Bill Willingham on Fables' Jump to Television

As announced yesterday, Vertigo’s Fables may soon be translated to television as ABC has committed to a pilot for an hour-long drama series based on the comic book.

The pilot for the Fables television series will be produced by Warner Bros. TV and written by Six Degrees' Stu Zicherman and Raven Metzner, who describe themselves as "lifelong comic book fans" that fell in love with the Fables comic when it debuted in 2002.

Written by Bill Willingham, the comic series follows the adventures of fairy tale characters, like Prince Charming and Red Riding Hood, who escaped from an invasion of their magical world to form a secret community in the heart of New York City.

The Vertigo comic series has been one of the publishers' more successful titles, currently on issue #79 with a spin-off series, Jack of Fables, already 30 issues strong and the mini-series Cinderella: From Fabletown with Love coming next year.

We talked to Willingham about the news of the TV pilot, whether the series has a good chance of happening at ABC, and how he feels about his comic being adapted for the small screen.

Newsarama: Bill, is this something you've known about for awhile?

Bill Willingham: This was one of those deals that was "hush-hush," "don't-dare-tell-anyone-anything," until I woke up [yesterday] morning and found out the news was well and truly out.

I had known it for awhile, yes. But being the fine young fellow I am, when DC asked me to keep it on the QT, I did. The secrets of the nation are safe with me.

This deal has been in the works for some time. And I suspect we were going to keep the secret even a little bit longer, but this Hollywood Reporter story took everyone at DC by surprise as well.

NRAMA: Do you know what the plans are?

BW: Here's what I know: The screenwriters have been working on the pilot script for some time, and several versions of that have passed through DC's and Warner's offices and received notes back. [DC's Creative Executive] Ivan Cohen mentioned that the latest version of the script has come in and it looks really good. I have not seen it yet, and the thing I asked him when we were all taken by surprise by this news, was OK, when do I see a copy of the script? And he's going to find that out for me. So boy, do I look well informed.

NRAMA: Fables has been eyed by other networks as a television series, but went nowhere. Do you have a sense of how much chance there is of the pilot actually happening this time?

BW: Well, you know, we almost got a pilot done some time ago, I believe for NBC, and that didn't go any further than the pilot screenplay. The pilot never got produced. I suspect this time that the pilot is going to be produced. And I think this time around, the desire and the commitment to actually get a series done is a little stronger. That said, it takes a thousand stages to greenlight a production, and any one of them can bring the process to a screeching halt. So let's take everything with a grain of salt, here.

NRAMA: While the writers won't say what characters will be in the TV show, they've confirmed that Big Bad Wolf and Snow White are in the pilot, right?

BW: Yes, they have confirmed that.

NRAMA: Do you like the idea of Fables being a TV series? Do you see it as something that would work for episodic television?

BW: Well, I think it's probably better suited to an episodic presentation on TV than it is to, like, a major motion picture. That said, I would have loved to see the scope of a feature film.

But I'm cautiously optimistic, I would say. The one thing I will caution everyone is that the Fables comic book will always be the official Fables story. Part of me sees this as a grand thing, and part of me worries that they'll never get it right. So I'm open to the possibility, but I will just say that the comic books are the thing.

NRAMA: As long as we're talking, Bill... things have really turned down a dark path in Fables! After the triumph in the last storyline, you'd think things would get better instead of good. Was this an avenue you wanted to take with the series?

BW: They are indeed turning down a dark road. As a matter of fact, the whole purpose of this Dark Ages story arc, which I think is the most aptly named story arc we've had so far, is the Fables have just enjoyed this great success, this great end to the war. And now, because you truly love your characters and your story, one of your duties as an author is to figure out, what kind of evil can we do to them now? What kind of obstacles can we throw their way to sort of see what they're made of and see what they can overcome? We decided to do everything to them, to take everything away from them that is the source of their power, that comforts their security.

So in the next issue, you see a dramatic example of just how high the stakes really are, and we're really going to see what these characters are made of because in this arc, we've taken away everything that props them up.

NRAMA: Is there anything else you want to tell people about the announcement that there's a pilot coming for ABC?

BW: Just that... if this is the greatest epic ever put on the small screen, it's still going to be the comics first. And I don't mean to sound like a dour old librarian in that respect. I'm open to the series. But this is the official story, and once this is translated to another medium, it could be terrible, but it could be great. We don't know. But we always have the source material.

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