Anderson tells Mr. Gowen he's quitting the employ of the company, he says "Where God guides, God provides." I believe those kinds of moments in the show create a stir in viewers' hearts without being preachy, and I must have seen 15 Tweets where people quoted that very line back at us. I think those kinds of moments are faith-lifting. But it's also just good entertainment because its organic to the characters and the world we have created.
BB: The chaste romance of Janette Oke's books is one we are committed to, but to be honest, it's the trickiest part of the story-telling. It's actually very challenging to get right. So much of the human experience of courtship involves the thrill of the chase, and we know for the viewers getting Jack and Elizabeth together is becoming an obsession. However, we have to be careful because once that happens, we also believe we let some steam out of the premise of the show a.k.a. "The Moonlighting effect." We don't want it to go too fast, because once they are together we know some in the audience will be deflated. Suffice to say, we have a plan, but it will never be as fast as some want, and it to keep it family and faith-friendly, it can't ever go too far until Jack and Elizabeth one day exchange wedding rings. Tricky stuff given today's cultural norms. Keeping track of it all and pacing it correctly has been a bit of trial and error and I have some very reliable writers who have written lots of romance-dramas helping me get it right.
Fans love the musical score. Has WCTH considered making it available for purchase/Rhapsody download?
BB: Right now, the score is not available for download, but the music for the episodes has been created by two very talented composers, Emmy-Award-winning Lee Holdridge and Gemini-award-winning John Sereda. We are discussing the possibility of a soundtrack album for Season 1 if the show looks like it will continue.
BB: The Hallmark Channel is in business to put family programming on the the air, but it also has to be able to make money doing it. It's a very simple equation: more viewers mean better advertising rates; fewer viewers mean lower advertising rates. And Hallmark is not in the business of losing money. We believe strongly from the evidence we see on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and other social media that the audience is loving the show. But people have a thousand channels and 10,000 choices of programming available every day. It's very challenging to break through all the noise and distraction of all those choices to get the word out to our potential fans that this show is worthy of their time. Without a giant (and expensive) marketing campaign, we are dependent on our loyal fans to help us spread the word about the show. Hallmark also needs to hear loud and clearly that they desperately want When Calls the Heart to continue. Even more so, regardless of whether the show goes one season or 10, family programming in America is nearing extinction. All the networks used to compete with each other to program family shows every night. That is no longer the case. In fact, I can't think of more than a few examples of family programming on all of television. We are doing something revolutionary, radical. HBO has a branding: "It's not TV, it's HBO." Well, while the rest of the networks are all following HBO over the cliff into dark and depraved and cynical programming, we are standing our ground with something very unique. It's not HBO, it's Hallmark. And if this kind of programming becomes extinct altogether, we only have ourselves to blame.
CE: Brian, what was your dream, your goal, your vision when you first decided to create a series from the original novel? What is at the “heart” of When Calls the Heart?BB: The series will be released on a series of DVDs, the first one available in Christian bookstores on February 25 and later in all the big-box stores, throughout North America. Each DVD will contain 2 episodes and a series of extras. The first DVD contains episode 1 and 2, along with bonus features of deleted scenes and a very cool three-way conversation between Michael Landon, Janette Oke and me about the series. If, Lord-willing, the show goes into multiple seasons, it will probably be also released in full season collections.
BB: It's Michael’s and my hope that When Calls the Heart can be a show woven through-and-through with the Great Virtues of Western Civilization. Themes such as integrity, honesty, courage, forgiveness, redemption, sacrifice and the golden rule. At the same time we don't want to hit people over the head with the Bible. We believe mankind is wired for these kinds of stories and our feeling is that the most effective way to do this show is to weave these themes into the tapestry because that is the kind of town Coal Valley is. I was talking on the set with one of our crew members about the great cultural loss of families spending time together, eating meals together, even watching TVs together, and he asked me about what families in Coal Valley might have meals together. My answer was "all of them." Michael and I want for people to fall in love with the old-fashioned values (and faith) of Coal Valley because it's exactly the kind of medicine our culture needs right now. The great virtues are an endangered species on TV right now. We want to be preservationists.
BB: I probably can't go into all the details about our journey on When Calls the Heart until the series is finished, but trust me, there's a book I could write about the experience that some might even view as a thriller. But suffice to say, this project has been one of perseverance and an attitude of never-give-up, never-say-die and failure is not an option. We are grateful to God and Hallmark for the blessing of getting this show on the air.
Friends: Be sure to watch When Calls the Heart **LIVE** (which helps bring us a Season Two!!) on the Hallmark Channel, Saturdays at 9/8c. You can Tweet live with the cast while you watch using @LoriLoughlin @ErinKrakow @DLissing and #WhenCallstheHeart. And don't forget to SPREAD THE WORD!
- iTunes Store ($2.99 per episode or full Season $19.99)