After being briefly pulled from airwaves in March, The Hallmark Channel's When Calls the Heart returned to its sixth season Sunday, this time without the presence of star and executive producer Lori Loughlin, reports Entertainment Tonight. The network cut ties with Loughlin due to her involvement in a widespread college bribery scandal, with some questioning as to how the show would soldier on without her. Prior to the airing of the new episode, it was reported that the actress would be edited out of her scenes.
The return episode opened showing Erin Krakow's Elizabeth Thatcher penning a letter describing the changes in Hope Valley that had transpired from the last episode.
It had been a week since Loughlin's character, Abigail Stanton, made the sudden decision to travel to the East Coast to care for her sick mother.
"We never know how life will turn. It's been a week since Abigail got word that her mother had taken ill back east. True to her nature, Abigail wasted no time in rushing off to take care of her. Abigail is much more than a friend. She's family and I will miss her and Cody deeply. We all will. But we must get by as best we can."The choice to keep Abigail alive in the world of When Calls the Heart leaves the door open for a small chance that Loughlin could eventually return if given the opportunity.
"We all keep Abigail and her family in our prayers and wish her godspeed. In her absence, we must soldier on and we will. We are a community. We are strong. We are Hope Valley."
Aside from being absent on any promotional materials for When Calls the Heart, the actress has also been removed from the show's opening credits.
In April, Entertainment Tonight spoke with Jack Wagner, who plays Jack Avery on the show, and he likened Loughlin's firing to "the five stages of grief."
Wagner attributed the retooling of the last six episodes of the season as a group effort and praised the cast for being able to "lovingly" move ahead without Loughlin.
The actor said it was important to regroup and restructure when losing such a key component of a show. He explained that it comes down to how the show is written and the attitude amongst the actors, noting, "we all showed up, we hit our marks and we're trying to do our best."