'Chesapeake Shores' Boss Says Season 4 Is All About 'Big,' 'Sweeping' Romantic Gestures (Exclusive)

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The O'Briens are back for new adventures on Chesapeake Shores -- and in classic Hallmark Channel form, the multi-generational family drama is putting a renewed focus on romance when it kicks off its six-episode fourth season.

When the series returns on Sunday, a lot will have changed for the central family members and their significant others: country star Trace (Jesse Metcalfe) returns home from tour with hopes of reconnecting with his first love, Abby (Meghan Ory), only to catch the eye of someone else. (Watch ET's exclusive sneak peek from the premiere, featuring Metcalfe, Ory and O'Brien patriarch Treat Williams, above.) Kevin (Brendan Penny) makes a life-changing decision about his relationship with Sarah (Jessica Sipos). Bree's (Emilie Ullerup) new play hits too close to home -- and may jeopardize a major relationship again. And that's just scratching the surface on all the O'Brien tension this season!

"Because there was so much family drama and angst last year, we really wanted to concentrate on the O'Brien kids' relationships and the parents' relationships and play around with the idea that not all family drama is set around breaking up the family, but about moving relationships forward in new and interesting ways," showrunner Michael Berns tells ET of exploring the characters complicated romantic webs on a deeper level this year.

Here, in a lengthy chat with ET, Berns previews the new season of Chesapeake Shores, breaks down what fans can expect from every major romance and whether season four could be the show's final year. 

ET: Hallmark is known for its romance, so how romantic is this season of Chesapeake Shores

Michael Berns: We have some really big romantic, sweeping moments. This season, more than any other season, there are a lot of people falling in and out of love over the course of this year.

Teeing up what we can expect in the new season, first I want to start with with Abby and Trace. They've gone through such a roller-coaster ride over the first three seasons with breakups and makeups, and at the start of this season, they're off again. What challenges await them in season four?

Trace and Abby have, as you said, been going back and forth for a number of years now and Trace has been ripped apart by having two dreams. One, his career, and the other, obviously, Abby. During the second season, we talked about if you pursue one dream, often it comes at the expense of another. After Trace left at the end of last season, we really talked about what would it mean for Abby to take him back. And if she decides to take him back immediately, what would that say about her and, honestly, what kind of message would that be for a mom in front of her kids? Abby's all about her children and about taking care of herself, so at the start of this year, she's not too quick to take Trace back. While we find out in the first episode that he's decided that he's [come back for her], you can't keep on going back to the same well and hope that there's always water available.

Do you feel like they are ultimately destined for a happy ending at some point?

Everyone loves Abby and Trace, and this year, because they're not back together immediately, both of them start to explore relationships outside of one another. But if a great relationship is going to happen, in my personal opinion, it's ultimately both of them. Trace makes a massive step this season, but it's necessary that, while they fell in love in high school, if they're going to ever make it, it's the maturing process of what has to happen when you grow up. Part of growing up is letting certain things die and adopting and adapting a new dynamic to the relationship.

You teased Abby and Trace exploring other relationships. In the first episode, we meet Emma (played by Lanie McAuley), the new singer who works at The Bridge and catches Trace's eye. Can you set up this new dynamic?

Trace is really hurting. He's the one who wants Abby back. He's the one who understands where he's made a mistake, so his relationship with Emma is an interesting one -- and it's one of possibility. In terms of Trace's mind, he really only has eyes for Abby, even though Emma might have eyes for him. Abby's [new] relationship, which you'll find out in episode three, becomes a lot more serious. And that puts more pressure on Trace. The worst thing in a relationship is knowing that somebody you love is possibly interested in somebody who actually is pretty great.

Chesapeake Shores Season 4: Meghan Ory

Abby (Meghan Ory) has a lot to think about when it comes to her love life: go back to Trace (Jesse Metcalfe) or move on?

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Let's move on to the heads of the O'Brien family, Mick and Megan. It seems like they're on better terms this season. What can you say about what their relationship looks like and if them getting back together could be a seamless transition for the family?

There's always been a connection between Mick and Megan, and there's always been a feeling that they can hold off on a relationship as long as they possibly can, but at some point they have to face whether or not they're really going to get back together again and how that dynamic will work. In an interesting way, Bree's book ended up turning over a lot of things and it allowed the family to break apart, but it also allowed them to heal a bit. I don't think that, if Mick and Megan decide back together again, it would self-destruct the family. But it would certainly be an issue of the kids wanting to know how serious the parents are because they've already gone through the struggle of them breaking apart once.

You mentioned Bree and her semi-autobiographical novel, so let's check up on where she begins the season. Can you shed some light on what her arc is this year?

Bree's book has been released and we find out very early in episode one how it's doing. But Bree has a tendency to write about her life. This season she's written a play about another part of her life, which, of course, upends a part of Bree's personal life. It's sort of Bree's way to subconsciously deal with what she needs to deal with in a conscious world. We find out that her play is about a bookstore owner dating an English author. Bree at least realizes this time around that she is writing about her and Simon. As any person who writes anything knows, oftentimes you take things from your own life, so you have a tendency to idealize them or change them around to what you need. And what Bree is discovering is that she writes about things that are concerning her and realizing that her work itself upends everything she's ever doing with her regular life.

Does the play present its own challenges for Bree and Simon moving forward?

It will. She realizes that what she's writing about isn't necessarily reality and at some point you have to come to terms if that's good or bad.

Jess and David are dealing with their own predicament as well, with their bed and breakfast shuttered. What can you say about what sort of obstacles await them this season as they try to reopen it?

There are certain couples on the show that are not only fun to write, but everyone loves the quirkiness of Jess and David. Especially during the second season, when we started to discover [who David was] and come up with crazier and crazier ideas of who he actually might be. At one point, I think we were talking, "Let's make him a prince." (Laughs.) This year, it's about finding out who Jess and David are back in Chesapeake, what they want back in Chesapeake and how to work together as equals. It's not just Jess's inn, it's not just David's inn, but it's about taking their relationship [to the next step] too since they've been a couple probably the longest of anyone on the show.

Chesapeake Shores Season 4: Brendan Penny and Jessica Sipos

Is Kevin (Brendan Penny) ready to take the next step with Sarah (Jessica Sipos)?

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What can you tease about the next chapter for Kevin and Sarah?

It's a great relationship. There's a difference between falling in love and getting married and having a life that's dictated by you or a life dictated by the whims of the people around you. Anyone who's gone through a marriage realizes that there are certain expectations that you have and certain expectations your family has. For them and for most people actually, it's the biggest growing up moment you have is when you start pursuing or being with someone else for the rest of your life. How do you balance that with the rest of your family?

Can you speak to what Connor is up to this season?

Connor's journey is split in two. He has his relationship with Danielle and in light of his siblings, who all have evolving relationships, how does that affect him? It changes the expectations for him and Danielle. How does that affect the two of them? But Connor also is still dealing and still working for his uncle when the season begins. Not that he's not a great attorney and not smart, but it's not necessarily a job he would've picked. And Connor still has a big ego and he's still a young attorney and there's a part of him, especially in light of his friends moving on, and doing the more typical attorney track to be partners at some point, is he satisfied just doing environmental law? He has to figure that one out over the course of the year. And it's Connor, so there's never a smooth path.

If there is a general theme to the season, what is it?

This year is about love and about how difficult it is to find it, how difficult it is to keep it and the real difficulties of knowing when it's right or wrong. And what to do when you finally figure it out.

Hallmark movies and shows are very good at having those big sweeping romantic gestures and speeches -- and Chesapeake certainly is no different. 

There is a romantic moment, not until later in the season, between two characters... I turned to my wife and said, "Hey, look at this." She watched it with all the music playing and she goes, "Why didn't you say that to me?!" And I'm like, "I had more time to write this out!" (Laughs.) Now that it's the fourth season, not only is the audience invested, but when you're writing, these are people you've lived with for years. So when you're writing these scenes, you have a tendency for them to actually say the things that you've always wanted to say and in a way that is emotional. Or if it's Jess and David, emotional but with a little bit of humor. Kevin and Sarah are going to play these straighter. But it's wish fulfillment for writers too. 

This is the shortest season of Chesapeake so far, with only six episodes. Do you feel like this isn't the end of the show?

You know, that's above my pay grade. Ideally, because I think so many people love the O'Briens I would hope that it goes on -- as I hoped at the end of season two and the end of season three. Look, it's really up to people tuning in more than what we can do. It would be great if it does go on.

Chesapeake Shores premieres Sunday, Aug. 25 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Hallmark Channel.

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