When John Tinker, a Clermont-based writer and producer, walked onto the set of Hallmark’s “When Calls the Heart,” he said it felt as though he had come home.
“I think living here geographically around farms and horses, it really spoke to me,” he said.
Tinker joined the popular cable TV series as its showrunner, involving himself in every aspect of the eighth season, from casting to writing. He got his first taste of the Hallmark Channel world by serving as the showrunner for the 2016 drama “Chesapeake Shores.”
Tinker had a creative hand in “St. Elsewhere,” “Chicago Hope,” “Judging Amy,” “The Book of Daniel,” and many other American television shows. For many who live in Hall County and other parts of the South, the writer-producer is known as “Tink,” the husband of Ronda Rich, local syndicated columnist and author.
When Tinker’s agent contacted him in December 2019 about an offer to work on “When Calls the Heart,” Rich said she shouted with glee, unable to contain her excitement.
“I knew from my speaking engagements and readers that that show was so beloved,” Rich said.
“They have an incredible, enthusiastic fan base that’s unlike anything you see on television these days.”
Having lived most of his life in California and moving to Northeast Georgia in 2012, Tinker said he felt connected to the Hallmark series. The show is set in the fictional early 1900s frontier town of Hope Valley. During the first season, Elizabeth Thatcher, played by Erin Krakow, finds herself leaving her city home to live in the rural town.
Tinker described his experience with moving to Clermont as “fertile ground” for writing the eighth season of “When Calls the Heart.” Like Elizabeth, he, too, quickly became enamored with the small town’s people and way of life.
“It’s just saturated with what I’ve come to know, and what I’ve learned,” he added.
On Feb. 24, 2020, Tinker traveled to Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada to work on the show. Soon afterward, the pandemic hit, and the country closed its borders. The writer-producer remained in Canada for the next nine months.
Although Tinker lived away from Clermont and his wife for a time, Rich said the two stayed focused on “the bigger picture” of their careers.
“It was hard,” she said. “But, we realized during that time, the kind of storytelling we do — which is uplifting, compassionate and kind — that we had met our destiny at our point in time. We had arrived at a time that we could really make a difference in the stories we tell.”
Despite the pandemic, the show carried on, meeting its original summer shooting schedule. Tinker said he credits this to quickly establishing effective COVID-19 protocols, which included weekly testing, decreasing actor’s physical contact and limiting the number of people on set. Luckily, he said their efforts paid off, and none of the show’s cast and crew were diagnosed with COVID-19. Because of the rules in place, the show had to cut down on classroom scenes and the way they approached moments of affection.
“You always wanted to be respectful,” he said. “If you had to have a kiss or a scene warranted it, you asked both (actors).”
When Tinker joined the writer’s room in early 2020, he said the first line of business entailed settling the love triangle among Elizabeth, Nathan and Lucas. He assures “Hearties,” also known as “When Calls the Heart” devotees, that Elizabeth will select a suitor by the end of the season.
Choosing between Lucas and Nathan proved no easy feat. Tinker said the writers underwent a long deliberation process which changed as they delved deeper into the season. They had to not only write from Elizabeth’s perspective, but find an outcome that would beget more interesting stories. Tinker said the writers frequently posed the questions, “How would these characters behave given their seven seasons of history?” and “Who would she really choose and why?”
“I hope we don’t wring our fans into knots, but I think it’s an enjoyable and interesting, truthful pursuit of Elizabeth, and her trying to parse her feelings for these two men,” he said. “But, early on, she does make a choice.”
Tinker reminds “Hearties” and other viewers that while the love triangle is pivotal, the season doesn’t revolve around it.
“The single largest characteristic that’s going to be apparent to the viewers is the number of stories we’re telling, and the number of characters being included,” he said. “ … The first couple of episodes more or less set the table. By the end of the second episode, we’re off to the races with a number of things that happen. It’s a large and wonderful cast.”
All in all, Tinker said he can rest easy at night knowing the outcome of the show. He described the ending as both “satisfying” and opening limitless possibilities for future seasons.
“I hope their (viewers’) enthusiasm is only going to continue to grow for the show,” Tinker said. “I do believe it’s an exciting season, and I believe it just begins to really scratch the surface of where we’re going to go.”
Season eight of “When Calls the Heart” premiered at 9 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 21, on the Hallmark Channel. For more information, visit hallmarkchannel.com/when-calls-the-heart.