There's no middle ground to Patricia Heaton's newest television effort: She's very happy to be a producer.
As she continues starring in ABC's Wednesday sitcom “The Middle,” now in its fourth season, the two-time Emmy winner for “Everybody Loves Raymond” also is behind a project that's a family matter in several ways. Debuting at 7 p.m. Sunday, the Hallmark Channel movie “The Christmas Heart” was written by Heaton's brother Michael, a reporter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
“I think Michael's passion for his other writing comes from his being able do these kinds of stories,” Heaton says. “As a journalist, you pretty much report facts, so to be able to spin this wonderful tale out of your imagination is sort of a nice outlet. We've had this story around for a long time; I talked about it in a meeting with Hallmark, and they pretty much bought it right away. That was really exciting.”
“The Christmas Heart” was inspired by some of the Heaton family's Ohio neighbors, whose tradition of lining their street with holiday luminaries factors into the script. The fictional characters may abandon that long-standing practice to help a teenager (played by Ty Wood) who needs a heart transplant. His parents (Teri Polo, Paul Essiembre) ultimately get unexpected and meaningful support from their neighbors, as weather conditions threaten an aerial mission to deliver a donor heart.