Fairy tales are hot again — with multiple movie versions of Snow White coming out next year and two competing fairy tale set shows on TV this fall — NBC’s Grimm and ABC’s Once Upon a Time — the universality of these iconic tales is once again proved. After all, fairy tales are a fun way for kids to learn all about abandonment and death, as Bruno Bettelheim once pointed out.

In all this celebration of the collective unconscious, however, it has been noticed that maybe Once Upon a Time was perhaps sleeping in the same brain as Bill Willingham’s FABLES — both deal with fairy tale characters dealing with the modern world and — smoking gun? — FABLES was even once in development at ABC.

While accusations of theft or undue influence have been flying for a while, Willingham has shown up at CBR in an interview with himself in which he graciously absolves the show’s writer of wrong doing:

What about the network? Long before “Once” was aired from ABC, didn’t that same network have a deal to produce “Fables” as a TV series?

Yes, but that by itself doesn’t prove anything. First of all, I am and always was on the outside of any deals between DC/Warner and any studio regarding a “Fables” adaptation. DC didn’t want me as part of the deal making and paid handsomely not to have me directly involved. So it was their baby all along. As such, I was never privy to the details of that supposed deal with ABC. I heard the same rumors you did, that the writers of that project weren’t supposed to have made the big announcement when they did. In any case, the ABC “Fables” project went no further than creating an unproduced pilot script. I eventually got to read that pilot, and it was a far cry from anything to do with “Fables.”

There’s much more, including Willingham’s own desire to call off his fans who have been crying theft for a while:

Partly as a call to arms — or more accurately, a call to disarm. As grateful as I am to discover so many loyal “Fables” readers, willing to man the barricades, to help protect a story they love; as much as it moves me to realize I’ve been part in creating something that clearly moves you, affecting your lives in ways only a good story, well-told can, I think it’s time to lay off. Perhaps it’s time to quit rising up in public venues to accuse these folks of Grand Theft “Fables,” even if you still think it’s so.


  1. I’m really glad that ‘Once Upon a Time’ isn’t explicitly based on ‘Fables’ because the former is thoroughly mediocre. I’d want much more from a ‘Fables’ show.

  2. My friend is hooked on Once Upon, then I introduced her to Fables. She sees the difference; she still loves the show, however, Fables has gained a new reader. All’s well that ends well.

  3. I like that Bill Willingham has taken the high road. It reminds me of the fan kerfluffle over Harry Potter and the Books of Magic and how Neil Gaiman has remained gracious even after years of fans claiming he should do otherwise. Would that DC had shown that sort of grace years ago with Fawcett and Captain Marvel…

  4. Great. So even if Warners and ABC did develop that Fables pilot.. it would have been unrecognizable. Ugh.

    Meanwhile, I don’t blame the writers of this show as much as ABC… but it seems Warners did just as bad a job selling Fables in the first place with that pilot.

    Would it kill these people to adapt something properly?

  5. There’s no evidence that Once Upon a Time is based on Fables. I mean it not as if the producers of Once Upon a Time attended San Diego Comicon & saw all those fans dressed up as Fables characters or something like that.

  6. Never have seen Once Upon a Time. But I’ve long been aware of the obvious similarities between Fables and the Sisters Grimm series. Would love to know the story behind that, although I prefer to think it’s coincidence. Once had a chance to ask Sisters Grimm author Michael Buckley for his version, but I couldn’t think of a way to phrase my question without seeming rude.