SALT LAKE CITY — Christmas means presents, Santa, hot cocoa — and the annual holiday special episode of “When Calls the Heart.” As Hallmark Channel gets ready to kick off the show’s seventh season, co-creators Brian Bird and Michael Landon Jr. shared some of their thoughts with the blog From the Desk of Kurt Manwaring.
The two men met in 2003 and instantly knew they wanted to work together. Three years later, Bird was finishing work on the heartwarming “Touched by an Angel” and Landon was finishing the highly successful “Love Comes Softly” series. The timing was perfect, and the two formed a partnership that lasts to this day.
“Michael Landon Jr. is the spitting image of his dad,” said Bird, referencing the Michael Landon fans know from family-friendly shows like “Little House on the Prairie,” “Bonanza” and “Highway to Heaven.”
“Not so much for the long brown mane that made his dad one of the biggest TV stars,” said Bird, “but he is the spitting image of his dad creatively, emotionally and professionally. What a legacy my friend has inherited — to tell uplifting life and faith-affirming stories — like his dad.”
Landon similarly praises Bird.
“He’s great to collaborate with and always has your back,” Landon said.
As successful as their partnership has become, “When Calls the Heart” nearly didn’t happen because of the 2008 recession.
As banks around the country went under, so did their funding for the initial film. Bird and Landon were left with a half-finished movie, half-broken hearts and over $1 million in debts.
“(I was) devastated,” said Landon. “Nothing like that had ever happened to me or Brian Bird in many years of working in the business.”
Both men resisted the very real temptation to quit the business.
“We knew we couldn’t give up,” said Landon. “I guess it worked out since we are now on season seven.”
The key to the show’s success may very well be its embrace of traditional family values.
“We wanted to create a place ... where the audience could escape to and yearn for,” said Landon. “It’s not that nothing bad ever happens, but it’s the way the characters interact and resolve what’s confronting them.”
Just ask the fictional Elizabeth Thornton, whose on-screen husband was killed in the line of duty as a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer. The character endured the emotional agony of being widowed with a newborn baby and is slowly opening her heart up to the idea of romance.
The season six finale left fans in an agony of their own as Elizabeth made, and then possibly regretted, a choice to dance with Lucas Bouchard over a competing suitor, Nathan Grant.
Bird was hesitant to give fans too much of a glimpse into the upcoming season, but he did suggest fans will have plenty more romantic anguish to enjoy in the months to come.
“I would say Elizabeth, Lucas and Nathan are three pretty good choices for some extra scrutiny by the Hearties,” Bird said.
While Bird was coy about the details of the upcoming season, he acquiesced when asked to give readers a teaser for the Christmas special.
“I’ll just leave it at this statement,” said Bird. “The past is still present in our hearts, but the future is in our eyes.”
“When Calls the Heart: Home for Christmas” premieres Dec. 25 at 8 p.m. ET on Hallmark Channel.