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Between Grimm, Once Upon a Time and ABC’s announcement of a series based upon Beauty And The Beast, it seems that fairy tales have replaced superheroes, Lost wannabes and even cheaply made conspiracy theory shows that neatly avoid showing alien invaders as television’s genre of choice. But how long can this latest flame last before burning out altogether?
I’m not entirely sure where this fairy tale fad came from – Perhaps it’s a crossover from the spate of Sleeping Beauty movies in development, which spin out of Red Riding Hood being made (And, I think, failing at the box office, unless I missed something), which itself spun out of the Twilight movies’ success making executives think that werewolves = Teh New Hawtness, or perhaps it’s simply moving the retrometer even further back from superheroes to toys to the first stories we learned – but it’s something that’s been bubbling under for awhile; Bill Willingham’s Vertigo comic Fables has been through a couple of developments for television, and videogames have had the Grimm projects for some time. Now that it’s finally made it to network television, of course, we can consider it mainstream.
We can also start the ticking clock for it to be over, too. Oh, it’s possible that these shows will catch on with viewers and become hits, but even that isn’t a guarantee that the genre is here to stay – Think about what happened to the superhero genre on the small screen, with even Heroes quickly succumbing to low ratings in the cold light of suddenly realizing it was a terrible show. Television is filled with sheep executives, ready to jump on any potential bandwagon and bring it crashing to the ground as soon as possible, remember. But, as it is, I don’t think that’ll be a problem here; instead, the problem is more likely to be that these shows won’t find a big enough audience to survive beyond a second season at most.
The problem may be that fairy tales are too nostalgic and personal for mass audiences – The origins are so ingrained in the audience that everyone has their own idea of how they “should” be updated, making them more likely to dislike/disregard the stories updating the characters that they’re watching. Making the original stories the basis of a Supernatural-esque mythology (Grimm), or dumping them into the modern world (Once Upon A Time) will definitely resonate with some people… But will either resonate with enough people to keep the shows on the air?
Genre shows are fringe shows the majority of the time as it is; with the exception of the odd surprise hit – Lost, Heroes, etc., all of which tend to be born of a specific circumstance, whether relating to a larger cultural need or hiding the genre portion early on so as to catch the viewers – it’s rare to find a genre show that makes enough money to be worth producing for a long time, and if there’s one thing that networks have demonstrated over the last few years, it’s that they’re ready to kill anything that doesn’t offer immediate success.
The sad thing may be that there actually us a really promising fairy tale-influenced TV show in the works – Ronald Moore’s 17th Precinct, which is described as “CSI meets Harry Potter” – but, given the likely crashing and burning of the genre before it even makes it onto air, it might be dead even before anyone has a chance to see it.