Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz created the ABC fairy tale series "Once Upon a Time" after six years on the mega-hit "Lost." But they carried the idea for the show around with them for over a decade before they were able to see it realized.
The series was a ratings hit and got picked up for a second season, which debuts Sunday night.
Kitsis and Horowitz sat down to discuss the series, their new characters and their writing process in the show's offices in Burbank.
Does getting a second season give you a boost of confidence?
AH: I don’t know if it’s a confidence that comes, because I don’t know if it ever comes. But I think that there’s a thing in the first season where you don’t know if you’re going to be on for more than a week, so that once we premiered and got picked up for a back nine and then it looked like we were going to get a second season it allowed us the freedom to design the story in a much larger way so that by the time we got to writing the premiere for this year it was something we had been able to think about for most of last season. It gave us more time to generate the idea and develop it.
EK: We ended the season in such a way that the audience was thinking “Now what are they going to do?” That’s what keeps you up at night because you want to answer that question. You want to come back and be like "Whoa."
Have you been able to keep the series to what you originally conceived all those years ago?
EK: When we first came up with the idea we were young writers. We were just coming off of "Felicity" and we didn’t really understand our idea as well, in a weird way. We had a general notion, which was we have the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming who would have a son and come to this town, but we weren’t quite sure how to tell it. But through our time on "Lost" we started to come up with ways. We called it a nine-year writers block. We never thought this show would get picked up. Because you’re never supposed to work with dogs and kids and we worked with dogs and kids and wolves and fairies and dwarfs. So we wanted to make sure that even if we didn’t get picked up we could look at that one hour of TV [the pilot] and say that was exactly what we wanted. And I think that we’ve been very fortunate that ABC supported us.
AH: When we did the pilot, we were shocked that we were able to do what we did, which was to tell a story with all sorts of effects and kids and two different worlds. And the network was, to their great credit, saying "Give it a try. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. But do what you guys want to do." And they’ve been incredible partners in the process. Because succeed or fail, we’ve been very clear about what we wanted to do that’s allowed us to tell the stories that we want to tell.
Has being part of the Disney corporation given you special access to using any characters?
AH: This is how naïve we were as writers. When we cooked up the idea almost 10 years ago, we had no idea about copyrights or any of that stuff. And the truth is that to do the show how we wanted to do it, we could have only done it with Disney. Yes, Snow White is public domain but the names of the dwarfs and those kinds of things are Disney brands.
EK: We met with brand early on and said “We’re not looking to retell Snow White. We’re not trying to retell Cinderella. We’re trying to tell the story of why is Grumpy grumpy? Why is the Mad Hatter mad? They loved that. We weren’t just going to retell what they had, we were going to do our version on it. As Adam says, we didn’t realize that Grumpy was a Disney-owned property. So last year, when we added an eighth dwarf and killed it, we had to go through brand. Thankfully, they were OK with it.
AH: They’ve been super supportive. They look at the scripts and the cuts. I think the problem would have been if we’d tried to redo Snow White or redo Pinocchio. Instead of redoing, we’ve done our take on the things we think you don’t know. It runs parallel to that. As long as we’re being respectful of the lineage while doing something new, they’ve been cool.
What other characters have you gotten access to?
AH: Jiminy Cricket. The Jiminy name is a Disney thing. The dwarfs. Maleficent. Our version of Mulan takes a page from the Disney version. Every time we open the field a bit wider, they weigh in. And they’ve been great and supportive. As long as we’re doing this thing and not trying to retell their thing and be respectful, it seems to co-exist. They’ve come down the rabbit hole with us.
Do you look back to the original Grimm stories for inspiration?