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For Cryin’ Out Loud: MGM’s Financial Crisis

Friday - April 30, 2010

For Cryin' Out Loud - Jack ("Window of Opportunity") For Cryin’ Out Loud is GateWorld’s weekly editor’s column! If you have questions or suggestions about what you’d like us to talk about, e-mail the editors now.

There’s one Stargate-related story in the news that we occasionally get news tips and questions about, but which we haven’t chosen to cover much.  Many fans of the Stargate franchise will have seen the headlines about Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s financial problems these past several months, leading to extensions in money owed to shareholders, accepting bids to purchase the whole studio, and rumors that the company might declare bankruptcy to deal with its estimated $3.7 billion in debt.

We haven’t reported on it much because, as far as Stargate goes, there is nothing new to report.  MGM has received lower-than-hoped bids from Time Warner, Access Industries, and Lions Gate Entertainment.  It doesn’t look like it’s going to accept any of the offers, with shareholders instead pushing for a bankruptcy restructuring of the company as a stand-alone entity.

And the big question for fans: What does this mean for Stargate?  Earlier this month the producers of MGM’s stalwart James Bond film franchise issued a statement that production on the next film in the series is on hold indefinitely, “due to the continuing uncertainty surrounding the future of MGM and the failure to close a sale of the studio.”  And our friends at Airlock Alpha, citing an anonymous source inside to the Stargate Universe production, speculated in a recent story that SGU‘s future could be in jeopardy because of MGM’s money trouble.

Let’s set one thing straight:  Television and film work on different models, both for financing production and for seeing profits.  In the world of film the studio fronts all the money needed to make, distribute, and market a movie like Quantum of Solace or Hot Tub Time Machine.  Sometimes they’ll bring in outside investors — or, in the case of The Hobbit, even another studio — to help foot the bill and, in turn, share in any profits.

Every film is a roll of the dice.  A film can make big bucks, or break even, or flop.  When the movie comes out it’s up to the audience to decide if it is a success.  The box office receipts are tallied and then … it’s all over.  The studio moves on to the next project, either taking its loss or — hopefully — celebrating a big win.  For a single film, it’s not a long-term game.

Television is different in oh-so-many ways, and generally speaking it’s a lower-risk endeavor.  TV shows don’t have a make-or-break opening weekend.  They roll out slowly over the course of the year, with ratings trending up and then back down again.  The network strategizes its programming schedule and how the show fits on this night and in that time slot.  They make changes.  They ask the show to do some creative retooling.  In the famous case of Star Trek: Enterprise‘s fourth and final season, production studio Paramount convinced UPN to buy another year’s worth of episodes in spite of flagging ratings by drastically lowering the network’s cost — expecting to recoup the loss in syndication, DVD sales, and the general lift given to Star Trek merchandise sales by having new Trek on the air.

But the biggest difference between television and film?  In television, the studio gets paid ahead of time by the network.  MGM charges Syfy Channel (and other broadcasters around the world) a licensing fee for the right to air Stargate Universe, and so its production is not threatened week-to-week by MGM’s own lack of money.  It would be like movie theaters paying the studio a fixed amount ahead of time for the right to show the movie.  A television network is a built-in partner who shares the investment risk.

So Season Two of SGU is now filming and is locked in at 20 episodes because that’s what Syfy ordered and agreed to pay for; and Season Three will be locked in if Syfy wants to pay for it, regardless of who owns MGM or even if the studio is in bankruptcy court.

Of course, there’s no reason to assume that Syfy’s licensing fee covers the entire production budget, but with money coming in from SPACE in Canada, Sky1 in the U.K., SCI FI Channel in Australia, and other networks in other countries, MGM doesn’t have to come up with millions of dollars to keep the cameras rolling each week.

Now those SG-1 and Atlantis movies everyone is clamouring for news on?  Film model.  With Stargate: Continuum and The Ark of Truth MGM put up the entire production and marketing budgets, and licensed them for broadcast only after they had been released on DVD.  That’s why I’ve been saying that these movies aren’t dead, even though there has been no news on them for a year.  Obviously another James Bond movie is going to get made.  But it won’t happen while the studio doesn’t have any money to fund it.  The next Stargate movies are in the same boat as ol’ 007: When MGM has dealt with its crippling debt and has some money to start spending again, the movies on its slate will finally begin to move forward.

But as for Stargate Universe?  The sky is not falling, Chicken Little.


I was just wondering if you are ever going to bring back the Friday Five. I really enjoyed reading it. (Steph)

My Friday “Top 5” countdowns were  a lot of fun and also a lot of work to do, so I decided early on to make it a special “summer series.”  Hopefully this summer I’ll recover a little more of my time for GateWorld and be able to bring it back!  Glad to know people enjoy ’em.

Let me start off by saying that I loved “Space,” and I thought the aliens were damn cool.  And I appreciated that they didn’t speak English.  But I remember The Powers That Be saying that the aliens would be “completely ALIEN.”  To me, that means creatures that don’t have two eyes, two arms, two feet, a mouth, and a clear oral communication.  What gives? (Race Car)

To be fair, we have seen that degree of “completely alien” on the show already, in the living sandstorm.  But when the producers talked about wanting to do very alien aliens, unlike anything we’ve seen on previous Stargate series, I never expected them to rule out two eyes, two legs, and a mouth.  I think the point of the statements was that they would not be more displaced humans or actors with a little forehead prosthetics — not that they wouldn’t be bipedal.

The “Space” aliens are fantastic, but for my money they don’t even need to be that alien (and thus expensive).  I loved heavy prosthetic species like the Serrakin and the Unas, which could be played by actors in costume and be on screen a whole lot more.  I think that if we’re going to continue to do alien encounters on SGU, that sort of species is inevitably necessary.  You can’t give a CG character sufficient screen time or emotive presence on a television budget to have him or her be a truly fleshed-out character who is part of the drama, rather than a walking prop.

In an earlier Stargate Universe episode we saw a control chair with an interface device.  Dr. Rush believed this to be similar to that of Atlantis.  In Atlantis, the Ancients instituted the gene recognition technology to interface with the controls.  What do you think was the purpose of the device that tried to burrow into that scientist’s temple in the Destiny‘s control chair?  Could it be an Ancient version of a neural interface?  Do you also think that we will see more focus on the Ancient mythology as we seen in Stargate Atlantis? (Michael A.)

We saw more of Destiny’s control interface chair in last week’s episode, “Human.” At first I thought it was an earlier prototype of Atlantis’s control chair — but while it may be related technology, in fact it’s the prototype for the “face-hugger” library of knowledge that nearly killed Jack O’Neill (twice — see “The Fifth Race” and “Lost City”).  So it seems that its purpose is more about accessing information (such as the ship’s control access code) than flying the ship, as on Atlantis.

I expect that we’ll learn plenty about the Ancients and their history in the new series, but a very different part of that history than Atlantis gave us.  Atlantis focused on the Pegasus Galaxy, which seems to be millions upon millions of years after the launch of DestinyDestiny and the ships that went ahead of it to seed Stargates and send back sensor data, would have been a massive undertaking for the Ancients.  Why did they never follow up on it? Why did they (apparently) never gate to Destiny — when the very Stargates themselves have a ninth chevron always pointing to it?

I haven’t seen any mention on the site about Teryl Rothery having a recurring role on Caprica as the character Evelyn, a friend and colleague of the Joseph Adama character.  She’s appeared in the episodes “Reins of a Waterfall,” “Know Thy Enemy,” and “End of the Line.”  I bet we’ll see more of her character when the rest of the season airs in the fall.  You can watch “Know thy Enemy” and “End of the Line” on Hulu. (Heather)

Thanks, Heather!  You heard her, everyone … definitely check out Teryl (SG-1’s Dr. Fraiser) on Caprica if you (like me) haven’t seen those episodes yet.  I did spot her recently on Smallville while playing catch-up on past episodes, but I think that was from last season.

This is also a good place to give a shout-out and thanks to Morjana Coffman, who assembles our new DVR Alerts! column.  Every Monday you can check in and see where familiar Stargate faces will be appearing on television for the week.

Why has Ben Browder yet to make a cameo on SGU?  Do you guys know whether or not he will in the future? Along with that if, praying to the gods, the next SG-1 movie is made do you believe they’d kill off a main character for good — since we obviously won’t be having many more movies with the SG-1 characters? And do you think that it would be Browder’s character, in order to bring O’Neill full circle and back into the team (being that the producers said it was an O’Neill-centered story)? (Patrick)

Lots of questions, Patrick!  Thanks for that.  The goal with launching SGU does seem to have been to use those most familiar faces and most iconic characters from Stargate history to tie in the new show with what has come before.  It would (pleasantly) surprise me if characters like Mitchell, Vala, or Jonas ever appeared on the series.  It would be a nice nod to those who loved SG-1 later years in particular, but I think the writers would want to find a really good reason for having Mitchell in a story, rather than starting with “Hey, we outta have Ben on the show.”

As for Stargate: Revolution, you may be on to something there.  I wouldn’t assume that it’s going to be the last SG-1 movie ever, but time is certainly flying by and the cast are gaining greater distance from Stargate.  I don’t know if you can ever kill off characters like Jack O’Neill and Daniel Jackson — but hey, that’s what they said about Kirk and Spock, and that’s what helped make The Wrath of Khan such a moving film.  Mitchell, though?  When you’re only making one movie every few years and you don’t know for sure if more will happen, I don’t think the character is quite so sacrosanct.

(SGU Spoiler Warning!)  I get the feeling from the trailer for the second half of the first season of SGU that Telford will successfully gate into the Destiny but die soon afterwards, maybe killed by a member of the Lucian Alliance.  Any thoughts on that? (Michael S.)

Ol’ Telford certainly isn’t looking too good in that shot from the trailer, which appears to take place on board Destiny.  It has the same awesome vibe as Daniel’s line “They’re coming!” at the end of SG-1 Season One’s “There But For the Grace of God.” My first question is whether it’s really Telford, or whether it is his mind in someone else’s body (via communication stone).

I’d love to see Telford make it onto the ship and then survive, to be honest.  Colonel Young is really the obvious leader of the refugee crew because of his rank; Telford holds the same rank and was supposed to be in charge of that mission.  When he’s come on board in the past (e.g. “Earth”) his authority is always suspect because he’s not really there, in the flesh.  But maybe it’s too much to hope for.  I’d bet real money that someone is going to be killed off before the credits roll on Season One, and as a prominent face who isn’t a member of the main cast …

Have a question for us?  Mark it as a “Letter to the Editor” and send it in now!

Darren created GateWorld in 1999, and today is the owner and managing editor. He lives in the Seattle area with his wife and three children.

COMMENTS (29):Rules | Report Comment | Trackback

  • I still think that SyFy and MGM should reconsider the format for the next SG1 and Atlantis adventures. SyFy Original Miniseries anyone? I think it would be great “filler” material for when SGU is on hiatus. Plus I think that frees the fine folks at Bridge Studios to do more with those films, not having the limitations of a two-hour DVD movie.

  • I appreciated you clarified some points about the differences between movie and TV.
    So these are the channels that bring in advance money to produce the show and release it in each country.
    But I don’t think with such rates (last ep .85HH 1.312 vievers loosing this time 109 000 despite MS appearance and really below all SGA eps rates I found 0.90HH for the worst in season4 and obviuosly SGA did better in its last season an average of 1.24HH VS sgu 1.09HH for 14 eps ) sgu could keep its run over more 2 seasons. Not so profitable and even for MGM cos DVDs sales are lower than SGA/SG1 ones.
    And I don’t think the different channels in other countries will keep helping and airing it when they will see ratings down like in Australia where Channel 10 stopped airing it after a couple of eps cos the rates.
    I hope you’re right about the movies but more the studios or channel will wait for it less we will have the chance to have the cast available.

  • Well, I gave up hope for an SG1 or SGA movie a several months back when the SG1 and SGA actors started trying to give out hints they wouldn’t be happening so fans wouldn’t be too disappointed later.

    Also, I’ve gotten the feeling that in addition to the money issues, Stargate’s PTB simply don’t want to make the movies. They’re too consumed with their new toy. And in my opinion TPTB seem he** bent on forgetting it’s original fanbase ever existed. So why would they make a movie for them?

    I’m not meaning that as a slam towards SGU, I hope the show lasts a long time for the people that like it. I’m just stating how I see things and my view point has a lot to do with the attitude TPTB have had towards many of the original fans. That soured me towards TPTB a lot and probably even affected my response to SGU. Though I did give the show another try after the break, and while the story telling is a little better, sadly I just don’t think its the show for me. I don’t like any of the characters and I have to be able to like at least one or two to be able to watch a show.

    With regards to MGM’s money woes, while they’re putting out such “winners” as Hot Tub Time Machine, I don’t hold out much hope for them. You have to make movies people actually want spend money on to go see.

  • TV shows can easily tank in a couple episodes if the ratings suck. TV shows with sucky ratings can also stay on the schedule all year if the producer happens to be David Letterman and CBS is scared of losing him (as was the case in Everybody Loves Raymond).

    The main thing is that TV and film operate on the same principle. make a profit, or else. If MGm doesn’t think they can make enough off an SGA or SG1 movie, they won’t be made. A Bond flick is higher profile with higher stakes and profits. Darned shame it’s on hold. Darned shame the SG movies are probably toast. I mean, by the time MGm gets its act together, Jack’s gonna need a walker!

  • @prion Your last line cracked me up and gave me a very humorous mental image of Jack. I too would like to see the new Bond movie, though I have yet to truly warm up to Daniel Craig.

  • Maybe they should film SG1 and SGA movies as made for TV instead of direct to DVD. The networks could foot some of the bill, and then MGM could make some money selling an extended cut DVD of the film with some special features.

  • mgm is going under hardcore. they need to end this show and make a movie to end atlantis before it is too late.

  • You can do completely alien aliens without cg. I’ve seen very alien looking creatures on Dr. Who and Farscape. That’s without cg too. In any event it’s better to have a few aliens done well than a bunch of aliens done poorly. So you’re completely wrong about it being inevitable having the fake looking, very human, aliens. I’d rather have truly alien encounters even if they happen less often. It will be more realistic and more dramatic. If I want human looking aliens I’ll watch Star Trek.

    These new sgu aliens are acceptably alien for me. Still, I’d like to see something that isn’t bipedal in the future.

  • make the sg1 and atlantis movies, but to air on the syfy channel first. or, as someone else stated, mini series.

  • I agree a miniseries format would work better and give us all more of some of our favorite characters.

    I liked the CG aliens we have seen so far but they have been plot devices rather than characters/antagonists. Personally I would also rather see an actor in a prosthetic. But that is just me.

    I’ve kept an open mind about SGU and I must say it is beginning to get good. Glad I stuck around, only now the season is more than half over!! I’ll be watching!

    Love the column.

    First Post!!

  • One little issue. There was a somewhat similar situation a few years back. While Tribune had already ordered a 4th season of mutant X, that never came about when the production company folded.

  • I love Mtichell and his attitude in life. But I’m doubtful if he’ll ever show in SGU since he didn’t guest star in Atlantis as well. Too bad, Sheppard and Mitchell seem to have some chemistry for the 3 minutes we saw them together on Pegasus Project.

  • It’s entirely possible that SyFi could just fund and produce the series itself. It pays MGM’s production bills, so it’s possible. It’s not the best live action stargate so far anyway, so two seasons isn’t a terrible loss, look at FireFly. Immortalized in time only 16 episodes, Dollhouse 2 seasons some people liked it

  • Teryl Rothery is apparently going to be very important to BSG history. On BSG, William Adama said his mother’s name was Evelyn–an indication that Rothery’s character will eventually marry Joseph Adama and become his stepmom.

  • I too love the idea of mini-series, does sound like it could work better! At least for SGA. SG-1 is honesty over with the story, so, as much as I loved it, I won’t cry, in difference from Atlantis which was shamelessly left just hanging in the air, so to speak!

    And God I agree about I’d wish to see Mitchell and Sheppard together! Judging by Pegasus Project it could be hilarious indeed!

    Don’t agree about SGU though. Still follow it out of sheer boredom and although action got a bit better, the plot seems to always be the same: left behind. Are they out of fantasy? And that last flop! Like you were all excited and dressed up for a party only to hear in the end that it was canceled. Not a satisfying experience! If they think personages being bad and episodes ending bad is what makes a good drama, they’ve got a lot to learn yet. So although I watch, I wouldn’t pay a penny for this show specifically.

    Don’t watch the new Bond by the way either because he severely doesn’t work for me after Brosnan or let’s take Dalton for example. And when a company consistently makes choices that turn down old customers I think it’s only logical to have financial problems soon or later. Or am I too naive?

  • Gonna agree with the headline, for cryin’ out loud. You people really need to stop thinking that any future Stargate SG-1 or Atlantis films are out of the picture cause it’s been “too long”. Okay, Stargate SG-1’s series finale was in 2007 with the last movie based upon it released in 2008. Stargate Atlantis series finale was in 2009. On top of this information Stargate franchise still has a new running series on the air with fresh episodes. Looking at these facts compared to those of two other big science fiction series, not to compare but just for a statistical point of view.

    First off, Star Trek’s original series concluded in 1969 and it’s first movie wasn’t released until 1979. That is a 10 year gap there. Quite a bit more than 1-2 year gap and only had an animated series run in there for a couple years.

    Second off and more recent, X-File’s series concluded in 2002 with the following film content released in 2008. There’s a 6 year gap with no in between film content at all.

    Now, looking at those facts from other science fiction shows and their movie transitions. It’s still way early to start counting out SG-1 and Atlantis both. Least not for another few years. Don’t give your hopes up yet on those new movies.

  • that sucks , cuz Ive went out of my way to purchase SG1 – SGA , DVDS’S & MOVIES to help support the Series and keep it thriving.

    Even after I couldve bootlegged stuff via the net & still buy em !

    IT WAS A BAD ASS BLU RAY THO , BUT DONT KNOW IF I’LL GO BRAY FOR 1.5? . so i guess 1 person doing right by the series , when they wont do right by its audience an gives us some SGA closure &or other SG1 STUFF,




  • I really don’t care what happens to Stargate:90210. I just want the Stargate Atlantis movie, no matter how it happens. Made for TV and shown on SyFy and/or direct to DVD. I don’t think it’s going to happen, but I still have a smidgen of hope left per remarks from Joe Flanigan and David Hewlett at the Vancouver Stargate Convention.

  • Stargate:90210? that insult is so 6 months ago, keep with the times man!

    Its out of Stargate Productions (Brad Wright & Co) hands on whether or not the movies happen. They need the green light from MGM for it to happen & MGM need to get there financial issues sorted before they will give that green light. Its as simple as that.

    “mgm is going under hardcore. they need to end this show and make a movie to end atlantis before it is too late.”

    I’m rather sure that if they were going under an Atlantis movie would be the last thing on there minds.

  • “mgm is going under hardcore. they need to end this show and make a movie to end atlantis before it is too late.”

    mgm become´s money from SYFY for the Series. But mgm must pay the money on there own

    “I really don’t care what happens to Stargate:90210”

    This line is almost 1 year old. Wow, 100 % innocent.

  • Tanith, what insult would you prefer that I use? I reserve the right to refer to the show in any way it deserves. It’s at best a poor substitute for the previous shows. I can’t decide if TPTB are trying to imitate BSG, 90210 or just anything they think is Science Fiction related and juvenile. At the Vancouver Con I saw (and heard) the love and affection which greeted the actors from Stargate and Atlantis. I also heard all the boos and the exodus from the area when the actors from Universe came to the stage. I don’t think I fall into the target audience that Universe is shooting for. Instead, I am older and have quite a lot of disposable income which I have spent and will continue to spend on Stargate and Atlantis merchandise and conventions. I refuse to believe that anything is completely out of Wright & Cos. hands. They want it to appear that way and at this point are too stubborn and committed to admit they are/were wrong. If they wanted the movies to be made, they would be. Look at all the sad movies that SyFy shows on Saturday nights? Oh, and altera, doesn’t matter how old a “line” is . . . when it’s true, it’s true.

  • @ rsharpe I personally would prefer if you didn’t insult the show at all and only focused on tactful worded criticisms. At the very least it was getting called Stargate: 90210 being the first episode even aired which suggested that a fair few were never going to give it a proper chance right from the get go.

    “I refuse to believe that anything is completely out of Wright & Cos. hands. They want it to appear that way and at this point are too stubborn and committed to admit they are/were wrong. If they wanted the movies to be made, they would be”

    You did read this article right? About how MGM charges channels to air there TV shows? With the movies it’s like there own project and they pay for them all by themselves and use Direct to DVD (this was the case for both Ark of Truth & Continuum). MGM owns the Stargate IP and need to give the green light & money to Brad Wright & Co for them to get done. Some people seem to get confused between MGM & the crew that make the episodes you seen on screen.

    MGM does have serious financial troubles at this moment in time, that isn’t made up. The reason the Stargate movies aren’t currently being made is the same reason why the next James Bond movie isn’t currently being made. Brad Wright can’t be blamed for MGM’s issues and the fact that they don’t feel they can take a risk on the movies until there situation is resolved.

  • Tanith, thank you for replying in a courteous and civilized manner. I appreciate it. I’ve read every article I could find. If you discover any new information, I’d definitely be interested.

  • I disagree that the other Gate Movies will be made. As time goes on these actors will hopefully find themselves under contract doing other things. At times these contracts prohibit them from doing certain ventures with unrelated companies. Getting everyone back together is going to be more and more complicated. And as far as Bankruptcy works the series is not protected paid ahead or not. Bankruptcy allows all contracts to be set aside or cancelled. If Syfy gave MGM several million dollars to shoot SGU and then MGM files for protection under Bankruptcy, they can simply list SGU as an obligation they want the court to set aside and in that event SyFy just looses their money. That is how bankruptcy works. Even if they file for reorganization SGU does not have to be included. MGM could opt to disolve all associations with SyFy. Even if it is already in the can, the ownership of that film most likely belongs to MGM and they would have every right to insist it not be shown unless they strike a new deal with SyFy. I’d like to see much more Gate but I’m getting tired of waiting. Hey, it took 10 years to get a Trek movie the first time. Oh well.

  • Long time reader, finally I registered. I’d like to say, I was very disappointed in the first half of SGU…too much use of the stones. But I decided to give the second half a try and low and behold, I am now hooked. The excitement level has increased 10 fold for me. While I still love SG1 and SGA and watch all of the re-runs, I’m very happy with the new series now. I know others are not, but, hey, if we all liked the same things and had the same thoughts, what a boring world it would be. I do hope that the new movies are made….I would buy the DVDs just as I bought the first 2….and even though I own them, I still watch the movies each time they are shown on TV. And whereas I love RDA, my favorite characters are Sheppard and Mitchell…would dearly love to see them in a Stargate movie together. {{sigh}}

  • I’ve watched the SG franchise from the begining and I’ve loved SG1 and SGA but I have to say that SGU is the best of the three. It’s darker, more emotional, and I’ve loved the character growth. Granted we havent had allot of comedy, and action but that will come. This is the best of the three and the more I watch the series I love it more and more. SG1 and SGA were great shows and I didnt think they could be topped but this show beats them both and I see great things in the years to come with the show, the characters and the franchise.

  • It’s a problem that theres no way to have interaction with the company and because of that, how can they keep up with what we want.
    I would go for a monthly subscription if I could watch all their shows or help towards costs by donating or something.
    Unfortunatly the watch online feature doesn’t reach beyond the US.
    I guess we just have to wait till people can work out a viable internet model that is so good and works in so many countries that you wont even consider downloading. I mean to save stargate I’d sit through all the adverts they wanted if I knew theyd be able to fund the next ep.

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