ABC Eyeing Potential 'Once Upon a Time' Spinoff, Recasting Mad Hatter

Once Upon a Time Sebastian Stan - H 2013

There is a big change coming to Once Upon a Time.

ABC is eyeing a potential spinoff centered on the Mad Hatter, The Hollywood Reporter has confirmed.

Sebastian Stan, who has played the Mad Hatter since 2012, will not be reprising his role later this season when the character returns, and the network has begun looking for a replacement. ABC and the producers hoped that Stan could have continued, but he was unavailable for long-term work. (On the docket for Stan is the Captain America: The Winter Soldier.)

PHOTOS: Inside Hollywood's Nerdiest Offices

Though the spinoff project is in the very early stages, ABC is mulling whether a short presentation will be filmed or a backdoor pilot will air later this season. It would be a late addition to ABC's pilot pool and would be vying for a fall 2013 slot.

Once Upon a Time executive producers Adam Horowitz and Eddy Kitsis are overseeing the spinoff idea and would serve as showrunners on both series should the Mad Hatter project go.

STORY: 'Once Upon a Time': Josh Dallas on Charming, Hook and Snow

This is a big move on ABC's part to expand the Once Upon a Time franchise at a time when networks are banking on established franchises to kick-start new series. The CW's The Originals backdoor pilot, a spinoff of The Vampire Diaries, will air in April, and CBS continues its tried-and-true practice with an NCIS: LA spinoff Red airing later in the season.

Once Upon a Time has proven to be a consistent performer opening ABC's Sunday night block. ABC has yet to have a huge breakout hit this season, with Once Upon a Time lead-out Revenge skidding and freshman dramas Last Resort and 666 Park Avenue getting the ax.

Lesley Goldberg contributed to this report.

Twitter: @insidethetube