For many, the news that Lori Loughlin would be reprising her role as Abigail Stanton on the special Christmas episode of When Hope Calls may have signaled that Loughlin was one step closer to returning to When Calls the Heart, a Hallmark show that she once starred in and produced, but don’t get your hopes up.
As everyone knows, Loughlin was relieved of her acting duties on both Fuller House and When Calls the Heart when she was embroiled in a college cheating scandal and pleaded guilty to a federal charge of committing wire and mail fraud. She served two months in prison and fans of When Calls the Heart were left wondering if Hallmark would practice the kind of Christian forgiveness often preached on its shows and allow Loughlin back into the fold. That hasn’t happened yet and the announcement of Loughlin’s upcoming appearance on When Hope Calls may mean it never will.
It’s true that When Hope Calls spun off from When Calls the Heart. It started on Hallmark Movies Now in 2019 and is based on books by the same author, Janette Oke, but When Hope Calls is now on a rival network, GAC Family (formerly Great American Country) which just launched this week.
GAC Family used to be the Great American Country network, specializing in country music. But it evolved into a station that also offered wholesome television programming. It was sold to GAC media in 2021 and rebranded as GAC Family this week. It’s actually a competitor to the Hallmark channel, not a sister company, as one might think. They cater to the same audience demographics. That means that by signing Lori Loughlin for the When Hope Calls Christmas special, A Country Christmas, airing on December 18, 2021, GAC was likely making a bid to steal viewers away from Hallmark and its endless rotation of Christmas romance movies and television series.
Last year, When Calls the Heart did not air its usual Christmas special, due to Covid filming strains. Although, Hallmark has made no announcement, it’s likely that there will be no When Calls the Heart Christmas special this year, either, based on the fact that it seems that they have 12 When Calls the Heart episodes slated for Season 9 of the popular series, but no extra filming has taken place or been publicized. This is a disappointment to fans, since the Christmas special usually garnered good ratings and gave the fans a chance to catch up with beloved characters they had been missing during a series hiatus.
The strict Covid set requirements have taken its toll on the Hallmark network’s production protocols. Actors have been segregated into small groups for filming, so that if an outbreak occurs only a limited number of cast and crew members will be impacted at a time. That means that the number of group scenes onscreen have been reduced and you don’t see as many characters interacting with one another. It feels less like a town community, when the popular characters don’t mingle as often.
Jack Wagner, one of the When Calls the Heart cast members, also had a recurring Wedding March series which had its finale this year, called Sealed with a Kiss. It was a disappointing conclusion because the lead couple that married, inn owners Mick and Olivia, played by Wagner and Bissett, tied the knot after 5 years of romance, but their children were absent at the big event as was the groom’s longterm friend and employee, Duke. The finale felt incomplete.
With the Hallmark shows failing to deliver the warm, familial goodness they’ve become famous for, this is a great time for GAC Family to step into the void and steal viewer attention. Bringing over Loughlin, a popular Hallmark star from the past, for a Christmas show that will receive a lot of press and attention seems like a good marketing move for GAC Family and Hallmark might view it as adversarial.
GAC Family is headed by President & CEO Bill Abbott, former CEO of Crown Media Family Networks (owner of Hallmark). With When Hope Calls and a heralded guest appearance by Loughlin, Abbott looks to be raiding his former employer’s pantry — or eating its lunch!
You’ll see Abigail Stanton again in a few months, but may never see her again with Elizabeth, Bill, Leland, Rosemary or any of her old friends in Hope Valley.