Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

The good stuff. Hallmark Channel’s When Calls the Heart, which recently scored a series-record 3-million total viewers in Live+3 day ratings for its Season 3 finale was honored with the prestigious Spirit Award at the 67th annual Christopher Awards held in Midtown Manhattan Thursday night. The awards are presented to film, TV and book projects that uphold the ideals of the organization’s founder Father James Keller. Those ideals are  encapsulated by the group’s inspirational motto “It is better to light one candle than curse the darkness.” 

The Christopher recognition and strong finale ratings come on top of the show’s over 192 thousand loyal Facebook fans (who call themselves “Hearties”). So, it’s little wonder that the show’s fourth season pickup was recently announced.

On hand to accept the award were Hallmark Channel President & CEO Bill Abbott and Executive Programming V.P. Michelle Vicary, as well as the show’s producers Michael Landon, Jr., Brian Bird and Brad Krevoy. While I didn’t speak with Mr. Krevoy, the others offered me their thoughts on the show’s success. They essentially credit the show’s rabid fan base and the lack inspirational series on other networks.

BRIAN BIRD: “We’re just about to go into season 4 of When Calls the Heart which is a huge honor for all of us..

MICHELLE VICARY: We grew from week to week and the season finale was the highest rated episode that we’ve had to date. When Calls the Heart and the “Hearties” were responsible. We give them all the credit for it.

BB: In Season 1, the Hearties sort of emerged as a (loyal) audience. We started to see them pop up on Facebook. They came up with their own name. We were so busy trying to get the show done that we didn’t have a clue as to what was happening out there with the audience. When we realized that they were coalescing on Facebook and Twitter (#Hearties) we all talked and said we need to encourage them. (We) sort of poured fuel on the fire but they started their own fire. There are now hundreds of thousands of Hearties and about 35,000 really hardcore ones who are a community. They talk everyday. They have their own Facebook page which they run. We don’t run it…They have private parties now all over the country.

MICHAEL LANDON, JR.: I think (When Calls the Heart) is filling a void. There’s nothing else like it on television. There’s a craving for inspirational, family-friendly entertainment. That’s not the direction that Hollywood or (other) cable networks want to go.

BILL ABBOT: I think we’re one of the few channels out there that are on 24/7 to really celebrate life’s special moments. That’s our vision statement and we feel (the fact) that we’re so successful is indicative of the need of the genre and quality content that we produce…We’re very excited about our success.

The event was hosted by Tom Leopold, a legendary TV comedy writer who has written for the likes of Bob Hope, Cheers, Seinfeld and Will & Grace.  He’s also the recipient of the 2014 Christopher Spirit Award.

Other Winners in the various categories include:

TV & Cable (presented by Today host Kathie Lee Gifford)

ABC News 20/20: Escaping ISIS  follows 189 Iraqi Christians as they find safe haven from terrorists in a Catholic Church in Erbil, Iraq, before two Americans help them escape the country.

America ReFramed: If You Build It (World Channel) follows two architectural designers who move to North Carolina’s poorest county and use creative educational techniques to teach high school students how to transform their lives and community.

Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors (NBC) brings the legendary entertainer’s classic song to life in a story that addresses working through grief, bullying, and the riches beyond money that are found in a loving home.

The Jim Gaffigan Show: My Friend the Priest (TV Land) finds the comedian feeling comically uncomfortable because his friendly parish priest tags along with him wherever he goes—even an appearance on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.” Tashi and the Monk(HBO) takes us to the Himalayas where a Buddhist monk has created a home for abused, neglected and orphaned children, teaching them to move beyond their violent pasts and find healing through love and compassion.

Feature Films (presented by renowned children’s book author Joan Bauer whose latest work is titled Soar)

Creed (Warner Bros.) lands a knockout punch with its story of aspiring boxer Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) and his mentor Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), who face self-doubt, loneliness, and even cancer as they pursue victory in the ring and in life.

The Drop Box (Arbella Studios) A documentary about a pastor in South Korea who gives abandoned, disabled babies a loving home that highlights the inherent dignity of society’s most vulnerable.

The Martian (20th Century Fox) Stranded on Mars because his fellow astronauts believe he’s dead, Mark Watney (Matt Damon) uses science and determination to keep himself alive until he can be rescued. In Room (A24 Films), the powerful love between a mother and son sustain them through the years they’re held in captivity by a kidnapper and the hardships that arise after they escape and return home.

Books for Adults (presented by New York TV journalist Tony Aiello)

In Five Years in Heaven (Image Books/Crown Publishing), John Schlimm chronicles his friendship with an 87-year-old nun whose kindness and wisdom led him to renewed hope, faith, and purpose in life.

Marcy Cottrell Houle and Dr. Elizabeth Eckstrom join forces for The Gift of Caring (Taylor Trade Publishing/Rowan and Littlefield), a heartfelt memoir of a daughter supporting her aging parents through their medical problems—and an empowering handbook on navigating the perils of the healthcare system.

New York City’s first African-American police officer, Samuel Battle, maintains his dignity and Christian principles in the face of racism to help integrate the department in Arthur Browne’s revealing biography One Righteous Man (Beacon Press).

U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Travis Mills, who lost all his limbs in an IED explosion in Afghanistan, fights through a painful rehabilitation to live a full life as a husband, father and veterans advocate in his book Tough As They Come (Convergent Books/Crown Publishing), written with Marcus Brotherton.

Joseph Kim documents his journey from starvation and homelessness in North Korea, to his new life in the United States, made possible by activists and Christian missionaries, in Under the Same Sky (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), written with Stephan Talty.

The transformational power of faith and art guide actor Wendell Pierce’s memoir The Wind in the Reeds (Riverhead Books/Random House), about the family values and community atmosphere in which he was raised in Pontchartrain Park, New Orleans, and his efforts to rebuild that community after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

Books for Young People (presented by Joan Bauer)

In a community where neighbors don’t smile or talk to each other, a child’s act of kindness sets off a chain of events that transforms strangers into friends in One Good Deed (Preschool and up, Kar-Ben Publishing) by Terri Fields, illustrated by Deborah Melmon.

A young woman opens her heart and home to a boy who’s never celebrated Christmas, teaching them both lessons about family and giving in the fact-based An Invisible Thread Christmas Story (Kindergarten and up, Little Simon/Simon & Schuster) by Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski, illustrated by Barry Root.

Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton (ages 6 and up, Peachtree Publishers), written and illustrated by Don Tate, presents the inspiring biography of a slave who taught himself to read and eventually became the first southern African American man to be published.

A third-grader donates the 40-pound cabbage she grew in her backyard to a local soup kitchen, and launches a national youth movement called Katie’s Krops to end hunger one vegetable garden at a time in the true story Katie’s Cabbage (ages 8 and up, Young Palmetto Books/University of South Carolina Press) by Katie Stagliano (now a high school student) with Michelle H. Martin, illustrated by Karen Heid.

Firefly Hollow (Ages 10 and up, Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster) by Alison McGhee, illustrated by Christopher Denise, presents a tale of adventure, friendship and courage about a lonely boy who befriends a firefly that wants to touch the moon and a cricket that wants to be a baseball catcher like his hero Yogi Berra.

A birthday card for a fellow Auschwitz inmate becomes an act of defiance and statement of hope for two Jewish young women with the determination to survive in the “based on a true story” novel in verse Paper Hearts (Young Adult, Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster) by Meg Wiviott.

The Lifetime Achievement Award was given to Ernie Anastos, a beloved New York City anchorman of 40 years who currently anchors the 6:00 PM newscast on Fox 5. In his acceptance, Anastos spoke eloquently of how simply being grateful for life has helped him in his success.

Overall, some fine choices for honor by The Christophers.

John W. Kennedy is a writer/development consultant specializing in teleplays, screenplays and novelizations. He can be reached at

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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