The writer-producer duo of Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie joined the Stargate team for the fourth season of SG-1. It’s hard to believe that it has been more than seven years — but not hard to see why these two are now executive producers and the men in charge of the fourth season of Stargate Atlantis.
GateWorld recently sat down with Joe and Paul during our visit to The Bridge Studios in Vancouver, B.C. Though hesitant to let the spoilers fly, the two do fill us in on their plans for the first half of Season Four (now filming for a Fall 2007 premiere), and Atlantis‘s two new cast members. They also share their thoughts on Season Three’s controversial turns.
GateWorld’s interview with Joe and Paul is available in MP3 audio format for easy listening, and runs 26 minutes. It is also transcribed below. You can also download the interview to your MP3 player and take GateWorld with you!
GateWorld: For GateWorld.net, I’m Darren Sumner. I’m here with David Read. We’re talking today with Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie. Thanks, guys!
Paul Mullie: Hi. How’s it going?
GW: Welcome, welcome.
Joseph Mallozzi: Welcome back.
GW: Thank you! Let’s talk, first of all, about SG-1.
GW: The cancellation news obviously hit everybody like a bomb. What were your thoughts then; what are your thoughts now?
JM: Well, like I’ve said, there are two opinions, really, about the cancellation. On the one hand a lot of writers feel that we’ve done ten years. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It had to end some time, right? And why not go out while we’re on top? While other writers, or maybe me in particular, kind of feel a little annoyed that we were still doing …
PM: Pretty good numbers?
JM: Excellent numbers on SCI FI. It’s not like we were creatively tapped. In fact actually, after Season Nine when we took a new direction, I thought it reinvigorated the show. I thought we could’ve gone another season, but …
GW: So basically why kill a perfectly good thing?
JM: Exactly. But that …
PM: That’s just you?
JM: That’s just me!
PM: I don’t really think about the politics and everything, and the money and all that stuff. For me, when a show gets cancelled the only question is “Was it done creatively?” And I don’t think we were done creatively. That’s not necessarily what drives a cancellation in the world of television entertainment. There are a lot of other factors that have to be taken into account.
So I don’t worry about it in that sense. Hey, stuff happens, right? All I know is that I think the show, ultimately, is still an open-ended concept. That’s why Atlantis is still going. That’s why Brad and Robert are working, potentially, on a third series.
JM: The adventures are continuing.
PM: Yeah, exactly. When you’ve got a ring that takes you to other planets there’s no sealing to that, as far as I’m concerned, not to go on.
GW: Ten years is a long time, obviously, for any show. And seven years is a long time for you guys to have worked on the same show. When you look back on SG-1 in 20 years what do you think is going to stand out in your mind?
PM: Wow. I think you were right. Just the longevity of it. The fact that we’ve spent … for us, we’d been relatively inexperienced when we came on this show. We had no idea what to expect and then to be here this long, I guess, I look at other writers in the business and see that they go from project to project. We don’t know what that experience is like because this has really been our professional life, almost, with a few other projects before. But for the most part this has been it for us! We don’t really have anything to compare it to.
JM: Well, we do hear second-hand accounts of people who have worked on other shows and had terrible experiences. If there’s one thing I’ll probably look back on, it’s just always being a fun working environment. Stressful, at times. My wife on occasion has come by and she’s like, “You guys have the luckiest job in the world.” Whenever she comes by we’re always sitting around, we’re laughing, we’re discussing stories.
PM: How else, frankly, could we have gone as long as we went? You couldn’t do a job this long if every day you were going “Oh, God, I don’t want to go to work today.” The creative energy that’s required to do a job like this — if you didn’t like it and weren’t having fun, it wouldn’t last as long as we’ve lasted here in these offices.
Literally, we’ve been in the same offices — although they’ve been expanded as you can see — since our promotion. But we’ve been literally in this spot for what, ten years now? Something like that. It feels like. This is our eighth year? You hit the nail on the head. The fact that it’s fun to come to work is what makes that possible for us.
GW: So now with Atlantis in Season Four, the two of you have been promoted to show-runner. Tell us, for the uninitiated, what does that mean?
JM: We get to deal with the network. We’ve always dealt with the network on a script-by-script basis. We deal with the network on big-picture issues. We deal with the studio on big-picture issues. Just at the end of the day the buck stops here, I guess, in terms of creative decisions. That’s one of the great things [about] working with Rob and Brad. They’ve always been very complimentary and willing to listen to everyone’s ideas. And that’s how this show and the stories get spun. The arts get developed. Everybody gets to weigh in and has a say.
But at the end of the day, if the fans want to shake their fists at someone and blame someone for a creative decision, then Paul and I will be the targets.
GW: Well, there have certainly been some controversial decisions over the last several months. A lot of which were not on your watch, specifically.
PM: Well, you’ll have to wait and see what happens on our watch! [Laughter] … for the rage to develop. You’re right, a lot of things have changed. We can’t technically, I guess, be held responsible. We weren’t the people in charge. But it’s like Joe said: it’s always been a collaborative thing here, with Brad and Robert.
For us now, with Martin and Carl and Alan, we all sit in a room together and make these decisions together. So there’s no point, really, in anybody being singled out for a specific blame, if that’s the word we’re looking at.
JM: Though I should mention, Martin Gero who wrote “Sunday,” did a wonderful job on that particular episode — which he wrote.
GW: It’s a fantastic script.
PM: — which Martin wrote. [Laughter]
JM: Yeah, Martin Gero.
PM: Yeah, that’s the problem, though. Again, people look at the name — the “Written By” or the producer name or whatever. It’s not an illusion, he did write the script, but it’s not like he just said, “I’m going to write this story, and I have this great idea,” and surprise us with it. “Oh, my God, I can’t believe Martin did that!”
That’s not the way it works here. We discussed a story idea. There was an element to that story that we decided to put into it that was a decision that we all made. That’s the way it goes.
GW: It seems a lot of fans are asking, “Why was that decision made?” Was it to give the show a boost in terms of danger?
JM: Well, there is that. I’ve always liked shows where the audience is never fully comfortable or at ease, never knows what to expect. I always bring up the example of Spooks, which is MI5 here in North America. The British series where …
PM: … nobody’s safe?
JM: You never know. Yeah, no one is safe. In sci-fi, sci-fi viewers get the best of both worlds. We can put in those types of twists, but in the case of Daniel Jackson, he’s gone, he’s dead, and then a year later he descends and comes back. You’re not going to see that on Grey’s Anatomy.
Also, just in terms of the decision on “Sunday:” It made sense for the story. In much the same way that, I guess, “Heroes, Part 2” was memorable, and had such an impact. [It] was because of what happened at the end to Fraiser. In much the same way, I think “Sunday” will have the same impact on fans. And obviously it has, as we await the fan demonstration today.
GW: Is there any glimmer of hope for those fans, that we might see Paul again, in some way, shape or form?
JM: Well, as I said, no one ever dies in sci-fi. It’s funny, I was looking at The Province. I did an interview with The Province. One of the things I said to The Province was I’m very impressed by the way the Save Carson Beckett campaign has formed and has gone out and reached out to the various media outlets. The guy from The Province asked the same thing. “Is there any hope? Can you give them any hope?”
And I said, “Well, I’ll tell you what. What they’ve done has been very impressive. If you guys can get your story on Access Hollywood or Entertainment Tonight. Not Entertainment Tonight: Canada. We’re planning the back half of Season Four. We’ll bring him back for at least two episodes that we’re working on now, and we’ll see.”
[Mallozzi has since confirmed that Dr. Beckett will indeed return for a two-part episode late in Season Four. – Ed.]
GW: So you are.
JM: I’m saying, basically, if they can get Access Hollywood or Entertainment Tonight.
GW: So Season Four of Stargate Atlantis. How would you say this is going to be different from what we’ve seen?
JM: Well I was just looking over the stories. In terms of character development, in terms of big arc progression, a lot happens. Especially in the first half. We’re just starting to get into the back half. We’re exploring aspects of the Wraith, or uncovering aspects of the Wraith, that we didn’t know before. The same applies to the Replicators.
We’re introducing a new race of technologically advanced humans. Sort of a wild card, which is something we’ve always wanted to do.
PM: I think Season Four, if you look back on SG-1, Season Three / Four was the point where the show … and I think it’s typical on shows, particularly science fiction shows. The first couple of seasons you’re spinning your wheels a little bit waiting to see where the traction is going to come, right? You’re trying different ideas. You’re trying different characters. You’re throwing stuff out there and waiting for things to sort of catch.
Season Four of Atlantis, I think, is the season where some of that is starting to happen. We’re starting to get into some arc stuff in terms of the characters and things like that. Bigger picture, longer term-type things. That timeline is about right for a series where you’re starting to get a sense of what the show really is.
It’s often a make-or-break kind of thing for a show. Because if you get those elements right then you launch yourself into the future. Hopefully that’s what Season Four will do for Atlantis.
GW: So the Wraith will still continue to be a major presence. The Replicators are still around. What can you tell us about the new race?
JM: Well, basically what I said. One of the things that SG-1 had and Atlantis never had was we would never run into technologically advanced people because whenever they would start to get technologically advanced the Wraith would come in and wipe them out. So basically we created a scenario by which we can introduce such a race. Sort of a wild card.
PM: Not necessarily good or bad.
JM: Could be helpful, but can be a bit of a hindrance as well.
PM: The problem with the Genii is they don’t have the technological advancement like everybody. We have that same problem with everybody in the Pegasus Galaxy except for the Wraith. Because the Wraith do that on purpose. They don’t let anybody get to that level. So we have to find ways to find people who are at a higher level, technologically, so that they can be a challenge for us to deal with. And hopefully these people will help deliver on that.
GW: Do they have names yet?
PM: There’s no alien name attached to them yet. They don’t have a race name, if you will.
GW: SG-1 ends with a pretty major change for the Stargate universe, with Earth acquiring the Asgard’s knowledge and technology. How does this change the Stargate universe moving forward? You still have to 20 episodes of Atlantis.
JM: Well, it’s true that we did receive all of that cool technology from the Asgard. However, at the end of the episode it’s clear that if we attempt to access it for the time being it will alert the Ori to our presence and basically we’d just be inviting the Ori upon us. So for the moment it’s not something that we can access and make use of.
Eventually, if and when the Ori are ever dealt with, then it’s something we’ll hopefully be able to roll out at times. These things take time, of course. We’re not going to have all the technology over night, but over time it’s maybe something we’ll implement into the show, if and when the Ori are ever dealt with.
GW: Like the X-303. It took a while for the technology to come around.
GW: Let’s talk a little bit about Elizabeth Weir. Why the change and what can you tell us about her role in Season Four?
PM: Well, I never know how much I’m allowed to give away in these situations.
JM: The fans already know that. Basically online fans know.
PM: I think when you change a character out, you want to do it in such a way, particularly for us, that leaves things maybe a little bit open-ended. Joe said, “Nobody ever dies in science fiction.” That doesn’t just mean that you kill a character and magically bring them back. It has to make sense within the logic of the world, and it has to have an impact.
I think the first two episodes of Season Four are actually — even though the episodes where Weir is essentially, for the time being, being written out — they’re actually great stories for her character. That’s the way to do it, as far as I’m concerned. She has an incredible impact in the moment in those two stories. In fact, those two stories wouldn’t happen if it wasn’t for that character doing what she does.
And then, at the end of those two stories, she’s still out there.
JM: Yeah, we kind of launch her in a new direction. I think a very interesting, very different direction from the Weir character that we know. Hopefully it’s something we’ll be able to pursue and develop over time. That will depend on Torri’s availability and, as always, the stories we come up with. We’re not going to lose a character entirely.
GW: Tell us a little bit about Jewel Staite and her casting as Dr. Keller.
PM: What can we say about Jewel? We’re extremely excited to have Jewel on the show. She’s been on the show before, of course.
JM: She did an excellent job for us …
PM: … unfortunately unrecognizable. It was kind of crazy when she read for that part [of Ellia in Season Two’s “Instinct”], I was actually surprised that she even came in. “Oh my God, it’s Jewel Staite, and we’re going to make her look like a monster! What are we doing?”
But on the other hand we also said, “Well, this is great. She’s not recognizable. We’re not using her up in this moment. This actress can come back as a normal human and it won’t be a problem. So there’s always a possibility of bringing her back, because she was so awesome in that episode. It wasn’t just that her performance was great on screen, but what she went through to deliver that performance. The prosthetics — ask Joe [Flanigan] about the contact lenses. He’ll tell you they’re not fun to wear. And the fact that she as able to emote through all that crap on her face and still be an effective character, we just were so impressed.
Now the opportunity to bring her back and actually see her face, we’re like, “Well, this is great!” So far what we’ve seen of her — we’ve watched the dailies coming up here at lunch time. She looks awesome. We’re very excited.
JM: There’s one thing we can say about her, besides the fact it’s great to work with her. She’s really pleasant. She’s an excellent actress. Bottom line. Watching the dailies … we’ve seen her on Firefly. We loved her on Firefly. But seeing her in the dailies before the editors have got a chance to work with the particular episode, you see that raw footage. You recognize the talent. She’s very talented.
PM: She just did, yesterday, did a whole surgery sequence. Apparently we have a surgeon on set — a brain surgeon — on set who was quite impressed. He said to Martin Wood, who was directing it, that Dr. Keller and the woman playing the nurse — I’m afraid her name escapes me right now — were incredibly believable. “I believe them. I believe them as brain surgeon and nurse.” And he’s a brain surgeon himself. That’s a seal of approval, I guess you could say!
GW: Fantastic. What does Amanda Tapping add to the show this year?
JM: Hopefully besides the recognizability (the SG-1 fans who are big Amanda Tapping fans will be tuning in as well), she has the leadership qualities that she displayed as the leader of SG-1 for a while. She’s got the military background. She’s got the connection with Sheppard. If we needed to go off-world we don’t have to come up with crazy excuses to wedge her into a story.
If we want her off world we can because she’s got the military background. She’s got the science background, so she can take some of the heavy expository dialogue from McKay and Zelenka. But she can also do a back and forth, fun exchanges from McKay as well.
Speaking of excellent actresses, Amanda is another great example. I’ve often said the techno-babble is very difficult to do. David [Hewlett] and David [Nykl] do a terrific job. It’ll be great to have Amanda in there, and take some of the weight off, but also make it a little more fun, as well.
GW: Is she taking over as the new leader of Atlantis, then?
GW: C’mon guys, you know you wanna …
PM: I’ll let you answer this one. You have more experience dealing with these.
JM: Magic 8 Ball says: “Maybe.”
GW: It adds an interesting story element because Atlantis was started very deliberately as a civilian international group. Thinking about militarizing it …
PM: Well, that’s why she’s an interesting character. She brings two worlds together, the military world and the scientific world, which allows us a certain luxury of having those two elements in one person. [It] lets us get away with some stuff in terms of how we deal with those issues.
Is it a civilian or is it a military — because to me that’s part of the show. That debate. That argument. And it has been over the first three seasons. Weir and Sheppard have had to deal with that issue with the I.O.A. and things like that. Bringing Amanda in, I think, makes that complex world even more interesting, basically.
GW: It also alludes to the possibility that defense is going to be a lot more necessary. We need more military involvement because we’re being, perhaps, pursued more now?
JM: The threat has always been out there in terms of defenses. We’re constantly upgrading the technology we have. We’ll see some of those technological upgrades in Season Four as well.
Again, not to give too much away, but early in Season Four the big galaxy picture takes a sudden unexpected shift. Again, I can’t say too much about it, but the threat level is constantly changing: goes one way, goes another way. Something to look forward to, I guess.
GW: Well, you already told fans you’re going to focus on doing character episodes. Each main character gets a spotlight episode.
PM: In the first half, yeah. Yep.
GW: Can you give us any hints about those?
JM: Well, “Travelers,” just off the top of my head, is the Sheppard episode.
PM: It’s the Sheppard episode that introduces the new characters we were talking about. “Reunion” is an episode that deals a little bit with Ronon’s past. You see a little bit more of where he’s from and his backstory.
PM: “Missing” is the beginning of a bit of an arc for Teyla. We thought Teyla got a little bit forgotten in Season Three. There was nothing deliberate. It just kind of happened. I thought that was a little bit of an imbalance that needed to be addressed, so we came up with an arc for her character that starts in “Missing.”
It also introduces Keller, I think, in a good way. Not literally introduce her. She’s already in the show. But it’s one of the bigger episodes for her character where we learn a few tings about her.
We’re bringing back McKay’s sister, Jeannie, so there’s another story there that focuses on those two characters.
JM: Carter gets a story in “The Seer.”
PM: That’s more about the challenges of being the leader, because she’s been on SG-1 but she never had to deal with the big picture issues of being the boss of a base. A little like what O’Neill went through in “Zero Hour.” “Oh, now, I’m The Man” kind of thing. “Now I’ve got to deal with all these problems.” We explore that a little bit in an episode called “The Seer.”
JM: And then dispersed throughout are a bunch of team episodes.
PM: We’ve got a pretty good balance. I think we’re happy with the balance of stories.
JM: Big visual effects episodes. We’ve got small, sort of character-driven episodes.
PM: This is all the first half. Who knows what’s going to happen in the back half!
JM: But surprises in store. Plenty surprises in store for Season Four.
GW: So you guys have a favorite yet?
JM: Of the first half?
PM: It’s hard to say because we’re really just starting in terms of shooting. It’d have to be going on scripts. I don’t think I do yet. I think we’re in good shape, script-wise.
JM: It’s really hard. There have been a number of times when I’ve thought “This isn’t a great script.” And then I see it on finish and think, “Wow, that turned out really well.” Conversely, I’ve seen scripts where I think this is going to be great. And basically the episode’s done, and “This is a disaster.”
I think I’m going to hold off on passing judgment on any of the episodes.
GW: Any final words for fans who are getting ready to tune in this fall?
PM: Well, I hope they tune in this spring!
PM: In a way that’s our bigger concern right now even though it’s odd to say that because we’re working on Season Four. There’s been such a big gap in the United States on SCI FI between the front and back halves of Seasons Ten and Three. We’re hoping we didn’t lose anybody. We need those people to come back and watch. There’s no point in watching Season Four if you haven’t watched the back half of Season Three. All this stuff is set up in the back half of Season Three.
JM: And really, our pick-up for Season Five will, for the most part, be dependent on Season Three.
PM: Probably. Because we’re airing so late in the fall on Season Four. If a decision is made on Season Five it’ll probably be made before we even air. Or just having aired a couple of episodes of Season Four. So a lot of it’s going to depend on Season Three.