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ABC’s upcoming series Once Upon a Time is going to be a tough sell for fans of Bill Willingham’s Fables. The network has the rights to turn the acclaimed Vertigo comic into a television series, but ultimately went instead with a pitch from Lost and TRON: Legacy writers Adam Horowitz and Eddie Kitsis that involves fairy-tale characters exiled to the real world.
The setup’s a bit different, and those characters aren’t aware (at first) of their true identities, but the parallels are easy enough to see. Comic Book Resources asked the writing duo what they make of the connections between the comic books and their TV series during an interview last week at Comic-Con International in San Diego..
“This is an idea we’ve had for eight years,” Horowitz said. “So when we were talking about doing television again, it was really about what’s the thing we’re most passionate about, what’s the thing we’re most excited about as writers, and it was this idea of taking these iconic stories which have been so influential to us and finding a way to put them into what we hope is a new form.”
Fables launched nine years ago, in 2002. That’s not to say we can infer the Once Upon a Time pitch that formed after the comic debuted has any tie to Willingham’s work — simply that the idea’s age doesn’t necessarily give one franchise any more weight than the other.
“This was always something we had, and then of course as it became real and got noticed, people started to [point to] Fables,” Kitsis said. “We’ve read a couple issues and we think that is an amazing property, but we’re doing our own version of it. Just like Snow White and the Huntsman the movie, I don’t think anyone’s going, ‘Are you Fables?'”
“Look, these stories are iconic for a reason,” Horowitz added. “We’ve all been told them, we all know them, they cross all cultural bounds, so I think that’s part of the reason people continually retell them and find new ways to spin them. We’re just trying to tell our own versions and our own kind of approach to telling these stories.”
As far as the actual storytelling goes, the writers say they have a “roadmap” for the first season, which they approached as if it’s going to be the last as well. In the uncertain world of television, you never know what will get another season and what won’t.
“All killer, no filler,” Kitsis, with a broad smile, said of their first-season plans. “We’re going to go back and forth between each episode. This is a character show first, not a mythology show, so for us it’s about exploring [characters] each week.”
“Like, why is the evil queen so mad at Snow White? Why does she hate her so much that she was willing to do this curse? Why is Grumpy grumpy? That’s the kind of storytelling we want to do, and we’re going to go back and forth between both worlds.”
While the plan for the first season is to keep the pace of revelations and narrative turning points fairly relentless, Horowitz and Kitsis acknowledge there’s a larger plan in place, but one that allows for some flexibility if the opportunity presents itself.
“We know where we would like to go with it, given the chance,” Horowitz explained. Kitsis added, “But we would like to be able to say, ‘Let’s follow this path for a while.’ So we have a roadmap, but we’ve also given ourselves a big creative leash.”
At the moment, the plan is to stick with familiar fairy tales and the characters that inhabit them, such as Snow White and Geppetto. There’s a vast world of such stories, though, especially when you start bringing in other cultural influences.
While that big-picture stuff is indeed being considered, mysteries still remain with the initially introduced characters. Expect many of those to be resolved before the first season ends.
“There are characters on the show that we haven’t yet told you who they are,” Horowitz revealed. “We’re leaving ourselves the room to have some surprises along the way.” Kitsis then added cryptically, “I think eventually you’ll realize it’s much more than you think it is.”
Once Upon a Time premieres Oct. 23 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.