Once Upon a Time is about to reach its happily ever after: The long-running ABC fairy tale drama will end its run after seven seasons, EW has learned.
Created by Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis, the series debuted in 2011 with an ambitious premise: OUAT would transplant the fairy tale characters viewers had come to know and love to the real world thanks to a Dark Curse, cast by the Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla), that could only be broken by the daughter (Jennifer Morrison) of Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Prince Charming (Josh Dallas).
After six seasons, most of the original cast departed, including Morrison, Goodwin, and Dallas. The series then shifted to follow an adult Henry Mills (Andrew J. West, in the role originated by Jared Gilmore) trapped in the cursed Seattle neighborhood of Hyperion Heights alongside originals Regina (Parrilla) and Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle), as well as season 2 addition Captain Hook (Colin O’Donoghue).
In its freshman season, OUAT was the No. 1 new drama in the coveted 18-49 demographic, averaging 11.8 million total viewers and a 4.1 in the demo. Once‘s popularity even led to the short-lived spin-off Once Upon a Time in Wonderland during its third season. The show, which consistently ranked among the top 20 TV shows on broadcast in the demo during each of its first four seasons, dropped in subsequent years, down to an average of 4.5 million and a 1.5 in the demo in season 6. The combination of a major cast overhaul and its move to Fridays led to a ratings average of 3.8 million and a 1.1, season to date, in season 7.
At TCA, ABC boss Channing Dungey had said she was “cautiously optimistic” that both Once Upon a Time and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. would return next season, but final decisions had not yet been made. Here’s Dungey’s statement on the end of OUAT: “When we first heard Adam and Eddy’s pitch for Once Upon a Time, we knew it was something incredibly special. For seven years, they have captivated us with their creativity and passion while reimagining some of our most beloved Disney fairytales, creating an undeniable global hit. Saying goodbye will be bittersweet, but Once Upon a Time will forever be part of the ABC legacy and we can’t wait for fans to join us in this epic final chapter.”
Added Patrick Moran, president of ABC Studios: “Once Upon a Time has been an amazing journey for all of us at ABC Studios and for fans around the world. We’re so proud and appreciative of the hard work and creative talent that Eddy Kitsis, Adam Horowitz and their cast and crew brought to this show for seven magical seasons.”
After seven years, 156 episodes, and countless twists on beloved characters, OUAT will officially say farewell in a series finale slated for May. Here’s an official statement from Kitsis and Horowitz: “Seven years ago, we set out to create a show about hope, where even in the darkest of times, a happy ending would always be possible. But we never imagined the happy ending that was actually in store for all of us – years and years of adventure, romance, magic and hope. We’re so grateful to our brilliant collaborators – the cast, crew, and writers – as well as our partners at the studio and network for making this journey possible. But most of all, we want to thank the fans. Their fierce loyalty and devotion was the real magic behind Once Upon a Time. We hope they join us for these last few hours as we journey to the Enchanted Forest for one more adventure.”
EW caught up with Horowitz and Kitsis to get their reaction to the show ending, what’s in store for the finale, and how they inadvertently made history with the show most critics thought would be immediately canceled.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What came with the decision to end the show? Was that ABC’s decision or yours?
EDWARD KITSIS: Listen, we love this show, we were happy to continue going on, but collectively they felt that, after seven years and 156 episodes, it was time. For us, we’re like, “It’s a hell of a run.” We never thought we’d get to seven episodes, let alone seven years.
ADAM HOROWITZ: It wasn’t like it was a shocking phone call. We’ve had conversations for a while about what this year would be, and whether it would go on or not, and if this could be the end, so we’ve been prepared for this for a while. The network has been incredible partners with us the whole way, as has the studio. Ultimately, it’s also a business, so it becomes about, “Is it financially viable to keep going forward?” so there’s all that kind of stuff, stuff that we generally don’t deal with because we’re just focused mostly on the creative. We reached that point where it’s like, “Okay, now it’s time to wrap it up. This has been an amazing 156 episode-run, and let’s all be proud of what we’ve done and try to wrap it up.”
KITSIS: It’s time to declare victory and go home.
What was your first reaction when you found out OUAT was going to be wrapping up this year?
KITSIS: We felt grateful for the opportunity. Obviously, we felt sad that, after seven years of living in this universe, [it’s over]. It has been so creatively rewarding, but at the same time, we have got everything out of Once that we ever dreamt of and we really can’t complain, and we really can’t feel sad. We just feel really grateful for what we accomplished — 156 episodes, seven years is a good run.
HOROWITZ: It’s funny because it wasn’t like it was a shock. When we spoke on the phone with them about it, it was like more like, “Okay, it’s time. This feels right. This feels like we’ve had a great run, let’s try to end the show in a way that will leave the fans with a good feeling about what Once was that will stay with them past the end of the show.”
Has ABC given you enough notice to be able to properly wrap things up?
KITSIS: Yes, I would say that we did not go into this season assuming there would be a season 8, so we had two paths for the finale — one where it was closed-ended, one where it was open-ended. We had been building toward it the whole year anyways, so instead of a cliffhanger, it will just be a closed-ended story that wraps it up. But we’re prepared and ready, so we weren’t shocked by it.
HOROWITZ: Yeah, these are conversations, again, that we’ve had for many months with the network about the possibility of this, so we’ve been preparing and always known this was a real possibility.
Even so, did you have a plan for a potential season 8?
KITSIS: We did have a plan for a potential season 8 just because, as I said, we went into the year knowing one of two things were going to happen, so throughout the year, you don’t ever want to be surprised if you can, so we had a plan for season 8, but that’s okay.
You already executed your plan for what you envisioned a series finale would be in the season 6 finale. So what’s that feeling like now trying to find a way to wrap everything up in a hopeful way?
HOROWITZ: That’s something we’ve thought about long and hard entering this season. For us, the season 6 finale really was a series finale in the sense of ending a six-year story and paying off a lot of that. For us, this is more the feeling of Once Upon a Time, so rather than bringing everybody back to do it again, it’s more about trying to have nods to the past seven years, but really make it about what is that hopeful, optimistic worldview that Once Upon a Time has always embodied. We want to leave the audience with that.
Some fans would’ve liked the series to end with the original cast. Do you have any regrets about this rebooted season?
KITSIS: That’s a weird question in the sense that if fans wanted that, they had the option of that: They didn’t have to watch this season. For us, we ended it the way we wanted to, but we were all still having fun and we wanted to see what would happen if we shook it up and did it. I don’t ever regret taking a creative risk because that’s why we got into this business. Once was a creative risk. Once, if you remember, was every critics’ prediction to be the first show canceled, so we wanted to see what would happen if we shook it up and moved on. I loved a lot of the episodes we did this year. I loved working on them. I loved working on them with the people, so I have zero regrets, but for the fans who felt like that should’ve been the ending, then for them, it is.
HOROWITZ: I agree with Eddy. I don’t have any regrets about it at all. I think we’ve done some great episodes, and some of our best episodes yet are still to come this season. For fans who miss the original cast, we miss them, too. They were all great friends of ours and we really enjoyed working with them. But as life moves on, people go in different directions and do different things. Taking aside all the creative stuff about this show, it’s been one of the joys about making this show, which is all the amazing people that we’ve been able to collaborate with, from the cast to the crew to the studio and network. And cast members who left last year, we still see them all the time and we’re friends. It’s created what we think are lifelong friendships and bonds that have been incredible. For the fans, they get that as well, too. They’ve now met these characters, and even though some left the show last year, and some will now leave the show after this year, they can always be a part of them thanks to Netflix.
With all that said, will you be bringing back any of the originals for the series finale?
KITSIS: We’ll have some familiar faces from the first six years return in the finale.
In the age of reboots and revivals, what’s that discussion like about giving closure while also keeping a story somewhat open-ended?
KITSIS: With Once Upon a Time, as we’ve said, fairy tales never say, “The End,” they say, “Happily Ever After.” So there can always be a next chapter to an ever after. For us, we’re not trying to put a bow on the show. Even last year, the season finale could’ve been a series finale, as you said, but if you remember, they just kept on living their lives and that was their happy ending. We will end it in a way that’s hopefully satisfying, but if someone years from now wants to do a spin-off or reboot, have at it, but my guess is it would be a full reboot.
HOROWITZ: I’m going to give you one big spoiler: Everyone doesn’t die at the end. So the characters still exist, and they will, as Eddy said, continue on with their happily ever afters — it’s in the same way that we created this show, where we took iconic characters who have stories already and told new stories with them, so I think there’s always room for that. Whether we do it or someone else does it, or the fans just do it with fan fiction, I think in some ways, the show will continue to live on and that’s incredibly gratifying.
KITSIS: Yeah, there’s a Once opera out there, and we had nothing to do with it, but it’s awesome, I hear.
Are you done with this world entirely? Or do you feel like you could come back to it sometime down the line, even if it’s a spin-off in the vein of Wonderland?
KITSIS: Right now, I guess, we are putting it to bed, and we’re going to be looking for what’s next. But if there was a clever enough idea for a spinoff or something else to do, I doubt we would be averse to it, because Once is our baby. But we have no plans to do it.
HOROWITZ: We have no plans for anything like that right now. I think the only plan we have right now is to take a long nap after this season, but we love the show, we love the world, we love the characters, we love everything about it. For now, we just want to leave the fans with hopefully a wonderful feeling coming out of the season and the series, let them enjoy it however they want to. If it lives on, it does, and if not, we had an incredible time making this show and are incredibly grateful for the opportunity to do it.
Was there talk, either now or in the past, about doing another spin-off?
KITSIS: There hasn’t been, because the show itself is so much like a spin-off. Every year is different, one year can be in Wonderland, one is in Neverland. We go back and forth. Since Wonderland, we haven’t really entertained the idea of a spin-off, but in today’s world, you never say never.
HOROWITZ: One of the things that’s been amazing to us about this show, beyond just the show itself, is there have been books, comic books, and all sorts of stuff like that that it’s taken on a life of its own in its own way. It’s a universe out there for people to enjoy still and discover, but in terms of specifically looking at, “Are we going to do the adventures of so-and-so in some other land?” We have no plans to do that right now, or really to think about Once other than trying to wrap up the season in the best way we can right now.
At its core, what has been your mission statement with this show?
KITSIS: It is what Snow White said in the pilot about believing in the possibility of hope is a powerful thing. When we started this show, it was in the wake of the financial crisis. Everything felt very cynical in the world, everything felt very dark. Adam and I really wanted to capture a show about hope. What we loved about fairy tales was the idea that your life can get better no matter how dark it seems at the moment. I think that’s what we’ve tried to make the show about, and that’s what started it. That was our mission statement.
HOROWITZ: It was also about the show can be dark, but we never wanted it to be bleak. We always wanted there to be a light at the end of the tunnel. We always wanted there to be this sense of hope and that things can get better, and that there is joy and love to be found in life.
As you mentioned, a lot of critics did not think you would even make it this far. What was that feeling like in the beginning when the show really started picking up steam?
KITSIS: I’ll tell you the moment I knew, because I have to tell you literally every critic was like, “This is the first dead. It’s debuting against the World Series and football on Sunday night. Sunday night has always been [Extreme Makeover: Home Edition]; it’s dead, it’s dead.” So Adam and I were like, “Okay, well, we’ve been on enough failed shows to know you really usually get pulled around episode 7,” so we were like, “All right, we have an opportunity to do seven cool episodes.” But the night we aired, we were all sitting in the bar at the Sutton Hotel, the cast and crew and everyone after the premiere party, and someone was like, “Holy sh—, Rumplestiltskin was the No. 2 Google search of the night.” “Of all of Google?” They’re like, “Yes,” and I thought, “That’s a good sign.” The next morning, when we premiered, we had a high debut and we were shocked and stunned. At first, we were like, “Now, not everyone can be wrong, it’s one week,” but when we held the number in the second week, that’s when we started to realize this thing was taking on a life of its own.
HOROWITZ: When it started to hit me that we might actually be doing this for a little while was later in the season, in January after we had been off for about a month or six weeks. We came back with “Desperate Souls,” an episode in mid-January. I remember thinking, “We did so well in the fall, but we were on every week. We haven’t been on in six weeks, maybe they forgot about us, maybe they don’t care.” The show aired and we came back to numbers as big as anything we had done in the fall, and I was like, “Wow, people seem to want to watch this show.” That was super exciting and super daunting, but at that point, we started to really realize that we’re eight episodes into this, let’s start to think a little bit more long-term.
In the pilot, you did something a bit unthinkable at the time, which was having an original Disney princess pick up a sword. She went from damsel in distress to true heroine. How difficult was that initially to reconcile with Disney, and did they come to trust you more as you made more twists on beloved characters?
KITSIS: When we wrote it, we didn’t realize. We had just assumed that someone must’ve put a sword in Snow White’s hand [at some point]. We had this meeting with franchise, and we were naïve at the time and didn’t understand that this was Disney franchise. We just thought it was an internal ABC meeting. We explained to them that in today’s world, we don’t want our daughters to watch Snow White come in and clean a dwarf’s house. We wanted her to pull a sword and not be a damsel in distress, and that is what people respect about Snow White is she’s a fearless warrior for good. They said, “We agree, that’s great, go do it.” From that moment on, when they started to see that we weren’t trying to just replicate the movies, but we were putting our own spins on them, the spins were hopeful and positive, they really started to support us in a way that is incredible. We’ve had so much support from Disney in everything we’ve done. When we did Merida, Pixar sent us her tartan. We’ve met with animators. Disney opened up the shelves to us and really allowed us the resources to do anything we wanted. We were just shocked and surprised and thank god they did that, because that’s what made this show so special, being able to say Jiminy Cricket and Grumpy, as opposed to The Cricket and a Helper.
HOROWITZ: When we pitched the show, conceptually they were on board with the ideas we were doing, and then when they started to see it as we went along, they got more and more excited. They’ve never been a roadblock; they’ve always been an aid. They’ve been supportive of our ideas and given us their resources to execute them. So every time we’ve come to them and said, “Hey, what if we did Frozen? Or what if we did this?” not only have they embraced the idea, they’ve been like, “Okay, why don’t you talk to the people who worked on these movies, and see what they thought about the characters?” It was an incredible learning experience for us to see how so many of these stories and characters originated so that when we would do our own spin on them, we’d be able to do the Once Upon a Time version in our own unique way.
What’s one character you always wanted to do, but couldn’t get or couldn’t find a way to fit into a story?
KITSIS: We have three episodes left, but for me, it has always haunted me that I’ve never done Mr. Toad. I know he’s obscure, but I always like the idea of the Mr. Toad, but we just never found the right story.
HOROWITZ: I definitely agree with Eddy about Mr. Toad. We never figured it out. But you know what? I’m going to say flat-out no. I think we got to do all the ones that were at the top of my list. There’s no regrets like, “Oh, I wish I got to do this,” or whatever.
KITSIS: We pretty much swept through them all except for maybe Country Bear Jamboree. [Laughs.]
How does it feel to have been at the forefront of the trend of reimagining Disney characters in live action?
KITSIS: It was great because we pitched this idea in 2002 or 2003 to eight or 10 places and everyone passed, because they were like, “We don’t do fairy tales or ensemble shows with all these crazy things.” Then, after Lost, people were more interested in hearing from us if we had any crazy shows with ensemble casts. We’ve always loved fairy tales, and I think what was great was we always believed in it, and when we came out, we were pretty much the first. The reaction was so strong that you realized that a lot of people didn’t even realize how much they loved fairy tales and/or didn’t realize how much people loved fairy tales. So to have an idea that we had and have it passed on, and then have it come back and actually be great timing was a dream come true that I’m not sure I’ll ever get to experience again.
HOROWITZ: When we pitched it and were making the plot, there had been no live-action Snow White movies from Disney, no Cinderella, no Maleficent, no Beauty and the Beast — none of those movies had come out. We hadn’t seen anything.
KITSIS: I think Maleficent was in production, and that year was like Snow White and the Huntsman, and we were just really fortunate that we had an idea that we believed in and that timing caught up with us.
It’s early, but is there anything you can say about the series finale’s tone or what you hope to leave fans with?
KITSIS: We are not trying to replicate what we did last year. We feel like that was a perfect ender to that book. We think we are going to wrap up the threads that we have introduced this year, and hopefully give people a big Once finale sendoff in the grand traditions of when we do alternate world endings.
HOROWITZ: We’re having a lot of fun with what these last few episodes are and we hope they leave the audience with that sense of fun, and with that sense of hope and optimism that come hand-in-hand with Once, so that everybody can walk away with a good feeling.
Looking back on the series, what’s been your point of pride? And is there anything you would’ve changed?
HOROWITZ: I’ll start with the second part first, which is I wouldn’t change a thing. That’s not to say that we were perfect — far from it. I would say that the process of learning and making mistakes is not something I could ever replicate. It’s unique to the experience of doing Once. Anything that worked, great, and anything that didn’t work is great because it helped us get to the stuff that we did next.
HOROWITZ: As far as point of pride, putting that sword in Snow White’s hand and having that be the first time, for me, that’s a real point of pride.
HOROWITZ: I’d have to agree with Eddy on that. Being able to take an iconic character like Snow and do something that we didn’t even set about to do, it’s just what felt right for us, and it didn’t even occur to us at the time that it was a big deal, but it is. The original Snow White is a brilliant movie and a product of the time, and we hope Once Upon a Time is, in its own way, a product of this time in a positive way.
Once Upon a Time will return for its final run of episodes Friday, March 2 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.