Tuesday, March 8, 2011

"Once Upon a Time" + "Grimm" = "Fables"?

It's pilot season in Hollywood, and one of ABC's new hour-long offerings is "Once Upon a Time," which is all about "a woman with a troubled past who is drawn into a small town in Maine where the magic and mystery of Fairy Tales just may be real." "Lost" alums Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz are producing, and the cast already includes Ginnifer Goodwin ("Big Love"), Lana Parrilla ("Miami Medical"), and Robert Carlyle, who I still think of as Gaz from "The Full Monty." They'll be playing characters based on Snow White, the Evil Queen, and Rumpelstiltskin respectively.

Fairy tales are a major trend in Hollywood this year, with projects based on "Little Red Riding Hood," and "Beauty and the Beast" in theaters this week, and new reinventions of "Hansel and Gretel," "Snow White," "Jack and the Beanstalk," and more on the way. "Once Upon a Time" isn't the only upcoming TV series based on fairy-tale folks in the modern world either. Over at NBC, writer-producers David Greenwalt and Jim Kouf are working on "Grimm," a "dark but fantastical cop drama about a world in which characters inspired by Grimm’s Fairy Tales exist." The pilot cast includes Silas Weir Mitchell ("My Name is Earl"), Bitsie Tulloch ("Lonelygirl15"), Russell Hornsby ("Lincoln Heights"), and David Giuntoli ("Privileged").

Comic book fans might be wondering, however, whatever became of another fairy-tale themed TV project that both NBC and ABC were involved in at various times, one that has similarities to the premises of both "Once Upon a Time" and "Grimm." I"m talking about "Fables," which NBC had in development in 2005, and ABC greenlit for a pilot back in December of 2008. The Vertigo-published comic book series, written by Bill Willingham since its inception in 2002, is one of the most popular comics that is still currently ongoing. It just passed the one-hundred issue mark in December. I've read about half the series so far, up through the sixth trade paperback, and it's fun stuff. "Fables" follows a group of fairy-tale characters in the modern day, who are living in exile after having been forced from their homelands by a villain known as the Adversary. Snow White, the deputy mayor, and Bigby Wolf, a lawman with a past, are the primary figures responsible for keeping the peace in the community.

Let me make it clear that I'm not accusing ABC and NBC of any impropriety, even though "Fables" fans have been kvetching and pointing out similarities nonstop since the projects were announced. Both "Once Upon a Time" and "Grimm" have premises that are generic enough that they aren't ringing any alarm bells, and "Fables" certainly wasn't the first to explore the idea of fairy-tale characters existing in the real world. I can even understand why both networks' attempts to turn the comic into a television series probably failed. "Fables" would be extremely costly to bring to the screen with any faithfulness. It's full of talking animals, fairy tale kingdoms, magical transformations, and epic battle sequences. It also features some pretty twisted takes on familiar characters like Prince Charming, Pinocchio, and Goldilocks.

And of course, the original fairy-tale characters are public domain while the "Fables" versions of them are not. "Fables" may be well loved in the comics community, but it's probably not well known enough by the general public to add much value to a television project on the basis of its name and reputation alone. It was clearly easier for ABC and NBC to start over from scratch and come up with their own properties, rooted more strongly in traditional TV genres. "Grimm" is pretty clearly a crime procedural and "Once Upon a Time" will probably be some kind of mystery drama. I expect that if the fairy-tale trend continues, "Fables" may get an adaptation yet, since its material is pretty strong and every comic-loving fanboy on the Internet keeps bringing the title up in every discussion of "Once Upon a Time" and "Grimm."

If these two shows do well, it may actually spur more interest in "Fables." If they tank, it may signal to the networks that fairy-tale properties are a bad bet. So "Fables" fans shouldn't be too quick to badmouth them sight unseen. I love genre stuff, so I'll be checking out both shows regardless - assuming they make it past the pilot stage and actually go to series. And if anything too similar to "Fables" does pop up in their plots, like a gun-toting Goldilocks or a serial womanizer Prince Charming, then we can unleash the proverbial hounds. And any Big Bad Wolves in reserve too.

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