Alfonso Moreno is back for his second season as showrunner of Hallmark Channel’s hit series, When Calls the Heart.
Were you initially hired on a multiyear contract or were you renewed after the success of your first year?
The norm in the television industry is that options are held on writers, actors and producers for a set number of years. If the studio exercises the option, then these personnel are committed to return.
If you’re familiar with football, I think that is an apt analogy. In many instances, a team can hold onto a player if they want, or they can cut that player from the team at no cost to them. In my case, after the first year, I was a “free agent” so to speak, because my team had no option on my services.
But Hallmark was happy with the success of the show and I was certainly happy running this television series, so we created a new contract for Season 6.
What are one or two of the most noticeable ways showrunner continuity affects a series like When Calls the Heart?
Hallmark has its strong brand. Our actors are phenomenal and they really bring their characters to life. Our directors know the show and add so much to the final product. The post-production team, our composer, and everyone involved helps lift our series to new heights.
Given the above, what showrunner continuity affects more than anything is “sensibility”: What stories are told, how those stories unfold, and what words are used to tell those stories. It goes without saying that no two people are alike. Similarly, no two showrunners would tell the same stories in the same way.
With respect to the words, I am a strong believer that dialogue has a rhythm, much like music. So, showrunner continuity also allows a series to keep in step with the prior season.
What are a few of the ways your job was most noticeably different when you began work on Season 6 as compared to Season 5?
I was brought in to run Season 5 only six days prior to production. Normally, a showrunner has around eighty-four days prior to production to develop scripts and prep for the season.
A commonly used phrase in the television industry is to “keep the train moving.” Meaning once production starts, you don’t want to stop production for any reason, if possible. In order for me to keep the train moving, I had to write seven days a week – every week – until we wrapped production, oftentimes locked away in a hotel room.
It was both exhilarating and very challenging. Honestly, Season 5 was the most challenging professional year of my life.
In Season 6, I had the luxury of having a normal writers room, with the usual amount of time prior to production. I am extremely proud of Season 5. I believe the series delivered the emotion, romance and humor that has made it popular with its fan base.
What the luxury of more time allowed me in Season 6 was the opportunity to work out longer story arcs, which delve deeper into our characters. As proud as I am of Season 5, I am even more proud of Season 6.
Another difference between the two seasons is that the actors, the production team and Hallmark now know me and I know them. As in any relationship, trust is built over time where people come through for one another consistently. That 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.
Would you share a few thoughts on the departure of Daniel Lissing and the storytelling challenges you faced as a result?
When I started running Season 5, it was already apparent that Daniel wanted to move on in his professional life. At that point, I felt that I had to make his departure as heartfelt and emotional as possible.
My job as a storyteller for this Hallmark series is to move people – give them goosebumps, make them chuckle and have them tear up – with uplifting stories.
Daniel’s decision to leave certainly wasn’t going to result in an uplifting story. Nevertheless, it did provide us with an opportunity to have an emotionally powerful storyline where the rest of our characters must come together and heal, which ultimately turns out to be a cathartic experience.
From the response we all heard, there was a whole lot of crying in the audience (in fact I heard that many of our own production crew cried when they read the script). Some of our audience objected to this sad ending to the beautiful romance between Jack and Elizabeth; but given the real-life circumstances, we had no great options. The one we chose was gripping and poignant.
It turned out to be the highest rated episode in the history of the series – and I believe one of our best.
Would you comment on the redemptive arc of Henry Gowen in a way that doesn’t spoil what the season has in store but can nonetheless elaborate on the theme and the character?
I really enjoy taking characters on an emotional journey. There is no more powerful journey than the road to redemption. No human being is perfect, so it is very relatable when a character seeks to be a better person, to atone for past wrongs, and to be forgiven, even if they have difficulty forgiving themselves.
Of all the characters on When Calls the Heart, Henry Gowen has the longest road to travel for redemption because he has historically done the most harm to others. I can tell you that for Henry the road to redemption will not be straight and it will not be easy; but it will be interesting.
Tell the audience a little bit about Martin Cummins and your interactions with him. What makes him a talented actor and a pleasure to work with?
I have spoken to Martin Cummin a number of times on the set. I am a big fan of his. The chemistry between him and Lori Loughlin is fun to watch. Even when Henry Gowen has done some morally questionable actions, Martin has been able to keep this character very relatable. His humanness permeates.
Martin has this quality that when he’s on the screen, your eyes are drawn to him. He is a pleasure to work with because he has tremendous range and he is extremely professional in how he approaches his craft. I’ve told him that knowing his range inspires me to take his character on these new journeys.
Composer John Sereda will be doing a 10 questions interview this year. What kind of interactions do you have with him and to what degree is the musical score on your mind as you fulfill your showrunner duties?
I was a fan of John’s before I met him. Prior to joining the series as the showrunner, I had watched all the prior seasons of When Calls the Heart. I would get teary during some of the storylines and I realized the role John played in that. His music really helps set and enhance whatever mood we are going for in a scene.
This medium is so collaborative. It is really a team effort because so many people work together to achieve the finished product – and that includes John in no small part.
While I don’t hear John’s music while I write a scene, I do hear it when someone arrives at the When Calls the Heart writers’ room. I have set it up so that our doorbell, when rung, plays the musical theme to When Calls the Heart.
Why should viewers tune in to the Season 6 premiere?
In Season 6 we have some new faces and new exciting stories to tell. The series continues to provide the emotion, romance and humor that has made it successful. The storylines will have twists and turns and have real emotional stakes, while remaining true to the Hallmark brand. When Calls the Heart continues to be a show that your whole family can genuinely enjoy.
Could you provide a teaser or two for the next season?
In more ways than one, the future comes knocking at the door of Hope Valley. The challenge for our characters is how do they hold onto the best of the past, while moving into the future. Also, the fortunes of some of our residents change dramatically this season.
Any other thoughts you would like to share about your experience on the show or the upcoming season?
During production this past season, I split my time between the writers’ room, our Hope Valley set and a Vancouver hotel room writing and rewriting scripts. During it all, I kept hearing reports from our actors and directors that the mood was energized and upbeat on the set. I am very heartened by the fact that our production team seems proud and inspired by the stories that we tell. I continue to be awed by their talent, professionalism, hard work and humanity.