SALT LAKE CITY — Fans of the popular Hallmark Channel show "When Calls the Heart" have been on pins and needles ever since co-creator Brian Bird announced the show would be taking a “creative hiatus” following the abrupt exit of actress Lori Loughlin.
Different theories have emerged about what the temporary break means for the show. Whether it is recasting Loughlin’s character, bringing back Jack (Daniel Lissing) or something else entirely, fans are anxious to see what direction the show will take.
Little is known, but Hallmark confirmed to the Deseret News one detail that suggests the show will be okay: Alfonso Moreno will continue to be involved.
The man beloved by cast and crew alike was brought on board as showrunner beginning in Season 5 and had his contract renewed for Season 6.
Fans can get a sense of his appreciation for the show by understanding the way he stepped into his role.
“I was unfamiliar with (‘When Calls the Heart’), so before meeting with (Hallmark executives), the prudent thing to do was for me to familiarize myself with the series premise and the characters,” Moreno said.
He planned to get a feel for the show by watching a few episodes, but ended up binging the entire series.
“I immediately became hooked by the combination of humor, emotion and romance,” said Moreno.
The duties of a showrunner are expansive, so while Moreno will continue to maintain a key role behind the scenes, his fingerprints won't be the only ones on the final result.
“The showrunner is responsible for everything in the production, including the script, casting, wardrobe, production design, budget and post-production,” said Moreno in an interview previewing Season 5.
“It truly takes a small army to produce any television series,” he said. For "When Calls the Heart," that means Moreno works in conjunction with Hallmark executives, directors, actors and others.
Before joining "When Calls the Heart," Moreno worked on a number of other shows, with experience ranging from CBS's "NCIS" and "The Guardian" to ABC's "The Practice" and "Drop Dead Diva" on Lifetime.
One thing that is different about his work on "When Calls the Heart" is the degree to which he interacts with the actors.
“Soon after I became the showrunner, I flew to Vancouver (where the show is filmed) to meet with the actors and the crew,” he said. “I felt that it was important that I meet everyone — and that they meet me.
“I have had quite a bit of interaction with the actors on this show — more than in the past shows I have worked on,” he said.
The efforts Moreno makes to “create an open line of communication,” as he put it, are felt by the cast.
“You saw him all the time,” said Martin Cummins, the actor who plays the role of Henry Gowan. “You’d have a dialogue with him, a conversation.”
“He has done a fabulous job,” said Andrea Brooks, who plays the role of nurse Faith Carter. “He is very active when it comes to keeping the cast informed and I felt very lucky to have had a number of conversations with him about the direction of the season.
“Not all showrunners make themselves this available,” she added.
Moreno also had to prove himself to a skeptical leading lady.
“To be totally transparent, I felt protective and mildly concerned about someone new stepping in without much time to learn every detail of 'When Calls the Heart’s' history,” said Erin Krakow, the actress who plays the role of schoolteacher and newly widowed mother, Elizabeth Thatcher.
“But those concerns were quickly put to rest,” Krakow said. "He worked tirelessly to deliver stellar story lines that jumped off the page and into our viewers’ hearts."
The concern Krakow referenced stems from the fact Moreno was hired late in the process.
“I was brought in to run Season 5 only six days prior to production,” Moreno said. “Normally, a showrunner has around eighty-four days prior to production. It was both exhilarating and very challenging. Honestly, Season 5 was the most challenging professional year of my life.”
The challenges presented by Loughlin’s exit in the wake of allegations against her in a college bribery scandal may prove just as exhilarating and challenging as those Moreno faced when he first began work on the beloved Hallmark production. However, unlike his first season, Moreno now has an established history with the cast and crew.13 comments on this story
“Trust is built over time where people come through for one another consistently,” said Moreno. “This certainly applies to my experience running this series. Everyone has come through for me, and I hope they feel that I have come through for them.
“Beautiful and lasting things can come from such a trusting relationship,” Moreno added.
Judging from a recent Tweet by series co-creator, Brian Bird, it sounds as if the trust developed by cast and crew will yield positive results.
“What Hope Valley looked like at the crack of dawn,” Bird tweeted on April 1.
“Thanks for your continuing patience and never lose heart. Keep watching and waiting for news of the return of Season 6.”