'When Calls the Heart' Season 8 Premiere Scores Massive Viewers With Cliffhanger

When Calls the Heart does not need Lori Loughlin to score a huge viewership, as fans still tuned in for the Sunday, Feb. 21 premiere on the Hallmark Channel. The beloved show is now in its eighth season, which will also be its second complete season without Loughlin. The show's premiere also ended with a dramatic cliffhanger, so Hallmark should continue to expect big numbers.

The season premiere averaged 3 million total viewers in Live+3 Nielsen data, reports Deadline. About 397,000 viewers in the women 25-54 demographic watched the show in the first three days since it aired. The episode was the most-watched original scripted show on ad-supported cable this year so far among total viewers and women 18+. It was also the most-watched entertainment cable program of the week among women 18+. The show had 2.1 million viewers and a .19 rating in the 18-49 demographic.

The episode ended with a big cliffhanger involving the central love triangle between Elizabeth (Erin Krakow), Nathan (Kevin McGarry), and Lucas (Chris McNally). Elizabeth decided to go on a dinner date with Nathan, her son Jack (Gunnar Reid Taylor), and Nathan's niece Allie (Jaeda Lily Miller). They met up with Lucas who was disappointed that they were all having dinner together. After Lucas left, Elizabeth called off the date and went back home.

"I think [Lucas'] dreams are being slowly crushed," McNally told Entertainment Tonight after the episode aired. "It's just another step in the wrong direction for him. I think, on the other hand, he does leave Hope Valley for a while to gain some perspective on the situation, and he comes back because realizes he just wants to be with Elizabeth, but he also wants her to be happy and that's the most important thing. So it's a bit of a push and pull, you know? If she's happier with Nathan, that's great. It's going to break his heart, but he still is longing for her in his own way."

The love triangle has put Elizabeth in an "impossible situation," since both Nathan and Lucas are great men. "I think, no matter what, Elizabeth is just in quite the pickle," Krakow said. "It's one of these things where, yeah, maybe if they hadn't run into Lucas and his mother on the way, it would've been easier to just keep walking into that café. But I think it just didn't feel kind, and I think in that moment, Elizabeth realized she still had a lot to think about and she was just trying to follow her heart."

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When Calls the Heart debuted in 2014 and is based on the Janette Oke novel of the same name. Krakow stars as Elizabeth Thatcher, a young teacher who is used to high-society life, but now works in Hope Valley, a small mining town in Western Canada. Loughlin was the main character in the show, playing Abigail Stanton. Partway through Season 6, her character leaves town to explain Loughlin's absence from the show following her charges in the 2019 college admissions bribery scandal. Although Loughlin has completed her prison term, she has not been involved in When Calls the Heart Season 8. New episodes air on Sundays at 8 p.m. ET.