Every television show has a “showrunner” — one person who sits at the nexus of the writers, directors, cast, crew, and studio and network executives and call the shots. As the showrunners for Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis, executive producers Brad Wright and Robert C. Cooper make the series happen.
GateWorld recently sat down with Wright and Cooper at their home base — the famed Stargate production offices in Vancouver, British Columbia! Thanks to the generous gift of their time and candor, we are pleased to present the complete interview in this 3-part series. For the first time ever, you can sit in on a conversation about the past, present, and future of the Stargate franchise inside the offices of the shows’ creators.
In part one of our interview, the executive producers reflect on the two shows’ accomplishments in Season Eight and Atlantis‘s first year, and setting up a new enemy and a new environment for telling stories in Season Nine. (Beware of some minor spoilers for the new season’s first three episodes.) They also talk about the very real necessities of science fiction television production, about which viewers are often unaware.
GateWorld’s interview with Brad Wright and Robert Cooper is available in MP3 audio format for easy listening. Part one about 15 minutes long, and is also transcribed below. You can also download the interview to your MP3 player and take GateWorld with you!
GateWorld: What is your overall opinion of Season Eight now that it’s in the history books?
Brad Wright: Season Eight?
Robert C. Cooper: I don’t remember … it’s a blur!
RC: Thanks. I’ll tell you, we felt like we ended the show. We felt like it was the closing of a chapter on Stargate SG-1.
BW:: We thought we ended it three times even before that.
RC: But this was the real ending! And in fact so much so that in discussing whether we were going to come back and do SG-1 Season Nine or a new show or whatever, we basically — and the decision was made to do Season Nine — we decided that regardless of the fact that we’re continuing the same series, we’re done ending things. We’re not going to write another season that leads up to another ending.
That’s over! Ending the show is over. Because, quite frankly, it seems as though the show will never end. So instead what we decided is we’re going to start beginning again. This new season, Season Nine, is much more about opening all kinds of new doors and starting fresh — not just for the characters but with the storylines.
BW:: The truth is it had to be done anyway because the Goa’uld are defeated and because there’ve been some big cast changes.
RC: There’s a certain point at which, yes, for some really developed fans who’ve followed the show from the beginning, “Reckoning” and “Threads” and “Moebius” really paid off a lot of things for the characters and for the plots and made you feel like watching the show for so long was really a satisfying experience. All these things were coming to a nice head and culminating.
But also, Season Eight — again, I think if there was anything wrong with it was it was a little bogged down in all the wrapping up in having to service storylines that had come from before. [It] in some ways alienated a new audience who may have been coming to the network, SCI FI, to watch Atlantis for the first time, tuning into SG-1 and going “Huh? What’s going on? Who are those people? What’s this storyline?” We couldn’t do a long enough “Previously On” at the beginning of every show to explain to new viewers what was happening in this particular episode.
GW: They seemed to be getting longer and longer.
RC: Well, you’re paying off stuff that was set up two years ago! And so, Season Nine has been, I think, invigorating creatively, and also very liberating because we’re not having to worry about so much back story and servicing those storylines and wrapping things up. We’re still obviously going to be paying close attention to what came before. It’s still Stargate SG-1.
BW:: It is, but it’s also very much a new series. It has a whole new dynamic. There’s a new enemy. The team has got new characters and has been reinvigorated in that sense. And Robert wrote a fabulous script in “Avalon” Part 1 and 2, and then “Origin,” which is almost a three-part pilot that says, “OK, here’s where we’re going from here.”
RC: A lot of people, I think felt, even though, even the more successful episodes of Season Eight, that there was still a little bit of a “been there, done that” feeling and attitude from the team … when we could afford to get them together in the same scene. There’s that little bit of …
GW: It’s almost old hat to them.
RC: Yes. And the new characters bring to the table a whole new energy and freshness in the way they look at things. The fact that we’re introducing new villains gives them something new to react to, even the old characters, Daniel and Teal’c.
What I think worked for a lot of fans in Season One of Atlantis — which is “new team, new adventures, fresh attitude towards those things they’re seeing” — is going to be present in spades in Season Nine of SG-1.
GW: Tell us about how you guys, as writers, approached this. Is it just a lot of fun to have new toys in the toy box to play with?
BW:: Well, keep in mind we first have to make up the toys. And that’s tough! Robert did a lot of thinking about what this new enemy could be, and we’ve talked at length. Because you have to, in creating a new paradigm — which is what we’ve been talking about, what this season is — is creating a model that will have legs, that will, by itself, spawn story.
That’s what Atlantis did well in that we created a universe wherein multiple storylines could be born and take place and spread and grow. Those are the lessons we learned building SG-1 in the first place. While it started with mythology at its root, very early on, by mid-way through Season Three and [the] beginning of Season Four, we had created enough of our own mythology that wasn’t rooted in the culture of “X.”
RC: The other thing is to find something that doesn’t feel like it’s coming from left field, that it’s rooted in the things that we’ve already established but also feels, to quote a studio executive term, very “organic” to the series, that is part of what feels like Stargate.
And what is Stargate? To us, what is Stargate? Well, it’s kind of a twist on a well-known popular Earth mythology. With Atlantis we took the sinking of Atlantis and put our Stargate twist on it. We’ve always talked about trying to understand the Ancients and who they are, how did they build the gates, and when did they build the gates. And Atlantis was “Where did they go?” And we went searching for them and we found where they went.
And then we started spinning, “Well, what if the Milky Way and Earth wasn’t the first place they evolved? What if they came from somewhere else? We’ve done where they went. Now let’s go do where they came from.”
BW:: The most intriguing thing, I think, about what Robert came up with in the Ori and what we spun from it is that it’s very much still in the overriding theme of Stargate. And that is “aliens playing gods” and “false gods” and the relationship between aliens as gods and ordinary human folk, poor humans in the galaxy.
And the fun dynamic of these original Ancients that we call the Ori — do we want to give this away? — is that these are Ancients … Unlike our Ancients in our galaxies who have ascended and have decided, “No we can’t interfere, because if we interfere then we are playing god and we aren’t there yet …”
RC: Prime Directive.
BW:: Prime Directive, essentially. These Ancients of this other galaxy don’t believe that. They think it’s wrong not to interfere. Or maybe that was their original thought. And so what we realized is that the humans in this galaxy have proof of God. These beings are behaving like gods because, well, they’re indistinguishable from gods.
RC: And in their minds, [they are] being benevolent, because they’re offering all the knowledge of the universe and “how to get to be where we are. We’re going to help you. We’re going to bring you on the path to enlightenment so that you can come and join us.”
There’s a twist, and we’re not going to reveal that part. But there’s a real sinister, evil quality to what they’re doing, and why.
BW:: Because power corrupts.
GW: So there’s a catch.
RC: There’s a catch. There’s a big catch. Well, the obvious catch that is revealed early in Season Nine is if you don’t believe, they kill you. There’s a catch to believing as well. And that gets revealed much later on.
By the way, you need to officially get out there and explain that it’s “Ori.” Not “Oree,” and not “Oreos.” It’s O-R-I. It’s pronounced “Or-eye.”
GW: Who decided “Ori?” Who decided on that?
RC: Well, “Origin.” It’s “Origin.” The original idea was the origin of the Ancients, and then I looked at the root of “origin.” So I thought, the Ori — they invented the word “Origin,” which is the religion that follows the Ori.
GW: Atlantis Season One. In retrospect, is it everything that you had hoped it would be?
BW:: Well, it got to where we wanted it to be.
RC: Unfortunately, you’re always apologizing and saying, “Under the circumstances.” When you go back to when we were actually picked up and how late in the game that was, and how little time we actually had between the start … The pilot, I think, is great. We put a lot of energy into that.
BW:: We were writing it and building the sets at the same time, and casting it before we even had a finished script.
RC: But that little stretch after the pilot is where you’re really struggling to find the show in terms of the actors and the characters and the storylines.
BW:: We’d frankly, bluntly, didn’t have enough money to do the show that we were trying to do. And then when we aired well, our begging finally paid off.
And by the way, if you’re saying the second half of Season Eight of SG-1 — it was equally encumbered, financially. The Canadian dollar hurt us. MGM has been very supportive but it’s been very hard for them to understand the real difference a 30 percent swing in the Canadian dollar has on what we can put on screen. And it’s enormous.
RC: And quite frankly, SG-1 has caught everyone by surprise — the network, the studio. If you have an investment and you sort of see a finite end to that, you’re sort of hesitant to continue to pour more money into it. You figure, “Well, it’s going to be over. We’ve gotten what we can out of this.” They have underestimated, all the way along, what they can get out of it.
And I think this year it is going to be evident that they’ve finally seen the light. We’re spending a fortune off the top of this season.
BW:: The fact that we have the likes of Beau Bridges and Lou Gossett, Jr., and Ben Browder and, Mitch Pileggi, Claudia Black — these are indications that the world is going, “Hey, this is a good show!” They don’t know we’re in Season Nine. Some people are just finding it now.
And I think the fact that DVDs exist have made it possible for people to go, “This is cool, how do I catch up?” Well, you just go buy the DVDs and catch up. And the fact that SCI FI is airing Stargate SG-1 every 15 minutes …
But no — and I hate to be blunt — but I don’t mind the message getting out there that science fiction is expensive. And the biggest burden that we had last year was we were trying to do two enormous things: End a series that wasn’t going to end, and start a new one with limited resources. So when we finally did get a little more money, I think it shows on the screen. I don’t know if you saw “Siege II.”
GW: Baghdad. It was incredible.
BW:: Yeah, we spent some money. And I hate to say, it isn’t that much more — it isn’t that much more. But it costs this much to open the front door. It costs “X” to open the front door. Anything on top of that is where you get your production values in.
We were at the point halfway through the season in Atlantis. We’d say, “They look out the window.” Well, now, that’s going to cost “X.” We have to cut the window. And then we’ve got these rooms that have no windows. It’s supposed to be this majestic city and you’re really in closet after closet after closet. I hate to diss the show. It’s our baby in some ways, but it was frustrating.