I am going to tell you a story – the Stargate story. This time, though, I am going to start with the end and end with the beginning. Or, at least, the hope of a new beginning.
It was 2011. A different time. Streaming was just something water did and Corona was just a tasty beer we used to drink on holidays. This, however, was a bad year for the Stargate franchise.
Stargate Universe was really an experiment. It was very different from SG1 and SG Atlantis in lots of ways. It had a grand vision in both the story it was going to tell and the way it was going to tell it. It was darker and more serious than previous Stargate series and it took itself more seriously at the same time. The sets were big, and so were many of the actors. The CGI used in making the show took a serious step up in quality, and the whole thing felt… different.
And therein lies the problem.
To some Stargate fans, SGU is the best of the franchise. They were not just angry that it was cancelled with no conclusion to the story – they were furious, and that anger is still bubbling today. We on the SciTrek channel have done lots of videos about our favourite show, but the two videos that have had the most views? Well, they are both talking about Stargate Universe. A lot of people remember this show as the height of what sci-fi should be and still, over a decade later, want answers to the questions the show asked. They want to know what the mysterious God signal really was – the message hidden in the background radiation of the Big Bang that the ancients discovered millions of years ago and the reason for the construction of the Destiny. They want to know what the Planet Builders’ plans were, as well as who or what they were. They wanted to know if someone – probably Young – was going to knock Rush on his ass again.
But there is another group of Stargate fans that never quite understood or got on board with this change in direction for the franchise. Yes, it was a well-made and good-looking show with actors we knew. However, they argued the show felt a little too familiar because it felt like Ronald D. Moore’s Battlestar Galactica. I remember watching the show myself for the first time, and it was unmistakable – the style of the show, the effects even, the dark lighting and so on. It all felt very much like another show. That was not a problem, really, as the show they seemed to have been inspired by was a brilliant piece of television, but was this Stargate? Another issue was the show did take itself more seriously… Perhaps too seriously? Where was the humour? Where were the cheeky one-liners or sarcastic jokes? Where was the fun? SGU was a serious show with a serious storyline, but so was SG1 and SGA most of the time. Those earlier shows in the franchise, though, knew when to make us smile and even laugh out loud. Some people felt that in the pursuit of making serious drama, the creators forgot what Stargate was.
The Syfy network that ordered Stargate Universe ordered 2 seasons from the beginning. Could you imagine that today, a network or a streaming service having the confidence in a show to order 2 seasons? It does not happen very often any more. But they did because they had had so much success with Stargate so far. Their trust was really high but so was their expectations. The network was spending a lot of money on all this very grand CGI, sets and actors and they expected a return in the form of great viewing figures. The network told producers from day 1 what those expectations were and when the viewing came back they were less than what was hoped for. The network did everything they could to fin the audience with extra advertising, moving the shows slot etc but nothing worked. The producers picked up their game and tried to increase the action and the mystery of the show. They threw everything at it but it was just not to be. People did not watch the show in enough numbers and was doomed to be cancelled. There was of course other economic factors. The show was made in Canada because when SG1 started the Canadian Dollar was weak so the producers were able to get a lot more show out of their limited budget. By the time SGU came around however the Canadian Dollar had strengthened and the show was simply becoming more expensive to make. Another issue was the actors had signed 2 year deals and a third season would have meant renegotiating those contracts and paying higher wages. All of these factors together meant that SGU no longer made financial sense… it had to die.
Stargate was now four years in the grave, but it was still a popular series for MGM. They remembered that the original Stargate movie was their tenth highest-grossing movie of all time, and that, in fact, the Stargate franchise at this time was second, in terms of value to MGM, only to James Bond. So, some bright spark in the executive chair had a great idea… A Stargate sequel!
MGM contacted the original team behind the hit 1994 movie that spawned the hit TV series and asked them if they would like to come back to the franchise. The answer was YES! Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich had always wanted Stargate to be a trilogy, and MGM offered them the chance. James Spader and Kurt Russell would return as Daniel Jackson and Colonel O’Neil (one L), and they would finally get to make part two of the story. MGM announced the movie plans, and everyone went into meltdown… but why?
To explain, I have to go back a little while to the development of SG1. At first, there were plans to make the movie trilogy, but there had been a few problems with getting it going. So, Brad Wright and Robert C Cooper pitched the idea to MGM about a series. The plan was met with enthusiasm and a small budget, but they were going to get to make the show. Excited Brad Wright offered a hand to Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich to see if they would like to be part of the development process or at least discuss it. Brad Wright, I assume, felt it was only polite to at least meet with them; he is Canadian, after all. But Emmerich did not wish to discuss the TV show with Brad Wright or anyone else. Amanda Tapping said it best in an interview later in 2015 when asked about the sequel plans. She said that Emmerich did not hate the show by any means, but that they had taken the story in a different direction to what they had envisaged, and none of the actors from the TV show were expecting their phones to be ringing with job offers. Emmerich’s plan for the sequel was simply to do a straight sequel to the movie and ignore the TV shows ever happened.
To me, this is straight-up a crime. I remember reading this news at the time and being totally confused and quite annoyed. How could they just ignore three different shows, 17 seasons, and hundreds of episodes of popular, brilliant, entertaining, and totally beloved TV? It was madness and made no sense. To Emmerich, though, his vision for the sequel and the entire trilogy just did not fit in with the TV version, and to him, that’s what it was – a different version. They are not really the same thing; one is a movie, and the other a TV show… He did not have to respect the canon laid down in the show because that was on TV and did not count when doing a cinematic movie. He was, of course, wrong.
Quite quickly, this project was quietly canned. Some talk about budget was discussed, and to be fair, MGM was not in the healthiest financial situation at the time. But I always believed and still do today that the real reason for the project getting cancelled was simply that MGM realised that no one wanted it and that it was almost certainly doomed to fail. I have to say as well that I’m grateful it did get cancelled because if it had been made and it had been the flop I suspect it would have been, well, then it would have killed any chance of Stargate returning to our screens.
This is obviously not the end of the story. But it is the end of the end of the story. If that makes sense. Because next we need to discuss the start of a new beginning. Brad Wright back in the hot seat, a new Stargate show being planned and a script for a pilot finished. A new show about to get made?
Part two of the story is full of disappointment, disaster, coming close and a new owner for MGM.