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Once Upon a Time Once Upon a Time title card

Genre Adventure
Fantasy
Mystery
Drama
Created by Edward Kitsis
Adam Horowitz
Starring Ginnifer Goodwin
Jennifer Morrison
Lana Parrilla
Josh Dallas
Jared S. Gilmore
Raphael Sbarge
Jamie Dornan
Robert Carlyle
Eion Bailey
Emilie de Ravin
Meghan Ory
Colin O'Donoghue
Michael Raymond-James
Michael Socha
Rebecca Mader
Sean Maguire
Andrew J. West
Dania Ramirez
Gabrielle Anwar
Alison Fernandez
Composer(s) Mark Isham
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 7
No. of episodes 135
Production
Executive producer(s) Edward Kitsis
Adam Horowitz
Steve Pearlman
David H. Goodman
Andrew Chambliss
Producer(s) Damon Lindelof
Christine Boylan
Robert Hull
Kalinda Vazquez
Jane Espenson
Daniel T. Thomsen
Brian Wankum
Kathy Gilroy
Ian Goldberg
Liz Tigelaar
Samantha Thomas
Jerome Schwartz
Helga Ungurait
Location(s) Steveston, British Columbia
Vancouver, British Columbia
Cinematography Steven Fierberg
Stephen Jackson
Tony Mirza
Editor(s) Geofrey Hildrew
Mark Goldman
Scot J. Kelly
Joe Talbot Hall
Running time 43 minutes
Production company(s) ABC Studios
Kitsis/Horowitz
Distributor Disney–ABC Domestic Television
Release
Original network ABC
Original run October 23, 2011 – present
Status Returning Series
Chronology
Related shows Once Upon a Time in Wonderland.

Once Upon a Time is an American fantasy drama television series that premiered on October 23, 2011, on ABC. The show follows various fairy-tale characters who were transported to the real world and robbed of their original memories by a powerful curse. The first six seasons were set in the fictitious seaside town of Storybrooke, Maine, with Emma Swan as the lead character, while the seventh takes place in a Seattle, Washington neighborhood called Hyperion Heights, with a new main narrative led by an adult Henry Mills.

It borrows elements and characters from the Disney franchise and popular Western literature, folklore, and fairy tales. Once Upon a Time was created by Lost and Tron: Legacy writers Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz. For the first six seasons, the series aired on Sundays at 8:00 pm ET/7:00 pm CT. On May 11, 2017, ABC renewed the series for a 22-episode seventh season, moving to Friday 8:00 pm ET/7:00 pm CT, which premiered on October 6, 2017. In February 2018, it was announced the seventh season would serve as the final season of the series.

A spin-off series, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, consisting of 13 episodes, premiered on October 10, 2013, and concluded on April 3, 2014. It followed the journey of Alice, from Alice in Wonderland.

Series Overview

During the first six seasons, the series takes place in the fictional seaside town of Storybrooke, Maine, in which the residents are actually characters from various fairy tales and other stories that were transported to the "real world" town and robbed of their original memories by the Evil Queen Regina (Lana Parrilla) who used a powerful curse obtained from Rumpelstiltskin (Robert Carlyle). The residents of Storybrooke, where Regina is mayor, have lived an unchanging existence for 28 years, unaware of their own lack of aging. The town's only hope lies with a bail-bonds person named Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison), the daughter of Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Prince Charming (Josh Dallas), who was transported from the Enchanted Forest to our world via a magic tree as an infant before she could be cursed. As such, she is the only person who can break the curse and restore the characters' lost memories. She is aided by her son, Henry (Jared S. Gilmore), with whom she was recently reunited after giving him up for adoption upon his birth, and his Once Upon a Time book of fairy tales that holds the key to breaking the curse. Henry is also the adopted son of Regina, providing a source of both conflict and common interest between the two women.

With the seventh season reboot, the setting currently takes place years later in the Seattle neighborhood of Hyperion Heights, where the characters were brought into this real world under a new curse from a different realm known as the Magical Forest, where Lady Tremaine has plotted to destroy Cinderella after she killed her father and blamed her for the "death" of her eldest daughter, only to have an adult Henry Mills become involved and eventually fell in love with Cinderella. Hoping to restore her family's memories, Henry and Cinderella's young daughter Lucy must convince Henry to save the trapped characters in Hyperion Heights, which is being controlled by her step-grandmother Victoria Belfrey (who is actually a non-cursed Lady Tremaine), a ruthless developer who wants to push the characters out of the neighborhood, including Cinderella (who is now Jacinda, a fast-food worker), Tiana (who is now Sabine, Jacinda's roommate), Regina (now a bar owner named Roni), Rumpelstiltskin/Gold (now a rouge Detective Weaver) and a wish-realm version of Killian Jones (now Detective Rogers, Weaver's partner).

Episodes usually have one segment that details the characters' past lives that, when serialized, adds a piece to the puzzle about the characters and their connection to the events that preceded the curse and its consequences. The other, set in the present day, follows a similar pattern with a different outcome but also offers similar insights.

Season 1 (2011-12)

The first season premiered on October 23, 2011. The Evil Queen interrupts the wedding of Snow White and Prince Charming to announce that she will cast a curse on everyone that will leave her with the only happy ending. The majority of the fairy tale characters are transported to the town of Storybrooke, Maine, where they have been stripped of their original memories and identities as fairy tale characters. On her 28th birthday, Emma, the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming, is brought to Storybrooke by her biological son Henry Mills in the hopes of breaking the curse cast by his adoptive mother, the Evil Queen Regina.

Season 2 (2012–13)

The second season premiered on September 30, 2012. Despite Emma having broken the curse, the characters are not returned to the fairy tale world, and must deal with their own dual identities. With the introduction of magic into Storybrooke by Mr. Gold, the fates of the two worlds become intertwined, and new threats emerge in the form of Captain Hook (Colin O'Donoghue), Regina's mother Cora (Barbara Hershey), also known as the Queen of Hearts, and sinister operatives from our world with an agenda to destroy magic.

Season 3 (2013–14)

The third season premiered on September 29, 2013. It was split into two volumes, with the first eleven episodes running from September to December 2013, and the later half from March to May 2014. In the first volume, the main characters travel to Neverland to rescue Henry, who has been kidnapped by Peter Pan (Robbie Kay) as part of a plan to obtain the "Heart of the Truest Believer" from him. Their increasing power struggle with Pan continues in Storybrooke, which ultimately results in the complete reversal of the original curse. All the characters are returned to their original worlds, leaving Emma and Henry to escape to New York City. In the second volume, the characters are mysteriously brought back to a recreated Storybrooke with their memories of the previous year removed, and the envious Wicked Witch of the West (Rebecca Mader) from the Land of Oz appears with a plan to change the past. Once again, Emma is needed to save her family.

Season 4 (2014–15)

The fourth season premiered on September 28, 2014. It was also split into two volumes, with the first eleven episodes running from September to December 2014, and the later half from March to May 2015. A new storyline incorporating elements from Frozen was revealed when the time travel events of the previous season lead to the accidental arrival of Elsa (Georgina Haig) from the Enchanted Forest of the past to present-day Storybrooke. As she searches for her sister Anna (Elizabeth Lail) with the aid of the main characters, they encounter the Snow Queen (Elizabeth Mitchell). Meanwhile, Regina seeks the Author of Henry's Once Upon a Time book so that she can finally have her happy ending. However, later on Mr. Gold returns, with the help of Cruella De Vil (Victoria Smurfit), Maleficent (Kristin Bauer van Straten), and Ursula (Merrin Dungey), has his own plan to rewrite the rules governing the fates of all heroes and villains. Henry and Emma race to restore reality and the truth before the twisted inversion becomes permanent. However, the price leads to the ultimate sacrifice.

Season 5 (2015–16)

The fifth season was announced on May 7, 2015, and premiered on September 27, 2015. The first volume ran from September to December 2015, and the second volume from March to May 2016. The characters embark on a quest to Camelot to find the Sorcerer Merlin (Elliot Knight) in order to free Emma from the powers of an ancient darkness that threatens to destroy everything. To complicate matters, King Arthur (Liam Garrigan) is determined to forever alter the balance between light and darkness using the legendary Excalibur. As history and destiny collide, unsuspected consequences lead the characters to the Underworld where they encounter souls of those with unfinished business and must face Hades (Greg Germann). In an attempt to restore order to the chaos that has culminated, the characters' dangerous manipulations of magic lead to an exacerbation of the war between light and darkness, with the separation of Regina and her Evil Queen persona, as well as the arrival of Dr. Jekyll (Hank Harris) and Mr. Hyde (Sam Witwer).

Season 6 (2016-17)

The sixth season was announced on March 3, 2016, and premiered on September 25, 2016. The characters must defend Storybrooke from the combined threat of Mr. Hyde and an unleashed Evil Queen and the mysterious fate of saviors leads to Emma learning about Aladdin (Deniz Akdeniz). The ongoing war between light and darkness ultimately leads to the arrival of the creator of the Dark Curse, the Black Fairy (Jaime Murray) as well as the final battle that was prophesied before the casting of the original curse.

Season 7 (2017-18)

In May 2017, the series was renewed for a final seventh season consisting of 22 episodes, which marked a soft reboot. Years later, Lucy (Alison Fernandez) arrives in the fictional neighborhood of Hyperion Heights in Seattle, Washington with her Once Upon a Time book to find her father Henry Mills (Andrew J. West) who is needed by his family. Characters from the New Enchanted Forest were brought to Hyperion Heights under a new curse and are caught in a rising conflict involving Cinderella (Dania Ramirez) and Lady Tremaine (Gabrielle Anwar) whose dangerous history with Mother Gothel (Emma Booth) is revealed as well as the agendas of Dr. Facilier (Daniel Francis). Two worlds collide when the arrival of Wish Realm Rumplestiltskin and Wish Henry Mills as they plot and culminates on every characters' happy endings by separating them in a separate realms into their own separate storybooks, leading to someone making the ultimate sacrifice.

Episodes

Season Episodes Originally aired (U.S. dates) Nielsen ratings
First aired Last aired Viewers (millions) Viewers rank 18–49 rating/share 18-49 rank
1 22 October 23, 2011 May 13, 2012 11.71 28 4.1/10 18
2 22 September 30, 2012 May 12, 2013 10.24 35 3.6/9 18
3 22 September 29, 2013 May 11, 2014 9.38 35 3.3/8 12
4 22 September 28, 2014 May 10, 2015 8.98 50 3.2/7 17
5 23 September 27, 2015 May 15, 2016 6.32 69 2.2 34
6 22 September 25, 2016 May 14, 2017 4.39 105 1.5/5 70
7 22 October 6, 2017 May 18, 2018 TBA TBA TBA TBA

Once Upon a Time's first season received "generally favorable" reviews from critics. Metacritic gave it a score of 66 out of 100 based on 26 reviews. The pilot episode was watched by 12.93 million viewers and achieved an adult 18–49 rating/share of 4.0/10. The second season premiered on September 30, 2012, to an audience of 11.36 million viewers, while the third season began on September 29, 2013, opening to 8.52 million viewers. In May 2014, ABC renewed the show for its fourth season, premiering in September 2014 to an audience of 9.47 million viewers. The series was renewed for a fifth season in May 2015 and for a sixth season in March 2016. On May 11, 2017, ABC renewed the series for a 22-episode seventh season. In February 2018, it was announced the seventh season would serve as the final season of the series.

Cast

Development and production

Conception

Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis conceived the show in 2004 before joining the writing staff of Lost, but wanted to wait until that series was over to focus on this project.

The idea is to take these characters that we all know collectively and try to find things about them that we haven't explored before. Sometimes it's a story point, sometimes it's a thematic connection, sometimes it's a dilemma they face in both worlds that is similar. We are not generally retelling the exact same story as the fairy tale world. — Executive producer Adam Horowitz

Eight years before the Once Upon a Time pilot (the two had just completed their work on Felicity, in 2002), Kitsis and Horowitz became inspired to write fairy tales out of a love of "mystery and excitement of exploring lots of different worlds." They presented the premise to networks, but were refused because of its fantastic nature. From their time on Lost, the writers learned to look at the story in a different way, namely that "character has to trump mythology." They explained,

"As people, you've got to see what the void in their heart or in their lives is to care about them ... For us, this was as much about the character journeys and seeing what was ripped from them in coming to Storybrooke – going at it that way as opposed to making it the 'break-the-curse show."

Despite the comparisons and similarities to Lost, the writers intend them to be very different shows. To them, Lost concerned itself with redemption, while Once Upon a Time is about "hope". Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof aids in the development of the series as a consultant, but has no official credit on the show. Kitsis and Horowitz have called him a "godfather" to the series. To differentiate the storytelling from what the audience already knew, the writing staff decided to begin the pilot with the end of the typical Snow White fairytale. Themes concerning family and motherhood were emphasized, in contrast to the focus on fatherhood in Lost. Kitsis and Horowitz sought to write strong female characters, rather than the classic damsel in distress. Horowitz stated their desire to approach each character the same way, asking themselves, "How do we make these icons real, make them relatable?"

The pilot is meant to be the "template of the series".Kitsis confirmed that every week will contain flashbacks between both worlds, as they "love the idea of going back and forth and informing what the character is missing in their life." The writers' desire to present a "mash up" of many small characters can be seen in a scene of the pilot, in which there is a war council featuring Geppetto, Pinocchio, and Grumpy. Horowitz elaborated, "One of the fun things for us coming up with these stories is thinking of ways these different characters can interact in ways they never have before." Since then, the creators have added more elements, and given its ties to Disney, have managed to expand the universe to include more recent material, by throwing out hints that they might look ahead at incorporating characters from Brave and Frozen in future episodes, if they get the green light from Disney. The Season 3 finale introduced Elsa in the final minutes of the episode.

The general premise, importing the Snow White core characters into the "real world", was previously seen on ABC television in the short-lived 1980s comedy The Charmings. The show also has a similar premise to Bill Willingham's ten-year-old comic series Fables, to which ABC bought the rights in 2008 but never made it past planning stages. After Fables fans raised controversy over possible appropriation, the show writers initially denied a link, but later said they may have "read a couple issues" of the comic book but while the two concepts are "in the same playground", they are "telling a different story." Bill Willingham responded to the controversy in an interview, where he stated he did not feel the show was plagiarism and said: "Maybe they did remember reading Fables back then, but didn't want to mention it because we've become a very litigious people."

Casting

Secondary character casting director Samuel Forsyth started the casting process in 2010. Horowitz stated that everyone they initially wanted for roles in the series accepted their roles after being sent a script. Ginnifer Goodwin was cast as Snow White / Mary Margaret Blanchard, who appreciated that she would be playing a strong character that was fleshed out for the audience. Goodwin had stated in interviews that she would love to play Snow White, and called her acceptance of the role "a no-brainer." Both Kitsis and Horowitz are self-described big fans of Goodwin's previous series, Big Love, and wrote the part of Snow White with her in mind. Josh Dallas, who portrays Prince Charming / David Nolan, was pleased the writers took "some dramatic license" with his character, believing the prince had become more real. He explained,

"Prince Charming just happens to be a name. He's still a man with the same emotions as any other man. He's a Prince, but he's a Prince of the people. He gets his hands dirty. He's got a kingdom to run. He has a family to protect. He has an epic, epic love for Snow White. He's like everybody else. He's human."

Jennifer Morrison was hired for the part of Emma Swan. The actress explained her character as someone who "help[s] her son Henry whom she abandoned when he was a baby and who seems like he's a little bit emotionally dysfunctional", but noted that Emma does not start out believing in the fairytale universe. Ten-year-old Jared Gilmore, known for his work on Mad Men, took the role of her son, Henry. The role of The Evil Queen/ Regina was given to Lana Parrilla.

"There's always two stories being told when playing Regina. There's the threat of her knowing she's an evil queen and then there's just the pure simple fact that the biological mother has stepped into her world and the threat of losing her son is just enormous. That's a fear that I think any adopted mother would have. I think that's going to really help the audience relate to Regina in some level." —Lana Parrilla

The role of Rumplestiltskin / Mr. Gold was given to Robert Carlyle, after having been written with him in mind, though the writers initially thought he would not accept the part. Horowitz recalled Carlyle's prison sequence, which was the actor's first day on the set as "mind-blowing ... You could see Ginny actually jump, the first time he did that character. It was fantastic!" Jamie Dornan portrayed the Huntsman / Sheriff Graham as a series regular before being killed off in the seventh episode, while Eion Bailey was cast as Pinocchio / August Wayne Booth in a recurring role, starting in the show's ninth episode, "True North", where he was credited as "Stranger", he was promoted to series regular status for the fifteenth episode, "Red-Handed". Raphael Sbarge portrayed Jiminy Cricket / Dr. Archie Hopper.

For the second season, Meghan Ory and Emilie de Ravin were promoted to series regulars as Red Riding Hood / Ruby and Belle / Lacey respectively, while Bailey made guest appearances in two episodes after departing the series and Sbarge joined the recurring cast. Colin O'Donoghue was cast as Captain Killian "Hook" Jones, and was upped to series regular for the fourteenth episode of the season.

For the third season, Michael Raymond-James was promoted to a series regular as Neal Cassidy, while Ory did not return as a series regular due to commitments to the TV series, Intelligence.

For the fourth season, Michael Socha was brought onto the show as Will Scarlet / Knave of Hearts from the show's spin-off, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, while Raymond-James was dropped from the regular cast when the writers decided to kill off his character. Bailey returned in a recurring arc towards the end of the season after being absent from the show since the second season.

For the fifth season, Rebecca Mader and Sean Maguire were announced to have been promoted to series regulars as Zelena / Wicked Witch of the West and Robin Hood respectively, while Socha was confirmed to not be returning as a series regular. Ory also returned to the series in a recurring capacity after being absent since the third-season finale.

Before the series was renewed for a seventh season, Jennifer Morrison announced that, if the series were to be renewed, she would not be returning as a series regular for that season but agreed to return for one episode to wrap up Emma Swan's storyline. Later that week, actress Rebecca Mader announced that she would also be leaving the series after the sixth season wrapped. It was later announced that Ginnifer Goodwin, Josh Dallas, Jared S. Gilmore and Emilie de Ravin would also be leaving the show after the sixth season's finale aired. Along with departures, Andrew J. West and Alison Fernandez were announced to be joining the seventh season of the show as series regulars after guest starring in the previous season's finale. They will portray an older Henry Mills and his daughter Lucy respectively. In July 2017, actresses Dania Ramirez and Gabrielle Anwar were announced to be joining the cast of the seventh season as series regulars, playing new iterations of Cinderella and Lady Tremaine, respectively. In September 2017, Mekia Cox, who portrays Tiana, was promoted to a series regular.

Filming

Principal photography for the series takes place in Vancouver, British Columbia. Steveston Village in the adjacent city of Richmond doubles as Storybrooke for the series, with props and exterior sets disguising the existing businesses and buildings. During filming, all brightly colored objects (flowers, etc.) are hidden to reinforce the story village's spell-subdued character. Certain sets are additionally filmed in separate studios, including the interior of Mr. Gold's pawn shop and the clock tower, which are not found in Steveston. Downtown Vancouver mostly doubles as other major cities such as New York City and Boston.

Setting

Main settings

During the first six seasons, the Enchanted Forest and Storybrooke, Maine are the main settings of the series. The Enchanted Forest is a realm within Fairy Tale Land, but the actual spread and scope of the realm is not known. However, they are later united during the Ogre Wars, which played a part in the formation of the War Council that is formed by Prince Charming and served as the catalysts in the backstories involving Rumpelstiltskin and the Evil Queen. Several independent kingdoms are implied by an array of different rulers. Most of the stories detailed their earlier lives before ascension to power and being influenced by their mentors through their upbringings. Meanwhile, Storybrooke serves as an isolated town separated from the rest of the Land Without Magic, where the cursed inhabitants are trapped by various forces.

During the seventh season, the New Enchanted Forest is shown as the main setting, along with Hyperion Heights, Seattle. As a realm in New Fairy Tale Land, the New Enchanted Forest is divided into several independent kingdoms with different rulers. The inhabitants are in conflict with each other, most notably between Lady Tremaine, Cinderella, Drizella, a resistance led by Tiana, and the Coven of the Eight led by Mother Gothel. Most flashbacks shown involve events that happened before the original curse and before the latest curse that brought everyone to Hyperion Heights, where unlike Storybrooke, its cursed inhabitants are living among ordinary people.

Expanded settings

The show, including its Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, have explored beyond the main settings to numerous realms, each based on fairy tales, literature, and folklore. Known realms are =Fairy Tale Land, the Land Without Magic, Wonderland, the Dreamscape, the Land Without Color, the Netherworld, Neverland, Victorian era|Victorian England, the Land of Oz, Kansas, Asgard, 1920s England, the World Within the Book, the Underworld, the Worst Place, Mount Olympus, the Land of Untold Stories, 19th Century France, the World Behind the Mirror, the Dark Realm, the Wish Realm, New Fairy Tale Land, the World Beyond the Bridge,the Mansion Realm, the Edge of Realms, New Wonderland, and the Prison Realm. All the realms are then merged via a variation of the Dark Curse, known as the United Realms.

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