While Star Trek gets all the headlines, the Stargate franchise has a history of success which for a time, seemed ready to rival Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future. Until it didn’t and after nearly twenty-years and millions of fans, the entire Stargate galaxy collapsed.
It began in 1997 when MGM decided to create a television spin-off of the popular 1994 Stargate movie. The Roland Emmerich directed film starred Kurt Russell and James Spader unlocking the secrets of an ancient technology which allowed instantaneous travel across space from one planet to another using a device called a stargate. The movie was a hit, and so was the new TV show.
The television series was called Stargate: SG-1 and they cast former MacGuyver star Richard Dean Anderson in the Kurt Russell role and Michael Shanks in the Spader part. Amanda Tapping and Christopher Judge further rounded out the cast as regulars, new characters added for the show that weren’t part of the feature film. SG-1 premiered on Showtime where it aired for five seasons before moving to the SyFy channel, where it did another five. Ten seasons was a massive run and the franchise was clearly a hit.
SG-1 was so popular, the spinoff spawned another spinoff called Stargate Atlantis in 2004. That ran for five seasons and along the way SG-1 produced multiple direct-to-DVD movies. The Stargate franchise had grown well beyond its sci-fi movie roots and while critics were never exactly on their side, the fanbase supporting it was dedicated and huge.
Stargate Changing With The Times
And then it all started to fall apart. Times were changing. The serialized format which made Stargate SG-1 a hit in the 90s was over and the golden age of television was in full swing. Linear storytelling with complex plots and heavy character development was the norm and Stargate hadn’t really changed with it. At least not yet. With Stargate Atlantis over a new Stargate series called Stargate Universe launched in 2009. In much the same way Star Trek: Discovery has recently done for Star Trek, ahead of the curve Stargate Universe sought to take the world of Stargate into the television of the here and now.
Stargate Universe failed and it failed hard. The show was cancelled after only two-seasons. Many existing Stargate fans, rather than embracing it, rallied against it. They hated the change in format, hated the modern feel of the show, and never supported it. Critics seemed to like it and maybe Stargate Universe would have accomplished its goal of bringing in new fans to build up the existing fanbase, but without the support of existing fans to serve as a base on which to built, there was no future for SGU.
What could Stargate have done differently? It’s hard to fault them for their attempt to change direction with Stargate Universe. While the original Stargate movie was a Devlin/Emmerich creation, the series and direct-to-DVD movies have Brad Wright’s name all over them. With Stargate SG-1, Wright had a bonafide hit on his hands. The idea of being able to pass through a circular gate and almost instantaneously end up in another part of the cosmos was worth exploring. SG-1 did and they did it well. The plot and stories were familiar, and up until Stargate Universe the series didn’t move much from its initial premise, but it was able to further explore the characters and the universe they found themselves in. Its popularity was without question. And perhaps popularity was its ultimate downfall.
Stargate Franchise Fatigue
Like many other popular TV series, the question becomes: how can we make more of this? More series, more money. So, Wright and his crew decided to make a Stargate movie. And then another. Then came two more series and before you knew it, Stargate fatigue set in. This was evidenced by the numbers and shelf-life. The popular SG-1 had ten strong seasons. Stargate Atlantis was only able to scratch out five while Stargate Universe could only manage two. Throw the two movies in, direct-to-DVD movies at that, and the mix is very inconsistent.
What went from a tried and true formula was beginning to evaporate. The franchise was moving further and further from what attracted viewers in the first place. While SG-1 took viewers to different parts of the universe, Stargate Atlantis kept them in one place. When Stargate Universe came along, Wright and his team were truly trying to make this series different from its predecessors. But probably it was already too late.
So maybe it was Stargate overkill which did the franchise in. Or maybe the offshoots were just too far from the original concept. In SG-1’s case, longevity could have been its undoing. Richard Dean Anderson was a regular on the series for the first eight seasons and by seasons nine and ten he was a guest star. It’s hard to move forward in a TV series when your main star is no longer there. Michael Scott and The Office, anyone? It seems, though, it was a combination of all those factors that brought the Stargate franchise to a halt.
Where Is Stargate Now?
Stargate ended its 17-year existence with its final episode of Stargate Universe in May of 2011. Since that time, it’s been in somewhat of a hibernation. There has been talk from time to time by its distributor MGM on what to do, if anything, about the franchise. They were not in a hurry to resurrect it, as evidenced by the many years that have passed since the final episode of SGU.
In 2017, representatives from MGM booked a Stargate panel. Die-hard fans began to stir. Was good news coming? Another movie? A fourth TV series? The panel was led by MGMs new brand manager Kieran Dickson and he didn’t disappoint. MGM created a new website called Stargate Command and it would be on that site where Stargate wou[d come back to life as a 10-part web series titled Stargate Origins. This was MGM’s way to test the waters while not investing much money in the process.
Origins episodes were 10 minutes in length and followed the story of a young Catherine Langford as she tries to unlock the mysteries of the Stargate. The Catherine Langford character got her start in the original 1994 movie and was portrayed as an older character by Viveca Lindfors.
Fans were excited about this news, but Origins seemed doomed from the start. Because of the platform MGM chose to release it on, viewership was limited. As a test to determine interest in more Stargate, it wasn’t a good one. Predictably, it didn’t work. This year MGM shut down the Stargate Command website, giving up on the whole venture and dumping whatever content they had left on a YouTube channel. Stargate is in a deeper hibernation than ever and prospects for the future of the franchise seem grim.
The Future of Stargate
Fans have remained hopeful. So is original series executive producer Joseph Mallozzi, even though he was quite skeptical of how MGM rolled out the series. He spoke to Den of Geek. “As Origins rolled out, there was a mixed response and to be honest with you, longtime fans can be somewhat fickle. But I figured there had to be a way to measure fan interest in a fourth series beyond, let’s say, willingness to subscribe to the streaming platform or a necessarily positive response to a web-series.” But Mallozzi also told fans how they should let MGM know they are ready for more. “Get everybody on Twitter, get one platform, get one specific time,” he says. “Actually, two big tweet storms: one for the North American fans so we can maximize their voice and then one for the international fans so we can maximize their voice.”
Mallozzi isn’t the only one who has hopes for the future of Stargate. You can count co-creator Brad Wright as another. Late last year at Gatecon: The Invasion, he told fans some wonderful news per Gateworld.net, “MGM has recognized that they have a genuine franchise in their hands,” Wright said. “And they’re looking at it quite seriously.” The message he wants to leave fans with is, “We’re working on it.”
For Stargate to come back it looks like going to take a massive outpouring of support from fans. That tweet storm Mallozi mentioned is being organized by he and Wright, who hope to have fans deluging MGM with messages on December 6, 2019. But you have to wonder: If MGM is already working on more Stargate as Mallozi claims, then why do fans need to tweet bomb them to spur them into action?
Whether anyone in Hollywood is actually still working on more Stargate is anyone’s guess. MGM has remained silent while Wright’s optimism for the Stargate franchise remains, even after all this time. For now, optimism is all Stargate fans have.