'Galavant' Creator Previews ABC's Ambitious Fairy Tale Musical

Dan Fogelman talks with THR about the challenges of an unconventional comedy, soliciting the all-star guest list
ABC
"Galavant"

Plotting a midseason musical drama that flips the traditional fairy tale on its head is something of a swing for a broadcast network, especially in 2015 when music on television is beginning to show its age.

But Galavant is a swing ABC is willing to take, at least for four weeks to bridge the gap between new episodes of its similarly themed drama Once Upon a Time, and it has already attracted a slew of notable guest stars, including John Stamos, Ricky Gervais, Hugh Bonneville and "Weird" Al Yankovic.

The series revolves around a prince (Rogue's Joshua Sasse) on a quest to reclaim his love (Mallory Jansen) from the evil king (Psych's Timothy Omundson). It hails from The Neighbors creator Dan Fogelman and features original music and lyrics from Alan Menken (Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin)and Glenn Slater (Tangled).

The Hollywood Reporter caught up to Fogelman to pick his mind about launching such an ambitious project, the potential for spinoff success and landing those guest stars.

Why is now the right time for Galavant?

It's as good a time as any! The show is unusual, different and very ambitious. It feels like the type of show that right now would be fun to have on network television. It feels like it's going to be an interesting kind of crack at breaking open the medium a little bit.

Does serving as a bridge for the four-week Once Upon a Time gap help land the audience you're hoping to attract?

I think it's a nice show for kind of a wide audience. Menken is doing all of this original music. He's done over 30 original songs in eight episodes of television. So it feels like it can be family viewing where the adults are getting the adult jokes that are flying over the kids' heads. There's also an audience in high school and college and young adults. There's an audience for this in people who grew up on Alan's music that are in their 30s and 40s now. There are a lot of touchstones for this — Game of Thrones and Monty Python and Princess Bride. People are referencing all of these amazing things, which we're thrilled about. I think there is going to be a wide audience for it. I'm excited about this one, I think it's a gigantic swing and it's not just different and crazy, but we executed it at a pretty high level and I'm excited to see what happens. If a show like this can succeed in the network medium I think it's a good thing for television. My early inclination is that while the show is going to be polarizing, I hope people judge it by the piece of work and they're not judging it by the fact that it's a musical on ABC that's a half-hour and a little different. But I think a lot of stuff is going to break to in our favor because people seem to be getting it.

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There have been many musically inclined projects on the air over the past few years, what is it about Galavant that will attract these audiences?

There's a huge base in the world of musicals and the world of Disney musicals. In many ways, maybe even a larger base than a more specific form of music. Alan has written music for Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid and all of these iconic movies. The depth of his catalog and the sheer number of his songs that are intrinsically in our bones is pretty amazing; you feel that watching the show. And we shot it in real, practical locations, as opposed to shooting on sound stages and sets; we went and shot it in England in real castles and real fields. And we had the costume designers from Downton Abbey so even though it's a silly comedy and sometimes people are breaking into song, it is the real thing.

Knowing this is a show that airs on Disney/ABC, were there any fairy tales you wanted to stay away from parodying?

I don't think we thought too much about that stuff. The whole open in the show is kind of a construct of a fairy tale and then we upend it. Our dashing knight has gone to save his long-term love from the evil king, and says she's going to chose the life of love with me over a life of fame and fortune. And then she stops and says, "Actually you know what? I think I'm going to go with the fame and fortune, it seems like an easier life." So it's kind of taking the conventional fairy tale and flipping it a bit, but we also enjoy living inside of the conventional, medieval structure and fairy tale. We try to tread in big emotions of love, revenge, romance and those kinds of things and we're not always doing it being funny. Some of the best stuff that we accomplish in the first season of the show is some of our heavy dramatic stuff that's just real and plays it straight.

You had practice crafting complex musical scenes for television with The Neighbors. Did that help?

We did, but Tangled was the one I had really spent a solid year and a half working on with the very guys who are doing all of the music here. You really learn how the process evolves; how you leave space in a script for a song and Glenn and Alan go, "You know what? That scene where you wrote that stuff, I think we should reprise the song there and take out that dialog that you spent four days writing." So you take that out because sometimes they're trying to put music in a spot where you're like, "No I think we need to speak those lines." So it's an evolving process and I learned a lot doing that. And then yeah, we had done The Neighbors as well, and we got a little taste of what it was going to feel like doing it in the television form and that schedule. But we're inventing our own process here and figuring it out as we're going along. I would be very prepared to do the next half-hour musical comedy on television. But I don't know how many of them there are going to be!

Will all of the songs be released on iTunes?

Our first song is already on iTunes and there is going to be a whole soundtrack album. Each song, when they come in, you go, "Oh my, that's my favorite song." And then the next one comes in and you say, "Wait." On any given day coming in one of Alan's songs was stuck in my head in the shower or while I was driving into work.

Could this be something that's developed into a theatrical production down the line?

I think so. I have high hopes for this thing. We will see how it all plays out and pans out, but I hope to do many seasons and series of the show. I hope that one day everyone's kids are going on Galavant rides at Disneyland. We'll see how far we get, but yeah I have big plans for it in all capacities, theater included. It would be a great Broadway show one day. For that to work you need to be successful in the first medium that it's launching, but I think that it would make for a great show.

How are you classifying this then, as a miniseries? A limited event? Could it follow in the vein of True Detective or Fargo or American Horror Story and reset? Or would it stay the same?

We're pretty far ahead, so I mean I'm considering this. It is playing like a miniseries or an event, but I'm also in the back of my brain viewing this run as season one of a show. And so very much like by the end of this season I think we're well set up for a second season, a second run, a second event series — however we want to frame it — with the same characters.

You have some amazing first season guest stars — what was your pitch in getting them?

The hardest thing in the world is to get guest stars on a first-year series. We all try it, and nobody ever gets them because if you're a recognizable star, you're not going to go tie yourself to a series as a guest star before it's even launched. It gets easier once you're successful, but a first-season show? The good news is that the pilot was a very successful sales tool. Actors responded to it so I was able to say, "Hey we're doing something different here and take a look at this." Secondarily, I would send them songs, I would send them the stuff they were going to be doing. It took a lot of work, but I would have been happy to get even just one of those guys. The sales pitch has been using the pilot, using Alan's songs, using our material.

It would seem natural to have Weird Al help write a song or two, was that the case?

Alan and Glenn keep a pretty heavy hand on the song writing, but Weird Al plays a monk in a monastery who along with a band of monks have all taken a vow of singing. They do a song called "Hey Hey We're the Monks." Gervais plays a medieval wizard who is like Merlin's replacement who lives at home with his mother, a Big Lebowski type … magician. His name is Xanax and Alan wrote this rock ballad, like something out of the Beatles meets The Who meets "Pinball Wizard," I mean it's crazy. Ricky sang, and it's awesome. Stamos plays a medieval knight named Jean Hamm, who is Galavant's rival. And he's in full medieval costume. He's hysterical. Bonneville is this land-locked pirate who is leading a misfit band of pirates. It's all been really fun.

Galavant debuts Sunday, Jan. 4 at 8 p.m. on ABC. What do you think of the concept? Are you going to give the show a shot? Sound off in the comments section below.

Twitter: @amber_dowling

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