Chris Reed
Nov 23, 2012

Once Upon a Grimm fairytale is TV magic

TV success is extremely hard to find. The number of series in the US that started brightly and were never given a second series are never ending.Some real crackers like Alcatraz and Awake failed ...

Once Upon a Grimm fairytale is TV magic

TV success is extremely hard to find. The number of series in the US that started brightly and were never given a second series are never ending.

Some real crackers like Alcatraz and Awake failed the first series test and were canned before frustratingly revealing their secrets.

There is one area that had become bankable, marketable and taps into every generational target audience. Fairytales.

Two of the most successful TV series of recent times (i.e. they both got commission for a second series in the US) are both based on fairytales. Once Upon A Time and Grimm.



Both are fascinating to watch from all sorts of reasons but mainly to try and guess the fairy tale that they are based on! Grimm is based on one story easy week, very loosely and in a very strange and dark world of German monsters, transforming humans and vampire like creatures. Each Grimm episode has some kind of loose connection with previous ones but is essentially retelling a Grimm fairy tale.

Once Upon A Time has no such restrictions as to be based on only Grimm fairy tales and goes to town with a juxtaposition of fairy tales. In one episode I saw Alice in Wonderland being entwined with Snow White and Seven Dwarves combined with Pinnochio! In another they stretched the fairytale theme to include Frankenstein which was juxtaposed with Alice in Wonderland and Captain Hook! It’s surreally bizarre but compelling TV content.

Once Upon A Time can best be described as Star Wars meets Lost! If you don’t want to think too hard Once Upon A Time has special effects right out of the ground breaking (in the 70’s) Blakes 7 but has the fantastically evil Robert Carlye  playing Rumplestiltskin, (ironically a Grimm fairy tale character) who in Once Upon A Time is the Darth Vader of fairy tales.

Interestingly many of the storywriters and producers were also on Lost and many Lost items appear subtly in the show. A canny but of marketing that has got the web geeks a buzzing.

For example, many items found in the Lost universe, such as Apollo candy bars, Oceanic Airlines, and MacCutcheon Whisky, can be seen in Once Upon a Time. The town clock was stuck at 8:15, an allusion to Flight 815 from the Lost universe. An Ultimate Wolverine v’s Hulk #3 comic read by the character Henry was written by a Lost  executive producer.

Aside from a million obvious Disney references there are plenty of cultural references too for people to watch and work out adding to the interest in the show.  Henry has Tron lunch box and Regina gave him a handheld video game device upon which he played Space Paranoids.

In the episode "Skin Deep", Mr. Gold confiscates a florist's truck which reads 'Game of Thorns' on the side, being a reference to Game of Thrones. There are also Buffy the Vampire Slayer references….all our wonderfully social media enducing marketing gimmicks for fans to share and intrigue to be inspired.

From a marketing perspective it’s an easy sell to promote contemporary fairy tales with a twist. They really do appeal to generations of all ages. Once Upon A Time takes you on a journey of promising you all the characters from all the story books you have ever read your children or have ever been read to you and puts them in a village where the stories are re-enacted in a darkly twisted kind of way.

ABC Studios have been clever in marketing Once Upon a Time as the new Lost (as ever series after Lost has been marketed…..) but this time there seems to be more success and more substance. They have cleverly mixed sci-fi and classic fairytales and used social media and a special mobile Untold Stories app which viewers can download and be given clues as to what is really happening with the story and it’s characters.

Viewers can also play the Untold Stories game on facebook and get clues to the future story. Very clever but very simple word of mouth generating marketing to tap into a viewer base that is missing the “Lost” conundrums….

From a product and brand awareness point of view viewers of both Grimm and Once Upon a Time don’t have to leap too hard to understand the characters or the stories as they are all familiar in one way or the other. Everyone knows the story of the big bad wolf, little red riding hood and jack and jill.

Not everyone would expect them to all work together in the same episode but they do. Marketing that twist based on the brand of fairy tales told the world over for centuries gives the marketing a certain head start. The rest is down to the content delivery and storytelling…..


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