When MGM debuted STARGATE in the fall of 1994, no one imagined that the film would become that year's sleeper sensation. And certainly no one imagined that seven years later, a TV series born out of the feature would be a television hit by its fifth seasonlet alone that a sixth season would be on the horizon. No one except for two moviegoers who were able to see the untapped potential for STARGATE as a franchise.
"Five and a half years ago, Jonathan Glassner and I were working on THE OUTER LIMITS," remembers STARGATE executive producer Brad Wright. "I was a writer-producer on the show, and Jonathan was executive producer. We both independently approached MGM about writing the STARGATE pilot, because we knew it was in their library and they were considering it as a series. We both had ideas about how great a series it could be." After all, the Stargate itself an ancient ring-like structure had 39 symbols around its perimeter, implicating that it could lead to far more than just the single destination seen in the film.
In making the leap to a weekly series, Glassner and Wright had to embellish upon the ideas established in the film. They expanded the mythology, likening the film's villain, Rah, to a humanoid race called the Goa'uld. The Goa'uld rule by terror and force, tricking their subjects into believing they are gods, when indeed they are not. Over the course of human history, the Goa'uld have been abducting and enslaving humans, who've since populated distant planets, and developed at a different pace than our own society. A premise like that, notes Glassner, means "the stories are limitless."
During the show's first few seasons, the writers supplemented their imaginations with real-life mythology an appropriate melding of fact and fiction considering that the series explores alternate human cultures, often representing different periods in our own history. Glassner recalls how the production utilized an expert in ancient mythology and ancient culture to help flesh out specific story ideas.
"We would very often go to her and say, 'We need a character who thinks like this, who'll do this,'" remembers Glassner. "And she'd come back in an hour and say, 'Well, there was this Greek god that they believed did just that.' We would then study that god and try to base the character around that myth."
Compared to other sci-fi franchises, the thing that makes STARGATE SG-1 unique is its present day setting one who's command structure is rooted in our own military. In fact, the series regularly runs scripts by the Air Force, in order to ensure as much accuracy as possible when referencing protocol and military behaviors. There have even been instances where the military has cooperated with the production to provide the appropriate set dressings. For example, the dress blues sported by the SG-1 team are the real McCoy, as is the C-130 military plane seen in the episode "Watergate."
"And in an episode called 'Fire and Water,' where Daniel Jackson is thought to be off-world, dead on a mission, we called the Air Force and asked how they would do a color guard for a memorial," recalls Wright. "And they said, 'Why don't we send you one?' And that's what you see in the episode: actual U.S. Air Force personnel are folding the flag and doing salutes."
Another thing that set the series apart from its competition is its emphasis on humor.
"Through Jack O'Neill especially, we can play a lot of humor, and allow the show and allow the characters to just be funny," says Wright. "Consequently, we take ourselves a little less seriously than other science fiction."
It's only fitting, then, that the series' 100th episode, "Wormhole Extreme," should be a light-hearted parody of the show and science fiction in general. Although writers Paul Mullie and Joseph Mallozzi didn't feel any more pressure than usual when it came to scripting the episode, they did recognize the significance of this milestone given few series make it to this point.
"When we were writing it, we knew everyone was going to get their hands on this one," says Mullie. "To me, it wasn't even so much a question of the pressure to be funny; but, since everybody had an idea [for the episode] anyway, I thought we'd just write 50 percent of it, and then everybody will come in with an idea for a gag. And that's what happened. Even when we were working on the outline, people were coming by and saying, 'You know, you should do this.' Everybody pitched ideas involving who they were on the show. It was a big collaboration, with a lot of stuff added to it."
The harder thing for Mullie was making sure there was a real STARGATE story to be told, underneath all of the fun and lightheartedness.
"It was easy to do all of the spoof elements. It was having an actual STARGATE story underneath all of the parody that was actually the hard part. But it had to be there, because otherwise the episode wouldn't mean anything."
While STARGATE hasn't been following a specific story arc over the course of its first five seasons, a la BABYLON 5, there's always been a final destination in the back of the producers' minds when guiding the series.
"I'm sure the network would prefer if every show were the reset-to-zero scenario, so casual viewers would know what's going on, but I think that's one of the things that keeps the audience [involved]," says executive producer Robert Cooper. "We've always been aware that we were building to an ending. We didn't know whether it would be the end of season five or whether we would carry into season six. But we knew that MGM wanted the show to continue, and we wanted the franchise to continue in some way, we think it has a lot of life left in it."
The fifth season which will be the show's last on premium cable channel Showtime has been more premeditated, focusing on housekeeping and restructuring the story to set up STARGATE's sixth season on the SCI FI Channel.
"We've been taking some of the mythologies and the story lines we have set up, and bringing those to a head," says Cooper. "Season five has been about wrapping up loose ends."
Adds Wright, "We're introducing a new villain at the end of season five, one who'll become our primary antagonist throughout season six. Next season will be SG-1's last. But what I'm planning is for season six to build towards a climax that actually is a STARGATE SG-1 feature film. And that feature film will create the milieu and the necessary elements for a spin-off series. I know those are big plans, but that's what I pitched and that's where we're heading right now. The idea for it is very cool and I've been setting it up since season one, when I planted a seed to give us a direction in which we could go. We've been slowing building up the possibilities [from there]."