Light in the Dark with Brian Bird | Super Channel


Light in the Dark with Brian Bird

Light in the Dark with Brian Bird

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Desiree D


In a world where dark moments exist, When Calls the Heart has brought a great light. The gifts that materialize from this little Canadian show are plentiful: from life lessons, friendships, prayer groups, and pen pals, to an escape from the sufferings of daily life. It truly is a series filled with messages of hope, faith, love, and family, experienced on the screen, online, and between people around the world. These frontier stories provide an opportunity to look back on the hardships faced across previous generations, and the chance to connect with family members who endured those challenges. With beloved characters and a focus on community, When Calls the Heart always leave the viewers wanting more.

Despite the daily difficulties faced by folks on the frontier, they found light and promise in the days ahead. Just as the fictional characters of When Calls the Heart have shared their struggles on screen, the struggles of completing the pilot movie have been shared by Executive Producer, Brian Bird. As a writer, Brian focuses on stories that bring families together. As a Christian, he reminds the audiences that hope is always possible, especially when you believe in the author of the universe. And as a recognizable connection between the Hearties and the show, Papa Heartie as he’s commonly known, affirms that When Calls the Heart has remained a light in the darkness for himself and for millions of others around the globe. Brian warmly shared more about his passion for family-friendly TV, the faith that has been his source through it all, and his dreams for the future of this beautiful show that has connected and illuminated hearts all over the world.

SC: You were introduced to the idea of being a writer by your high school teacher and have shared that you have had many “adult champions” along the way. Can you elaborate on how adult champions can make a difference and how we can each become champions for others?

BB: Look, I think at least in healthy families, our parents always love us and are proud of us. Heck they are even proud of us when we do our first little doody in the toilet -- which is a very low bar for praise. They love us, but sometimes they don’t know what we’re best at. Sometimes we need other objective adult champions to look us right in the eye and confirm what we’re good at. We need them to spot our “one thing” -- that gift or talent we were given by the “author of all things” -- and then light a fire under us to pursue that one thing with passion and energy, become the Michelangelo of that one thing. Or at least give everything we have trying. Imagine a world where everyone knows and practices their one thing to the best of their abilities. The world would change and be a better place for everybody overnight.

SC: Do you feel that the need for family-friendly programs is growing? Why do you feel this genre is important?

BB: Let me put it this way: in the last 15 years, the TV industry has had collective amnesia about how to make family-friendly programming. In the rush to be dark and edgy and hip and cool and go for Emmy awards, the business has abandoned tens of millions of TV viewers who are hungry for family programming. They are starved for life and hope and faith and inspiration. Instead, they are offered a steady diet of zombies, vampires, drug-dealers, mafiosos, dead bodies and non-stop cynicism -- which ambushes their values. They want soul food and instead they are being fed razor blades. My heart is to bring them soul food. That’s what we did with When Calls the Heart, and again with When Hope Calls, and guess how they reacted? They loved us, and they pledged their undying support to help grow the show even bigger, and their hope for even more content like this. When you give starving people food, they will love you back and be your most loyal friends. The business needs to take a lesson from our When Calls the Heart experience, and stop being so thick in the head.

SC: The movie The Ultimate Life is currently playing on Super Channel Heart & Home (On Demand). Can you share more about working on this title as a writer and having the opportunity to once again work with Michael Landon Jr.?

BB: Michael and I loved working on The Ultimate Life together, and I love that it is continuing to find an audience on Super Channel Heart & Home. It was the last film we made had before we got the go-ahead to begin working on rebuilding When Calls the Heart first as a TV pilot movie, and then a TV series. My personal commitment is not just to make eye-candy for entertainment purposes. My commitment is to make films and TV that are about something; that ask great questions and stir up soul-cravings that spur the audience into water-cooler conversation with one another about important life challenges. The Ultimate Life is a great example of that kind of story.

SC: When Calls the Heart has faced many challenges from the start. What do you feel are the strengths of this program, that allow it to overcome any obstacles and continue to grow in popularity?

BB: You know, I wish I could say that we were prescient enough to see ahead all the ways in which When Calls the Heart has been a blessing to people, and an example to people of what it means to overcome challenges. The truth is this show has been a faith journey for us in which we just had to put one foot in front of the other and just keep plodding forward even though we had no idea what we would come up against. In hindsight, I’m not sure I would have had to strength to get through all that we got through if I had known what was coming. But I guess for me that’s just a better way to live. We all go through challenges and hardships. The planet is just hard that way. Life and circumstances throw us all curveballs. Sometimes we can’t see what’s coming next, and I guess for me, I like it better that way. It teaches me to just do a lot of praying and step forward fearlessly. Had I done it any other way, I’m not sure we would be in the same place we are now. Like the Children of Israel at the edge of the Jordan River, looking across at the promised land. The river was at flood stage. They had to start moving into the water on faith before the flood subsided and they were able to make it to the other side. They had to be faithful and stick their toes in the water. The lesson to me is I’m supposed to do faithful... so that God can then do amazing. That’s what our journey has been every year on this show.

SC: What does it mean to you to have an active audience of Hearties in Canada and around the world?

BB: It makes me cry whenever I stop and reflect on it. The Hearties are a tidal wave of love across America and Canada, and dozens of other countries, and they are a God thing. We could never have invented the Hearties. We are not smart enough to have done that. At a time when we were just trying to make a good show that would be meaningful to people, the Hearties showed up like a miracle and made it necessary for the show to continue. Honestly, I would not want to be any network anywhere in the world that carries When Calls the Heart, and then decides to cancel it. They would do so at their own peril, I think, as far as the Hearties are concerned.

SC: You have said that Hearties are the best legacy. Do you have a favourite story that you’ve heard about the Hearties helping one another?

BB: Yes, there are many... but a couple stand out. During Hurricane Harvey that hit Houston, I heard that in a Red Cross shelter, there were a group of Hearties that got together and prayed, and then they watched When Calls the Heart together with their kids on a DVD player in the shelter. I also heard about another group of Hearties going through chemotherapy together, and they decided to have devotions with one another during their treatments. Know what devotional they used? When God Calls the Heart.

SC: If you could take home one prop from When Calls the Heart, which would you choose and why?

BB: I’d love to hang the hand-painted backdrop for the Founder’s Day mural from season 1 on my office wall someday. The one with the tiny Mountie and Teacher kissing in the corner that you need a magnifying glass to see.

SC: What was the experience like for you to step onto the set in Ontario, seeing Brookfield for the first time, and knowing how far the stories of Janette Oke have come since the pilot movie?

BB: It was just amazing to see how quickly it all came together. David Anselmo and his team in North Bay did a phenomenal job bringing Brookfield to life and making it into a world of its own. And our relationship with Janette Oke has been a miracle on the whole When Calls the Heart/When Hope Calls endeavor for nearly 15 years. Janette has been a champion for Michael and me even when she didn’t have to be, and her love and care got us through a lot of hard years on this project. It’s deeply rewarding now to see her, and daughter Laurel’s new line of books based on a whole new branch of the When Calls the Heart eco-system for a new generation of readers.

SC: What are some of the challenges for the writers when working on a spin-off show like When Hope Calls?

BB: Right now, the biggest challenge is hoping and praying for a Season 2, which we are optimistic could still happen at some point. But generally speaking, spin offs are always challenging to make successful no matter what. You want to make sure they carry the same spirit and emotional punch of the original show, but sometimes it’s hard to get out from under the shadow of the original show and make your own creative mark. And I think Alfonso Moreno and his team did that with flying colors. The world of Brookfield achieved a life of its own, and the world and characters were so inviting. I’m very proud of all the hard work that went into When Hope Calls Season 1. And Hearties and Hopefuls definitely need to keep asking for more!

SC: If you could create a role for yourself on When Hope Calls, what type of character would you want to portray?

BB: If there was any way I could be a Mountie like Gabriel, I would love it. That red serge jacket is my dream. Every guy wants to be the hero of his own story, rescue the damsel, stop the bad guys, look good riding that horse. As long as my character doesn’t have to be named Dudley Do-right!

SC: Hearties have now been brought together for five Hearties Family Reunions. What is the experience like for you in having cast, production team, Janette Oke and Hearties all in the same room?

BB: Our Hearties Family Reunions have been one of the richest parts of the When Calls the Heart experience for me these last five years. Being able to meet the Hearties in the flesh, and see the joy they have in interacting with our cast in the flesh, and interacting with Hope Valley in the flesh, has been so gratifying for me and my wife, Patty, and our fearless HFR volunteer team that puts the event together. I believe HFR has been one of the main reasons for the show’s success and for the growth of the Hearties movement, as evidenced by the 3-million-plus social media impressions it produces every year. It pains me that COVID and the economic and travel restrictions have scrubbed our plans for holding the HFR this past year, but Lord-willing, a vaccine and a Season 9 of the show will help us all be able to be together in 2021.

SC: With faith being an important part of your journey, what has it meant to work with Michelle Cox in creating the When God Calls the Heart devotionals?

BB: Our series of three When God Calls the Heart devotionals have been the thrill of a lifetime for me. My career started in journalism and I morphed into TV and film writing and have been doing that now for over 30 years, and I never dreamed I’d get to write books, too. But being able to partner with Michelle Cox to take the audience for When Calls the Heart on a deeper spiritual dive and conversations in the devotions has been so gratifying. Every one of our episodes on the show opens up opportunities for families to have deeper conversations and have teachable moments. I love that we were able to do that.

SC: If your dream could be granted for the future of When Calls the Heart, what would that look like?

BB: This might sound a little unrealistic, but Gunsmoke was on for 20 seasons, and The Simpsons are now working on their 32ND season of production! I’d like to see Little Jack on TV longer than Bart Simpson. Is that too greedy? #GetLittleJackIntoCollege

SC: What has the Hearties community meant to you specifically during this time of COVID-19?

BB: I’ve said this before, but when we look back years from now, the most important legacy of When Calls the Heart will not be the show itself... but it will be the Hearties themselves. The bond of community and the lifelong friendships they have created with each other I believe are already changing the world. And that could not be more apparent to me than during COVID, as I watch how they are treating each other on social media. It’s a beautiful thing, and I’m so proud to be part of their community. The show may have been the spark... but the worldwide Hearties movement is rocket fuel for hope and change.

SC: Having the Taylor twins as (not so little) Jack, how do the writers or production team take their growth into account when thinking of storylines?

BB: One of the most interesting aspects of using newborns, and now toddlers, in a TV show is that you have no idea how they are going to react to the world of production. I wrote for a sitcom in the 1990s and got to see a lot of the Olsen Twins on the Warner Bros’ studio lot. And we all watched them grow from babies into little child stars. That wasn’t guaranteed... but it became a blessing for the cast and crew of Full House when those girls started to show their natural abilities. And we are in the same situation now with Lincoln and Gunnar, and from what we can see... Ashley and Mary-Kate... look out. These little guys are about to steal your thunder!

SC: We know that Covid changed a lot of filming schedules including the delay of When Calls the Heart. How would you describe your quarantine time and what was one positive that came from it this year?

BB: The Pandemic has obviously been a game-changer for everyone and a great equalizer. We’re all in the same boat, no matter where we come from or what our circumstances are. That mean little bug is no respecter of anybody, and I’m sure we have all had friends or family members who either got sick, or perhaps even passed away. But I will say that beyond the heartbreak and the inconveniences that we’ve all had to put up with, COVID has taught me a few other lessons. First, while we need to be cautious and all follow the rules, we can never let this thing make us afraid. My motto is “be cautious but fearless.” Life is too important for this virus to beat us down into apathy or depression and kill our calling and dreams. The world needs us to be better than ever at loving each other, understanding each other, sacrificing for each other and offering our very best talents and gifts. Secondly, I’ve come to believe that shows like When Calls the Heart are an essential service to society. Culture needs hope as much as it needs food and medicine. And When Calls the Heart is a first responder. Hope Valley is a vaccine for despair and heartbreak. That’s why we needed our own Operation Warp Speed getting the show back into production.

SC: And since you like stirring the pot… are you Team Nathan or Team Lucas?

BB: Of course, there’s no way I’m going to give that away because that then I’m pretty sure Hearties worldwide would know where the show is going. But I’m definitely #TeamElizabeth and want what is best for her and Little Jack, for them to have a hope and a future and be loved and cherished forever and ever.

SC: A single candle often begins a vigil, with the flame being passed along to others until the entire service is aglow. When Calls the Heart began as that single flame in the heart of Janette Oke, being passed on to others including Brian Bird, until the flame shone brightly in countries around the world. While there were moments that flickered, from the pilot movie through challenges in different seasons, Brian was one of the guiding lights who continued to keep hope alive. He has remained a connection between the Hearties and the show, through his dedication, faith, and passion for family TV. As season 8 fast approaches, continue to follow Brian on social media for insights, inspiration, and that occasional pot stirring. And as Hope Valley calls, Hearties can continue to share When Calls the Heart with others, so the light of this show will continue to burn for many seasons to come.

Social Media:
Facebook: BrianBirdWriter
Twitter: @brbird
Instagram: brbird