When it was released back in 1994, the surprise hit STARGATE came out of nowhere and struck a chord with audiences everywhere. Quality escapist fare that posed more questions than it answered, the film left the door wide open for a sequel... or something. That "something" turned into a television series that MGM and Showtime unleashed on an unsuspecting public in 1997.
Now, entering its fifth year, the series' patent combination of high caliber action, deeply developed characters and wry humor is more successful and acclaimed than ever, with a reported nine million fans tuning in each week. The Saturn and Gemini Award-winning series Showtime's highest-rated and the fifth highest-rated sci-fi series in syndication has supplanted its progenitor as the Stargate.
"We spend a lot of time with the logic of what happens," says director Martin Wood, who has been with the show since the beginning. "With other shows, it's often taken for granted that the impossible simply becomes the possible. In STARGATE, the impossible becomes the improbable becomes the possible if we can find a way for it to happen, and if we can justify a way for it to happen. The other thing about STARGATE is that the concept is not so foreign that you can't relate to it. These are people that are walking around on our streets right now and you can relate to what happens to them."
"Creatively, we're constantly in an explorative position," says Anderson. "It's constantly like, 'What can we do next?' There are certain elements arising from the base of the movie which we follow but we try to bolster those by adding our own components as we go along."
Executive Producers Jonathan Glassner and Brad Wright, who oversaw the launch of Showtime's tremendously successful THE OUTER LIMITS, adapted the notion (started in the 1994 film) that if one combination of hieroglyphic-like symbols on the Stargate can "dial up" coordinates for one alien world, then there must be thousands of combinations that can send people to thousands of worlds. This has become the jumping off point for the continuing adventures of STARGATE SG-1's crew.
Anderson, who leapt to the series after a long and fruitful run as the title character in MACGYVER, stars as Colonel Jack O'Neill, leader of the top secret Air Force SG-1 team that travels across vast sectors of space, time and even dimensions through the Stargate to explore worlds and protect Earth from the dreaded Goa'ulds. The series also stars Amanda Tapping (THE X-FILES, MILLENNIUM) as resident science genius Dr. Samantha Carter; Michael Shanks (CALL OF THE WILD, THE OUTER LIMITS) as archaeologist Professor Daniel Jackson; Don S. Davis (THE X-FILES, TWIN PEAKS) as General Hammond; and Christopher Judge (BIRD ON A WIRE, HOUSE PARTY II) as Teal'c, an alien Jaffa who has taken on the cause and joined the Stargate team. The series' acclaimed visual effects are provided by James Tichenor.
The overarching challenge of STARGATE SG-1 is that the series is set in reality as it stands today the year 2001. While it is a fantasy, the show's principals insist on grounding each adventure in sound physics.
"[Executive Producer/Writer] Brad Wright is the guy who deals with that all the time," explains Wood. "He can figure out the physics of anything. We will explain to another why something is possible and then he writes it out. In the current state of physics, in the world right now, is what we're talking about probable? And if it's probable, let's make it not impossible. Let's just encompass it with the current state of what we know about physics, wormhole theory and so on."
Luckily, the writers do allow for the time it takes to come up with the necessary scientific breakthroughs within each episode.
"When you've got 40 minutes to tell a half-lifetime's worth of story, you have to shrink those timelines down," explains Wood. "The physics is there; we just make Samantha Carter be able to do it in five seconds, instead of taking 10 years of research, because she's really smart. Carter can figure stuff like that out. So, if it has anything at all to do with anything archeological, in any part of the archaeological world, Daniel knows it. If there's any realm of science, including biology, Carter knows it. Teal'c knows everything there is to know about the Goa'uld because he was a sponge when he was little. And O'Neill is the hero. Rick makes the character much more human than you'd think a character in that position would be. And put in those improbable positions, he becomes an improbable hero. He doesn't seem like he should be because he's not the super brain; he's not the historian; but he is the guy that still can make the connections with that team and make it all come together in the end."
Part of what has made the series such a success the distinct quality that sets the series apart is the humor threaded throughout each episode.
"Each of the actors has their own bit that they bring to it," says Wood. "And you will be surprised by how much humor is actually brought to the screen on the day by the actors. A lot of it is not on the page. The script allows for it, but it's the actors that take what is allowed and run with it. It's great because in the middle of any of these shows you get these really good dry lines, and there are relationships that have been built going into five years now, where people will be able to make jokes about things that the other character did in season one or season two."
A perfect example of this dry whit, according to Wood, can be found in this season's episode three.
"O'Neill and Teal'c come to Carter's door with a pizza and they've got a movie, Teal'c's favorite: STAR WARS," laughs Wood. "That's the kind of humor that goes on all the time. And I think the show's fans like those kinds of touches."
Aside from the humor, another thing that every member of the production can agree on is the fact that Anderson himself sets the tone for the series.
"I really like working with Rick, more than any star I've ever worked with just because he's the most human star I've ever met," says Wood. "There is no attitude. He will look at Michael and Amanda and Chris and say, 'Those guys know how to act.' And one thing I know about Rick, and I don't know if it's common knowledge around here or not: Rick works really, really hard on his character. He works really, really hard on the lines. He goes home at night and wants to spend time with his daughter. But you also know he's going to pound in an hour or two working on what he has to do tomorrow, and he doesn't act like he's doing that. He doesn't sit in his trailer and brood on his lines. It looks like it comes very naturally to Richard Dean Anderson. In the truthful end of Richard's personality, you would find a man who works very, very hard at what he does. I think all five of the ensemble cast work very hard and it shows on the screen."
Wood also observes that the actors' intimate knowledge of their characters creates an environment of freedom that liberates everyone involved to take chances.
"Rick will often ad lib or change dialogue to suit the scene," says Wright. "But we almost always agree with those changes, and I, for one, think the actors make our scripts better. We have read-throughs with every episode so that we may discuss every scene and make the script as good as possible before we begin shooting. All of our actors take their characters very seriously, so when they have concerns we listen."