CBC renewed Heartland, the longest-running Canadian scripted drama, for a 15th season. The multi-generational saga set on a ranch in Alberta’s rolling foothills airs Sunday, Oct. 17 with a 10-episode season.
The series, which has also been picked up in the United States, is filmed with panoramic scenes in Calgary, High River, Millarville, and Longview. The magnificent views coupled with the relationships between Amy Fleming (Amber Marshall), her older sister Lou (Michelle Morgan), their widowed grandfather Jack (Shaun Johnston), and Tim, Lou’s ex-husband (Chris Potter), create the powerful family moments that keep viewers tuned in.
Former St. Albert playwright Mark Haroun, now living in Calgary, is the TV drama’s senior writer. The Bellerose High alumnus is part of an award-winning team that includes producer and showrunner Heather Conkie, Ken Craw, Alexandra Clarke, and Elyne Quan.
Heartland initially debuted on Oct. 14, 2007. During the first season, Haroun was hired as a junior writer. His talent creating and developing characters and working with a team surfaced immediately, and he quickly rose through the ranks.
During his first season on the job, Haroun never envisioned the homespun Heartland, based on the Lauren Brooke series of books, would reach 15 seasons.
“No, definitely not. Any time a show lasts beyond the first season, you’re thrilled and excited to move forward. The fact that it kept going is wonderful, and I feel very lucky to have continued as long as we have. We have a producer, Michael Weinberg, who from the beginning said it would go 15 seasons or more. I don’t think any of us believed him. But it turned out he was right,” said Haroun.
Part of the series’ international success is a resourceful and creative team of writers who develop strong scripts with relatable characters and believable events in their lives.
“We’re unique in that we’re able to tell multi-generational stories. We have characters from five to 70 years old and we’re able to tell different kinds of stories so a family can come together and watch the show.
“Obviously, I don’t do this alone. Heather Conkie is the head and show runner who has an endless well of enthusiasm. It’s her passion. She really pushes her team to write new and interesting stories as we go forward,” Haroun said.
As TV series go, he believes the combination of writers, actors, and crew created a magical “lightning in a bottle” effect.
“We have this combination of incredible actors that works so beautifully. Their chemistry, the work they do together works so beautifully. The casting director did a great job early on. You can never predict how an actor will work out. But it worked beautifully, and that’s what I mean by lightning in a bottle.”
Season 15 started with writers meeting in January and tossing around ideas before they hit the computers for long hours of writing and rewriting. This season Haroun is in charge of three episodes. Once the camera rolls on his scripts, he can be found on set adjusting last-minute changes.
“In January we didn’t know if we’d be picked up, but we always work on the assumption that we will. And so, we’d already started the process of coming up with stories.”
Over the years, Haroun created and developed numerous story lines and character arcs. One particularly close to his heart was Tyler “Ty” Borden. The troubled teen came to the ranch to complete his probation after landing in juvie. Ty had attacked his stepfather for assaulting his mother. The troubled teen finished high school, became a vet, and married Amy.
“There was a character, Ty, and we met his father and that was the first episode I wrote. I really explored that character and his past was one of the storylines I really embraced. That’s one that sticks out. And I enjoy Jack as a character. He plays off Tim, who is his ex-son-in-law. They have a tenuous relationship, but they also have a deep respect for each other. It’s really an interesting dynamic.”
At the beginning of Season 14, Ty has a heart-attack and dies. The actor, Graham Wardle, decided to take his career in a different direction and left the series.
Ty’s death, although it came as a shock to audiences, allowed the season to go in new directions.
“Grief is a difficult subject, but it is a very real subject that all families deal with. It really brought out new qualities in Amber and she really embraced it. Her performance is pretty fantastic.”
In Season 15, Amy and her daughter Lyndy, will set aside grief and face the future with optimism.
“Amy is embracing the future. She is moving forward. She’s focusing on raising her daughter. She’s focusing on her work with horses. For the other characters – Jack, Lou and Tim – they’re also pursuing their dreams or fulfilling old ones. I think it’s really about moving forward, exploring renewal and embracing the future.”