The world of Stargate fandom let out a gasp today with the announcement that Stargate Atlantis will end this season, and yet continue on in a series of TV movies. Was it the ratings? Has the show been kicked to the curb in favor of Stargate Universe, the anticipated third series in the franchise? Is the franchise just running out of steam?
We took these questions to Brad Wright, who co-created Atlantis with Robert C. Cooper five years ago. In this frank and honest conversation, the executive producer answers all those questions, talks about the matter of blame, and shares why he believes that this is truly the best decision for Atlantis and for Stargate moving forward.
GateWorld’s interview with Brad Wright runs about 24 minutes. Listen online at your leisure, download it to your MP3 player, or subscribe now to the iTunes podcast! The full interview is also transcribed below.
Our thanks to Brad for making himself available to us on short notice, as this news broke. Don’t miss GateWorld’s continuing coverage of Stargate Atlantis and Stargate Universe in the days to come, and tune in to our weekly podcast for more discussion of these issues.
GateWorld: For GateWorld.net this is Darren Sumner, and I’m on the phone today with Stargate Atlantis executive producer and co-creator Brad Wright.
Brad Wright: Hi, Darren!
GW: Now we’ve just found out that SCI FI Channel has cancelled Stargate Atlantis, and will continue on the show in the form of movies for TV and DVD. Stargate Atlantis has been doing really respectable numbers in the ratings this year, and it seems to me that it’s creatively still on an up-swing. Were you anticipating a renewal for the show?
BW: Well, I kind of already answered that. We have been in discussions with MGM and SCI FI about “Where to next?” and we decided basically to pull the trigger on movies sooner rather than later, while Atlantis was still doing well. It was a mutual thing. I honestly have neither the desire nor the inclination to blame anybody, because this is a wonderful thing to be able to continue.
GW: So was this MGM’s decision or SCI FI’s decision?
BW: [Laughter] People are trying to blame MGM and SCI FI!
GW: Well, there’s an interesting little phenomenon that goes on with science fiction fans, as I’m sure you know: Any time a show comes to an end, whether it’s been 15 episodes or 10 years, there has got to be someone held accountable for the show going away!
BW: Look, if they weren’t in complete agreement on where to go next, if it wasn’t a joint decision, there wouldn’t be a movie deal already in place.
GW: Tell me what are some of the factors that went into this. Obviously in the press release there is a very positive spin, that we want to do movies instead. But is the show coming to an end because of the strength of the American dollar, or the increasing salaries, or just looking at the potential money that could be made from DVD sales (versus selling boxed sets)?
BW: You know, I’m not going to pretend to be SCI FI’s or MGM’s business affairs people. But once we realized that with the prospect of another series going forward — which, I keep saying this, but it’s so on the cusp of being ready to say that — and SG-1 movies going forward, this was the right way for the partnership between MGM and us and SCI FI to go forward.
It’s not like there was any — like you said, the show was doing well. But you don’t wait until the show isn’t doing well before you try to launch movies. If you are going to go do movies when the show has still got life left in it, that’s a good time!
GW: So you see this as going out on a high note for the television show?
BW: Yeah! Very much so. Very much so. And I feel good about it.
I have to say that maybe if we hadn’t made Ark and Continuum that things might be a little different. But we did, and it was hugely creatively fulfilling, and it was very successful. So if it provides another strong leg for the franchise, I’m all for it.
And the fact is, SCI FI is all aboard. Now they have a deal to air those, but we did those movies without SCI FI. So the fact that it’s basically a joint announcement is proof that it’s not necessarily one or the other, or us. It’s something we’ve all decided to do.
GW: So SCI FI is going to air The Ark of Truth and Continuum.
BW: Mmm-hmm! That was in the press release.
GW: So this is three legs that the Stargate franchise is now standing on, with Stargate Universe coming out eventually.
BW: Four. I have to count the game.
GW: Yeah! Stargate Worlds.
BW: Stargate Worlds is going to be out roughly the same time, if we get the green light on Universe soon — we’ll be talking about four Stargate “brands,” if you will. And that’s good for the franchise. Riding one horse until it’s tired is not going to make it evolve into movies.
And you know, SG-1 owes Atlantis a debt in that sense. It helped revive the franchise for SG-1. And I think that’s how it’s going to proceed between Atlantis, SG-1, and Universe. And the game! That’s going to help, too.
GW: So if there are on-going movies both for Atlantis and SG-1, do you anticipate one a year for each? Or what kind of schedule are you looking at?
BW: I would love — love — to do two a year going forward.
GW: Total, or for each series?
BW: Maybe one of each. Maybe even three. I don’t want to test the marketplace — I have no idea what the saturation point would be in that situation. But people seem to have responded very well to Ark and Continuum. And if the next two go just as well, I don’t see why we wouldn’t do two more the following year. Or more! That’s why I say, “Or more.”
GW: As positive of a spin as the press release is putting on things, a lot of sites that are reporting the news obviously see “cancellation” as the big news. That’s the big headline. How would you respond to the suggest that I think some people have made online so far that Atlantis getting cancelled is a sign that the franchise is wearing out?
BW: Honestly, I think that that is kind of short-sighted. Because of the game coming, because of a new series, because of the announcement of two more movies.
It’ll wear out when we stop making good shows that people want to see. And as long as we are putting our hearts and our effort into making the upcoming series and upcoming movie as good as they can be — and as long as we still feel they’re vital — I think it’s going to keep going strong.
People are always going to say that. And people are going to try to lay blame to us or to SCI FI or to MGM. And the truth is, this is not a positive spin — it is positive thing! I genuinely feel good about it. A lot of people said SG-1 should have kept going. Well, had it done that there is a very strong possibility we would never have done the movies. And that would have been a huge regret for me.
GW: SG-1 obviously set the bar very, very high, as the first show out of the gate. Do you think that six or seven years is an unrealistic expectation, even for a Stargate show?
BW: I think that one of the reasons why Stargate [SG-1]‘s life was so long was that we really did shift networks halfway through. We were five years on Showtime, and then we were five years on SCI FI. People forget that. People also forget the fact that in Seasons Nine and Ten it was practically a new series. Creatively, it was a huge shift. Continuum was obviously a shift back to the little bit older days. But ten years is going to be the exception, not the rule.
And I will never, ever apologize or feel bad — or suggest that anyone around here should feel bad — for a 5-year run. That is, in television, a homerun by any definition.
GW: Absolutely. Five years and 100 episodes …
BW: Especially if at the same time and in the same breath, your network and your studio are saying, “Now let’s do movies.” This is good.
GW: Yeah, I think it’s really hard to look at this situation and call it a failure. Especially if we turn around and get another series green-lit here in the near future!
And that’s the outstanding question. In between these two announcements right now, it feels like … movies are great, but in terms of getting a full series of television it feels like SCI FI’s commitment to the franchise may be waning. What do you think about that? Is SCI FI still our long-term home for this franchise?
BW: Yes. Look, we have had huge support from these guys. I was just at Comic-Con. Dave Howe, Tom Vitale, Mark Stern — all those guys have all been very positive and very supportive. And like I said, we wouldn’t be getting into this deal going forward with them if we didn’t feel that way.
GW: Now how do you respond to the Atlantis fans who might be angry that their show is being pushed aside for the “new kid on the block,” Stargate Universe?
BW: It’s not the case. It’s not the case that anything is being pushed aside, any more than SG-1 is pushed aside. Shows have a life, and they live their life … SG-1 went five years on SCI FI. Atlantis went five years on SCI FI. I’m proud of that, and there are always going to be people — there were people who were upset after 10 years! As many, I’m sure, as who were upset after the five years of Atlantis. There will always be a point where those people are disappointed.
This is a way of preserving Atlantis going forward in a very strong way.
GW: Yeah. You know, I’ve been speculating for about a year now (just quietly to myself) that unless Atlantis and Universe either run together or have at least a year of separation — if Universe immediately follows Atlantis under any circumstances — there will always be people who assume that Atlantis got cancelled for Universe.
BW: That’s true. People are going to make that assumption. But you know, as I said, I’m not MGM and I’m not SCI FI’s business affairs. But what we have come up with together I think is the best way to go forward that we can.
GW: So what are the plans for the Atlantis set? Will that and Stargate Command continue to occupy Stages 5 and 6 [at The Bridge Studios]?
BW: For now, absolutely. Atlantis is still there, and will still be there for a while … which means we’d better start doing movies! [Laughter] These are expensive stages.
GW: So are there plans to start shooting either of these movies the first of this [next] year?
BW: Soon. There’s obviously deals that have to be put into place, and scripts to be written. I had a third Stargate movie idea during the shooting of Continuum, I started coming up with the idea. That one could happen sooner rather than later … but I may be very busy, too.
Next year could be a very, very busy year for Stargate. Let’s put it that way!
GW: Your shooting schedule is usually late February to early October. And then for the two movies last year, they didn’t come for almost a year after they had been shot. Is that going to be typical, do you think?
BW: Well, Continuum was ready a lot sooner. We finished the film, but our in-house visual effects department was devoting its energy still to The Ark of Truth. So it basically sat on the shelf waiting for the opportunity to go through the post-production process, rather than hiring a whole new, second group — knowing that there was going to be a significant window between the two releases anyway.
Ark of Truth wasn’t a year — it was less than a year. Continuum was, because of that wait.
GW: I see filming in ’07 and then the movies came out in ’08, and seemed to be doing so well in sales, that I just kept waiting for MGM to say, “Let’s do more! Let’s do more!” But now if we’re looking at shooting them in ’09, is it going to be 2010 before we see SG-1 again?
BW: Well, it’s funny that you should say that. It’s not why I did it, but my “Children of the Gods — Final Cut,” which I think is what we’re going to end up calling it, should be available in that interim. I think it’s certainly not a new movie, but it’s a new look at an old movie. And I think that people will like that. And maybe the releases of the two movies won’t take quite as long as they did the first time around.
Keep in mind: Nobody really knew … we had a lot of faith that the Stargate movies were going to do really well, but they surprised everybody. Robert and I maybe were the least surprised, because of our belief in what we were trying to do — but maybe everyone feels that way who makes a movie! But they surprised a lot of people, and it did well enough that I think things might happen faster the second time around.
GW: That would be nice!
BW: It would be!
GW: Well, is there anything you can tell us at this stage about the Atlantis movie? Is it going to be resolving dangling storylines like Michael and the Wraith, and these new villains that are about to be introduced?
BW: No — I can say only that it will be a movie that will be more accessible to new viewers than something that is trying to resolve dangling threads. It will be, hopefully, more of a stand-alone story.
GW: But Season Five does end on a cliffhanger, doesn’t it?
BW: … Depends what you mean by “cliffhanger.” [Laughter] Not so much. Not so much. It’s a great story that Paul and Joe wrote. It’s a terrific script, and there’s a “What now?” aspect of it. That’s for sure. But there’s no fingers dangling on the edge of a cliff, as we have done in the past.
GW: Maybe more of a feel like what “Full Circle” did in Season Six?
BW: … Maybe! [Laughter] I’m trying not to be too cryptic.
Honestly, if I can get one thing across, it’s that this is not “spin.” I really do feel good about it, and grateful that we’re going forward in this direction. You cannot complain to a studio and network who are saying, “How can we best do this together? How can we best achieve a sense of going forward and sustain what is now a growing franchise with the resources we have?” I’m happy.
GW: This is a question that touches on something that we talked about back in April, when we were there. Cast availability starts to become an issue, once you get a few years out. Do the Stargate movies, in your mind, start to merge, start to have more cross-over movies and not necessarily a stand-alone track of Atlantis and a stand-alone track of SG-1?
BW: Well, one of the benefits of the Stargate universe is being connected — meaning they’re happening at the same time. Yes, we can definitely do cross-over. That is definitely a potential. And there are a lot of casts to draw from, in both series. So yes, the answer is yes — there can definitely be cross-over.
GW: Now so many television shows have a “final chapter” to tell, and then the story is over. Shows like Lost …
BW: That will never, ever, ever happen in Stargate.
GW: [Laughter] Well, that’s my question! With DVD movies in the future, it sort of redefines what “cancelled” means, I think. Does Atlantis have an ending? Is there a point at which the story could be called “finished.”
BW: No. One word answer! “No.”
We don’t think that a storyline, or a story “universe,” should ever end, per se. I don’t think that, if this were the real world and there really was a Stargate program, it could happily ever “end.” It always has to go forward for it to remain as hopeful and as forward-looking as I think Stargate is.
GW: If the third series does start next year, do you fear that the Stargate franchise could ever reach a point of exhaustion? Would you or the studio ever want to maybe take it off the air for a while, to try and recharge the interest from a broader audience?
BW: Here’s the reality: If we make a really good show, people are going to watch it. And we have to count on our ability to do that. We have to draw from our experiences and our desire to do a good show, and make it engaging and entertaining enough that fans are going to tune in.
That involves casting, that involves shaking things up a little, that involves making sure that you’re not getting stale. I think that if we had continued to make Stargate SG-1 the way we were in the first couple of seasons — meaning we meet an ancient culture transplanted from Earth, they have a Goa’uld, that Goa’uld does a bad thing, we try and stop it — that we wouldn’t have made it to Season Six. Once we started creating a broader mythology that we could draw from, and shook up the show a little bit and allowed the characters to evolve, the show could go forward and could grow and fans would stay with it.
And honestly, that has happened in Atlantis, and it will happen hopefully with all of our shows going forward.
GW: This really is a universe to play in. It’s not like your Losts or your Babylon 5s that are really meant to be a single story with a beginning, a middle, and an end.
BW: No, exactly. It’s a place in which to tell stories. And that’s why there is going to be a game, because that game sees that potential — the game makers see that potential.
GW: I think the comparisons to Star Trek are increasing more and more as we’ve got multiple shows in the Stargate franchise now, and there is talk of “franchise exhaustion.” The comparisons are being made to what happened to Star Trek after Enterprise, having to lay fallow for a while and having to get “reimagined” and “rebooted.”
BW: Well, you could run down a whole list of reasons why Enterprise … by the way, a [franchise] on its fifth series. There’s the original, Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise — that’s five. Well, you know … we’re on three! [Laughter]
GW: And they ran production I think for about 14 years, on those modern-era shows. So we’re getting there in a hurry.
BW: You can’t look back and look at The Next Generation at the beginning — at the very, very beginning — and think, “Wow! This is really good!” Think about it. I’m a huge Star Trek: The Next Generation fan. And if you look at some of the earlier episodes you would think, “Oh, how the hell is this going to continue this franchise going forward?” And then you get a guy like Michael Piller to come along, and he makes an episode like “Best of Both Worlds” and everyone goes, “Wow! This is great television!”
It was a major shift. It was a major shake-up. And then you get episodes like “Yesterday’s Enterprise” and “Cause and Effect,” and suddenly people are interested again.
And the same with Deep Space Nine. You’ve got some great episodes in there, and some great writers with some growth. And so it just goes back to — without criticizing any one aspect of Enterprise – if people were tuning in and watching it and loving it, then it would still be on the air. It has nothing to do generically with “tiredness.”
GW: Of course not to disparage any of the guys that you have on staff right now, but what do you think of that suggestion — that maybe Stargate Universe needs some new blood.
BW: We’re definitely intending to think in those terms. But keep in mind, too, that Robert and I feel like we’re growing and have new challenges to do ourselves. And we feel like we want to be the agents of that change ourselves, and feel like we’re capable of coming up with another engaging television show that is possibly more mainstream, possibly a little outside the Stargate box. Because we know where we’ve been. For us to remain engaged in the show creatively, we need to make those changes ourselves.
GW: So would that mean that you and Rob would potentially be writing more of the new series?
BW: Well we’re definitely going to be writing a lot of the new series. I mean, we’re certainly going to be writing a lot of the new series.
GW: What do you mean by making it a little more mainstream?
BW: Maybe a little more character-based, a little less rooted in a sci-fi mythology. Those kinds of things — that’s all.
I find the word “mainstream” kind of silly. But it really does come down to characters and stories that are engaging, and that people want to see — that they feel like they haven’t seen before.
GW: Yeah. I’ve always felt like comparing Stargate to Star Trek, and the whole question of franchise exhaustion, I felt exactly what you said: A good show doesn’t need to take time off in order to get people interested in it again. It just needs to do interesting things. It needs to tell good stories and take risks, and get people talking about it again.
BW: Exactly. And for the fans who say disparaging things about Universe, if we hopefully soon get to make that announcement, to those fans who don’t like it — they haven’t seen it yet. They can’t really hate something that they haven’t seen yet. And I’m sure, or at least I hope, that we have enough of a track record and care enough to earn their eyes and ears on at least the beginning of the third series, and give it a chance.