How Hallmark Turned ‘The Way Home’ Into TV’s Biggest Time-Travel Drama


The best time travel TV show right now is on Hallmark. That may sound shocking to everyone who only associates the Crown Media network with schmaltzy Christmas movies and the romantic adventures of small-town amateur detectives. However, The Way Home is breaking the Hallmark mold and bringing in new viewers at the same time.

The series centers on the women of the Landry family. The first season begins with Kat Landry (Chyler Leigh), newly separated from her husband, taking her disobedient teen daughter Alice (Sadie Laflamme-Snow) home to her family farm in Port Haven, Canada. It’s a chance for the duo to reset and for Kat to mend fences with her estranged mother, Del (Andie MacDowell), to whom she has barely spoken in 20 years.

Viewers are quickly informed that the Landrys were struck by tragedy in 1999 when Kat’s younger brother Jacob (Remy Smith) went missing and her father Colton (Jefferson) died three months later. The details of Jacob’s disappearance and Colton’s death are slowly revealed throughout the season after Alice discovers a mysterious pond on the Landry property with the power to transport her back in time to the months leading up to the fateful events.

The Way Home seamlessly combines family drama with mystery intrigue and, of course, the sci-fi element of the sentient pond that takes select swimmers to the time period it wants them to see. It’s addictive and heartwarming, and has become a key part of Hallmark’s expanding brand.

“This show is a breakout hit. It’s a marquee show for us,” Hallmark’s Senior Vice President of Development Laurie Ferneau told The Daily Beast’s Obsessed during the Television Critics Association Winter press tour in February. “We’re excited that the audience has really embraced it the way that they have because it was a bit of a risk. They are going on this journey with us.”

That journey began in an unexpected place and is taking the show, viewers, and Hallmark into new territory. The series is now a cable-topping and brand-renovating hit. On the occasion of Sunday night’s Season 2 finale, we spoke with the show’s creative team and Hallmark’s programming executive about the time-travel risk—and major reward.

The Way From Netflix

The Way Home was originally developed at Netflix with content executive Lisa Hamilton Daly before she became executive vice president of programming at Hallmark in 2021. She brought the Canadian series with her when she made the move from the streamer, and her new staff instantly fell in love with how the show embodied Hallmark’s energy in a way they hadn’t seen before.

“We read it. We loved it. It was so original, unique. It was based on a multi-generational family of women. It was so female-centric, and that really spoke to Hallmark and our brand,” Fernau said. “It’s emotional and there’s a lot of trauma—it’s all about healing the generational trauma—and that kind of stuff. We go through those highs and lows of tragic events. It gets that kind feel-good place in the end, which feels very Hallmark as a brand. We were very excited.”

The creatives behind The Way Home were also excited to make the move to Hallmark, instantly falling in love with the brand and its welcoming team.

“Honestly, it was the perfect fit. There really was never a moment where we had push back or we had to settle,” series co-creator and co-showrunner Alexandra Clarke told Obsessed. “It has always been this amazing collaboration. We all wanted to do the same thing and it felt so right to be at home on Hallmark.”

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Calling Hallmark home has also meant there’s more room for The Way Home to thrive. If the series had stayed at Netflix, it might have been lost amongst the streamer's never-ending library of content and bundled with similar family fare like Virgin River and Sweet Magnolias (also developed by Daly). Now, the series can serve as a crown jewel for the Hallmark suite.

“I think the show actually fits better on Hallmark because the essence of it is so rooted in family and feeling at home,” explained Hallmark Director of Original Programming Kate Redinger. “It touched on everything we try to do. We didn’t strip back anything. It was exciting to really put it on a pedestal here and treat it as a marquee for us. Netflix has a million shows, a sea of shows, and it gets to be a special baby here.”

The Way From Christmas

That special baby is bringing in a lot of viewers to Hallmark. According to Crown Media, the show has brought in over 4.4 million viewers since the second season premiered in January and the program ranks No. 1 among households, total viewers, and women and persons 18+ in Nielsen’s ratings. The numbers are a pay-off for Hallmark’s advertising blitz strategy during the 2023 Christmas movie season, making sure audiences were aware of The Way Home Season 2 was arriving in the new year during nearly every commercial break in their holiday fare.

“During Christmas time, we advertised a lot for the season premiere. There was a lot of build to that January slot. We have a huge audience in that fourth quarter for Christmas,” Ferneau explained. Hallmark was looking for a way to keep that Christmas audience around, and The Way Home turned out to be the answer. “A lot of people come to us for holiday [movies], so a great way to retain them is to give them great content, elevated content, and this show is perfect for that. It’s above and beyond. We love that we’ve been able to retain a lot of the audience.”

A still from the series The Way Home on Hallmark

Scheduling The Way Home’s Season 2 launch in January, immediately after the Christmas rush, shows how much Hallmark and its team believe that the series appeals to its core audience, despite being a little darker and more layered than the usual content on the network. It’s also more evidence that Hallmark wants to prove itself as a content creator outside of the fluffy romance people solely equate to the network.

“It’s exciting that we are a part of this broadening of the network and telling a bit of a different story. We love being the guinea pigs for that. We take that role seriously,” Clarke said. "I’m so grateful that we wound up where we did because I think we have the most incredible fans, and that’s because Hallmark fans are just so dedicated and invested."

The cast is also aware of the show’s success, but aren't surprised because they’ve been singing the show's praises from the beginning. They are equally excited to see the growth of The Way Home from the first to the second season.

“Even our demographics have changed. We’re hitting everything. Parents are watching with their kids,” Chyler Leigh gushed to Obsessed. “It doesn’t really matter where you are at in life, people are just gathering for this show. It’s the greatest compliment that we could ask for and it’s even more motivation to bring it even more.”

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Leigh’s co-star Evan Williams, who plays Kat’s childhood best friend and Alice’s reluctant time-travel guide in The Way Home’s present timeline, has his own theories for why the series has resonated with fans so much.

“There is a wish-fulfillment thing in the show, this fantasy idea of can you go back and see what went wrong and fix it? I think that’s what’s really grabbing people,” he explained. “There’s a heart and healing part of it that is allowing audiences to really invest in the characters and feel like they are involved in things that actually matter in their own hearts. We hooked them with that and that’s the staying power. That’s the kind of thing that makes people want to share the word of mouth about the show. That organic swell of audience has been because of that.”

The audience has grown as The Way Home has expanded its scope. The second season is even bigger than the first, adding in a completely new and more complicated timeline into the mix.

The Way to the Past

The Way Home Season 1 bounced between timelines set in 1999 and the present day, but the mystery of Jacob’s disappearance brought Kat all the way back to 1814. As Alice also continues going back to the Y2K time-period, Kat is exploring the origins of her family farm and her town, which adds an entirely new dimension to the series.

“It is three shows in one. We have three separate casts. We have three separate sections of our wardrobe department,” Clarke detailed. “It was really daunting, but at the same rate, everyone really believed in the story. Everyone really wanted to make it happen. We’re small but mighty…We care so deeply about the story that we’re telling and we knew it was a big ask, but we’re going to do it. So yeah, there are a lot of 1800s scenes that are in the woods, but we wanted to tell the best possible story.”

The theme of Season 2 is origin stories. Kat is literally exploring the beginning of Port Haven, while Alice discovers more about her family in the years leading up to her being born.

“She thinks that her last trip in Season 1 is the end of time-traveling to see her mom as a teenager and to see Elliot and all of those characters that our audience really fell in love with. Kat has told her you never go back, but we learned pretty quickly in Season 2 that she does,” Sadie Laflamme-Snow told Obsessed. “I think knowing that the pond takes you where you need to go, she has things to discover about those characters and those adults in her life that maybe they have been trying to hide from her.”

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Alice isn’t the only one struggling with time travel in the second season. Audiences still haven’t seen Elliot go through the pond himself, but Alice and Kat’s journeys force him to reconcile with his past in the present. It allows viewers to learn more about young Elliot’s home life in the aftermath of Jacob’s disappearance and Colton’s death, and the tumultuous relationship he had with his biological father. Knowing that history helps viewers understand why Elliot has been so harsh with Kat and her need to revisit the past. His distaste for Kat and Alice’s time travel culminated in a massive fight between Elliot and Kat in the season’s second episode, and has left Elliot trying to repair the resulting rift with the Landrys.

“Elliot [had] his work cut out for him this year. I think it’s a redemption arc, where we’re going to see Elliot trying to figure out how to own his authenticity, and hopefully earn his way back into the trust of the Landry family,” Williams said. Elliot left Port Haven at the end of Season 1 to give himself space from the angst of the Landry women's time travel, but Season 2 proves he is still very much on that journey.

“Time travel is dangerous. Elliot is aware of that because he’s been on both sides of the time travel paradox. It’s only out of love and care for the people in his life that he is trying to steer people away from the pond,” Williams revealed. “Sometimes the only way to [protect people] is by shielding them from truth that they can’t handle. That’s when you get into hot water and the more secrets you have, the more miscommunication you have, the more the plot thickens. It remains to be seen whether Elliot’s love and support can or will actually be taken [as protection].”

Laying the groundwork for these multi-generational stories starts early on. The time-travel element of the show requires the creative team to think years and seasons ahead. Kat’s journey to 1814 was teased in the very first scene of the series, and more Easter eggs have been planted along the way for viewers to fully understand further down the line.

A still from the series The Way Home on Hallmark

“It’s a five-year plan, especially with a show like this. You have to know that ending three seasons in, four seasons in. If you do, then you can plant things as early as the very first episode that will make the audience feel secure in the journey and know that we have this path,” Clarke explained. “We know what we’re doing.”

Hallmark knows what they are doing as well. The Way Home is setting them up for a deeper exploration of different types of content and expanding their audience.

The Way to the Future

The Way Home has encouraged the network to be more ambitious and sprawling with its storytelling. Multiple movies in the Christmas lineup strayed from the typical small-town romance set up and explored sibling dynamics (A Merry Scottish Christmas), found family (Holiday Road), and yes, a couple of movies that even played with time like Christmas on Cherry Lane and A Biltmore Christmas. Fernau revealed that more shows and programming that take big swings like The Way Home are in the pipeline.

“The movie side is very romance heavy-love stories… We love doing those stories, but we’re just trying to have some fresh ideas and really dig deeper with more complex characters, more layers to the characters, but still have that Hallmark promise that’s going to be delivered,” the executive explained.

The success of The Way Home has brought new partnerships to Hallmark’s doorstep. And it’s great timing as the network’s competitor Great American Family continues to compete in Hallmark’s standard content lanes. Fernau elaborated that the network is looking ahead instead of backwards or at the networks around them.

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“This show really allowed us to expand our footprint in terms of the industry. Agents, managers, producers and writers are looking at us in a different way and saying, ‘Oh, Hallmark is actually doing this thing.’ We’re getting pitches from talent we haven’t really gotten before. There are offers that are really impressive and exciting,” she said.

Fernau was firm that The Way Home plan does not mean the network is alienating its existing and fervent fan base. The executive team knows where the sweet spot is for their audience and are going to continue to develop content that appeals to those viewers.

“We’re just trying to keep this momentum going. When Calls the Heart is a beautiful period romance and has a huge audience for that. There’s also an audience for this show, and we’re really trying to find content that falls in the middle of those two things, but keeps us moving forward creatively,” she continued. “We really are expanding our programming. This is a great benchmark for that to see what our audience will accept from Hallmark. We can do this thing and we can do this other thing. We’re really excited about developing more content that feels more like The Way Home.”

The Way Home’s Season 2 finale airs Sunday March 31 at 9 p.m. ET.

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