The co-creator of Hallmark’s longest-running original series and the star of several Hallmark films are teaming up to create a series of “edutainment” films, similar to the after-school specials that used to run on ABC.
Brian Bird and Trevor Donovan will produce the films through Bird’s production company, True Brand Entertainment. In a statement to Variety, Donovan said the movies would examine issues such as substance abuse, equality, bullying, and inclusion.
“These scripted narratives will be fun and humorous presentations of contemporary issues which inspire and uplift, just as they did in the original series,” Donovan said. “That model worked well back then, and after twenty years, the lessons and storytelling that entertained Gen-X should be enjoyed again.”
Bird, who co-created When Calls the Heart, also weighed in, saying the films would be a great vehicle for discussion.
“At a time when our culture is so divided, our stories can be bridges of understanding, solve problems, offer healing and sometimes even save lives,” the producer notes. “We believe there is a welcome market for entertainment that can entertain, inspire and lift all people up.”
Donovan leads an anti-bullying movement called the Upstanders. The program works with schools to help students learn how to spot bullying and stand up to bullies.
During a 2020 appearance at a Pennsylvania middle school, he talked about the abuse he received at the hands of his peers because of his introverted nature.
“You cannot escape it, and as a kid, you could feel as though you are surrounded, from the vicious messages sent directly to you to the disparaging content about someone’s reputation,” he said.
A California native, Donovan trained as a graphic artist before pursuing a career in Hollywood. He played Jeremy Horton on Days of Our Lives before taking the role of Teddy Montgomery on 90210. His character eventually came out as gay and married his partner in a Vegas ceremony.
He has starred in many Hallmark movies, including Strawberry Summer (2012), Love, Fall & Order (2019), USS Christmas (2020), and Nantucket Noel (2021).
Partnership with Bird
Donovan met writer and producer Brian Bird during his tenure at Hallmark. Bird co-created the series When Calls the Heart, which is going into its ninth season at Hallmark. He also helped produce the show’s spinoff series, When Hope Calls. Though the spinoff ran for only one season on Hallmark, it has been picked up by new network GAC Family for a second season.
Bird and Donovan recently finished making the independent film The Engagement Plot in Colorado, and Donovan said he would be open to making an appearance on one of Bird’s shows.
Donovan is also close with Bill Abbott, who was the CEO of Crown Media Family Networks for 11 years before leaving in early 2020. He recently signed a deal to make four movies with GAC Family, which was started by Abbott in June 2021.
As for the “edutainment” films, they will follow the model used by ABC in its after-school specials, which ran from the 1970s through the 1990s. The short films addressed issues such as peer pressure and drug abuse and ran on weekday afternoons. Over the years, the series won 51 Daytime Emmy Awards.
No premiere date has been set for the first film.