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CCI | Once Upon A Time Creators Shrug Off Fables Comparisons

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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.

Jennifer Morrison as Emma Swan, a woman with a mysterious past comes to town where fairy-tale characters have been sentenced to lead an ordinary existence

“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.


  • Michael Sacal

    According to Wikipedia, both NBC and ABC were adapting Fables as a TV show, and now both of them have fantasy -based series that are similar to Fables (though ABC’s is much more so).

  • The Nugget

    I hope this crap fails. Fables is far superior to this rip off. Why have tripe when you can have Prime Rib.

  • John Byrne Says…

    This show is going to get cancelled fast. If it lasts 6 episodes I will be shocked. No way it has a second season.

  • Anonymous

    I will not watch this.

  • nailsin

    Is it cheaper for a network to do a rip-off of Fables rather than getting the rights to do the real Fables?

  • Papercut_fun

    “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.” 

    Apparantly they can also be spun in the same way that Bill Willingham has been cleverly and uniquely developing every month for almost a decade.  That’s just awful.  It’s clearly a ripoff of Fables’ core premise that has been changed enough to keep the lawyers arguing.

  • Anonymous

    They’re right, though. There clearly is a distinct difference between the two stories.

    One is well written, the other…

  • kalorama

    I love it when people decry something they’ve never even seen as “crap” and doomed to fail. 

  • tcraven

    Just casting Jennifer Morrison is enough to keep me away.  Her appearances on “How I Met Your Mother” were a real lowpoint for the series.

  • Adamh12110

    It is possible that they came up with this idea on their own.  Honestly, anyone who thinks about folk and fairy tales to any great degree will stumble along the idea of “What if fairy tale characters existed in the real world?” regardless of whether they read comics or not.  Trust me, I know from experience.  I’m a storyteller and a folk tale nut and I think about fairy tales constantly.  The same changes will come to mind too.  They’ll make heroes into villians and villians into heroes.  They’ll make the prince a jerk and have a princess that takes action and kicks butt.  It’s a standard way of turning things on their head.

    Honestly, this trailer reminds me more of the “Sisters Grimm: Story Book Detectives” children’s book series.  Largely because there seems to be a small town setting.  Once Upon a Time is in Storybrook while Sisters Grimm takes place in Ferryport Landing. 

  • Chris

    Right, because you’ve watched the new show and know that Fables is superior.  Oh wait, you haven’t, you’re crazy.

  • Coryjameson

    Of course this is a total ripoff if Vertigo had never approached ABC to do Bill Willingham’s Fables they never would have done this. It’s amazing what a billion dollars and an army of lawyers allows one to do.

    Hollywood Executives are fucking evil

  • Adamh12110

    What’s the NBC series called?

  • Bagel13

    Guess being on ABC lets them use disney dwarves.  That alone makes me uneasy about the show,

  • Vision Girl

    I would love to see Fables on Showtime or AMC

  • Adamh12110

    Okay, so I just checked NBC’s website and theirs is some show called “Grimm”, which brings to mind a darker version of the “Sisters Grimm” kids’ books.  Honestly, I’m beginning to think it’s going to be easy to get sick of this concept if you’re exposed to enough of it.  Not only is there “Fables”, “Once Upon a Time”, “Grimm” and “Sisters Grimm”, there’s also the Nursery Crime novels by Jasper Fforde.   I think Hallmark did a miniseries called The Tenth Kingdom that drew on similar concepts too.

    Again, it doesn’t surprise me that people came up with similar concepts.  Something about folk and fairy tales causes people to draw from the same well of ideas that lies within the human subconscious.  I mean, there’s a reason that there are over 500 different versions of the “Cinderella” story from all across the globe.

  • Ghostplanet

    Grimm – its a procedural style show about modern day Grimm brothers (man?) investigating crimes (I think in Oregon) that wrap into fairy tales.

  • Ghostplanet

    Or perhaps just easier to force the changes the network wants to see (for whatever reason).

  • Ghostplanet

    I do not fault the writers for doing the show – nor do I think this is a preciously rare idea.  

    I DO, however, find it gross that the network was developing FABLES for TV, dumped it, and 5 months later announced THIS.

  • d0dg3r

    This COULD be good — wouldn’t know, haven’t seen it.

    It also looks like a solid reason for Bill WIllingham to release the attorneys…

  • nailsin

    Also I think they just wanted to say-“From the writers of Lost!”

  • Benjamin

    I watched the premier of this at Comic-Con. They did a question and answer session after the screening and several fans pointed out the Fables similarities. It’s pretty obvious when you watch it.

    Also, it’s not very good. At all.

  • Mr. M

    What’s all the hoopla?  They’re all just ripping off “The Charmings” from 1987.


  • Michael Sacal
  • Adamh12110

    You know the thing that really kind of bugs me about these projects?  They all just trade on turning the tropes of a small handful of well known stories on their heads.  It’s always the same tales they riff on.  Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Snow White, etc.  Did you know that there are, like, 210 stories in Grimm’s Fairy Tales and only about a dozen of them are well known.  A lot of the less famous ones are really good too.  What about “King Thrushbeard” or “How Six Men Got on in the World” or “Hans the Hedgehog” or “Iron Hans” or “Jorinda and Joringel” or . . . well, I could go on for a while.

    Sorry.  Fairy Tale nerd rage.

  • mike thompson

    i thought i was the only 1 that remembered the charmings!!

  • The Ronin

    Basically they would have to pay Willingham for his, you know work, but they realized they don’t actually have to pay for public domain characters. So why pay the man?

    Its pretty fucking dirty, but it is one risk of working with public domain characters the way Willingham does. (Fables is pretty awesome though)

  • The Ronin

    Agreed, fuck their main character is Snow White. Its about fables fleeing their homelands and living in a special fable town while avoiding the adversary. 

    Well this Adversary is female, so completely different. 

  • The Ronin

    They are decrying it as crap because it is a rip off. Now fair enough, they havent seen it, this may be a very good rip off. But knowing how network tv deals with fantastic shows they probably doubt it. 

    Plus you know, the whole being mad for ripping off Fables thing. 

  • The Ronin

    I doubt it, Disney is very protective about their characters I would be very surprised if they are on it, even if Disney owns the parent….. Then again they did say something about grumpy right? I hope that was a joke. 

  • The Ronin

    Fair enough, but how many of those stories are largely the same archetypes doing largely the same stuff? More then a few.

    But your point is well taken. 

  • Adamh12110

    Actually, I think they’re different enough.  It’s not like the 500 different worldwide versions of Cinderella (“Cendrillon”, “Marya and the Rusaja”, “Ashpet”, “Fair, Brown and Trembling”, etc).  I think that if they were similar enough to each other, ol’ Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm probably woulnd’t have included them or would have combined different aspects into a single story (which they probably already did).

    I only know of two tv shows that did justice to the more obscure tales: Jim Henson’s The Storyteller and Grimm’s Fairy Tale Classics.

  • Anonymous

    Its more of a wait and see for me because i got see how it plays out to decide on whether or not it is.

  • Jedi Muppet

    I hear in the second episode we get to meet a new character, a goth girl who talks about death a lot. Apparently the writers had the idea years before they ever read The Sandman.