TV Article: Origin Narratives – Not Exactly A Trend

Written by Emily Stewart July 27, 2014

Ginnifer Goodwin and Lana Parrilla in "Once Upon A Time"

What do “Once Upon A Time” and “Smallville” have in common? Both of them are TV shows exploring characters’ origins. The origin narrative appears to be a trend for films and TV shows alike. This is especially true for superheros and characters in Disney films. “Maleficent” was released last spring, and we’ll get to know “The Flash” and “Gotham” this fall. We’ve also seen “Arrow” and “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.LD” hit the small screen. This doesn’t mean that the latest trend in Hollywood is exploring the past, with that said. Origin stories are always present in film and television; however, we usually only receive a small glimpse of the character’s past. Pure origin narratives, such as the above examples, are like a new work altogether because they delve into the past much more. Plus, they double as a marketing tool to present familiar characters with new adventures.

Origins: A Money Maker

As someone who studied media and film during undergrad, we talked a bit about horizontal integration and heteroglossia. Not sure what either term means? That’s okay. Both are relevant terms to the marketing of origin stories. Horizontal integration, as defined by David Croteau and William Hoynes, means “many different types of media products” are created by a company. In The Business of Media: Corporate Media and The Public Interest, the authors list “every time Hollywood releases a major summer movie blockbuster” as an example. How many times have you seen a variety of merchandise filling up the store shelves any time a blockbuster film was released? Like comics or straight-to-DVD sequels and prequels, origin TV shows are a way to sell more stuff related to one product.

The cast of "Smallville", Origin

Similarly, Richard Berger talked about Superman’s various stories, including “Smallville” and “Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman”, because “they contained all the elements or ‘utterances’ of the previous versions of Superman”. Likewise, any superhero or fairytale character will have multiple stories written about them. Most Disney films, for example, are based on fairy tales and folklore. Using characters in various stories is a good marketing strategy, because the target audience will already be familiar with the character. They’ll want to witness any new adventures their favourite heroes and villains will face.

Going Back to the Roots

Along with marketing, releasing origin-based TV series and films is one way to create a new text altogether. Take a look at “Once Upon A Time”, for instance. We all know the classic fairy tale narrative where an evil queen ruins the princess’ life, only for her to be rescued by a prince. Why does the queen want to destroy the princess (Ginnifer Goodwin) in the first place? It could all be because of an innocent mistake affecting her one true love. Through “Once Upon A Time”, we learn that Regina (Lana Parrilla) wasn’t always an evil queen. She was just a spunky girl who fell in love with Daniel the stable boy (Noah Bean); however,  a young Snow White (Bailee Madison) reveals Regina’s secret relationship to her mother, Cora (Barbara Hershey). She thinks she’s doing more good than harm, but Regina’s one true love was killed. Then, the evil queen began to reign. Granted, Snow didn’t know any better. We always know the background of the hero, but very rarely the villain. Introducing story-lines explaining the villain’s journey to become evil adds context.

Bailee Madison in "Once Upon A Time", Origin

Any time there’s a number of shows and films that have the same theme, it appears to be a trend. With two superhero based shows debuting this fall, following “Arrow” and “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D”, it’s logical to think this will become a common trope in TV and film. Additionally, “Once Upon A Time” fills the origin narrative for fairytale and folklore characters. However, such TV shows and films aren’t anything new at all. They will always be used as a way to create new things about an existing story to sell. Either way, it’s sure to excite the loyal fan-bases, and even draw in some new customers.



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About Emily Stewart

Emily is a Media, Information and Technoculture student at Western University who likes to put her critical thinking skills and passion for writing to good use, including reviewing TV shows for We Eat Films.

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