Wow, I just finished giving my notes on Derek Thompson’s wonderful script, “Troubled Hearts,” which goes into production tomorrow, and I just keep pinching myself. How did we get here? Season 3… really? It’s something I could not have dreamed about years ago when Michael Landon Jr. and I were struggling to get “When Calls the Heart” off the ground. Derek’s script will be Episode 1 of the third season, and behind us we have a 2-hour pilot movie in 2013, 22 hours of episodes across the first two seasons, plus now a Holiday “New Year’s Wish” movie in the can, which I can’t wait for the fans to see. I have to say, this is all very humbling. This is such a competitive, cut-throat business, and to think we have a TV series on the verge of becoming a mainstream hit… well, I could just pass from this life a very happy, fulfilled man. (But I’m going to try not to for at least a few more years ).
The truth is, there is so much to be grateful for… our partners at Hallmark Channel who believed in us when nobody else did. Our amazing cast, including Lori Loughlin, Erin Krakow, Daniel Lissing, Jack Wagner and so many others. Our incredible, intrepid Vancouver crew who can work anybody under the table in every kind of weather (you hear that postmen?). Our gifted Season 3 writers, led by Robin Bernheim, Paul Jackson and Derek Thompson. And finally, the #Hearties, the most amazing fan group in the history of Television. My last name is Bird, so I can get away with using the cliché lyric that the Hearties are the wind beneath our wings. I am thrilled that many of them will soon be making a trek here to Hope Valley to have a reunion with us, to experience this fictional town which represents so many, very real values that they love and aspire to. In my mind, the 29,000 or so Hearties who have officially signed up to be our No. 1 fans on Facebook – and the hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions) more “Hearties-to-be” are the reason for this show now. We are making it for them because we know there are many more like them in this culture of zombies and vampires who are starving for stories like the ones we are telling.
Which reminds me… thank you, thank you, thank you, Hearties, for speaking your mind about what you liked (and didn’t like) in Seasons 1 and 2. Your opinions matter. We heard you loud and clear, and I guarantee what we filmed in a “New Year’s Wish” and what I just read from Derek Thompson you are going to love, love, love. If you don’t, well, I hope you’ll watch anyway. And if you do, well, you are Hearties. You know what you have to do now. Season 4 anyone?
-- Brian Bird
As I read Richard Manning’s beautiful teleplay for the episode we’re about to film, which in production shorthand speak is called S3-E3 (sounds like a Star Wars character, right?), I’m reminded of the many values and virtues our little fictional town of Hope Valley has come to represent for our loyal Hearties fan base. Of course the virtue of hope is never in short supply. But in this episode, we’re going to discover that Hope Valley is also a place of grace.
As we watch the news and fret over the chaotic events of the world, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that grace has disappeared from face of the earth. Politicians squabble, incivility reigns, wars are waged, innocents are hurt, damage ensues… and grace seems to be MIA. Can a TV show about a town where hope and faith abound fix that? That’s a tall order, but perhaps not completely out of the realm of possibility. What’s that old expression… how do you save a world full of starving children? One child at a time. It’s the idea of lighting of one candle to dispel the darkness instead of just cursing it. Well, how do we save a media culture bent on cynicism and hopelessness? Perhaps one TV show like “When Calls the Heart” at a time.
That sort of e-Fangelism is what the Hearties have been doing since they burst on the scene in season one… sharing their love of the show, one friend at a time. And that’s one of the important themes Richard has written so beautifully about in this episode: a pastor losing his way, and a town overcoming its own cynicism and biases to show him grace. It all starts with one person, Abigail Stanton, who has been the recipient of grace many times in her life, now paying it forward to a man who needs it more than anybody. My hope and prayer for “When Calls the Heart” is that these Season three episodes will be like a health tonic for a soul-parched culture. Good-tasting medicine for what ails it. Because when people show each other grace on TV, or in real life, only good things can come of it. Until next episode… grace to you.
-- Brian Bird
By popular demand, Elizabeth’s journal is back in Season 3 and I just know “Hearties” and other fans of “When Calls the Heart” are going to love where we are taking that story element this year. We’ll be shooting some of those “writing” and Elizabeth “voiceover” scenes today. In fact, as Josef Anderson’s fine script for this episode is making clear, Elizabeth is moving from just “Dear Diary” to full-blown author. I love that evolution in her character: Elizabeth Thatcher, author. And the title for this episode, “Heart of a Hero,” could not be more appropriate because that is what this series has become all about – the Hero’s Quest – a way of telling stories that goes back 4,000 years. All the great epic poems and myths of human history have Hero’s Journeys, because since the dawn of man, human beings have been wired, starving for story.
We need to see and hear those milestones and accomplishments in our stories because it is food for our souls. No matter where (or what era) we come from, we hunger to watch our heroes and protagonists go on personal journeys of character growth. They start with a personal flaw or deficit and they end up growing to overcome those deficits – outcomes that usually coincide with solving big problems and saving the day. In fact, this is the secret sauce of why we have fallen in love with Elizabeth and Jack and Abigail and Bill, and even Henry Gowen.
What I love about Hope Valley is that it is full of character quests. Nobody treads water. They grow, they struggle, but they usually see the light, just like the rest of us hope to do. And Elizabeth serves as our narrator, drawing out the common truths and lessons to which we can all relate. For which we all hunger. Hearties, thank you, thank you for reminding us in Season 3 of the importance of those spoken and written words, realizations and revelations. Elizabeth’s narration speaks to our hearts, and I believe that’s the reason this show continues to find new viewers who fall in love with Hope Valley. I hope we can fill up an entire library of Elizabeth’s journals, devotionals and novels by the time we’re done with “When Calls the Heart.” How about you?
-- Brian Bird
I must say, it’s both amazing and horrifying to watch the U.S. presidential race just getting underway in America from my Langley, B.C., hotel room. Horrifying because it looks like it’s going to be the weirdest election cycle I have ever seen in my adult life, and that goes back 10 years or so J. I watched one of the debates this week and I suddenly thought I was at Ringling Bros. Circus. One of the candidates, whom I shall not name, was pontificating about being both a man of faith and willing to punch anybody who punched him first. I guess that old “turn the other cheek” guideline for life has turned into “turn the other fist,” and it makes me worry about my country’s future. The reason I even bring that up is because it’s a far cry from the values of Hope Valley, and that is profoundly obvious in Derek Thomson’s wonderful script, “A Gentle Heart,” which airs this week.
There is an amazing scene between Lori Loughlin’s Abigail Stanton character and one of the new settlers, Edith, whose baby is suffering from a fever. The woman is so grateful to Abigail for looking out for her and her baby, arranging medical attention and food, and says she doesn’t have the money to pay Abigail back. Abigail tells her it’s not necessary. “You’re part of Hope Valley now. We take care of each other here.” Edith is deeply moved by this idea, almost as if she wonders how a town like this could even be possible.
There’s another wonderful story line between Erin Krakow’s Miss Thatcher and one of her new students, a young girl named Hattie whose family has moved to Hope Valley from Hamilton, and she fails to make friends in school because she treats all the other kids poorly. To fix the conflict, Elizabeth decides to stage “Kindness Week” in her classroom – a theme the whole town decides to participate in – ending with a cotillion-like dance to help the students learn manners and how to be compassionate with one another. It’s a very moving conclusion when Elizabeth finally learns the secret of Hattie’s poor attitude – a deep loss she is holding onto – and helps free her from her pain.
Kindness Week in Hope Valley, a place where the residents take care of each other with compassion and second chances. Call it old fashioned, or maybe call it revolutionary, the values of Hope Valley are still alive and well in our culture. I’m pretty sure lots of Hearties practice these kinds of virtues in their families and neighborhoods, and I know there is a hugely underserved TV audience out there we are trying to reach with our show that also cares deeply about these kinds of values for their families.
But it’s noisy and ugly out there sometimes. The headlines scream chaos and a lack of civility everywhere we turn… even in presidential politics. I would love to see our brave little show somehow drown out all that negative noise and serve notice on all the cynics: Hey, lose the bitter, antagonistic attitude. The clenched jaws and the frowns make you look like you’re sucking on a lemon, and are giving you wrinkles. It’s time for hope and a smile and Kindness Week. Pay some consideration and thoughtfulness forward. And watch When Calls the Heart… for goodness sake. It might keep things from getting too weird out there.
– Brian Bird
As production gets under way this week on “Forever in my Heart,” from a fine script by Josef Anderson, I have to confess… I can’t wait for our growing worldwide audience to see this episode, starting with our American fans in a few months. The reason I’m excited is that if you could bottle up everything “When Calls the Heart” has come to stand for in its first three seasons, it would be this: Family is the cure for what ails the human race. When fathers or mothers go missing, and families are fractured, there is a tear in society that no amount of money or special programs can repair. When children have no one to love them or model their lives after, the roads of life are painful and confusing, and their futures are uncertain. Without intervention, they often go on to repeat the mistakes of their parents with their own children.
Without family, the universe doesn’t work properly. It doesn’t make sense. It’s broken.
So when Jack Thornton goes to patch a hole in the tent of new Hope Valley settler Edith, he discovers that she and her new baby boy, Oliver, are all alone because her young husband, Roy, has abandoned them. And in a storyline that will conclude with our next script, our Mountie goes into action, searching out Roy at the silver mine where he is working to appeal to him to come home and be the husband and father he needs to be. What he finds in Roy is not belligerence, hostility or lack of love… but fear. Roy feels afraid, unworthy, unable to be a provider. How many millions of families are shattered today for similar reasons?
Meanwhile, in town, Abigail and Cody get the surprise of their lives when Cody’s older sister, Becky, makes her return to Hope Valley. Although she is still convalescing from her illness and confined to her wheelchair, she and Cody are thrilled to be back together because they are orphans who only had each other to depend on before Abigail took them in. Yet despite their reunion, Becky is afraid to try to learn to walk again because that’s what the hardships of life can do to young person without parents or mentors to help them. Fear of the future overwhelms them, in a way, paralyzes them. It’s hard enough just growing up, let alone growing without a Mom or a Dad, or both. Elizabeth helps encourage Becky’s talents and dreams, and eases her fear of the future, which ultimately helps get her back on her feet. But that’s not the best part.
In one of the most moving scenes to me of Season 3, our wonderful star Lori Loughlin assures Becky that she is not without family. Abigail confesses to both her and Cody that God has placed it in her heart to adopt them. This storyline is especially gratifying to my wife, Patty, and I as adoptive parents of two beautiful daughters. But I’m also thrilled for Lori, such a terrific role model and devoted mother herself, who gave us the idea for this Hope Valley adoption story.
As it turns out, love is thicker than blood. Nurture is tougher than nature. Family can repair the tear in the universe. Maybe our little show is good medicine for the world, and for the soul.
– Brian Bird
This week we begin filming a script co-written by head writer Robin Bernheim and Richard Manning (better known as “Ricky” in the writing room). It’s called “Heartbreak” and I have to say it is about as fine as it gets when it comes to firing on all story cylinders. There is lots of Ricky’s trademark humor, but also lots of Robin’s tear-producing emotional moments. And oh, my… it’s Tears Ahoy in this episode as we conclude some of the poignant storylines set up in previous episodes and introduce some new ones. Also we get a proposal of marriage – although not the one I’m sure the Hearties will be craving after our Season 2 Finale seismic shift caused a collective gasp across North America. (I’m not kidding… I saw videos posted on Twitter and Facebook of whole groups of Hearties of all ages screaming at their TV sets).
Early on in Act One of the script, Abigail Stanton has this line: “It’s just hard to let go.” She’s referring to the surprise arrival of Cody and Becky’s Aunt Caroline and the prospect of the kids leaving Hope Valley to live with their only blood relatives, a decision that will rob Abigail of her chance at motherhood again with these two kids she has fallen in love with. As I think about the rest of the episode, the theme of “letting go” is on almost every page.
The silver miner, Roy, who we met in the last episode and who abandoned his wife, Edith, and baby boy, Oliver, at the settler’s camp has to let go of deep hurt and bitterness suffered in his childhood. When Jack tries yet again to encourage him to do the right thing by his wife and child, Roy reveals the thorn in his side – a father who was never there for him as a boy and who robbed him of the confidence of being a good husband and father.
Then there’s Rosemary who has to learn to let go of some of her aspirations of being a star in order to hold onto what has become even more important to her – that guy in the plaid pants who blew into town in Season 2 on his motorcycle and brought prosperity to Hope Valley once again after the mine closed. She realizes she loves Lee Coulter more than her unfulfilled dreams.
Bill and Jack have to let go of their biases against Henry Gowen when their investigation of the sabotage of Lee’s sawmill reveals that the perpetrator is Wade Barrett and not the usually guilty Mayor who this time has been framed. Even Elizabeth has to let go of her hopes and dreams for Becky’s talents and future when Aunt Caroline rules out college for her.
As for Jack and Elizabeth, this episode more than any other in Season 3 feels like they are finally shedding the hurt and confused emotions of that Season 2 cliffhanger. At least, Hearties will be pleased at the amount of snogging that goes on between them in this episode .
And as I reflect back on these three amazing seasons of When Calls the Heart, I can’t help but be a little emotional. Hope Valley has come so far since its days as Coal Valley, and so have all of our characters. They are having to let go of so much, and yet in doing so, are gaining so much more. Sometimes in this life, we have to be willing to stop clutching so tightly to what we think we need in order to receive the blessing of what we really need.
Someday… I hope in the very distant future… we will have to let go of Elizabeth and Jack, Abigail and Pastor Frank, Bill and Nora, Lee and Rosemary, Cody and Becky, Florence and Dotty, little Opal and Brownie, and all the rest of our Hope Valleyites… even Mayor Gowen… at least until they return to us in reruns. I went through that same sad parting with characters I loved and wrote for on at least five other TV series. But what we will all be left with in the Hearties Nation are the lessons we learned on the journey, and the flesh-and-blood relationships we made along the way. I think that will be the ultimate legacy of When Calls the Heart. I hope you agree!
– Brian Bird
There’s an old quote I love from famed British Talk Show Host David Frost: “Television is an invention that permits you to be entertained in your living room by people you wouldn’t have in your home.” Frost said these words back in the day when TV was actually a lot friendlier than it is today. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want 95 percent of the characters on TV these days as a guest on my couch.
Given the script we’re prepping, “Hearts in Question,” which starts production in a few days, I don’t think the same statement is true for any of our Hope Valley characters. Well, maybe Wade Barrett, Jake Garrison and Nate Tolliver, not so much. But I would actually have Henry Gowen over for a cup of coffee and a lesson on The Golden Rule. But not the one he’s familiar with: “He who has the gold makes the rules.” The one Pastor Frank would preach: “Treat others as you would have them treat you.”
However, this is the episode where Mountie Jack may have a little stick in his craw about his new houseguest – Charlotte Thornton – also known as “Ma.” Of course, none of the men in the cast and crew had any issues with the brilliant casting of our special guest-star playing Charlotte, the beautiful Brooke Shields. Charlotte, scripted wonderfully by this episode’s writer, Cynthia Cohen, is one of the sassiest ladies in the west. She can ride, hunt and chew with the best of them, man or woman. She is Annie Oakley on steroids, and the last person Jack ever expected to show up, or probably ever wanted to have to introduce to Elizabeth.
As many tears as we shed in the last episode, I think this storyline is going to provide twice as many laughs. A little-known secret about scripts: When our team of writers and producers reads a script for the first time, we use check marks in the margins to indicate whenever a situation or line of dialogue makes us laugh. In the case of this script, I had check marks on every page in which Jack, Charlotte and Elizabeth were in scenes together. Talk about an awkward stew of emotions, expectations, missteps and foot-in-mouth moments. Charlotte is trying to size up her son’s girlfriend, at the same time giving her cooking lessons from the All-Lard Recipe Book. Meanwhile, a nervous Elizabeth is trying to make the best impression possible and saying all the wrong things, and Jack, well, he’s pretty much a noodle-head around both of them the entire show. A good time will be had by all Hearties when this threesome is onscreen.
Besides the stormy relationship between Charlotte, Jack and Elizabeth, other storms are brewing in Hope Valley, which we are using to set up some explosive thunder in the Season 3 finale. Having read the draft of that episode… Hearties shouldn’t get too comfortable in chuckle-town. A torrent of tears is on the horizon next week.
That’s when we need to remember what When Calls the Heart is all about. Those unwanted houseguests, unforeseen complications and messy challenges we all face… are temporary. All worrying does is borrow tomorrow’s trouble today. If we can laugh at ourselves and our circumstances a little more often, work hard to do what we know must be done, and pray for peace in the storm, we can get through anything. That’s how they roll in Hope Valley. And so should we!
– Brian Bird
This is it – the final seven days of production of Season 3 of When Calls the Heart and the script cued up to begin filming tomorrow is a good one. It is written by Paul Jackson and titled, “Prayers from the Heart.” This is our third season finale, and I cannot believe how far this show has come in the last 30 months. It seems like only yesterday that I was getting off a plane in Vancouver, B.C., with my pal, Michael Landon, Jr., and we were touring the Jamestown Movie Ranch for the very first time, trying to envision it being the home of our town, then called “Coal Valley” and now aptly renamed “Hope Valley.” So many wonderful memories on the journey, along with some hard ones, a few detours, some good story experimentation, a lot laughter, and buckets of tears shed.
And for me, absolutely the best two things about this experience are these: First, some of the most enjoyable relationships with cast and crew of my 30 years working as a story-teller in this business; and secondly, the God-send of the Hearties, our electrifying Super Fans without whom I increasingly realize we could not be making this series.
In this episode, Mr. Jackson has illuminated a few of what I believe are the great and enduring truths of the human experience.
First, I love that old saying that “God collects our tears and never wastes our pain.” What I think that means is that whatever suffering or trouble we go through in this life, it’s an opportunity for growth. Growth of character, endurance and focus on others. We certainly can decide to become victims when life deals us a hand from the bottom of the deck. Or we can choose to replace our self-pity with empathy for those around us. In this episode, we throw the citizens of Hope Valley into their worst disaster since the explosion of the mine in Season 1. And we’re going to watch them go through the worst storm, landslide and flood of their lives. But we’ll also see them band together and sacrifice for each other to beat back the consequences and save their community. Failure is not an option. It can’t be. Our culture could use a dose of that kind of cooperation and resolve today, couldn’t it?
Secondly, joy is not something we should practice only when things are going well. Living a joy-filled life, even when things are looking grim is the key to surviving any circumstance. It doesn’t mean having a delusional, “Polly Anna” attitude. It means choosing not to focus on what you’ve lost, but on what you still have – the riches of a family, friends and community that care about you.
Finally, instead of praying for a miracle, why don’t we become the miracle? Rather than praying for provisions, bridesmaid dresses absolutely can be used as bandages for wounded neighbors. A wedding reception feast can sustain a town in need when the other food runs out. And in the process, a self-absorbed Bride can become the most generous Benefactor ever.
And when our hero, Mountie Jack, almost loses his life trying to save others, it’s not just prayer that brings him back from the brink. It’s a town that loves him and rallies in the street and refuses to leave until they get a healing. And Elizabeth becomes the hands and feet of that healing, never leaving his side, caring for him, nurturing him, reminding him of all that they mean to each other, of all that they still have to accomplish, and insisting that he wake up and get busy.
That’s the essence of what When Calls the Heart has always strived to be. Yes, this is our Season 3 Finale, and even if it ends up as our Series Finale, the lessons of this show are the kind of deeper magic the human family and the world have always, and will always need. Until we meet again in Hope Valley, or on some other byway, God speed.
– Brian Bird
UPDATE, April 11, 2016: Congratulations on Season 4, Hearties!! When this post was originally written, we had no idea what the future held at the end of Season 3. But I think you did. Your posts and Twitter dominance and Hearties Parties and E-fangelism for When Calls the Heart never failed. Instead of praying for a miracle, the Hearties have become the miracle. And now this show will go on, and I have no doubt so will your miracles!