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How Hallmark’s ‘When Calls the Heart’ fandom, the Hearties, became a key part of the show’s success

In Entertainment
April 06, 2024

When Calls the Heart, which kicks off Season 11 Sunday, has earned its rightful place as one of Hallmark Channel’s best achievements.

Since premiering on Jan. 11, 2014, Hallmark’s longest-running original series has been a popular ratings draw — a consistent marker of success for the network. Its most recent season ranked as the No. 1 original cable entertainment program in total viewers on weekends during its entire 12-episode run, according to Nielsen.

Set during the early decades of the 1900s in Hope Valley, a small town in rural Canada, When Calls the Heart mirrors Hallmark’s family-friendly brand of heartwarming, feel-good storytelling with dashes of swoon-worthy romance.

The story primarily centers on Elizabeth (Erin Krakow), a widowed school teacher and mother who acclimates to the charms of living on the homestead — befriending the townspeople, falling in love and experiencing loss. The spotlight has grown to other characters as the series has gone on, exploring storylines like adoption, fertility issues and politics.

“There aren’t a lot of shows out there that are about these themes,” When Calls the Heart showrunner Lindsay Sturman told Yahoo Entertainment of its continued connection with audiences. “We call it ‘kind television.’ It’s warm, it’s heartfelt, it’s sincere. We’re a show about important things in life: What does it mean to be a good friend? What does it mean to love your community?”

The cast and creative team are at the forefront of bringing these stories to life. The show’s legion of fans, collectively known as Hearties, are also a key factor in the Hallmark drama’s sustained longevity over the past decade.

“We have an incredible fanbase, and it’s so unique in television,” Sturman said. Since episodes air weekly on Sunday nights, “everyone’s watching it together. It really creates community among the fans.”

It helps that fan engagement for When Calls the Heart exists beyond the small screen. The Hearties have an impressively large footprint online, from active Facebook groups to devoted Hearties Instagram accounts to lively Reddit threads. There are also podcasts and yearly fan events that celebrate the show, such as Hearties Family Reunion.

“People are talking about the show and commenting on what they love, what’s moving them, what’s making them happier and what they’re excited about,” Sturman said of Hearties’s robust online fandom.

Jillian Profeta, director of series development at Hallmark Media, credited the committed fanbase and “their love for Hope Valley that has really kept [the show] going.”

Caroline Richardson, who co-hosts the Hallmarkies Podcast and is a Heartie herself, has been a fan of the series since its debut. She was intrigued by the show after seeing previews for it during 2013’s “Countdown to Christmas,” Hallmark’s signature holiday programming event. It was the “sense of community, friendship and, of course, romance” that drew her in, Richardson told Yahoo Entertainment.

Watching the show, Richardson made close friendships with other Hearties, holding regular group chats to discuss episodes and life in general. She also found common ground with the character of Elizabeth. Like the fictional school teacher, Richardson works with children.

“I love creating bonds with them like Elizabeth does,” she says

Erin Krakow, 2nd from left, in

Erin Krakow, 2nd from left, in When Calls the Heart. (Ricardo Hubbs / ©Hallmark Channel / Courtesy Everett Collection)

“That’s what is so appealing about When Calls the Heart is that it showcases a world that is kind, where people come together and support each other,” Profeta said. “They have challenges and they face darkness, but they help each other heal. It’s a world that I think we’d all love to live in, especially right now. It’s so nice to be able to escape into this world, where everything’s going to be OK.”

What’s unique about When Calls the Heart is the complementary relationship the cast, writers and network executives have with Hearties. They take to heart what fans are responding to or are lukewarm about with regards to the show’s creative direction.

“I’ve gone out to tea with fans,” Sturman said, sharing that she’s been gifted handmade quilt squares and even a sweater. “I think it’s great for the writers and all the producers and the cast to hear what fans get excited about. Whether it’s explicit or it’s just in the air, we start to respond to it. You start to look at those stories and lean into them a little more. There really is a back and forth about what works for fans.”

Profeta added: “I have this little quilt hanging on the bulletin board in my office that one of the fans made. It says, ‘Welcome to Hope Valley.’ I look at it every day while I’m working on the show as a reminder of how much this means to the fans and how it’s inspired their artistic talents. It’s a really lovely dynamic between the people working on the show and the fans of the show.”

Balancing fan input while developing storylines can be tricky, Sturman acknowledged. When Season 11 begins, the door will have closed on Elizabeth’s romance with Lucas (Chris McNally), after she ended their engagement — with the potential for a new relationship to blossom between her and Mountie Nathan (Kevin McGarry). The choice to switch romantic gears wasn’t made without numerous internal conversations due to fans splitting favor for either guy.

Erin Krakow and Kevin McGarry. (David Dolsen / ©Hallmark Channel / Courtesy Everett Collection)

Erin Krakow and Kevin McGarry. (David Dolsen / ©Hallmark Channel / Courtesy Everett Collection)

Profeta said they “weigh[ed] the decision very carefully” with Sturman and discussed “extensively how we were going to do it,” so that “we’re still following Elizabeth on her heart’s journey.”

“We knew how deeply When Calls the Heart fans care about our characters, so we didn’t make the decision for Elizabeth and Lucas to part ways lightly,” Sturman explained. “We hope the fans stick with us.”

“Very often, [the fans] are divided,” Profeta observed, especially when it’s connected to romance. “We do listen to the fans and we do want to give them a show that they love and they connect with — even if it’s not exactly the version every fan had hoped for.”

The ongoing support Hearties have put behind When Calls the Heart is not lost on Sturman.

“We love hearing from the Hearties and we are so grateful to the Hearties that they’ve kept the show going,” she said. “They really do make it a community for all of us. I’ve been on shows with fandoms, but I’ve never been on a show with a fandom that is full of so much goodwill.”

When Calls the Heart premieres Sunday on Hallmark Channel

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