Welcome to Remote Controlled, Variety’s podcast series featuring the best and brightest in television, both in front and behind the camera.
This week’s episode features Variety executive editor of TV Debra Birnbaum and editor-at-large Michael Schneider in conversation with “Once Upon a Time” executive producers Eddy Kitsis and Adam Horowitz. The co-creators talk candidly about how they keep the momentum going on the fan favorite series, which is now in its sixth season, having recently passed the 120-episode mark.
“When we pitched it, we said it’s like a summer movie. We wanted it to be for everyone,” says Kitsis. “For us, every year had to be a new adventure while you further these characters.”
They also address the challenge of integrating characters from the Disney library into the series, like Elsa from “Frozen” and Aladdin.
“We always wanted to do Aladdin and Jasmine on the show, but we hadn’t yet figured out the way it fit into the storytelling,” says Horowitz. “It occurred to us this year that Emma, our heroine, spent all these years being a hero and saving the world, and she’s been decreed the savior. So the idea then hit us: what if there was another savior, and what if that was Aladdin? Is there a toll that happens, the more heroism that you do? … And then Aladdin became the reflection on that. So it became our in to it. We can tell the Aladdin and Jasmine story, but have our own spin on it and have it relate to our characters.”
They recounted the “most important” meeting they ever had early on with Disney brand management about their ability to tap into the Disney archives — and how much flexibility they could have.
“We call it our Disney cul-de-sac,” said Horowitz. “You drive in here with these characters. You can play around with them. We try not to dent them too bad. They come right back out. And the Disney canon can exist as it always has. But in the ‘Once Upon a Time’ world, we can twist things and do things a little bit differently.”
That’s why they were able to turn Peter Pan into a villain, but decided to “keep Elsa Elsa,” says Kitsis.
The producers also reflected on what they learned from their time in the “Lost” writers’ room: “From everything to everything.”
“Damon [Lindelof] and Carlton [Cuse] were incredible mentors in trying to prepare us what is basically a job you can’t prepare for, being a showrunner,” says Horowitz.
Adds Kitsis, “The ‘Lost’ writers’ room was a room where you had to come in ready to play. There were no weak links in that room. You had to be ready.” To this day, he says, they still reach out Lindelof and Cuse for advice.
Working on “Lost,” adds Kitsis, “told us how to use genre as a metaphor. How do you do the character first because the interesting thing about ‘Lost’ is everyone was like, ‘I want everything answered,’ but most things were answered. It was about the journey, not the end. It’s really hard to get people to understand that. ‘Once’ for us was always about the journey. ‘Lost’ was always about the journey, because that’s why you watch a show.”
Listen to the full episode with Kitsis and Horowitz below:
New episodes of “Remote Controlled” are available every Friday.