Fairy-tale characters trapped in modern-day Maine are making ratings magic for ABC's new drama. So what's next for the residents of Storybrooke? EW casts a truth spell on the exec producers for answers
When executive producers Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis first pitched networks Once Upon a Time — a drama about a cast of fairy-tale characters trapped in the real world by an evil queen — they didn’t get the happily-ever-after they were hoping for. ”We were completely rejected,” recalls Horowitz. ”We were young writers and we were pitching an idea that involved fairies and wolves and all these big, difficult concepts.” It wasn’t until eight years later, after he and Kitsis found their footing as writers on another show about big, difficult concepts — Lost — that they felt ready to revisit the idea. This time the outcome was different, thanks in part to ABC’s newly installed entertainment president, Paul Lee. ”When we saw the pilot, we knew it was an extraordinary piece of television,” says Lee, who was impressed by the showrunners’ ability to create emotionally compelling characters within a complicated narrative bridging two worlds. ”I think it’s a testament to their power as storytellers.” Both Horowitz and Kitsis say that their time on Lost helped shape Once. ”One thing we learned on Lost that [exec producers] Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse really put into us is: Character first, mythology second,” says Kitsis. ”At its core, Once Upon a Time is about the characters. It’s about the journey of Snow White to find love. It’s about the journey of Jiminy Cricket to regain his conscience. That is more important than anything else.”
Like Lost, Once (Sundays at 8 p.m.) has developed a passionate fan base — nearly 12.9 million people tuned in for the first episode, and viewership has settled in between 11 and 12 million viewers since. And all those fans have lots of questions. Does Regina (Lana Parrilla) know she’s the Evil Queen? Will Henry (Jared Gilmore) be able to convince Emma (Jennifer Morrison) that she’s the daughter of Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) before the end of season 1? And what can fans expect for season 2? EW hit Kitsis and Horowitz with the biggest burning questions about Once Upon a Time.
Do the residents of Storybrooke ever question why they can’t remember anything before the curse was enacted 28 years ago?
Not only has the curse erased the true identity of each fairy-tale character, it has also left them completely unaware of how they ended up in Storybrooke. ”They have an existence that for 28 years has made sense to them because of the curse, but only now, with the arrival of Emma, does the haze start to lift,” says Horowitz. Kitsis adds, ”What the curse has done is that it’s ripped everything you love from your life and created a void, but what it’s also done is it’s replaced your story with a new one. So Mary Margaret [whose alter ego is Snow White] had no idea that Prince Charming was in a coma and that he’s her soul mate.”
What does it mean that the clock has started working again?
After Emma moves to Storybrooke, the town’s clock tower begins functioning again — a detail the writers say is significant in a number of ways. ”The clock moving forward is symbolic of the fact that now the war has begun,” says Kitsis of the battle between good and evil, which begins with townspeople aging and regaining a sense of their own will. ”What you’re going to see in upcoming episodes is characters starting to free themselves and acting in ways that they previously had not.” So what does it mean that the clock was initially set to 8:15? The writers admit it was a reference to Oceanic Flight 815 on Lost. Laughs Kitsis, ”We just can’t help ourselves.”
Who wrote the fairy-tale book that convinced 10-year-old Henry that everyone in the town is cursed?
”That is a very, very important part of the show, and one that we’re really excited to answer,” teases Horowitz, before adding, ”just not now.” Kitsis hints that Henry’s fairy-tale bible doesn’t give the complete picture of Once‘s world: ”There are stories that were not included in that book because the people who are the stars of those stories may be considered villains.”
Are Regina and Mr. Gold aware that they are fairy-tale characters?
Since Regina enacted the curse, the writers say she’s fully aware that everyone in Storybrooke is actually a fairy-tale character. As for how much Mr. Gold/Rumpelstiltskin (Robert Carlyle) knows? The answer will become clear within the next nine episodes. ”We address that head-on,” says Kitsis. (The next episode airs Nov. 27; previous episodes are available on ABC.com.)
Why did Regina adopt Henry?
”More than anything she wants a great relationship with him,” says Kitsis, noting that the only reason she can’t fully love Henry is that the curse has left her with an emotional void — something Regina is determined to overcome. ”The only way that she is going to truly win is to fill that void and prove to everybody that she could enact this curse and find her happiness.”
Where does season 1 go from here?
Now that the series has received a full- season pickup, Horowitz and Kitsis have started to map out what they’d like the endgame for this year to be. Explains Kitsis, ”I would say that a lot of the questions that people are asking — Why does the Queen hate Snow White so much? How did Rumpelstiltskin become Rumpelstiltskin? — those are questions we intend to answer this season.”
Have you started planning season 2 yet?
”We have some rough ideas for season 2, but we’ve only aired three episodes, so there’s still plenty of time to crash and burn,” says Kitsis. ”We’re really focused on the season we have and making that great. A lot of shows are like, ‘Oh, we have to have five seasons planned right away,’ [but] a lot of things you think of in season 1, by the time you get to season 3 they’re no longer exciting or relevant. We want to be able to have a road map so the show is not rudderless, but at the same time have the creative freedom to push the show in different directions.”
What other characters are we going to see in Storybrooke?
So far the writers on Once have used characters from ABC’s parent company, Disney, and classic fairy-tale characters in the public domain to avoid dealing with outside rights, permissions, and fees. Kitsis points to Peter Pan, a personal favorite, as a character who won’t be popping up in Storybrooke anytime soon: ”Unfortunately Peter Pan is not public domain, so that is a rights issue that has to be worked out. We’re hoping that someday we can, because it would be such a shame to not be able to have Captain Hook or Peter Pan on the show.”
One character that is in the works? Ariel from The Little Mermaid — though they’re still figuring out how they’ll introduce her into the narrative. ”We actually have a really exciting idea for it, and it’s just a matter of whether we can get to it this year or next,” says Kitsis. Jokes Horowitz, ”Mermaids have the toughest agents.”
Are we going to meet Henry’s father?
In the pilot, Emma assures Regina that Henry’s father isn’t in the picture. But that might not be the case for long. ”Henry’s father is a very important part of the puzzle,” says Horowitz, who hints, ”It’s also entirely possible that we may meet him and not know we met him.” Viewers should also keep an eye on handsome Sheriff Graham (Jamie Dornan), who Horowitz says is ”pivotal” to the story.
Will the residents of Storybrooke ever find their happily-ever-after?
Since the series hinges on the curse, it’s hard not to question what will happen once it’s lifted and the characters are able to return to the fairy-tale world. ”The idea, of course, is for everybody to find their happiness or their hope,” says Kitsis, but he cautions that the happiness the characters find may not necessarily lead them back to the fairy-tale world. ”One of the questions we explore on the show is, What is a happy ending? What does that mean?” explains Horowitz. ”We started the show with what we felt was one of the most iconic happy endings, which was Prince Charming waking up Snow White. We then showed you that what you thought was a happy ending actually was the beginning of something much more.”