Once Upon a Time, in its seventh season, has purged cast members, rebooted storylines, and moved to a tougher Friday timeslot where its recent ratings might make more sense.
It also has moved its setting from make-believe Storybrooke, Maine to Actual Nielsen TV market No. 14, Seattle.
Despite the new town, new curses, and new characters, the show’s EPs promised TV critics the same sense of unapologetic optimism and lack of cynicism you’d expect in a series that’s littered with curses and uplifted bosoms, and populated with characters like Cinderella, Evil Queens, Rumplestiltskin, and Captain Hook.
ABC Entertainment Chief Channing Dungey said earlier today about the long-term future of the franchise, “A lot is going to depend on how these new characters and this new storyline resonates. If it does, we have the opportunity to tell multiple years with these new characters. And if not, then we will look at the series as we’re going into this year and talk about how we wind it down.” She added, “What they’ve got planned is really spectacular.”
Meanwhile, Once Upon A Time EPs promised TV critics that, in response to a “great question,” the reboot will not undo all of those happy endings of Seasons 1-6, including those of characters who exited the show as actors’ contracts ended. Episode 2 will answer what happened to Emma Swan, and Episode 4 will tell fans what happened to Belle, the panel promised relieved critics.
“We are not looking to get rid of any of the happy endings set up, but we are moving forward, and think we have found a way to achieve both things,” EP/creator Edward Kitsis assured.
What happened in the first six [seasons] remains deeply rooted in the DNA, added creator/EP Adam Horowitz. “What came before, we are very cognizant of as we write the show,” he said, adding, “We’re always thinking of the fans.”
And yet, at TCA as at Comicon, much handwringing could be heard in the hall.
As one TV critic wondered during the post-Q&A scrum, Is Season 7 a restart of Season 1 in which everybody is under a curse except for the child? Are there any secretly woke characters?
“I don’t know,” Kitsis answered. “It’s not their first curse – so you would hope some people were more prepared than others. You will have to find out.”
Another critic, looking for something solid to hold onto, wondered whether ABC’s Seattle Grace hospital exists in this new Once Upon A Time reality.
“Why not, we’re all ABC family, yeah,” Kitsis said.
Kitsis insisted this is not a way to re-do the past six seasons.
“It’s network television, you have to go on the fly,” he said. “On cable, they get to write eight episodes and then go film them. We don’t have that luxury. Was everything we did perfect? No. But you know, rock ‘n roll is messy, and we move on. What we are doing is updating the show in a way that feels fresh to us and that we feel is more reflective of today,” he said.
To that point, Kitsis said this season will feature a gay character who “will have a love story like any other love story.”
“We think this new casting, moving forward, is going to touch on maybe some of the things that people wanted that we didn’t do in the first six years,” he said. “But, as far as regrets, I mean who remembers?”
During the on-stage Q&A – which, to recap, is happening in 2017 – all of the female panelists got asked if they had wanted to be Cinderella when they were a child. And none of the male panelists got asked if they wanted to be Prince Charming.
To her credit, Gabrielle Anwar, who plays Evil Stepmom aka Lady Tremaine going forward, acknowledged of the female panelists, “We’re groomed to feel that way as young girls,” but heroically added, “I did not feel my dream was to nail the prince.”