The “Wedding March” franchise, which Wagner brought to the network, features him and Josie Bissett playing a loving couple who run a small Vermont inn that hosts wedding ceremonies. The movie begins at 9 p.m.
In “When Calls the Heart,” Wagner plays the sheriff in a small town in Western Canada at the beginning of the 20th century. The episode begins at 9 p.m.
“The Hallmark Channel really has become a nice home for me,” Wagner says. “It’s become a relationship of actors that they feel are an asset to their network and vice-versa. Hallmark’s audience fits the demographic we have built over the past 30 years.
“People want a safe place where they can sit down as a family — or as a couple — and watch something where there is not going to be a lot of blood, gore or backstabbing. There aren’t going to be a lot of wild sex scenes or profanity. Hallmark is that safe place.”
Wagner’s not condemning programs that have backstabbing, sex and language. He’s had a very successful career dealing with those elements on “General Hospital,” “Santa Barbara,” “The Bold and the Beautiful” and “Melrose Place.” Now that the Missouri native is 58, he has a great respect for movies and TV shows that offer positive messages about family and love.
In “Wedding March,” Wagner plays Mick Turner, a one-time pop star-turned-innkeeper who reunites with his college sweetheart Olivia (Josie Bissett) following decades apart. Wagner had not found his leading lady when the first movie got the greenlight from Hallmark. It was about that time he made contact with Bissett through social media. He hadn’t seen Bissett in 17 years, and even then they have very few storylines on “Melrose Place” that brought them together.
Still, Wagner knew Bissett — who he describes as a “Diane Keaton type” — would be the perfect person to play Olivia because she could handle both the comedy and drama in the films. It didn’t hurt that combined with Wagner, they make one of television’s best-looking couples.
The drama this time around has the innkeepers planning a Valentine’s Day date only to have it interrupted by his sister who wants to get married. Her fiancé is the last person Mick would pick for his sister, but forges ahead with the wedding plans.
When Wagner talks about actors who have generated large fan bases over the past few decades he’s talking about himself, Bissett and his “When Calls the Heart” co-star, Lori Loughlin. Wagner, who wasn’t part of the series until late in the first season, points out the show began to see its loyal fan base — known as the Hearties — grow as he and Loughlin brought a more mature element to the series.
“The show was primarily about the schoolteacher (Erin Krakow), the Mountie (Daniel Lissing) and Abigail Stanton, the character Lori was playing,” Wagner says. “When I signed on, I was joining a show in progress. But what I brought to the project was something I think was missing: an older male lead.”
The two projects are very different in design, but Wagner sees one very basic element at the heart of both his Hallmark projects.
“It’s always about the obstacles that the two romantic leads face,” Wagner says. “All the storylines filter through that. It’s about how people help each other to deal with the obstacles. Also, my character in ‘When Calls the Heart’ is about standing up for injustices and I think that really resonates with the people who follow this show.
“They root for these people and they suffer with these people.”
Wagner and Hallmark have become close, but he’s had a very diverse career before landing on the cable channel. He’s guest-starred on primetime television shows “Monk,” “Castle” and “Hot in Cleveland.” Wagner was a contestant on the 14th season of ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars,” where he and partner Anna Trebunskaya finished in 11th place.
As if that wasn’t enough, Wagner has recorded six albums, producing “All I Need” in 1985, which reached the second spot on the Billboard Hot 100 and was tops on the Adult Contemporary chart. A big part of the story in “Wedding March” has to do with a song Wagner’s character is writing for Olivia. Getting to perform that song, which was selected from Wagner’s second album, was an added thrill for Wagner.
“They were a bit skeptical at the beginning about me performing the song. I just told them they would have to trust me because I have known since way back during my ways on ‘General Hospital’ that music actually can bridge so much when it comes to storytelling and character arcs,” Wagner says. “To be getting to sing and act in projects like ‘Wedding March’ makes me very grateful.”
And, he’s going to be grateful for at least one more film to be produced. Wagner never wanted the tale of the innkeepers to be a series because he likes the idea of each of the films being tied to a specific event or holiday. He’s got plenty of ideas for more movies but is afraid if this was a series there would be episodes where it looked like the story ideas had gotten very thin.
Plus, the way “When Calls the Heart” continues to build fans for the series based on the Janice Oakes books, Wagner won’t have time to do a second series.
‘WEDDING MARCH 3: HERE COMES THE BRIDE’
9 p.m./8 p.m. Central Saturday, Hallmark Channel
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‘WHEN CALLS THE HEART’
9 p.m./8 p.m. Central Sunday, Hallmark Channel
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