INTERIOR OF VILAS HALL
Saturday morning in a nearly empty film lab. Here we meet a wide-eyed Edward, studiously attempting to edit his Super 8 short for an Introduction to Film class. In the editing bay directly next to Edward sits Adam, who is diligently working on his own film. Edward turns to Adam.
Hey, my film keeps coming through the viewfinder upside down. Is your machine broken, too?
Adam, now contemplating why he didn't sit in the open seat at the opposite end of the room, simply flips over Edward's film.
That's because you had your film upside down.
Edward, impressed with Adam's moxie thinks, wow, this kid has really got something!
And that, as they say in the business of show (or "show business," for those not in the industry), was Edward "Eddy" Kitsis '93 and Adam Horowitz '94's "meet cute." Just like in the movies, what began with an awkward introduction turned into a regular buddy flick.
"After that less-than-great introduction, we realized each other's films had similar qualities and we started to come up with ideas for movies and television shows while in Madison," said Adam.
Then Eddy added, "We even worked for a local show run by a dentist called Hot Tonight. It was on the Fox station but no one saw it because it aired on Thursdays at 10:30 p.m."
It wasn't long after both graduated and moved to Los Angeles, though, that this writing team's work got noticed. Now they're among the most successful writer/producer partners in television — three Emmy nominations, five Producers Guild of America nominations, and four Writers Guild of America nods with one well-deserved win. Which means it's due time they receive the This Is Your Life treatment. So we caught up with Adam and Eddy to take a closer look at their shows … and some of the hidden Bucky references inside them.
Fantasy Island (1998–99)
A remake of the '70s and '80s series about a mysterious island where people's fantasies come to life: it dropped Tattoo and his "The plane! The plane!" catchphrase and gave Eddy and Adam in their first job on a network show.
"The show ran for thirteen episodes and we wound up writing five of them," Adam says.
Eddy interjects, "It wasn't a successful show, but for two young writers it was a great experience … and it led ABC to recommend us to Ryan Murphy (writer, producer, director) who was doing his very first TV show, called Popular."
Writing for a show about a mysterious island would serve Eddy and Adam well later on in their careers.
A comedy-drama about two teenage girls who reside on the opposite ends of the popularity spectrum at their high school: it offered our two twenty-something male writers an invaluable training ground.
Thinking like teenage girls:
"Adam and I have been writing strong females our entire career," says Eddy. "We both have older sisters … but it's really being able to tap into your own life and draw from universal themes that everybody goes through. And high school is a very universal experience."
A coming-of-age drama about the college experiences of the title character: arriving during the show's final season, Adam and Eddy luckily avoided haircut-gate (Google it) and wrote two episodes.
Writers for hire:
"To learn the voice and tone of the show and try to match what's been done before, it's a challenge," says Adam. "We had a lot of catching up to do … especially since Felicity was so well known and established in its fourth season. But that's the job when you're a staff writer on someone else's show."
Birds of Prey (2002–03)
Loosely based on the DC Comics series that imagined a Gotham City abandoned by Batman: after Felicity, our dynamic writing duo entered a world where the actual dynamic duo resided.
Breaking from the teen scene:
"This was the first time we got to write in genre and be able to tell stories metaphorically," says Eddy. "We really liked that because we're big Star Wars fans and Ridley Scott fans, and this was our opportunity to branch out and work on the kind of project we always love to see in our personal lives."
Black Sash (2003), Life as We Know It (2004), and One Tree Hill (2004)
A martial arts action series and two dramas: it was during this stretch that Eddy and Adam weren't locked in to one specific show for any length of time, instead they were writers/producers on Black Sash and Life as We Know It, and freelance writers on One Tree Hill. Just don't call this period their lost years. Those were yet to come … and that's a good thing.
Right place. Wrong show.
"The big change in our careers came when we did Black Sash, a show that lasted only six episodes," says Adam. They were hired on that show by Carlton Cuse, who went on to work for a little show that went on to become a major phenomenon: Lost. It was during Lost's first season when Cuse called the pair, who were then working on Life as We Know It, and asked if they'd have any interest in joining the series. "We were like, ah, yeah!" says Eddy.
Considered by many to be one of television's greatest dramas (and by many others one of its most frustrating), Lost contained elements of science fiction and the supernatural — along with flashbacks, flashforwards, and even flashsideways — as it followed the survivors of a plane crash on a mysterious island. Now it's Adam and Eddy's turn to flash back.
"For me, it was an episode in the third season entitled 'Tricia Tanaka is Dead,'" says Eddy. "It's basically where Hurley finds an old VW bus, gets it to start, and a Three Dog Night song starts to play. It offered a hopeful feeling in what was a really dark part of the season. And it was that moment that actually gave us our breakthrough for what would become Once Upon A Time. We'd had the idea for Once since our Felicity days, but it wasn't until this episode that Adam and I said this is what Once should be … It should be a show about hope and that feeling of the bus starting in every episode."
"It's really cool that fans were, and still are, engaged with the show and that they want to think about the past or future of these characters," says Adam. "But we ended up telling the story we all set out to tell with Lost."
Reiterates Eddy, "For us, we felt like we left it all on the field, so it's on to something new."
Pop culture powerhouse:
"We were sort of in a bubble making the show," says Adam. "But when we'd go to things like Comic-Con we'd see people dressed in Dharma jumpsuits or as Hurley, and we were certainly aware of fans coming up with their own theories about the show … but this was right before the social media craze, pre-Twitter."
Eddy adds, "Every once in a while there would be a fan theory that was totally dead on. And other times it would be like, trust me, none of us are smart enough to come up with an idea like that."
Off to the movies:
In between working with a Smoke Monster, the Dharma Initiative, and "The Numbers" on Lost, the pair was tapped to write the screenplay for Tron: Legacy (2010), a sequel to the 1982 cult classic sci-fi film. As this was their first big-budget movie, it was obviously a big deal for them … plus it was Tron! "We're the children of Tron," says Adam (Collider, 2010). "It's one of the reasons we're doing what we're doing."
"On Lost we had one character, Ethan, wearing a Wisconsin sweatshirt," says Eddy. "And I feel like we had a Bascom Hill reference somehow, too."
Once Upon a Time (2011–Present)
A show whose characters are from various fairy tales transported to the real world: Adam and Eddy conceived of Once in 2002, but they needed the experience and clout Lost provided to help turn this fairy tale-based series into a reality.
Going from writers to creators:
"You're where the buck stops," says Eddy. "On Lost, Adam and I rose up to be executive producers but at the end of the day we could always turn to [Lost show runners] Damon and Carlton. So, in addition to creating the show and writing on the show, now we're kind of running a large organization where we're overseeing production, working with the network, sitting in on marketing meetings … all of which was new to us. But we were very lucky to have some great mentors along the way so that when our moment came we were ready."
Who you are, character-wise:
"That's hard because they are all sort of different parts of ourselves," says Adam. "So when we're writing the Evil Queen, she is us. Or when we're writing Emma, she is us. You realize that when you create a show, all the characters are some sort of reflection of you."
"In the pilot episode, we had the mayor living on 36 Langdon … no, Mifflin, Mifflin!" says Eddy.
Dead of Summer (2016)
Their latest creation: a supernatural horror series set in the 1980s at Camp Stillwater, where a summer of fun soon turned into one of unimaginable scares and evil. You know, to counterbalance all that hope from Once Upon a Time.
Inspiration for the show:
"This was kind of our mid-life-crisis show," says Eddy. "It was our attempt at being 18 again by going back to that time. Adam and I both loved camp growing up … and when we pitched it, we called it John Hughes meets John Carpenter. We wanted to take some of our favorite stuff we watched during the '80s and bring it back to life."
"The show takes place at Camp Stillwater — a reference to Stillwaters bar for those who went to Madison in the early '90s — a summer camp in Wisconsin. And one of the main characters is going to the UW," says Eddy. "We try to shove our Badger pride into every show, every chance we get."
Full disclosure: the writer of this story remains a huge fan of Lost but is still confused by the ending … and the beginning … and pretty much everything in between.