On the heels of their success with Lost, which ran from 2004 to 2010, writers Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis began to develop a new show for ABC based on fairy tales. Ultimately, that idea would become Once Upon a Time, which premiered in 2011 on the Disney-owned broadcast network.
The show was originally centered around the relationship between Emma Swan and her son, Henry, who was the adopted child of Evil Queen Regina. Later, it was discovered that Emma was the daughter of Prince Charming and Snow White. Over time, Once Upon A Time introduced various other fairy tales and, more specifically, Disney properties. Characters such as Hook (Peter Pan), Anna and Elsa (Frozen), Mulan, Merida (Brave), and Aladdin were all eventually brought to the fold.
Thus, after seven years and 155 episodes, many actors, writers, and directors came and went on Once Upon a Time. Its seventh and final season, which aired in 2018, had to withstand the general absence of main characters such as Emma Swan, Snow White, and Prince Charming, due to the fact that most of the series’ main cast of actors exited the show during season 6. While this is perhaps the most evident example of the changes that Once went through during its many years on air, it is not the only one.
With such a large cast and long run on ABC, it is clear hat Once Upon a Time had to handle the busy schedules of actors, the need to comply with Disney’s branding synergy, and the high expectations of critics and fans.
These are 10 Last-Minute Changes That Hurt Once Upon A Time (And 10 That Saved It).
20 HURT: SEASON 7 WITHOUT MOST OF THE CAST
In May of 2017, showrunners Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis confirmed season 7 of Once Upon a Time, despite the fact that a significant part of the show’s cast had decided to leave the series on season 6.
To name a few, Jennifer Morrison (Emma Swan), Jared S. Gilmore (Henry Mills), Ginnifer Goodwin (Snow White), Josh Dallas (Prince Charming), Rebecca Mader (Wicked Witch Zelena), and Emilie de Ravin (Belle) all decided to depart.
It was a strange decision from ABC and the Once Upon a Time showrunners to greenlight another season of the show despite the fact that a huge part of its main cast had expressed their desire to leave. Instead, the show could have synchronized its length with the availability of its cast, which would have given the series a proper ending.
19 SAVED: PRINCE CHARMING SURVIVES THE PILOT
Once upon a time in the Once Upon a Time pilot, Prince Charming (portrayed by Josh Dallas) was not supposed to make it too far. During an interview with Entertainment Weekly, showrunners Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz revealed that the character of Prince Charming was once written off in the series’ pilot episode. Meaning that, originally, the character did not make it past the show’s first episode.
Thankfully, ABC was strongly opposed to this idea, and insisted for Prince Charming to be kept around the show.
This decision would ultimately play a huge role not only in Once Upon a Time, but also in the personal lives of Josh Dallas and Ginnifer Goodwin (who played Snow White), as this on-screen pair became an off-screen couple.
18 HURT: THE WONDERLAND SPIN-OFF
With the release of the third season of Once Upon a Time, came the announcement that the show would now have a spinoff about the stories and characters from Alice in Wonderland. The spin-off, which was titled Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, felt like a sudden and underdeveloped idea for a standalone TV series.
Despite being set in Wonderland, the show prominently featured characters such as Jafar (from Aladdin) and Anastasia (from Cinderella). To make matters worse, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland was released on the heels of the 2010 live-action movie Alice in Wonderland, from Tim Burton, which was a commercial hit but a critical failure.
All in all, the In Wonderland spin-off only lasted 13 episodes, which was enough to hurt the momentum behind the actual Once Upon A Time series.
17 SAVED: EMMA SWAN’S ORIGINAL NAME
At one point in time, the character of Emma Swan was named Anna. Can you believe it?
Once Upon a Time premiered in 2011, only two years before Frozen, which introduced what is now Disney’s most famous Anna of all time, the Princess of Arendelle.
Not only would it be confusing for hardcore Disney fans to deal with two major Disney characters with the same name, but it would have made the introduction of the Frozen characters to Once virtually impossible.
Broadcast networks rarely have two characters with the same name on their shows.
Thankfully, by the time that the Once Upon a Time pilot was shot, the character once-called Anna became Emma Swan, as we have always known her to be.
16 HURT: JAMIE DORNAN'S SEASON 1 EXIT
In 2011, when Once Upon a Time premiered, Jamie Dornan had few credits as an actor. When he landed the role of Huntsman in the show, it was a big deal for his career, right?
The short answer is “yes,” but the long answer is “not really.”
During the shooting of season 1, it became evident to Jamie Dornan that he was going to have to leave Once Upon a Time, which was shocking news not only for the show’s production team, but also to the fans of the series.
That is because the actor became attached to The Fall, which he was in for many years, and conversations about being cast as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey began to take place.
15 SAVED: LADY GAGA PASSED ON THE BLUE FAIRY ROLE
Way before making a big splash as an actress in 2015’s American Horror Story: Hotel season, which earned her a Golden Globes nomination, Lady Gaga was offered the role of Blue Fairy in Once Upon a Time.
However, there was no way that that could have ever worked. Lady Gaga released her album Born This Way in 2011, meaning that she was at the height of her musical career. Thankfully, the popstar declined the role, which then went to actress Keegan Connor Tracy.
If Gaga had taken the role, the Blue Fairy would have probably been left the show early on.
The Huntsman's fate was thankfully avoided for the Blue Fairy.
14 HURT: JAMIE DORNAN’S FAILED RETURN
Not only was Jamie Dornan’s exit a surprise, the actor was involved in yet another last-minute change concerning Once Upon a Time. At one point, there was a legitimate plan to feature Dornan on the show’s season 3 finale, which would air in 2014. This would mark the return of the Huntsman to Once.
As the story goes, Dornan’s busy schedule yet again came in the way, causing the Once Upon a Time writers to erase those plans and go with a different storyline instead.
By that time, Dornan had already been officially attached to Fifty Shades of Grey, meaning that Disney was probably also not very keen on associating its ABC show with such an adult-centric property.
13 SAVED: HOOK BECOMING A MAIN CHARACTER
In hindsight, it is hard to imagine Once Upon a Time without Hook. However, the initial plans were not at all for this character to last as long as he did, nor for him to be a series regular at all.
Colin O’Donoghue was brought to Once for the role of Hook as a short and unimportant recurring appearance.
As the story goes, the actor was so great in the role and caused such a good impression on the Once Upon a Time team and fans, that it was decided that he should stick around. Over time, even as most of the show’s cast left on season 6, Colin decided to stay, which made him one of the biggest characters present for the entire seventh and final season of the series.
12 HURT: THE RECASTING OF JAFAR
Once Upon a Time had to deal with several unavailable actors, many of whom had to be completely recast in order for a character to come back to the show. The latter was precisely what had to happen with Jafar, who was originally portrayed by Naveen Andrews on the In Wonderland spin-off.
It is important to note that Naveen is a Lost alum who had already worked with the Once showrunners beforehand.
As the Wonderland spinoff was canceled and Naveen Andrews became attached to Netflix’s Sense8, the team behind Once was forced to recast the character in order to bring him back to the main show. Thus, when Jafar returned to the series, was played by Oded Fehr, to the confusion of fans.
11 SAVED: ROBERT CARLYLE’S SECRET PLAN FOR RUMPLE
Robert Carlyle, who portrayed Rumplestiltskin (otherwise known as Mr. Gold) on Once Upon a Time, believes that he directly influenced the importance of his character on the show.
The actor has said, “In the beginning, I always kind of played that he knew something, that he knew more than people thought. Whether that was true or not, I didn’t know, but I think in a sense you almost force the writers’ hands, and then they give you that.”
The writers had to react to Robert Carlyle’s acting and make Rumplestiltskin a character who knew more than anyone else.
Ultimately, that gave us one of the most significant antagonists in the series.
10 HURT: THE ABSENCE OF MALEFICENT
With the release of 2014’s Maleficent, Disney was enjoying an all-time hype for the character during the time that Once Upon a Time was airing. Unfortunately, however, after appearing on season 1 as Maleficent, actress Kristin Bauer van Straten became increasingly busy with her work on True Blood, where she played Pam De Beaufort.
As a result, Maleficent was never really present on Once until the show’s fourth season, which aired after the ending of True Blood. It was only then that Kristin Bauer van Straten was relieved of her responsibilities with HBO vampire drama.
Over the years, there were many plans for Maleficent to play a bigger role on Once Upon a Time, but it was only in season 4 that those plans came to life.
9 SAVED: NOT COMPLETELY REBOOTING THE SHOW IN SEASON 6
As season 6 ended and most of the Once Upon a Time main cast left, there were serious plans for the entire series to be completely rebooted. Thankfully, ABC and the team behind Once decided to only go for a soft reboot, which allowed them to explain why so many characters left while not completely changing everything about the show.
In hindsight, we have come to know season 7 as the last season of the show.
It would have certainly been very weird if it'd been completely rebooted during its finale season.
Instead, we were able to say a proper goodbye to the characters we had been following for so many years.
8 HURT: THE RECASTING OF ROBIN HOOD
Yet another change of actors occurred in the case of Once Upon a Time’s Robin Hood. The character was originally played by Tom Ellis, who was unable to return to the series as he became attached to other TV shows such as Rush and Lucifer.
The second iteration of Robin Hood on Once Upon a Time was played by Sean Maguire, who had been best known for the 300-inspired parody movie Meet The Spartans. The chemistry between he and Lana Parrilla just wasn't the same.
Ultimately, unlike many other actors, Sean stayed on board until the very end of the show, being featured even on the Once series finale.
7 SAVED: THE TWO VERSIONS OF EACH CHARACTER BLENDED TOGETHER
Most of season 1 surrounded around the two versions of each Once Upon a Time character. There was Snow White, and there was Mary Margaret Blanchard. There was the Evil Queen, and there was Regina Mills. There was Prince Charming, and there was David Nolan.
According to Ginnifer Goodwin, who played Snow White and Mary Margaret Blanchard, there was a real understanding that Once would keep telling its story that way, with two versions of each character. “It's a work in progress. I need to find a way to balance them out,” Goodwin said.
Thankfully, for the sake of the actors and the pleasure of the fans, the two versions of each Once character eventually blended together.
6 HURT: THE BUSY SCHEDULE OF GIANCARLO ESPOSITO
Giancarlo Esposito is an incredibly busy Hollywood actor, but he was also beloved by Once Upon a Time fans. So much so that, over the years, Giancarlo was featured on seasons 1, 3, 4, 5, and 6 of the show, portraying both the Genie and the Magic Mirror characters. However, due to his busy schedule, it was always challenging to get him to be on the show.
For instance, between 2009 and 2011, Giancarlo Esposito was enjoying massive mainstream success as Gus Fring on Breaking Bad. In 2011, when Once premiered, Giancarlo was already attached to NBC’s Revolution, where he stayed until 2014. Then, the actor became attached to The Maze Runner franchise, as well as Netflix’s The Get Down.
All in all, these several parallel projects hurt Esposito's beloved presence on Once Upon a Time.
5 SAVED: ANOTHER ACTRESS WAS ALMOST CAST AS EMMA SWAN
It is hard to imagine it now, but at one point, a different actress was attached to the role of Emma Swan. As a matter of fact, Katie Sackhoff auditioned five times for role, which meant that she was a serious contender to portray Emma on Once Upon a Time. However, as the story goes, the character ended up being given to Jennifer Morrison instead.
In hindsight, we are glad that Jennifer Morrison was able to bring this character to life.
While there is nothing wrong with Katie Sackhoff, who is mostly known for her role as Captain Starbuck on the 2004-2009 run of Battlestar Galactica, it is very hard to imagine any other person portraying Emma Swan on Once.
4 HURT: THE RECASTING OF GASTON
Gaston is yet another hurtful example in the stream of several character recasts on Once Upon a Time. On season 1, Gaston was brought to life by Sage Brocklebank, best known for his work on Psych. However, by season 5, the character was brought to life by Wes Brown, whose credits include We Are Marshall and True Blood.
Despite the fact that Once always managed to find some odd explanation for most of its recasts, Gaston was yet another character on the show that was hurt by the unavailability of a particular actor. Furthermore, it was reported that Sage Brocklebank was replaced in order to serve Belle’s story in season 5, which was a strange motive.
3 SAVED: THE RECASTING OF MALEFICENT
Originally, actress Paula Marshall was given the role of Maleficent on Once Upon a Time. However, as the show was further developed, showrunners Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz decided to go in a different direction with the character, and cast Kristin Bauer van Straten instead.
Marshall was mostly known for her roles in Hellraiser III and Cheaper By The Dozen, but was also recognized for her character in Veronica Mars tas well.
The decision to recast Maleficent was probably indirectly impacted by the news that Angelina Jolie and Disney were starting to develop a standalone Maleficent film, which was released in 2014.
In any case, Once’s Maleficent played a huge role in the show’s fourth season, which was her last time on the show.
2 HURT: SEBASTIAN STAN’S FAILED RETURN
Sebastian Stan is now a world-famous Marvel Cinematic Universe superstar. The actor was introduced to the MCU in 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger as Bucky, Steve Roger’s best friend. Ironically, however, that was the same year that Sebastian was featured on Once Upon a Time as the Mad Hatter.
Despite the fact that Sebastian Stan was able to come back to Once for season 2, of course the show wanted to have him back for season 3 and beyond as well.
As the actor began to shoot Captain America: The Winter Soldier, in which he was a main character, it became evident that he would not be available to return to Once Upon a Time. As a matter of fact, Sebastian’s Mad Hatter never came back after that.
1 SAVED: THE INFLUENCE OF LOST
The two Once Upon a Time showrunners, Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis, came from the experience of having worked on Lost together for six years.
During an interview with CBR, the writers admitted to the fact that they initially had a different idea for Once, but that Lost played a huge role in how the show was developed later on.
Speaking about the matter, Edward Kitsis said, “When we got on Lost, we started to realize the way we thought about telling [the story of Once Upon a Time] wasn’t right, so it was a good thing it didn’t sell. I think being on Lost, and being under Damon Lindeloff and Carlton Cuse, we started to look at story in a different way.”
Are there any other last-minute changes that affected Once Upon a Time? Let us know in the comments!