Why the ‘When Calls the Heart’ TV Series Almost Didn’t Happen

When Calls the Heart has captivated TV viewers since it premiered in 2014. The show’s stories of romance and small-town life on Canada’s Western frontier in the early part of the 20th century warm the hearts of fans, who’ve given themselves a nickname: Hearties. 

But what many Hearties may not realize is that their beloved show may never have come to be if things had turned out a bit differently. 

‘When Calls the Heart’ started with a movie 

Maggie Grace in When Calls the Hear
Stephen Amell and Maggie Grace in When Calls the Heart | Crown Media

Hallmark Channel fans have come to love the town of Hope Valley and the character of Elizabeth (Erin Krakow), a young woman who moved west to work as a teacher. The town and the character were introduced to viewers in 2013, when the network aired the When Calls the Heart TV movie. 

The film, which was based on the work of author Janette Oke, followed Elizabeth (then played by English actress Poppy Drayton) as she journeyed from Toronto to Coal Valley (later to be renamed Hope Valley). Along the way, she read her Aunt Elizabeth’s (Maggie Grace) journal, who had also moved to the frontier to work as a teacher. 

It took years to get the ‘When Calls the Heart’ movie made 

Though the When Calls the Heart movie aired in 2013, it had actually been in the works for years. Creators Brian Bird and Michael Landon, Jr. met in 2003 and started working together on an adaptation of Oke’s novels a few years later, according to an article in Deseret News.  

By 2008, filming on the When Calls the Heart movie was underway. Then the global financial crisis hit.

“The day Lehman Brothers went belly-up, so did our source of funding,” Bird explained to From the Desk of Kurt Manwaring. With no money, production had to shut down. Producers Bird and Landon had a “worthless” half-finished movie and $1.4 million in debt. 

Bird, who’d previously worked as a writer and producer on shows such as Step By Step and Touched By an Angel, described the situation as “devastating” and said he considered quitting showbiz entirely. Landon was similarly discouraged by the setback, he told Deseret News. 

The timing was right for ‘When Calls the Heart’

Pascale Hutton, Kavan Smith, Erin Krakow in When Calls the Heart
Pascale Hutton, Kavan Smith, and Erin Krakow in When Calls the Heart | ©2020 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Ricardo Hubbs

For a while, it seemed like the When Calls the Heart movie might never see the light of day. But after some encouragement from his pastor, Bird decided not to give up. Four years later, he and Landon had a completed film. The timing was perfect, it turned out. 

“Had we been able to finish it in 2008, it would have been a nice little ‘one-off’ movie,” Bird explained. But by the time the film aired, Hallmark Channel was looking at adding original TV series to its programming lineup.

“But because we went through, and survived, that four-year crucible, by 2013 Hallmark was contemplating entering the one-hour TV series business, and When Calls the Heart the movie tested so well, they asked us if we would be willing to do six episodes,” Bird explained.

The rest, as they say, is history.