When Calls The Heart: Fostering a Positive Community Online and in Real Life

Crown Media / Ricardo Hubbs
Crown Media / Ricardo Hubbs

Every now and then you discover a TV show that just touches you. You’re not sure why, but for some reason it fills a void that you had no idea existed. For this TV Junkie, and so many other fans, that show was Hallmark’s When Calls The Heart.

I found When Calls The Heart on Netflix at the end of this past summer when TV was looking pretty bleak. With the summer TV lineup lacking the quality I looked for and trending towards the dark and depressing, I found myself wanting to just sit down, relax, and enjoy a good TV show. I wanted something to make me laugh, cry, hope and remember the goodness in people. When Calls The Heart fit that bill perfectly.

After mentioning on Twitter how much I was enjoying the show, I was immediately invited to join the Fans of When Calls The Heart group on Facebook. With around 37,000 members, it is run entirely by fans, and serves as a place to not only talk about and support the show, but support one another as well. It was a group based on love, positivity and support in a way I had never seen before. Fandoms can be filled with negativity and entitlement that can breed fighting amongst fans. Storylines go awry, fans get emotional, understandably, but with the anonymity of social media those emotions often turn to negativity and verbal attacks.

From my experience, this is something that does not happen among “The Hearties.” Any negativity or inappropriateness is immediately shut down by polite reminders and everyone is OK to leave it at that. No fighting, no verbal attacks, just love and support by fans for the show that they love.

Ardra Morse Photography
Ardra Morse Photography

From this community the idea for the Hearties Family Reunion (HFR) was born. It’s an event organized completely by fans (with a little help show co-creator and executive producer Brian Bird) for fans to get together, meet and interact with writers, producers, cast, and go on a set visit. Now I have been to many Comic Cons and Fan Expos but this event, HFR2, was like nothing I had ever seen before. Not only could fans interact with each other, but also with the people who created and starred in the show. 25 cast members attended, all volunteering their time and participated in panels during the event. Nearly 500 Hearties received pictures and got quality face time with the cast, none of which they had to pay extra for. On top of that, all 500 fans were bused to set and given tours by producers, directors and other crew members.

I was impressed throughout the weekend and had no idea that a little TV show from the Hallmark Channel could help create such an amazing event and community. To get a little insight into the event and the show, I spoke with Bird and cast members Erin Krakow, Daniel Lissing, Lori Loughlin, Pascale Hutton and Paul Greene. Read on to get their insight into what makes this show and event so special.

hfr-6

The TV Junkies: What do you think it is that makes the Hearties so special and why do you think that this show has created such a special group of fans?

Brian Bird: There are many different fan groups for many different TV shows and they’re all like church for those fans. They love the show, they love the actors, they love to celebrate the show. I think what makes the Hearties a little different is that this show has catalyzed community. So it’s not just about getting together and dressing up, which is all fine, but it’s about community and the values, sort of the great virtues that a lot of us grew up with or heard about from our grandparents are what are celebrated in this show.

The audience is so starved for those values that this [show] brings them together and they are now saying we have a show that we can trust, we can believe in, we can watch with our kids. You can’t really name five other scripted shows that you could watch with your kids right now. Shows that a whole family can sit down and watch together like in the old days with shows like Bonanza or another show I did called Touched By An Angel. There’s no shared experiences anymore. And you know I think that’s a loss. I enjoy some edgier shows, it’s not like I’m against those shows, but there ought to be a little balance.

Ardra Morse Photography
Ardra Morse Photography

Erin Krakow: When Calls The Heart brings something that really isn’t out there right now. There aren’t really any other shows that are this kind of family friendly, heartfelt, faith based, family orientated, community orientated. And it’s something that we’re really proud to be a part of.

Daniel Lissing: Some of the things that were said here were really touching. It was about the content of the show and how they can relate to it as a family. It’s the content. There’s nothing else like it on television and people really connect to that.

Lori Loughlin: I’ve thought about this a lot myself too, and for lack of a better word, there’s something magical about this show. I think that it resonates with people. I think that it gives people hope. And even though it’s set in a different time period I think it speaks to like a simpler time. Community, the values in life that are really important which is friends, family and helping each other. Being there for one another.

That phrase of “it takes a village” really resonates with people, and funny enough what’s happened is the Hearties have grown. Because in their own way they’ve now created their own village, their own community off of this show, which is beautiful. Everyone has struggles in life in varying degrees, and to feel like you have a support system I think is really important and it gets people through. This show shows the community of Hope Valley as a support system so the Hearties community have gone and created their own community and support system amongst each other.

Pascale Hutton: No you couldn’t [have an event like this with another fandom]. I think part of it is because the show is focused on community and family and kindness so that’s the type of people that it has attracted. People that want to spread that light and spread that love and warmth. So the whole thing is such a positive relationship between the actors and the creators of the show and the fans of the show. So the whole experience is really positive and it comes from such a good hearted place.

Ardra Morse Photography
Ardra Morse Photography

The TV Junkies: The Hollywood Reporter surveyed TV showrunners for their opinion on live tweeting and interacting with fans via social media and received an overwhelmingly negative response. In talking with everyone here I get a completely different vibe. What is your opinion on it?

Brian Bird: Are you kidding? We are building community here. The show is a catalyst but we are building a community so we want for our fans to feel like they’re a part of the show. The more ways that we can do that, like having events like this or having Erin Krakow or Lori Loughlin send a shout out to somebody on Twitter–it takes two seconds. It’s a cyber connection, it’s harmless, but it’s gold. These fans feel like they’re a part of something bigger than themselves.

They say TV is cool people doing cool sh*t but no, we’re human beings, we should be humble about how fortunate we are to have these positions where we can influence culture and we should take it seriously. We should not consider our audience as a bunch of lemmings or a bunch of people who are fawning over us. It’s not about that. It’s about loving on people, it’s about being respectful of them because they have lives, they have stories. They have just as important of a story to tell as anyone in a writing room. So I really have zero respect for anyone who looks down on it or condescends that.

Ardra Morse Photography
Ardra Morse Photography

The TV Junkies: You guys are all quite active on social media and I know that the fans love it. How important is it for you and is it something that you feel you have to do? Do you like doing it?

Erin Krakow: I really like doing it. I came from theater and I’ve said this before, but [in theater] you do a show and then at the end of the show you get that instant feedback. With TV you don’t always get that right? It’s really nice to be this connected to the fans and to get an idea about what they love about the show and what resonates with them, what characters they’re really in to. Getting to know them and seeing how what we’re creating is affecting their lives, it’s really gratifying.

Lori Loughlin: I love doing it. Years ago when I started my career it was just fan mail and it was not so personal. Now I see so many people here and I’m like ‘oh I know you!’ I recognize everybody and I really feel like I’m connected. We’re friends.

Pascalle Hutton: I really like doing it because if you are making a show and nobody’s watching it, what’s the point in making the show? You won’t be making that show for very long. So for us to be able to make the show and be able to actually connect and not be in the bubble, but to be able to communicate with the people that are watching the show and get that feedback and that interaction, it makes it that much more rewarding.

Paul Greene: I think it’s very important. It’s become a way of communicating that is instant and immediate and it’s intimate. And I think the fans expect it.

Ardra Morse Photography
Ardra Morse Photography

The TV Junkies: Is it overwhelming trying to keep up with it all and have you had any negative experiences with it?

Lori Loughlin: No I don’t find it overwhelming at all.

Erin Krakow: No, not really. There are parts of my life that I like to keep private so I find that it can sometimes be intrusive. There have been a few people that have tried to contact my family, that feels wrong, but other than that no. I’m really happy to have it. I really like getting to know the fans this way.

Pascalle Hutton: We honestly don’t see any of that negativity. It’s just so much love that we get from our fans, it’s just so positive. The only negative stuff, which was understandable, was when my character was introduced and was kind of trying to break up Jack and Elizabeth. Well obviously people were like ‘whoa, this is quite the character, we love to hate the character.’ But that’s not negative, that was the purpose of the character to be kind of controversial and polarizing like that.

TTVJ: What about all the endless photos and conversations that people tag you in? Does that ever bother you?

Lori Loughlin: No that’s all great.

Erin Krakow: No I really don’t mind that at all. We really love seeing the fan art. It’s always amazing to see what inspires fans to create that art.

 

What do you think about this event and this fandom, have you ever seen or been a part of anything like it? Do you think that it could happen in any other fandom? And how about their thoughts on social media, do you agree?

 

When Calls The Heart’s Christmas Movie “A When Calls The Heart Christmas” airs Sunday, December 25 at 8 p.m. EST on the Hallmark Channel in the US. Season 4 will premiere on Sunday February 19, 2017.

Seasons 3 and 4 will air on CBC in Canada in 2017 but no official date has been announced yet.

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