Lessons from Watching “Once Upon A Time” – Part 2

Once Upon A Time…

There was a great wizard who managed to bring into life old fairy tales and create magic lands and enchanted forests but most of all he managed to put a spell on the whole world convincing them that Charming Princes and Sleeping Beauties do exist in the real world. 

He managed to cast a spell so strong that generations of girls and women were seeking and waiting for their prince to come and were convinced that he would save them and have forgotten their true power. Generations of boys who didn’t look like princes were hoping they would find a princess that would kiss them and turn them from a frog into a prince, boys who thought they needed to wait for a specific Belle to come and turn them from a Beast into someone that can be loved. 

So many lost lives, so many wasted years lived in illusions instead of creating their own life and taking their own destiny into their hands. The name of that wizard was… Walt Disney.

But one day a big storm came and brought into the world a powerful sorcerer and the spell was broken and women and girls started to believe in their own power and remembered who they truly are.

Boys realised they have power that stretches beyond their looks or muscles that there is power in being a “geek”.

In order to save his kingdom the wizard decided to change the old stories and give them a twist so they would appeal to a world where girls and women refuse to choose between being a princess, a witch or a warrior. A world where they can be all of them or be allowed to choose what is right for them and be accepted for it.

Now, the wizard has created a whole new TV show based on the old stories but with a twist that would fit those desires of his people.

If you read Part 1 of my Lessons from watching “Once Upon A Time” you know that there are important lessons to be learned from that show, which I have enjoyed discovering.

However, due to the fact that the show was just another trick of the wizard to keep his power there were mistakes that were done that brought down the show. This part is about the lessons that can be learned from the mistakes in the show.

7 Lessons from mistakes in “Once Upon A Time”

Lesson #1 – Know when to END your show

One of the worst curses you can put on anyone is making them successful in something that they don’t enjoy doing. The equivalent to it in TV shows is having to continue a show even though the main theme and messages were already delivered just because it is successful. The main theme (of Family) and the main messages were already delivered in Season 1 & 2 of “Once Upon A Time”.

Half way through Season 3 the writers (obviously not one but a whole bunch of them in the Writer’s Room) realised that they ran out of steam and now they need to rehash the same message and theme over and over again, which became tiring and repetitive.

It became worse when Season 6 ended and everyone got their “Happy Ending” and still they continued into Season 7, which was a total shamble.

I understand that the Network wanted to continue but have the integrity as a writer to end it as you visioned it from the start. Great example of it is The Newsroom that although was popular they still insisted on ending it at the end of Season 3 when all storylines were completed.

Main lesson – Have the courage to end your show when reaching the end destination. Before you start on any feature or TV show, make sure you know what is the end of that show, even if it’s just a season. Have a destination that would lead the way to.

Lesson #2Respect Your Audience Intelligence

One of the most irritating elements in the show was the disrespect of the audience’s intelligence. The show was a product of ABC, which is owned by Disney.

Riding on the success of the first 2 seasons the show started to bring more and more elements that any person who has ever watched or been to a Disney movie or park would recognise. From Belle’s yellow dress, to Lumier and worst of all having Belle dancing with this version of the Beast (Rumpelstiltskin) to the song of the animated movie “Beauty and the Beast”. It made me cringe.

As the show continued it became obvious how the next plot twist will be. How many times can you repeat opening a new portal into another world and erasing everyone’s memories in order to create another season.

Worst of all was writing scenes and stories that would please certain audiences in order to pull in more fans without doing the work for it. The best example is the famous kiss between Dorothy and Red, done to attract the LGBTQ community. It was too obvious and unbelievable (even for a fairy tale), that after one stroll at night True Love would sparkle between those two fair ladies. Nothing can repel an audience from your work than when you disrespect their intelligence and try to sell them instead of entice them.

Main lesson – NEVER underestimate your audience intelligence. The minute you do it they would leave you…

Lesson #3Too many storylines in a season

One of the reasons that as of Season 3 the show deteriorated was that from then on we started getting more than one storyline. From Season 3, we get 2 different villains and storylines, which hardly connect to each other.

That might indicate that the writers had no idea what their end destination is, and once they got there, they discovered they had to continue on and pull a rabbit out of a hat to satisfy the network (or the Wizard).

The result is that as of Season 3 the show became less and less intriguing and interesting. It became much clearer that it was all about the business and not about imagination, creativity of entertainment.

Main lesson – too many storylines dilute the power of the story and make it hard to connect and even boring as it becomes predictable

Lesson #4 – Make sure your characters are developed

Another reason too many storylines are a mistake and dangerous is that when you have a season that is split into two story arcs you don’t have enough time to develop your characters.

From Season 3, each Once Upon a Time episode utilizes this format – Half the episode is current events and half is past events. Often the past events delve into further back story for newly introduced characters.

This means that many events, like Ruby and Dorothy’s budding relationship, need to be crammed into about 20 minutes. This does not allow us to get connected to a great character and we end up with great characters which are utilized for a few episodes and then disappear into the back alleys of Storybrooke. Again, leaving us as viewers with a disappointment

Main lesson – Give enough time to develop your characters and their arc

Lesson #5 – Make sure you have a “continuity person” for your story

In every film production there is a role of “continuity person” in which their job is to make sure that the actors are wearing the same clothes and the set is the same between scenes even though they are being shot in a different order..

In a TV show, where there is more than one season, you better make sure that something that you put into the script in one season is repeated in another one, if you refer to previous episodes or seasons in order not to confuse the audience.

 The more seasons you have the more details you have to remember about characters and this is where continuity person is so important otherwise you leave the audience with a feeling they were cheated

In “Once Upon A Time” in Season 1&2 we learn that Belle was locked in a tower in the Enchanted Forest while the Evil Queen told Rumpelstiltskin that she is dead to prevent their “happy ending”. When the curse was done and the Enchanted Forest was transferred to Storybrook, she locked Belle in a closed mental ward for 28 years until the curse was broken. However, in Season 3 suddenly we get a version that Belle spent those 28 years as the town sleazy & drunk girl, which made no sense and just made the story less believable.

Main lesson – Even if you plan to have a series that goes for many seasons make sure each season you keep up with what was told in the previous one. Have someone that would record the main information on each character.

Lesson #6 – It’s all in the small details

As I wrote in Part 1, the uniqueness of this show was in breaking many of the stereotypes for girls and women that were part of our childhood fairy tales stories. Though those famous characters did get a new Make Over and some of them became truly awesome, when you look at the small details, you’ll see that some things still kept lingering in and ruining the possibility of giving it the power it could have had.

The main place you can see that mistake is the outfits that were chosen. Don’t get me wrong they are fabulous, but give me a break, no woman can walk, let alone, run and chase villains on those high heels that they gave them.

There isn’t one episode in this whole show where high heels and platforms are shown to be the footwear for a woman when she’s running… didn’t anyone tell the costume department or the writers that this is impossible, or dangerous, or pure torture.

Main lesson – if you’re going to break some stereotypes, make sure you take care also on the small details that are involved in breaking that stereotype, otherwise, you lose credibility

Lesson #7 – Stick to the premise of your concept

The premise of the show was ‘let’s take old fairy tales and turn them into a bit more modern”. However, by Season 3 they ran out of the old stories and started going into more modern ones, which ruined both the old loveable story while the new one was not that interesting.

Peter Pan was written already in the 20th Century. Wicked was written whether in 1995 or earlier version, but certainly in the 20th Century, not to talk about Else from Frozen, which was created in 2013, who appears together with the Ice Queen which is the original story behind Frozen and was written by Hans Christian Andersen. And let’s not talk about later seasons whereby suddenly King Arthur appears and Merlin and worst of all in Season 5 Hades and his Underworld.

None of those storylines meshed up with the original premise. It seemed as if the original premise was changed into “Let’s give everyone a Happy Ending, even for the villains”, which didn’t work out that well. The whole concept was starting to fall apart, which ended with a show which was… boring.

Main lesson – Once you have the premise make sure you stick to it, otherwise, either end your show or create a new one based on a new premise.

Would love to hear in the comment box below what is YOUR main take from this post


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