Michael Landon Jr. is a prolific director of family-friendly films and the co-creator of Hallmark Channel’s When Calls the Heart.
It’s not unheard of for people to sit down for a night of TV and choose between Little House on the Prairie and When Calls the Heart. What does that say about the motivations and accomplishments you share with your late father?
Little House on the Prairie was my favorite of my father’s work and it greatly influenced the type of storytelling I wanted to pursue. I’m forever grateful to author, Janette Oke, for entrusting me with her work and allowing me to adapt it for the small screen.
What are some of your favorite shows you watch with your own family?
There isn’t much to watch as a family these days. But when we do it’s usually sports (big hockey and tennis fans) or a competition show like The Voice.
How did you first meet Brian Bird? What makes him a great collaborator?
I met Brian through a mutual friend. We got together a few times socially. Shortly thereafter, Fox Home Video was doing amazing business with Love Comes Softly which I cowrote, produced and directed so they approached me to make a series of family-friendly movies.
I reached out to Brian and we teamed up on several movies.
He’s great to collaborate with and always has your back.
What do you remember feeling when your funding for the WCTH movie disappeared halfway through filming during the 2008 recession? How did you find the strength to try again?
Devastated. Nothing like that had ever happened to me or Brian Bird in our many years of working in the business.
In terms of finding the strength to press forward, we knew the footage with Stephen Amell and Maggie Grace was just beautiful and their performances were captivating.
So we knew we couldn’t give up.
But since we were unable to get them back, I created a whole new story that would allow us to incorporate the footage with Stephen and Maggie using them as flashbacks for our new heroine.
I guess it worked out since we are now on season 7.
Speaking of behind-the-scenes challenges, you also overcame numerous obstacles to bring the Love Comes Softly series to TV. How did those experiences teach you to be persistent and hopeful?
Except for the exception, persistence is vital in our industry. For example, it took me almost ten years to get Love Comes Softly made. Everyone thought it was too soft and there wasn’t a Little House audience out there anymore.
Thankfully, Hallmark stepped up and when it aired it became the highest rated movie in the history of the channel by 40%.
When we made the sequel, Love’s Enduring Promise, that became the highest rated movie in the history of the channel.
Introduce When Calls the Heart to someone tuning in for the first time.
Sit down and watch with family and friends.
I know you’re going to love Hope Valley!
Why do you think families are drawn to the show?
I believe it’s the rare combination of family, faith, hope and love, mixed in with a bit of humor.
We wanted to create a place, Coal Valley then Hope Valley, where the audience could escape to and yearn for.
It’s not that nothing bad ever happens, but it’s the way the characters interact and resolve what’s confronting them.
You spent quite a lot of time on the set of Little House when you were young. For the WCTH child actors, how is the set similar to and different from your experience?
Some of my fondest memories as a child was being on the set of Little House.
It was magical – playing games, hanging out with the cast and crew, surrounded by nature.
The type of storytelling also set the stage for a family-friendly environment. I believe it’s the same for a WCTH child actor.
How is it different? Cellphones.
Season 6 ended on a cliffhanger that had fans groaning out loud in anticipation of what comes next. How does it make you feel to picture viewers having such emotional reactions?
It’s quite gratifying when the audience invests their precious time and emotions into your characters and storylines.
The fans—aka Hearties—of WCTH are just phenomenal.
Give fans a (spoiler-proof) teaser for the 2019 Christmas special.
With it being Little Jack’s first Christmas and Birthday, the town is overjoyed with showering him with gifts.
It is also the first Christmas without Jack and that weighs heavily on Elizabeth, but someone in Hope Valley brings everyone together in a very special way.