In the days following the premiere of Stargate Origins I’ve been enjoying the franchise’s return to live-action storytelling. Origins is a fun bit of back-story for our favorite franchise, set in the late 1930s and running in a 10-minute “Webisode” format on Stargate Command — MGM’s new digital streaming and fan engagement platform.
As great as it is to see that big, glorious ring spinning on our screens again (and it’s cool that I can watch Stargate on all the screens in my house and in my pocket), the arrival of Stargate Origins does prompt one very big, very important question for the future of the 24-year-old franchise: What’s next?
Will there be a second season of Origins, sticking to the short format? Will there be a full-fledged fourth TV show, or perhaps another movie first? Should the next project tie up the dangling storylines of Atlantis and SGU before a new team and new adventures take over? Will whatever is next have anything at all to do with Stargate SG-1, Atlantis, and Universe — or will it chart its own path, even while sticking with the franchise’s established continuity?
There are lots of questions for fans to ponder in the weeks and months ahead. For the moment, though, let’s stick with one question: If MGM were to green-light a full-length, live-action series, where could it “air?”
I can think of four ways that Stargate could return to television (though there might be more). To explore the possibilities in some detail, we’ll need to dig into the weeds of Stargate’s TV history and the inner workings of the television business.
Note also that I am focusing primarily on U.S. television here — though MGM’s international distribution of the Stargate series has always been a major component of the franchise’s profitability. And there’s a good case to be made — in this day and age more than ever — for a strategy that empowers same-day availability of the next Stargate show to a worldwide audience.
The logical place to start the conversation is where Stargate Origins is available right now. MGM launched its Stargate-centric service in September of last year, with every Stargate TV episode and film plus behind-the-scenes content and an integrated fan community. It has served Origins nicely as a digital home, and energized the fan base. Despite some recent upgrades, however, the service is still behind the curve when it comes to full functionality and universal accessibility (Roku and Apple TV are among the apps currently in development).
There has also been some marginal discussion of opening up the site to non-Stargate programming.
But a Stargate-specific streaming service is far from ideal for a new, full-length series that comes with a healthy budget (say, $50 million or more). The potential audience pool is limited to only the biggest, most in-the-know Stargate fans. Subtract from that number those who are unable or unwilling to pay for yet another stand-alone service (alongside their monthly bill for cable or satellite, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, CBS All-Access, Disney, Warner Bros. / DC, etc.). And subtract those in countries MGM is unable to include (a current limitation of Stargate Command’s All-Access pass). MGM likely cannot fund a Stargate series — with costs that rise as the years roll on — all by itself based entirely on these subscriptions.
The studio itself will have a much better sense of what the balance sheet looks like. But more than this, Stargate would be isolated from the sort of broad, public exposure that the franchise needs in order to grow. How many of us stumbled upon SG-1 reruns one night; or were convinced by a friend to give Atlantis a look; or decided to give SGU a few episodes only to get hooked? Even long-established franchises need exposure to new and casual viewers. Without that, the ability to keep a streaming show in production becomes a game of attrition.
There’s also the fact that the Stargate Command we are enjoying right now isn’t going to be the same site that exists in a few months: after May 15 some of what the site calls “premium content” will go away. It remains to be seen what the service looks like down the road, and if it will adopt a new subscription model for future content.
Pros: No profit sharing, no dependence on a broadcaster’s renewal decision
Cons: Audience limited to only the most hardcore Stargate fans
BACK TO CABLE
Perhaps the most obvious and straight-forward route for any new television show is to look for a traditional broadcast partner. Since the three Stargate series left Syfy Channel MGM’s television arm has continued to produce scripted drama for networks such as MTV (Teen Wolf), History (Vikings), and FX (Fargo). The broader genre of speculative fiction is enjoying a renaissance here, from ratings leaders like Game of Thrones (HBO) and The Walking Dead (AMC) to acclaimed dramas such as Doctor Who (BBC America) and Westworld (HBO). And this plan definitely solves the problem of the casual viewer.
Syfy is right out.
Considering the fact that the Stargate franchise is among the most successful in science fiction (with more than 350 hours produced) it is somewhat ironic that all three series to date have suffered premature cancellation. The cast and crew of Stargate SG-1 received the bad news from Syfy while they were celebrating the 200th episode. Atlantis Season Six seems to have fallen victim less to ratings than to a desire to pull the trigger on Stargate Universe. And SGU got the axe after two years, its flagging ratings unable to keep up with Syfy’s overt decision to shift its brand away from hard science fiction.
No one who loves Stargate is eager to be burned a fourth time by fickle network executives who might send a show to an early grave.
Pros: Licensing fees paid to MGM cover most, or all, of production costs. And the show gets in front of a lot of eyes, potentially growing new fans.
Cons: Cancellation decisions depend on the whim of the network. And on some networks the execs like to stick their fingers into the creative pie.
NEXT: MGM-owned broadcast outlets … or Netflix?