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Upfronts 2019: Crown Media looks to spring return for 'When Calls the Heart'

Crown Media Family Networks is looking for the best way to frame the departure of Lori Loughlin's character from "When Calls The Heart" before returning the original series to air in the weeks ahead.

Bill Abbot, president and CEO of the network group, said in a phone interview before the company's March 21 upfront presentation to advertisers that the company is "working 24/7 on finding the right creative solutions" to remove Loughlin's Abigail Stanton, one of the show's primary characters, from the period drama. Abbott did not specify a date but said the goal is to have the series back on Hallmark Channel (US) this spring.

SNL Image

Actress Lori Loughlin at a Crown Media Family Networks party in
Loughlin was recently dismissed from her work with Crown
Hallmark channels.
Source: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

Loughlin was arrested March 13 in Los Angeles on mail fraud charges in connection with collegiate admissions bribery allegations.

Abbott said advertisers have had a "positive response" to Crown Media's decision to cut ties with Loughlin. "We didn't have any choice," he said, referring to the company's "family-friendly" positioning. "Companies are very cognizant and brand-conscious. We did the right thing."

Three of 10 episodes from the series' sixth season have premiered. The fourth installment was slated to run March 17, but Crown Media on March 14 elected to pull "all completed work" off the air.

Fans of "When Calls The Heart" may be heartened by Abbott's remarks indicating that while the programmer has been presented with a number of "interesting concepts," Crown Media is content with its current original series roster that also includes "Chesapeake Shores" and "The Good Witch." He said he doesn't see changes in the lineup on the horizon "unless [the series] run their course creatively."

Loughlin was also the star of "Garage Sale Mysteries," a telefilm franchise and centerpiece for Hallmark Movies & Mysteries (US). Abbott said at the time of Loughlin's dismissal there was nothing in the production pipeline for "Garage Sale Mysteries."

News of an FBI investigation, code-named "Operation Varsity Blues," emerged March 12, with a number of celebrities, including Loughlin and "Desperate Housewives" actress Felicity Huffman, charged with paying large sums to get their children into elite universities by, among other things, allegedly bribing college entrance exam administrators.

Heading into the March 21 upfront presentation, Abbott said he felt encouraged by the weather in Manhattan, among other factors. Last year's Crown Media upfront was canceled due to a March snowstorm.

Negotiations for the 2018-2019 TV season yielded gains in pricing and volume that exceeded industry norms, said Abbott. Ad sales have increased by double digits over the past several years, and scatter pricing remains strong, he said.

The programmer has also picked up more traction within the tech category, with Google LLC's YouTube TV and Netflix Inc. running schedules during last's year holiday period, Abbott said.

Looking ahead to Christmas 2019, Crown Media plans to match last year's movie output, with 22 new original telefilms on Hallmark Channel and 16 on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries.