Created by Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis of 'Lost' (the pair called Damon Lindelof "the Godfather of 'Once Upon a Time'" on the panel -- promising!), the show blends characters from Disney, Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen and more with the real world, offering a new take on familiar tales in a way ABC hopes will connect with audiences of all ages.
Check out our highlights from the panel after the jump.
Horowitz and Kitsis first conceived of the idea for 'Once Upon a Time' eight years ago, right after they finished 'Felicity,' but it took them some time to ferment the concept into something worth developing.
A critic pointed out the inevitable similarities between 'Once' and Bill Willingham's comic book series 'Fables,' but Kitsis observed, "I think we have to accept that fairytale is a genre -- even though we're in the same playground, we think we're telling a different story and we have a different take on it. If we got a tenth of the people who like that [to like us], we'd be happy!"
Rather than simply inserting fairytales into the real world as 'Grimm' does, 'Once Upon a Time' presents two distinct worlds, that of the fantasy world, where Snow White and Prince Charming face a curse from an Evil Queen while Jiminy Cricket and Grumpy the Dwarf sit on their war council, and that of our reality, where magic doesn't exist (to our knowledge) and dreams don't come true. The producers promise that every week episodes will be split "between both worlds".
The concept is a little complex -- taking a page from the 'Fringe' playbook, most of the characters play two versions of themselves; the fairytale version of themselves, and the version that has forgotten their fantastical heritage after being trapped in our world by a curse. For example, Ginnifer Goodwin plays Snow White andher real world counterpart, Sister Mary Margaret, a woman who has no memory of her fated relationship with Prince Charming, thanks to the Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla).
"It's magical and inspiring," Goodwin enthused. "It's a unique situation to try and craft two characters ... and what was really exciting was to take other characters' motivations into consideration with how you create a character, thinking 'what characteristics would the Evil Queen' have given her in this world?'"
With high-concept, high-budget shows like 'Terra Nova' dominating the Fall schedule, some critics expressed concern that 'Once' would start sacrificing its effects budget in favor of producing episodes rapidly.
"ABC has given us a lot of support," Kitsis said. "We feel like we can't show this pilot and then have the cheap show after it. It's our goal to maintain this level of production value throughout." Shooting in Vancouver also adds to the cinematic quality, in the producers' eyes, and the cast praised the ability to shoot on mountains in snowstorms and in evergreen forests rather than having to rely on green screen for all their backdrops.
In terms of sustaining the storyline for several seasons, the producers weren't concerned. "The show isn't about breaking the curse [that traps them in the wrong world]," Horowitz promised. "That's part of it, but the show is about these characters and their lives and what they're going for -- how long can we explore these characters and what they're going through? As long as people want us to."
Twelve episodes have currently been ordered, but the producers have an outline for several seasons prepared, and although many questions are raised in the pilot, Kitsis and Horowitz promise that many will be answered in the second episode, and that they have no intention of drawing things out into epic, 'Lost'-style mysteries.
Speaking of their previous project, Kitsis and Horowitz admitted "we can't help ourselves -- there are multiple 'Lost' references in the pilot'. Things to look out for: Geronimo Jackson sticker, door number 108, and a memorable shot on of an eye that hearkens back to the pilot and finale. "When we got this show, we immediately went to Damon's couch; his name is not on the show, but he's in the DNA of it. We speak to him all the time -- he helps when he can, and sometimes he gives us tough love," Kitsis laughed.
In terms of rules about which memorable characters they're able to use, Horowitz remarked that Disney have been surprisingly open about allowing them free rein with the properties: "The jumping off point was what is the iconography that we all share? These characters cross all cultures and countries "The fact is, we can start these stories at any point we want, and we can orient the audience from there, regardless of whether you're familiar with the characters or not."
"They've been quite supportive about letting us do our own intepretations of the characters," Kitsis agreed. "This is the first time anyone's shown Snow White with a sword or as pregnant, I think. We're going to try and go as far as we can ... it's kind of story specific. The reality is that we don't know yet, we love the mishmash, we love the ideas -- if we go past 12 episodes we want to show that there's more [characters and stories] out there."
'Once Upon a Time' premieres Sunday, Oct. 23 at 8PM on ABC.
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