Once Upon a Time’s Creators Say the Show’s Ambitious Overhaul Could Extend the Series for 6 More Seasons

ABC's fairy tale drama is undergoing massive changes

The show's returning actors, including Lana Parrilla, are playing new characters in the Season 7 premiere. Craig Sjodin/ABC
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The new TV season features several reboots and revivals of former TV hits like Will & Grace, S.W.A.T. and Dynasty. Then there’s ABC’s long-running fairy tale drama Once Upon a Time, which is being dramatically rebooted while it is still in the midst of its original run.

When the series returns Friday for Season 7, it not only will be airing on a new night (part of several big ABC scheduling moves as the network prepares for American Idol’s arrival) but will feature a major creative reboot that resets the storyline, and jettisons many of its stars.

The new iteration of the series, which producers are calling a “requel”—part reboot, part sequel—features new versions of characters from other storybooks, like Wonderland’s Alice (Rose Reynolds) and Cinderella (now played by Dania Ramirez). That has resulted in the departure of six longtime cast members, including Ginnifer Goodwin (Snow White), Josh Dallas (Prince Charming) and Emilie de Ravin (Belle). Those actors who did make it to Season 7—including Evil Queen Regina (Lana Parrilla), Captain Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) and Rumpelstiltskin (Robert Carlyle)—find themselves in new roles.

Even though Once Upon a Time’s ratings had dropped steeply in recent years, with the show losing half of its 18-49 audience over the past two seasons, the reboot “wasn’t a network mandate,” said Adam Horowitz, who created the series with Edward Kitsis.

“Around Season 4, once we realized the show had been on for awhile and it might be on for a little while more, Eddie and I, who had come from working six seasons on Lost, were thinking of a six-season modality for the storytelling,” said Horowitz. “At the start of Season 6, we talked to the network about a plan for rejiggering the show, so it was a mixture of the creative and the business realities of, after six seasons, actor deals are up. We were trying to figure out what the next chapter, the next book, Once Upon a Time would be.”

With many cast contracts expiring after Season 6, “there were certain cast members who wanted to stay, there were certain cast members who wanted to go, and then there were some who, because of the dictates of storytelling, didn’t fit in as regulars anymore. So we concocted this new plan, and it entailed keeping a few of our actors and bringing in some new ones,” said Horowitz. “Some of the previous actors will be returning from time to time in guest spots.”

ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey and ABC Studios president Patrick Moran are fully on board with the new direction, which Horowitz and Kitsis pitched a year ago. “Everyone felt like, let’s roll the dice and try to see if we can keep this show going fresh and new,” said Horowitz. “We’re excited. It will be up to the audience to decide when it premieres, but we really like the cast we’ve got, the returning players and the new ones.”

Horowitz said he’s fully aware that the show’s ambitious reboot could ultimately fail. “Like anything that is successful, it’s a risk. If it works, this show could go on for another six years. If it doesn’t, we’ll wrap it up, and seven years is a great run,” he said. “Could we have tried to eke out another year of the previous iteration of the show? Maybe we could have. But our feeling was, that show wanted to end in Season 6.”

While some of the show’s longtime fans are still reeling from the departure of so many actors, Horowitz hopes they’ll give version 2.0 of Once Upon a Time a shot.

“That outrage that some fans have is because they were attached to the show and the characters. And I would much rather have that than indifference,” he said. “People care about the show. So I hope they give it a chance and I hope they realize it’s still the spirit of the same show. Saying goodbye to anyone is tough, and that’s I think what is happening with the fans. Some are super-excited and some are nervous, and hopefully they’ll give it a chance and come along.”

@jasonlynch jason.lynch@adweek.com Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.