Hello there, dear Heartie friends!  How is everyone?  If you’re like me, you’re trying to get back in the swing of things without the kick of the holidays to motivate you.  Sound about right?  Well, the outside may be getting darker as people take down their Christmas lights, but we have our own light at the end of that tunnel: the premiere of Season 5!  I just watched the Christmas special for the 4th time with my niece, (her 1st,) and it got me more excited than ever for some weekly family-friendly, romantic entertainment.  

Speaking of which, that brings me to today’s #WonderWednesday.  With permission from Papa Heartie himself, I am sharing with you Brian Bird’s amazing article about the desperate NEED, not want, of clean and wholesome media in the world today.  We all knew he was articulate, but his writing here is straight-up and to the point, with no apologies.  Well done, Pot Stirrer! 

 

By Brian Bird

I’ve been writing and producing films and television shows in Hollywood for three decades, but I’ve been a consumer of media for a lot longer. Some of the moments I treasure most from my childhood were those evenings sitting with my family watching TV… together.

When I was young, the TV set was a destination all of us shared and enjoyed. I don’t believe we were alone in that. At one time, American homes were filled with that glowing, flickering warmth of families spending time together, gathered to watch their favorite shows. And we would laugh, cry, and most of the time, be uplifted by the story-telling. It was a special time – not just for my family, but I believe for tens of millions of American families.

But that’s not the case anymore. Shared family media is a lost cultural experience. Advances in technology have left us in separate rooms watching niche media content on our own TV sets, PCs, electronic book-readers, tablets or smart phones – all disconnected from one another.

But that’s just part of the problem. As the media landscape has become fractured by a thousand different entertainment choices 24-7-365 (for instance, there were 500 original, scripted TV programs produced in 2017 alone), the competition for eyeballs has become fiercer than anything I have experienced in 30 years of telling stories. And the race for sensational ratings or “click-throughs” in a more competitive marketplace has given rise to more sensational programming choices. It’s inevitable. If you are a programmer trying to steal market-share from your nearest competitor, you think the only way to do it is by getting louder, edgier and more controversial. If all your competitors follow that same path, it leads everyone over a content cliff.

Consequently, entertainment choices today have been coarsened to the point that some of the most popular shows/films/web series with viewers and critics are grisly dramas with graphic depictions of violence and protagonists pursuing their darkest instincts. However well-made they might be as art, content featuring crystal meth dealers, serial killers, vampires, zombies, shameless fathers or politicians and other anti-heroes who routinely lie, cheat and steal, now rule the airwaves and cyber-space. Rather than come together around entertainment that is life-and-hope-affirming and suitable for family viewing, we are a culture voraciously consuming content that appeals to our basest desires and temptations. Is it any wonder that every aspect of our cultural experience, from politics to religion to social movements, is coarser, less civilized and more polarized than ever? In effect, I believe we are becoming what we consume. No wonder we need a #MeToo social re-education.

And families now have very few opportunities to connect over media because there are precious few programs they can actually watch together.

For full disclosure, I am currently producing one program that is unapologetically a throw-back to the kind of shows we all watched back in the day. It is a one-hour, period drama called When Calls the Heart that airs in the U.S. both on the Hallmark Channel and Netflix. Now in fifth season, it is a series about hope, faith and love set in a 1910 coal-mining town struggling to overcome all manner of hardship, but doing it together with… faith, hope and love. And it is has built a loyal following of several million fans who call themselves “Hearties” and ravenously consume the show like it’s the last food on earth. That’s because they are underserved and underfed by an entertainment business that, with very few exceptions, has forgotten how to create content for them, or strategically decided to ignore them. And our show has spawned a non-profit movement to lobby for more family-friendly media content called “Hearties International,” along with “Hearties Parties” that meet together weekly all over the country for food, fellowship and mutual love of the show.

I have also written, with my co-author Michelle Cox, a 40-day devotional, When God Calls the Heart (coming February 1, 2018) that families can read together while watching our show as a resource to spur discussion of the important virtues in each episode. They will be able to use it both as a tool to teach important values of citizenship and civility and frankly, the Golden Rule – treat others as you would wish to be treated – which seems to be completely MIA in our culture today.

If you’re looking for drug-dealers, dead bodies and morally relativistic storylines, you won’t find them here. Hope Valley is a place where the Great Virtues rule, where life is filled with soul-nourishing themes like forgiveness, redemption, sacrifice, courage, honesty, integrity and dependence on God.

The legendary broadcaster David Frost once said, “Television is an invention that permits you to be entertained in your living room by people you would never have in your home.” Everywhere I travel, I meet people who are weary of those daily home invasions. They long for a return to a time when the airwaves (and now bandwidth) were filled with content suitable for whole families to watch together. The content providers once competed with each other to fill their schedules with those kinds of entertainment choices. Today, “family hour” is absolutely on life-support and facing extinction. Is that really a good thing for our society?

I believe there is a vast, underserved audience starving for a new renaissance in family media content. My colleagues and I stand ready to keep our chisels working round-the-clock.

Brian Bird is Executive Producer and co-creator of When Calls the Heart and co-author, with Michelle Cox, of the devotional book, When God Calls the Heart.

On set of When Calls the Heart.
From Left to Right: Daniel Lissing, Brian Bird, Erin Krakow, Neill Fearnley.

 

Well, my dear #Heartie friends, we are a mere 5 DAYS away from seeing the one and only Jack Thornton sweep the beautiful Elizabeth Thatcher into his arms, and give her the reunion kiss of a lifetime! Can we wait? Well, we gotta, right? While I cannot WAIT to see it, that will mean Christmas is over, and that just makes me sad. December 26th is the saddest day on my calendar. I’m kind of into Christmas, if you couldn’t tell! But at least there will be the Season 5 premiere to look forward to. THAT is worth saying goodbye to the Christmas season for a while.

So! Today’s #WonderWednesday is Erin Krakow’s 2014 Christmas movie A Cookie Cutter Christmas. This is actually the first thing I saw Erin in, as I hadn’t discovered WCTH yet. (SAD day for me! I call those The Dark Days!) The first and foremost thing I noticed that I had completely forgotten is how many stars from our wonderful series are a part of it; a lot more than I remembered! Of course there’s Erin as the teacher Christie Reynolds, but there’s also Genea Charpentier (Laura Campbell) as her student Lily Thompson, and Jill Morrison (Carla Noonan the pregnant mother from Season 1) as Ali. But I think the best surprise and cutest coincidence is Gracyn Shinyei (Emily Montgomery) as young Christie. Isn’t that cool!

I find it adorable that Erin plays a teacher who can’t bake, then learns how. Where have we heard THAT before? She certainly has a knack for portraying non-culinary educators. And then, there’s shepherd’s pie in the mix too! I do admit, the one thing that bothers me is the feud between Christie and Penny Miller. I guess it’s possible for two grown women to hold onto a petty grudge that long, and to act that childish, but I’d prefer not to witness it. Why would you want to act like that in front of a guy you really like?! I start cringing every time the two of them are on screen together.  So we won’t dwell on that!

Let’s move to David Haydn-Jones. He plays James Thompson, Lily’s father, and Christie’s love interest. HE has a knack for playing a philanthropist in Christmas movies. In this movie, he’s the head of a donation center for the needy. In another movie called Dear Santa, his character owns and runs a soup kitchen. I wonder if that’s something he does in his own time. And instead of just trying to be nice to Penny and saying he’ll go out with her, he comes right out and says he is seeing someone. I like straightforward behavior in a man!

I also want to give a shout-out to the late Alan Thicke, who played the famous chef judge of the cookie contest; not of the WCTH variety, but a fabulous actor. It was about this time last year that he passed away from a ruptured aorta. Such a sad loss to the acting world, but movies like this help us remember him fondly.

One thing I want to point out that I liked was the first attempt at a kiss. While I’m not a huge fan of throwing the kiss in at the end when a prior attempt has been made, they did something different this time. The camera takes an angle in between their two faces, and you see the “distraction” from in between them. Way to shake up an old tactic, and make it new.

The other aspect I loved was the character of Lily. I love that when the “drama” enters the scene, and James thinks Christie stole his recipe, Lily tells him how it is, plain as day. She tells him flat out to give her another chance because HER teacher would never cheat. But the best thing about her is that she breaks up their first kiss just so she can hug them both. The laugh Erin gives there is so genuine, it makes me wonder again if it was improv.

I must say that I learned a few baking tips from this film. That’ll come in handy for my holiday baking! And speaking of which, I need to get back to it. Farewell for now! Join me again on Friday for the first #FlashbackFriday.

 

Here you are on another fun-filled #WonderWednesday. Okay honestly, this might spur some tears because of the subject. We’ll be discussing my personal nomination for best Hallmark Movies and Mysteries film of 2017. The jury is still out on Hallmark Channel; I think we all know what it will be! And the nomination goes to: Home for Christmas Day. While the connection is, admittedly, a bit sketchy, (only one WCTH actor, and that’s Antony Konechny, who played Douglas Burke,) the story just spoke to me. It called to me, “Write about me, Kami! You must!” While we’re on the topic of Konechny, can we talk typecasting?!! A soldier leaving for war, and then reported dead? Where have we heard THAT before! But I gotta say, he is top-notch at playing “country boy turned soldier sporting a killer smile all the way”. And I love his name; I have a brother named Tyler.

Speaking of names, are there any 18-year-olds today named Betsy? I certainly haven’t met any; it strikes me as an older name. But there’s nothing “old” about that adorable actress who played her. She was perfect the whole way through! She played the outspoken and determined teenager to a T. I especially think she was great at the whole “high school girl freak out” thing. Those scenes were so sincere, it brought back lots of memories for me; I don’t know about you. since I’m talking about being perfect for a role, who else thinks it’s Catherine Bell’s destiny to play military roles? First, she’s a Marine in JAG, (which I loved!), then she’s an Army wife in DING DING! Army Wives. Now she’s played an Army widow. She definitely knows how to play the military! And fun fact for you: that picture of Catherine Bell holding a baby girl and laughing is her and her real daughter years ago during those long-lost JAG days.

Now, let’s talk relationships. They did a super job establishing them. The writers and actors alike could have rushed through them, and cut to the chase of him shipping out. But they took the time to really make you love the characters so you took the journey with them. For example, Jane and Jackson being old friends and so comfortable with each other was so obvious; particularly when he came into the house she was showing, and started waving the muffin aroma toward the client in true Cliff Huxtable fashion. The other perfect “friend moment” was when it looked like Jackson was leaning in for a kiss. Then he bent right past her lips to her ear, and mischievously whispers, “It sounds like the solenoid switch.”

 A detail that makes movie and TV relationships really feel real, other than history, is the touching. I’m not talking about kissing, although if you’ve read this blog before, you know I’m always in for a good smooch! But kisses are an obvious choice for romantic connection. The little things they do in this movie like Tyler rubbing his hand up and down Betsy’s arm, and Jackson putting his hand to Jane’s head when he hugs and comforts her…Sigh! It’s just so sweet, and makes it so genuine

Okay, time for moments. This is chalk full of them! I’ll give you the highlights, i.e. my favorites.  First one is when Tyler races to the rink, completely panicked that he’d missed Betsy while trying to get someone to cover his duty for him. It’s fun to see a guy you’re totally crushing on completely out of breath because of you. And the lighted path they walked on was so magical! Moment #2: Jane apologizing to Tyler. She had enough guts not only to go to the base, but to not take no for an answer until she talked to him. Having had her own experience with the Army, she knows better than to leave unfinished business undone.  Moment #3: when they announce Tyler 8s dead at the concert. It’s timed perfectly, and breaks your heart into a million pieces. The performer in me says Betsy shouldn’t have left the stage when she has a solo, then I think, HELLO! HER BOYFRIEND WAS JUST ANNOUNCED DEAD! Who’s to say I wouldn’t have walked away. One other good thing about this is you can’t say it’s petty drama or a silly misunderstanding keeping the couple apart. It’s a very real situation. I’m big on that, in case you hadn’t noticed.  Moment #4: Jane’s “aha” moment that she’s been doing it all wrong. She’s so humble about it, and begs Jackson to forgive her, then tells Betsy what love really means.

Final moment: of course it’s the reunion. I thought my heart was going to thump out of my chest! Her shock, his quip about interrupting, his explanation, her finally getting the motivation to move, and that beautifully desperate hug that reunites them. PASS ME THE TISSUES!

Well, Heartie, that’s it for today. I hope to see you back on Friday for the final Christmas #FanFictionFriday.

 

Today’s #WonderWednesday might be a little controversial, but I promise it’ll still be fun. And it has 2 WCTH actors: Jay Hindle who played Sir Lionel in Season 2, and…none other than the man himself- Daniel Lissing!  And that topic would be one of last year’s Hallmark Countdown to Christmas Movies:       A December Bride. TA DA!

I know, I know. Some of us love it, some of us can’t stand it, and some of us have mixed feelings, a love/hate relationship, if you will. I, myself have mixed feelings. So let’s start with some positive points about the film, we’ll squeeze “the vegetables” (the stuff we don’t like,) in the middle, then end with “dessert” so we walk away with happy hearts. But first, 2 funny coincidences: in Finding Father Christmas, Erin Krakow plays an interior decorator; in A December Bride, Daniel Lissing plays a man who falls in love with an interior decorator. The second is the names. The actress playing Layla, her name is Jessica; then her cousin’s character’s name is Jessica. Then we have our favorite “Jack” standing right next to the fiancé whose name is Jack. Interesting…

 Now, let’s start with my favorite thing: the broken stereotypes. I really love that this one doesn’t go where almost every other Hallmark movie does. If I miss any, PLEASE comment so it can be included

  1. No love triangle. They could have gone there with either Jack or Cooper. But Jack got married at the beginning, and Cooper wasn’t a boyfriend. He was completely interested, but was man enough to back down when he saw that Seth was in love.
  2. Seth comes right out and says he likes Layla. There’s no “guessing game” about his feelings, plus he does that cute head knock when it doesn’t go right. On top of that, there’s no silly misunderstanding that ruins how far the couple has come in the hour and 55 minutes you’ve been watching, then gets solved in the last 5 minutes of the movie.
  3. Neither of the main characters are in a dead-end, 5-year relationship that gets broken after knowing someone a week. They’re both single, and they’ve been friends for years.
  4. A big pet peeve of mine is when the first kiss is just thrown in at the end, especially when they always try to kiss, and get interrupted in the middle. In this film, they actually kiss before the end. In addition, they DO get interrupted the first time they try to kiss, but they don’t pretend it didn’t happen. In fact, they even pause to cuddle a little before Seth answers the phone.
  5. My favorite one: Seth isn’t a Scrooge; he doesn’t hate Christmas. He’s just never had any real experience, and he welcomes it with open arms, and that adorable smile. He really shows his wonder when he exclaims, “Everything looks so beautiful in here! It’s very Christmasy.”

So, on to the vegetables. You know, there really isn’t a whole lot I don’t like about the movie, but those things occur throughout the plot; so it seems like I don’t like more than I actually do. First thing’s first, and don’t hate me, but I don’t like the beard. I know scruff is the thing right now, and some women find it terribly attractive, but I’ve always been a clean-shaven girl. I think a man is more handsome when I can see his face. The other thing about that is Danes face has a few bald spots where hair refuses to grow, then the beard looks splotchy.  So it is this Hooked Heartie’s personal opinion that the man remain beardless.

My other criticism is the character of Layla. I have nothing against Jessica Lowndes; she’s gorgeous, and she’s been fantastic in other films. But her character here…I would call her “pretty but petty”. She constantly rags on Seth, so much so that sometimes I wondered why he was crazy about her. I understand her being bitter, her cousin marrying her former fiancé and all; but it lasts a little too long, especially with how kind Seth is to her. Dan brings all of Jack Thornton kindness to the character of Seth. He’ll do anything for her, he worries when she does, he reassures her constantly, and he rejoices with her at her victories. And he does the Daniel Lissing signature dirt brush – away on her cheek. Who in their right mind would stomp on that?

Okay! Enough of being Janie Raincloud! Now let’s have some REAL fun! This movie is full of hysterical one-liners and heartwarming scenes. Take the title, for example. It’s the best line in the movie! It comes from Layla’s suspicious brother who knows darn well after that completely awkward family dinner that Layla and Seth aren’t actually a couple. You can almost feel Seth’s urge to tug on his shirt collar.

To be totally honest, the rest of my favorite parts and lines all have Dan and his priceless reactions in them. So I’ll just mention them all together. 1) I nearly died laughing to see Seth dancing and singing so horribly, especially when we all know how beautifully he does both. 2) I smiled with pure joy when Seth’s dad found him a sleigh. Not only was it touching to see father and son connecting, but Seth’s reaction is flawless. Having majored in acting myself, I seriously wondered if that was scripted, or if Dan improvised it. 3) Who didn’t snicker helplessly when Seth was telling everyone how the “courtship” ensued? He’s totally making it up as he goes along; then the shock and horror on his face when the word “engaged” slipped right off his tongue = stomach pains from laughing so hard. 4) I saved the best for last. My favorite part is when Seth made gingerbread cookies for Layla, then almost kissed her. It’s evidence that he really listened to her, and Christmas has really captured him.

Well, I think I’ve said enough. I’ll just sign off with a personal note. Receiving a key to a mansion, a rich man’s credit card, and the instructions “Do whatever you want” with regard to Christmas decorating? SCORE BABY!

Okay, I’ll be honest. I was all set and ready to do a review of a certain Hallmark Christmas movie for today’s #WonderWednesday, but then I watched…The Christmas Train. It then became positively necessary to review this movie instead. DO NOT READ UNLESS YOU’VE WATCHED IT, OR DON’T MIND SPOILERS! I highly suggest you go find it…then come back and read the blog!

So it begins! First off, the connection. There are not one, not two, but THREE actors in The Christmas Train who are WCTH Alumni. Granted, they don’t play major roles in the series, but each plays a pivotal, plot – turning one. There’s Terence Kelly, who played the mysterious, yet helpful, Sam Bailey in the Season 4 Christmas special. Then there’s John Innes, who portrayed Clem Besser, the gentleman who sold Jack his land in Season 3. And of course, there’s Anthony Konechny, who we all know as Douglas Burke, Jack’s adorable Mountie protégé, who’s death prompted Jack to answer the call of duty in the Northern Territory in Season 4.

Now for their characters in THIS movie. Konechny plays his usual loveable role: a young man from high society Washington DC engaged to a Kentucky country girl. His father doesn’t approve, so they’re eloping on the train Christmas Eve. Innes is John Kelly, a lonely old man who recently lost his wife, and is trying to keep his promise to her of reading A Christmas Carol by Christmas Day. Terence Kelly plays the kind of person at which he excels: Higgins, the wise and experienced mentor who leads quietly, and it turns out he’s right.

And then The Christmas Train all-star cast: Kimberly Williams Paisley, Dermot Mulroney, Joan Cusack, and DANNY GLOVER! How they got him, I don’t know, but he was perfect! The powerful and famous film director who is still reachable and down-to-earth, and even downright friendly. Joan Cusack, ever the character actor, plays a quirky loner who seems very much like the nosy next-door neighbor in everyone’s business…and yet we love her every step of the way!

Paisley, (whom I’ve loved since Father of the Bride,) was so endearing. Her playful moments are so bright and natural, yet the pain she expresses is so deep and heartfelt. And she’s so beautiful! My one issue with her is something that’s not even her fault, but it bugged me! When they attend the wedding on board, she’s in a long-sleeved shirt and jeans. I get they’re on a train, and resources are limited, but she’s a Hollywood writer! The outfit she wore while boarding was fancier than that! As a side note, the wedding dress was FABULOUS! Tasteful, different; just the sort of thing I imagine a broke romantic buying if she’s eloping. Back to Kimberly, my favorite line of hers is when she’s talking to Max (Glover). She’s his writer, and he’s encouraging her to give life another chance.  She sardonically replies, “Happy endings are for movies.” Pretty clever and ironic, considering, you know, they’re in one.

Mulroney seems to have an acting style that keeps him a little stiff; I see it in several of his roles. So while I would have preferred to see him loosen up a bit, he played the cynical and world – traveling reporter quite well; especially when his eyes are being opened up to new discoveries. My favorite part of his was when his character, Tom, was going on and on, talking like he knew this ancient  legend. When Eleanor (Paisley) interrupts to call him on it, he says without breaking the flow at all: “I am TOTALLY making this up!”

And here’s a fun fact trivia question for you: What’s the link between Dermot Mulroney and Joan Cusack? If you’re suddenly feeling the urge to play “7 Degrees to Julia Roberts”, you hit the nail on the head! And it’s only 1 degree. Cusack was in Runaway Bride with her, (a personal favorite,) and Mulroney was in My Best Friend’s Wedding.

My favorite lines come from John Kelly. “Two things problems can never defeat: sunrise and Christmas.” That, and: “Hope begins when you stand in the dark, and look at the light.” Very appropriate, especially since #Hearties now have a window cling available that says, “I’d rather be in Hope Valley.”

My favorite part is where today’s title comes from. Tom and Eleanor are old sweethearts who parted badly, then meet by chance on the Christmas Train, right? Well what did you think when they discovered that script in Max’s trash that cited almost every occurrence on the train? I was completely thrown for a loop to find out it was all a set-up, another “Max Powers Production”, (which makes her “happy endings” line even better.) And then, instead of the stereotypical “I’m gonna kill him,” Eleanor more originally says she’s thinking of plotting a murder mystery aboard the train instead of a love story. I laughed SO HARD!

Well, I think that about does it for today’s #WonderWednesday. I hope you had as much fun reading this as I did writing it, and I really hope you’ll come back on Friday for another #FanFictionFriday. Until then, darling #Hearties!

Continue reading “Romance? I’m Thinkin’ Murder! Christmas Train.”