Good Witch has been a powerhouse franchise for both Hallmark Movies & Mysteries and Hallmark Channel for over a decade, amassing seven standalone films before launching into a series that begins its fifth season next year. On a recent visit to Toronto, I sat down with executive producer Jon Eskenas during filming of Tale of Two Hearts, this Sunday’s Halloween-themed installment from that upcoming season, to chat about the show.
Eskenas has been thrilled to watch the characters and overall story grow and change from films to episodic and garner such a huge and consistent fan response. He credits the cast and crew for anchoring a story that’s a mix of Cassie’s world and the expanded universe of Middleton’s residents and visitors.
While both networks have leaned heavily into Christmas and holiday movies, Good Witch only went there once, and it was a matter of timing. “It was never supposed to be a franchise. When we did the first movie, it just got these massive numbers and so then it was, ‘Okay, let’s do a second.’ And there was no planning to do it,” he recalls.
“And then that did well, so it was, ‘Okay, let’s do a third,’ and by the time that aired and there was a decision [to continue], it was late enough in the season that [it ended up as a Christmas film]. The third one was [The Good Witch’s Gift with Cassie and Jake’s] wedding [on] Christmas Eve.”
Converting from films to series required retooling not only the way the stories were told, but also some of the cast. “What makes the movies work is you have a very clear beginning, middle, and end. [With a series], you may want some of that, but you want to be able to build, too,” he explains.
“It starts with having a [solid foundation]. Our foundation is Catherine [Bell] and you can’t get a better foundation than that…in terms of an actress and as a person. She’s just a good person…down to her core. And then with the character…I always say to her every time we come back here…you just hear her say the first line, and, ‘Oh, it’s Cassie.’ She gets right back into it. So, you have that character and you have that person playing it [and] you can build around that.”
“Chris Potter was doing Heartland, so he wasn’t available. Bailee Madison had just done some stuff with Hallmark and they came and [mentioned her to] play the daughter. I wouldn’t ever have thought that was possible, so that was amazing. And then they had just done something with James Denton and it was, ‘Well, what about James Denton for the potential love interest?'”
“Both of them are just incredible. It’s just a great cast of talented performers who are even better people. As great as Chris Potter was, and we’ll always been indebted to him as the franchise…there was something to be said about being able to start [Cassie] anew.”
“With the movies, Cassie often [was] kind of flawless. We wanted vulnerability to come into her for the series. You need that for a series if you’re going to run for [a while].Â And so having it that she had lost her husband, that this new guy comes in, but they actually don’t get along at first and then she’s not sure what to do [accomplished that].”
“Her daughter’s going through different periods of her life and different issues. And so all of it are these very real world issues, but then you put the magic in there, too…or there is or there isn’t a magic in there, too. And then the world just expands around it.”
Eskenas says the cast and characters grew from there, and even reflected some of his own history. “Of course, you can’t have Good Witch without Martha [Catherine Disher], so it’s great to have her back. And then we decided…Sam should have a kid [the] same age as Grace. When I grew up, I had a stepfamily and my sister and stepsister were a month apart,” he shares.
“George, Peter MacNeill, who’s amazing and again, you just feel [is] part of the franchise. And then we have different people who come in. We added Stephanie [Kylee Evans] to really round out the town and add humor and heart. And then Abigail. Sarah [Power] was in the fourth movie and…she’s fantastic as a person and actress, and she gives us that kind of antagonist, but in a nice, Hallmark way.”
“[She] never is trying to hurt people, she’s actually trying to help people. Cassie leads you to make your life better; Abigail goes ahead and does it for you, no matter whether you want that or not. Every week, the writers do a great job of bringing in new people who Cassie can help and [that affects] the relationships. But at its core, it’s still about family and friendship.”
“That’s what made the movies work [and] that makes the series work. It’s about the little things in life and taking care of [them] so the big things can get solved, too. And that’s what Cassie does and she leads everybody to do. We all know in our lives…sometimes it’s not the hard rights, it’s the banks that really throw you. And that’s what we look at for them. And they’re very real.”
Eskenas adds that they take the series one season at a time, and there’s no formal end game in place, but they do consider where their characters are now, and where they’re heading. “The show could run forever. The good thing with us is, I think what people really love, are the characters,” he points out.
“Our crew have done an amazing job, [too]. I think it looks great, the wardrobe’s great, the sets are great. All of that. I think it’s a beautiful looking show. You come in because you love the actors, because you love the characters and so as long as we have them, you could keep it going.”
“It’s an interesting year [this season] as we come towards Sam and Cassie [and] their relationship finally getting to the pinnacle, and as Grace ages. [So we look at], with all of these people, now what has the show become?”
“We have ideas moving forward and I think there’s always [that sense of] somebody new coming to town or somebody who’s in town [who] Cassie [and Grace] help with magic…or if there isn’t a magic, Sam with his medical. The two of them teaming together. [You] can see how that sort of story line could run forever.”
“[In] terms of our main core of characters, I think we begin every year and say, ‘Oh, we’ve been really lucky to have great ratings last year, now how do we get even better?’ We’re always wanting to say, ‘Okay, let’s start fresh.'”
“We [have been] here together for so long, even the crew. [They’re all amazing and we recognize] how incredible it is to bring joy to literally millions of people. And around the world. [There] are mothers and daughters and sons and husbands and wives and friends sitting and watching something that we’re doing and it’s making them happy. I mean, what could be better than that?”
Good Witch: Tale of Two Hearts premieres Sunday night at 8 pm/7c on Hallmark Channel. Here’s a peek behind the scenes. Check back tomorrow for our preview and interview with Catherine Bell.
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