Christian Living


Brian Bird: The Legacy of When Calls the Heart

Ask Executive Producer Brian Bird who’s the force behind his hit Hallmark Channel TV show, When Calls the Heart, and he’ll give you a straight answer.

“To me, the legacy of When Calls the Heart is the Hearties [the show’s devoted fan ‘club’], the most important legacy long after the show ends,” Bird says. “The Hearties will still be there as friends in the community. So many new friends have been made through this and they love each other. It's like there's sort of a form of church that's happening, sense of community, people caring about another and praying for one another.”

The Hearties didn’t form because of some marketing tactic put on by Hallmark or Bird. They’re a strong and growing bunch of When Calls the Heart fans, who for their love of the show, invented the group themselves.

“We did not invent them. They invented themselves. They named themselves,” Bird says. “We were so busy trying to get the show made that first year. We’re looking at each other saying, ‘What are we doing with this?’ We were just smart enough to say, ‘Let's talk back. Let's respond.’ And, that evolved into sort of my role… Every Heartie deserves a response in one way or another… They are the reason for the show. They’ve been the wind beneath our wings. They’ve kept the show on the air. We’ve never experienced this before. I don't know if we'll ever experience it again, but it's a wave of support that is a Godsend.”

The Heartie love came at the right time for Bird and crew as the hectic and hard first days of the When Calls the Heart show.

“[The Hallmark show] was birthed out of a great struggle and a lot of pain and some failure,” Bird recalls, “redeeming the failure into what became the movie pilot for the show, a backdoor pilot they call it. It was in 2013 that the Hallmark Channel said, ‘We're ready to order a series here. We’re getting into that business.’ So, the show was birthed out of crisis.”

The show waded into crisis waters once again when lead actress Lori Loughlin was arrested in connection with the college admissions scandal this past March. Committed to the show, Hallmark and Bird announced the show would go on.

“We don't know what the future is for Lori personally,” Bird says and then pauses. “Hope Valley is a place of redemption and second chances and forgiveness. We still believe that. And, I believe that in real life, I really do.”

Those redemptive themes run through the storylines of When Calls the Heart and always will.

“We just wanted to make a good show. And it turns out that there is nobody else making content like this nowadays. It just doesn't exist. The Hallmark Channel is kind of the one place where you can find family and faith...,” Bird says, “at a time when nobody is making family-friendly content that a family can watch together without being ambushed or be embarrassed. It's like the film and TV industry has collective amnesia. They forgot how. And, what they're missing is a massive underserved audience that was just waiting for When Calls the Heart.”

“When the world is filled with zombies and vampires and crystal meth dealers and dead body shows, there are a bunch of people who are saying, ‘I'm not watching that.’ A huge audience. We came along at a time when nobody was giving them food. It's like an audience that starved in a famine and they're hungry. If you bring them food, they will reward you. They will love you like nobody's business. They will be your friend. They will be devoted to you. They will go out and tell their friends where the food is. We're giving them soul food when nobody else is — at least in scripted programming, right? That's the category I live in and you know, nobody's doing that.”

The impact of When Calls the Heart goes way beyond the TV show. Due to popular demand, Bird and his co-writer Michelle Cox have published devotional books based on what’s happening in recent episodes and how those themes can relate to our everyday life.

“One of the things I was hearing from the Hearties all the way back to Season 1 is we've recorded the show, we're watching over and over and over with our kids so we can have a conversation with them and take the lessons or the virtues or the scriptural principles that you guys are presenting and digest them, have a teachable moment with our kids.” Bird says. “We want to talk about this all the time. We want to have a deeper conversation. And, I got to thinking, well, maybe we need to give them something to take the conversation deeper.”

“We find those teachable moments, those God moments on the show. You start the chapters with those moments and then we take the conversation deeper with a devotional, you know, dive and scripture and prayer and great reflective questions.”

“We're hearing amazing stories, like a chemotherapy group,” Bird recalls. “While these gals are all getting chemo together and meet up at the lab or wherever they do that and they have the devotional. They're doing their devotions while they're getting the chemotherapy. That just blows me away.”

“I could never have imagined that coming from the struggle that we went through to birth the show and a show that I thought would never happen,” he says. “Now we have this wave that God has brought to us not only with the show, but with the fans and the devotionals. I'm not worthy of all that. I just show up and try to do a good work and try to keep faithful to what God's called me to do on this.”

Follow Brian Bird on Twitter

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