The second Stargate series has taken its final bow in the United States, with the finale airing Friday night on the SCI FI Channel. But why was the show cancelled? And what is next for Stargate?
Since many viewers who don’t frequent GateWorld or other Stargate sites may be looking for answers today, we’ll do our best to answer these questions here.
There is a bit of debate on just why the show was ended when it was. MGM and SCI FI Channel jointly announced in late August that the current fifth season would be Atlantis‘s last, as the show moved to the world of TV and DVD movies. Some 48 hours later, they also announced that a new series, Stargate Universe, would premiere this summer.
The debate over the show’s cancellation has to do with how great the ratings were a factor. The show’s Nielsen numbers have fallen dramatically over the last five years. In Season One ratings were well over the 2.0 mark; today ratings of 1.2 (Live + Same Day) are typical. Like the rest of television, much of this is attributable to the rise of TiVo and other digital video recorders. More people are “time-shifting” their television viewing, and the industry is still struggling to properly measure the viewers of a television show (and its commercials, which pay the bills).
Though the raw ratings numbers are down, viewership for Atlantis has been inching upward for the past couple of years. When DVR-delayed viewers are accounted for (though they may be skipping past commercials), Atlantis hasn’t lost all that much of its U.S. audience.
DVD Movies? Or Stargate Universe?
Instead of ratings, many fans point to the fact that the studio and network are replacing the show with the third series, Stargate Universe. Was one cancelled for the other (since the producers don’t want to do two series simultaneously again, as well as SG-1 movies)?
According to series co-creator Brad Wright, the matter seems to be more complex than that. The producers, MGM (the studio that owns the franchise), and SCI FI executives sat down in the summer of 2008 to strategize what they felt is in the best interests of the entire franchise over the long term. Add to this mix the typical life cycle for a television show and the importance of full-length movies to the show’s creators, and a picture begins to emerge: In order to make Atlantis DVD movies successful (among an audience much broader than the fan base), they should be made before general interest in Atlantis has waned. If the TV show runs long enough to be cancelled due to low viewership, in other words, the studio won’t be eager to pour millions of dollars into making a Stargate Atlantis movie.
At the same time, Universe was in development and had been pitched to the network the previous fall (and received well). Launching a new series always draws new attention to a network and a franchise, and plans are to make the third series a bit different from its predecessors. (More on that later.)
According to Wright, the three parties mutually decided to end Atlantis and make movies, and then launch Stargate Universe. This would allow the SG-1, Atlantis, and Universe “legs” of the franchise to continue to run together, hopefully far into the future.
Make of all that what you will. The short of it is that Stargate Atlantis was not cancelled due to low ratings — though as Wright recently hinted, significantly higher ratings would certainly have changed the discussion. Rather, when a studio like MGM has found such success in the DVD market (especially with last year’s SG-1 releases, The Ark of Truth and Continuum), the nature of what “cancellation” means has changed. With DVD movies now a major part of this franchise, Atlantis has in some ways been a “victim” of Stargate’s success.
NEXT: The future of the franchise