After a bit of a sophomore slump in Season 2, When Calls The Heart went back to its roots in Hope Valley in Season 3 and the fans could not have been happier. Viewer numbers increased every week, almost unheard of in a show’s third season, with the Season 3 finale garnering the show’s highest ratings to date. Then the Christmas movie went and earned over a million more viewers than that, meaning it’s pretty safe to say that When Calls The Heart found its stride in Season 3. With the ratings success and the announcement of a few new interesting characters joining the cast, we’re inclined to believe things can only get better from here!
At the recent Hearties Family Reunion, The TV Junkies sat down with one of the shows executive producers, Brian Bird, and discussed a few of the Season 3 changes, as well as what’s to come in Season 4.
The TV Junkies: Have the fans ever reacted completely different than you expected them to towards the show or to a certain storyline?
Brian Bird: Yeah, sometimes you’re surprised by the level of drilling down in the story that they can do. When they love something so much and they identify with something so much or aspire to, they’ll go deep. They’ll find things that you forgot or you missed, so that’s sometimes surprising. And you think ‘Wow! I hope you guys have other things that give you fulfillment other than this show.’
TTVJ: Well I guess when you have fans that have watched every episode a multitude of times they are going to spot a few mistakes.
BB: I’ve done TV for 30 years and when you’re flying at the pace that we have to fly to build these shows sometimes things slip through the cracks, little plot details, and they catch them. Which is kind of cool. It means that they care, it means that they’re paying attention and not just glossing over it.
A part of television is to build tension, to build drama, to build conflict and to have cliffhangers. And there’s a good one coming this year. To build this sense of continuing drama, which most shows are now because the value is really in the binge watching later in other markets, we have to manipulate the story. So sometimes our own manipulations can cause frustrations and anger [for the viewers]. There’s a line that you can go to, but you shouldn’t cross over it. You don’t want to cause people consternation. It’s OK to get people at the edge of their seat, you just don’t want to lose them. But I will never apologize for cliffhangers. You have to use good storytelling. And hopefully our storytelling will keep viewers coming back for more.
TTVJ: Have you ever seen how fans reacted, either positive or negative, and changed your plans or storylines because of it?
BB: Not so much the fans reaction, but I will say in Season 2 we took a venture to follow Elizabeth Thatcher’s character to her roots in Hamilton, and I think we probably spent honestly a little too much time in Hamilton. We kind of got caught up in the idea of it kind of being like Downton Abbey. So we, The Hallmark Channel and the producers, we did some focus group testing at the end of Season 2. We showed three groups of people episodes from both Seasons 1 and 2. Some people knew everything about the show, like these Hearties here today, some people had seen a few episodes prior and some were agnostic about it. It was pretty conclusive that they liked the stuff in Hope Valley more than the big city stuff. So we said we’re going to listen to that and we’re going to go back to Hope Valley and spend more time there. That doesn’t mean that we won’t have any themes about the big city, but the focus is more on Hope Valley, and the audience rewarded us by growing in Season 3.
TTVJ: Yes, I think that audience grew in pretty much every single episode in Season 3 didn’t it? I don’t think any other show can say that they did that.
BB: You know we’re praying that that will happen in Season 4 as well.
TTVJ: Are we going to see a return of any of those characters again? Any of Elizabeth’s family or Jack’s brother?
BB: I think our hope is to kind of resolve some of those things — Jack’s brother and Elizabeth’s sister Julie.
TTVJ: Julie just kind of disappeared and we never heard from her again.
BB: Part of that was sort of the re-calibration back to Hope Valley. With 42 minutes per episode it’s pretty challenging to hit all the bells and whistles in a season. We were trying to go deeper in Hope Valley too and to do that you have to introduce more new characters. But I hope to. I hope we can answer some of the Hearties questions about Julie and Tom.
TTVJ: I know a lot of fans are worried that once you get Jack and Elizabeth together officially, and once there’s been a proposal or a wedding, that the show is just going to fizzle out. It has happened on other shows. How do you feel about that and what do you think you guys are doing to prevent that from happening?
BB: I don’t think that’s the case on a lot shows. It didn’t happen on Downton Abbey did it? Sure, it happened on Moonlighting and that’s what everyone is always worried about, but I think that’s a bit of an unfair comparison. I think that you can get two characters together and let them start their lives together and still have the show work. I mean, that’s what Janette (Oke) does in her books. The Mountie and the damsel get married at the end of the first book and then continue on their lives in the rest of the books. They go through hardships together, as a family. There are a lot of fans that come from those types of backgrounds — some happily married, some divorced, some widowed. I think that real life can sustain a show. Trust me, me have stories ahoy. If that’s where we end up with these two we have lots of stories that we can tell.
TTVJ: I know in watching that Christmas special and seeing what you did with Lee and Rosemary was amazing. If you are able to do anything like that with Jack and Elizabeth once they get married that fans have nothing to worry about.
BB: Yeah. Because Janette Oke is basically the inventor of chased romance. You don’t find that anywhere nowadays and it’s what causes the swoon factor for the Hearties. The near misses, the almost proposals. I love those moments for our fans. And yes, once you get them together some people may say that the chase is missing, but people love this town for a thousand reasons, it’s not just the relationship with Jack and Elizabeth. There’s a lot more that we can tell them with this town full of people. The thing about Lee and Rosemary, and you’ll see in this first episode, is that she’s still the same Rosemary. She’s still going to have these condescending remarks to Elizabeth, she can’t help herself. But there’s a goodness about her relationship with Lee where she just wants to make him so happy. All of our characters, no matter how they end up, it’s still going to be them going forward.
TTVJ: What can the fans look forward to in this upcoming season?
BB: I think they’re going to be thrilled with a lot of it and I think there’s going to be a few things that’ll make them pause a bit. But that’s what we do best is to give pause. There’s going to be some things that they are really going to be happy about this year.
TTVJ: What can you tell me about the new characters coming in?
BB: I can’t really tell you much about the new characters coming in because I want to let some of the storylines spin out, but we have a town full of widows, based on the premise of this show. And we now have two very eligible bachelors in town who are also widows, both for different reasons. Shane and Carson are our two new characters played by Paul Greene and Niall Matter and they’re fantastic guys, they’re fantastic actors. We have so many beautiful women in town we thought that we needed a few more men to complement the ones that we already have in town.
TTVJ: OK, I have to ask, even though I know you’re not going to answer, what are our chances of seeing Jack propose to Elizabeth this season?
BB: Well I’d say there’s a 50/50 chance of that happening. Those are pretty good odds aren’t they?
Did you like the changes in Season 3? Do you think they made the show better? What are you most looking forward to in Season 4? Take a minute and leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
Season 4 of When Calls The Heart premiers on Sunday February 19th at 9pm EST on Hallmark Channel.
Christy is a self proclaimed and proud TV Junkie. Her love for TV began at an early age with shows like Degrassi, Alias, ER, Buffy, The X-Files & Friends. You can now find her watching, ok obsessing over, shows like When Calls The Heart, Saving Hope, Arrow, Outlander, Grey's Anatomy and many many others. You can catch Christy on Twitter at @ChristySpratlin where she will likely be live tweeting her favorite shows and talking about everything TV.