If you aren’t watching ABC’s new drama, “Once Upon a Time,” on Sunday nights, then you’re truly missing out.The show is one of the most engaging, well-paced, and generally entertaining programs in recent memory. The subject matter may seem off-putting to many at first, but in a way, it’s not what it sounds like. In another way, it’s precisely what it sounds like. Fans of Bill Willingham’s Eisner Award-winning series, “Fables,” have cried foul over the show, insisting that ABC stole the Vertigo comic series and presented it under a different name. Willingham himself has stated that this is not the case, and that fans should accept and enjoy the tv show on its own merits. Those merits are many.

The premise of the series centers around a small town in Maine called Storybrooke. Storybrooke is the home of every fairy tale character about whom you’ve ever read or heard. Snow White, Prince Charming, Red Riding Hood, Rumplestiltskin, the Huntsman, Hansel and Gretel, and even Jiminy Cricket live there. At least, parts of them do. The characters have no memory of their true identities or previous existences. A powerful curse cast by the Evil Queen exiled them all to the mortal realm as ordinary humans, whose memories have completely changed. Snow White, for example now teaches elementary school under the name of Mary Margaret Blanchard. The Evil Queen is the town mayor, Regina Mills. Red Riding Hood, now called Ruby, works as a very sexy waitress in her grandma’s diner. The Huntsman is now Graham, the sheriff. And many more. No one ages, no one remembers life past a certain point, and no one arrives or leaves. Attempts to leave the town result in tragic accidents.

The main action centers around Mayor Mills’s adopted son, Henry (by far the least annoying kid on tv), and his birth mother, Emma Swan, whom Henry has hunted down and convinced to come to Storybrooke. Henry somehow knows, after reading a book of fairy tales given to him by his teacher, Miss Blanchard, exactly what happened. He knows who everyone in town really is, and how their stories are supposed to play out. Emma Swan, he says, is the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming, sent safely to the mortal world through a small magical cabinet, and destined to break the curse and restore everyone to their original selves and home worlds. Emma, however, doesn’t buy into this for some time. A hard-nosed bounty hunter with a criminal record of her own, Emma is simply trying to work out a relationship with the child she gave up, now that he has forced his way into her life. A series of events, not to mention confrontations with Mayor Mills, result in Emma’s staying in town, moving in with Mary Margaret Blanchard, becoming the new town sheriff, and eventually realizing that Henry might be right about everything.

The true star of the show is Robert Carlyle. If you don’t know who he is, smack yourself on the hand, then look him up on www.imdb.com. He plays Mr. Gold, aka Rumplestiltskin. Gold is the wealthiest man in town, and quite mysterious. He’s the only person willing and able to stand up to the Evil Queen/Mayor Mills, but he is no good guy. A dealmaker who would make medieval kings and popes weep with shame, Rumplestiltskin revels in his evil with a glee that has to be seen to be believed. Even so, his actual villainy is as debatable as everything else. Every time his character seems to be defined, the next episode changes everything. This character is truly glorious, and if nothing else about the show appeals, he will.

Every character has his own story that ties in to the major arc. Flashbacks to the fairytale world show who and what people used to be, and each story involves considerable depth and complexity. For example, Prince Charming is no bland pretty boy. His flashback shows that he and his twin brother were the sons of a farmer. The childless king made a deal with the father to take one twin and raise him as the royal prince. When said prince dies fighting a monster in the middle of a very tense political negotiation, the king returns for the other twin to replace him. If “Prince Charming” doesn’t go along with it, both he and his widowed mother will be killed, and her farm and livestock burned. Every time Prince Charming is featured, his inner conflict is visible. The only time that he can truly be himself and happy is when he meets Snow White. Every character eventually gets some focus and explanation, and one sees how that person ties in to the overall big picture.


Why are you writing about this on a wrestling site, Drowgoddess?




Pro wrestling desperately needs to learn how to effectively apply the sort of storytelling done so beautifully in “Once Upon a Time.”


Bear with me.


Wrestling fans, and the wrestling companies seeking their financial support, seem to have lost the patience for a long-term story and the necessary character development for telling it. Everything has to pay off NOW, and draw a certain rating, or buyrate. If that doesn’t happen, blame the talent, push someone else, lather, rinse repeat. How many times have we as fans watched a story vanish into thin air without a successful resolution? A particular talent is suddenly “future endeavored” because creative had nothing for him. A story that could have taken six months to tell effectively is blown through in a few weeks. Constant face/heel flip-flopping or vague personas render wrestlers unable to connect with audiences. None of these things make for positive experiences, neither for the fans nor the talent.

Granted, getting wrestling companies, particularly televised ones, to stop living and dying by quarterly ratings and to have faith in the long-term investment of a story or a person will probably never happen. Pretend, for the sake of argument, that it does. The specific storytelling-related points from “Once Upon a Time” that can be effectively applied to professional wrestling are as follows:

1. Establish a clear face or heel persona before changing it. Give us time to get to know that character before pushing him into the gray area. Two weeks is not enough. The Austin/Hart double turn never could have worked if each man hadn’t clearly established who he was long before the match ever happened. The series starts off with Rumplestiltskin clearly the most manipulative villain. It’s not until eight episodes in that we see anything to even remotely challenge that perception.

2. Establish a simple main story before splintering off the many supporting stories. In wrestling, everyone should want the titles. Personal issues should be rare enough that they have power when used. “Once Upon a Time” makes it plain from the start that the entire fairy tale world is imprisoned here under a curse, and whether or not the Chosen One can break it is at the heart of everything. Everyone else’s story is a piece of the main story.

3. Allow everyone some focus, but explain how they tie in to the big picture. The bizarre concept that a wrestler has to be over first to justify his tv time has to go away. TV time exists to allow a wrestler the opportunity to get over, assuming that he has sufficient training not to embarrass himself. How can fans possibly be expected to react to Tyson Kidd, for example, when he’s so rarely seen that casual viewers have no idea who he is? Giving some tv time and focus to each character over a period of time does not equate with giving everyone a World Heavyweight title shot. The Ortons, Cenas, Undertakers, and HHHs can still be there. Main characters are main characters for a reason, and they don’t have to go away. Emma Swan, Mayor Mills/Evil Queen, Henry, Mary Margaret Blanchard/Snow White, and Mr. Gold/Rumplestiltskin are always there. They just don’t dominate every episode.

4. Plan and stick with it, being flexible when necessary. We’ve all read about how mercurial Vince McMahon’s temper is regarding his shows. That’s bad for business. A long-term plan, possibly six months or so, has to be made, and then followed. As with anything sports- or performance-related, a certain amount of flexibility must be allowed for injuries, firings, hirings, and all of those unexpected spanners in the works that turn up at inconvenient moments. This is not the same as announcing the main event of Wrestlemania a year in advance. A better analogy would be that the writers have known all along whether or not Emma Swan will break the curse of Storybrooke. Exactly how she gets to that ending requires certain plot points. Some can be changed if needed. Every episode isn’t changed on the fly right before filming.

5. Pace the story with proper build to the climax and resolution. This is basic dramatic structure. High school English and theatre arts classes teach this. Stop rushing things, and give the moments time to matter. For example, the break-up of Beer Money could have taken several months. An angry glance here, a missed tag there, an abruptly-ended phone call. It’s not a bad thing for fans to see what’s coming. The actual seeing of how it plays out is what matters. In this day and age of children coming out of the womb inundated with all forms of media, wrestling companies can’t get mad at fans for figuring out what’s going to happen. If you read a lot, watch enough tv, or go to enough movies, you’ll probably catch on quickly. People don’t just love a story because of a shocking and unexpected swerve. Those are, quite often, the greatest disappointments. What they love is the personal attachment to the characters and being along for the ride. While “Once Upon a Time” has made it clear from the beginning that the Evil Queen’s hatred of Snow White stems from the fact that the Queen’s great love died because of or at the hands of Snow White, twelve episodes have aired and we still don’t know the circumstances.


That’s it.


And we all lived happily ever after.


  1. I'm not so sure us older fans are going to live happily ever after! Ha ha! But I completely see your point. And I'm glad you gave enough of the setting of the show you are comparing it towards wrestling so I could follow your argument, so kudos to that. I vaguely remember hearing about this show, but like many good tv series, it has passed me by… perhaps this summer I can pull some marathons and check it out.

    I agree that this is an epidemic that is hurting both the WWE and TNA. Outside of the Rock/Cena program, very little seems to have an end goal of long-term story telling. And even that program is easy to criticize in many areas.

    TNA had gold in their hands with the Storm/Roode program, and killed it due to, well, let's just call it "rumored" stroke of Hogan. And even afterwards, when they kind of had the chance to save it, they've been hotshotting that program by giving it away for free without ANY promotion on television. If you are going to book towards TV, and not PPV, at least take advantage of how to bump ratings.

    The absolute best storyline on TV is on ROH, even though hardly anyone watches it. That's the Kevin Steen/Steve Corino/Jim Cornette feud that is almost two years in the making. Sadly, if a tree falls in… yeah, just the squirrels hear it, and they can't communicate this to humans.

    While I can't argue with your points, it's something that I don't think we'll see a change in anytime soon. And that sucks. Until Jeff Katz wrestling revolution drops (and I really hope it's available in my market), true serialized wrestling is sorely lacking. I'll give credit to the Bryan/Show program (which might be dead in the water tomorrow night… but even I have a concept that can save that I'll save for the BWF Radio show when we get there). I also think that the Kaz/Styles/Daniels program has legs over on Impact if they at least give it a little more attention. The slow turn of Daniels on Styles has been many months in the making. There is some hope, just not a New Hope. Why? Because TNA went and completely fucked up the Star Wars episode. 🙂 Typical.

    • I honestly don't expect it either, but I've had this in my head for about two weeks, and it had to be shared. Each episode of "Once Upon a Time" gives you just enough to make you pretty happy as a fan, but always leaves you wanting more with a quasi-cliffhanger ending that you don't dare miss the next episode. Televised wrestling can and should be doing that too. The execution may need to be different for wrestling than from a scripted tv show, but the overall concept is the same.

      The trailer for Wrestling Revolution Project intrigues me. I had a long chat about it with my brother at his comic shop, and he showed it to me. I'm now officially very interested. I also had no idea how good TNA's Ring Ka King was. Between not getting ROH on tv in my area anymore and discovering these two things, I'm feeling that the bulk of my wrestling-watching may be over the internet from now on.

      Fans not only accepted but embraced Sting's transformation into his Crow persona and his lack of talking or having matches for a year. Sure, that was '95-'96, but that it happened at all proves that taking over a month to do something can pay off.

    • My comment vanished, so I shall try again.

      I don't expect to see a change either. It's just an issue that has struck me as more and more obvious every time I watch "Once Upon a Time." The whole "Hey, wrestling should be doing this too." Sure, the execution of these things might be different for a weekly wrestling show than for a traditional tv show, but the overall concept should still be the same.

      I ceased getting ROH on tv when they left HDNet, so I've seen little since then. I'm thoroughly intrigued by both the Wrestling Revolution Project and (shockingly) TNA's Ring Ka King. My brother showed me the trailer for the former and the first episode of the latter during a lengthy discussion of them at his comic shop, and I'm now officially intrigued. Most of my wrestling-watching may be done over the internet now. Honestly, Ring Ka King is everything that Impact should have been. From the ridiculously over-the-top Bollywood entrance to roughly 36 minutes of in-ring action for a 43-minute show to a clear focus on the titles to my above Point #3, Ring Ka King is thoroughly enjoyable. It makes the state of Impact even sadder to know that TNA can do something right.

  2. One of many things I've learned from Jim Cornette is that the story must be believable in order to get the fans attention, because if the fans don't believe it, then nobody will. What's the point in having something that nobody believes would happen in real life? Seeing John Cena don the superman outfit may be believable once, but over and over again? Sure, upsets can happen. But Kidman beating Hogan in 2000. C'mon Man!

    The problem is, it isn't wrestling anymore, and it's not for people like us. Kids these days don't want storylines. They want different things to happen each week to their favourite characters. Some good, a little bad, and the good guy comes out in the end. Back in the day, Matches for WrestleMania started five months in advance, and continued on. These days they barely go a month. the whole Rock/Cena nonsense isn't really a storyline, as the Rock isn't even there. Sure, they had the match at SSeries, but where's Rock now? Nothing makes sense, and storylines will continue to not be there in the big two until they do a massive clean out of writers and staff, and get people who know about wrestling, to write about wrestling.

    There's a reason ROH has the best storyline G, they have someone who actually knows what wrestling is, and writes believable wrestling storylines to go with it, and that's Jim Cornette. Maybe TNA could actually start writing storylines now they finally got rid of Russo. Then again, this is TNA.

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