by Paul Waldowski
Starting next month, Sci-fi Channel will air the last episodes of Stargate SG-1, whose 10 year journey from Showtime original series to Sci-Fi's highest rated show brought laughs, tears, and profound changes as the cast aged and moved on to greener pastures. After being promised two more seasons, Sci-Fi abruptly announced halfway through the current season that it would no longer air the show. This left a few fans upset, but it's not that surprising, either.
Originally, SG1 was to have ended its run in the seventh season to start work on a movie (whether theatrical or television is unknown). If you watch the back half of season 7, you can see the writers closing almost all of the unresolved plots in preparation for the series’ end and upcoming movie. When Sci-Fi renewed the series, the movie converted into the season finale, featuring a final all-out battle over Antarctica and the defeat of the last and greatest Goa’uld System Lord of all, Anubis.
With everything resolved, there was nothing for the team to do in Season 8. In fact, Richard Dean Anderson (Col. Jack O’Neill) had been reducing his commitment to the the series for the last couple of seasons and wanted even more time off to spend with his family. Combined with the departure of Don S. Davis (General Hammond), the writers resolved the dilemma by promoting Anderson’s character to General and putting him in charge of Stargate Command (SGC). This broke-up the successful team dynamic that had been in play for the previous seven seasons, leaving a team of three members with nothing to do.
Most of the episodes in the eighth season took place on Earth or within the SGC facility itself. In fact, many fans scoffed at the changes and suggested that the series should have been retitled Stargate SGC. The only real highlight of the season was the Jaffa rebellion that had been brewing for seven years, but it happened too quickly and failed to culminate in a satisfying season conclusion. Instead, that storyline was put to bed before a finale featuring a weird time-travel plot and the original movie's bad guy, Ra. The final shot featured all of the original team members fishing and enjoying a nice day at O’Neill’s cabin. A significant number of fans consider this to be the actual conclusion of the series.
For reasons unknown, Sci-Fi renewed SG1 for a 9th season, even though Richard Dean Anderson had departed and the status of Amanda Tapping (Lt. Col Carter) was in doubt, as she was pregnant and had yet to sign a contract. The producers forged ahead, bringing three new characters to replace the missing two: Beau Bridges as the new commanding general, Ben Browder as the new leader of the team, and Claudia Black as the new hotness. The creators also introduced a new enemy, the Orii, who were religious fundamentalists bent on converting the galaxy at the barrel of a gun.
Unfortunately, the series was unable to capture the chemistry that made the original SG1 so fun to watch. Most of the episodes were retreads of earlier plots, the entire first half of the season didn’t even feature the team really acting together as a solid unit, and the second half basically boiled down to Daniel Jackson searching for some ancient artifact that would magically defeat the Orii. In earlier seasons, this sort of plot would encompass only one episode, but "The Quest" storyline put the series on a set of rails, instead of naturally exploring an interesting idea over a long period of time. This was in stark contrast to the free-flowing stories of the original SG1, who defeated the Goa’uld over the course of seven years by finding new technologies, forging alliances, and adapting a strategy geared toward long-term success that exploited opportunities as they arose. They certainly didn’t focus every season looking for a magic bullet to defeat the Goa’uld at the end of the season.
Those were all internal reasons for the series' decline, but there were external forces acting on the show, most notably the creation of the spin-off series, Stargate Atlantis. As Season 7 drew to a close, it featured a sub-plot involving Dr. Daniel Jackson looking for the “Lost City of Atlantis”, the home of the Ancients. It’s easy to see the set-up for the spin-off developing, and had Season 7 ended as planned, SG1 would’ve ended and Atlantis would start with Daniel Jackson as one of the main characters. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen, as the producers decided to run both productions at the same time using the same writers and sound stages. While this imparted an obvious economic benefit, creatively it helped water down SG1 in service to Atlantis.
A quick glance at Seasons 8-10 of SG1 and 1-3 of Atlantis reveals stronger scripts and interesting stories going to Atlantis instead of SG1, along with more funds and creative focus. After Atlantis started, SG1 looked like a ghost town. Where the halls of the SGC were once teeming with extras going about their business in brightly-lit hallways, it was now a darkened environment populated only by the principal characters and a handful of extras. In contrast, Atlantis featured large, expansive sets that looked alive and dynamic. In Season 2 of Atlantis and Season 9 of SG1, it appears the producers noted this fact and tried to evenly distribute the load of creativity between the shows, accomplishing nothing more than mediocrity on both. In the current season, it’s obvious that the producers have decided to back their strong horse (Atlantis) and let SG1 putt along to its conclusion.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Sci-Fi’s goofy split schedule. Instead of showing the season as a full run of 22 episodes, they decided to split the series into two blocks of ten, with each half separated by months of re-runs and quality Sci-Fi original movies like Mansquito. The schedule probably lost a lot of casual fans by adding confusion as to what season was currently airing and how far along things were. When Battlestar Galactica was running on Friday nights along with SG1 and Atlantis, this wasn’t much of a problem, as the line-up was heavily advertised as “Sci-Fi Friday” with Galactica bringing in a lot of viewers.
With the loss of Galactica during the summer, and near zero promotion for the ‘Gates, the new seasons of SG1 and Atlantis began with little fanfare. In fact, most of the promotion went towards Stargate SG1’s 200th episode, which may have been the first time many people discovered that new episodes were airing on Friday nights. It didn’t help that Sci-Fi pushed back the start times of the shows by an hour, giving the prime 8:00 PM slot to a critically panned and canceled NBC show that no one had watched nor cared about during its initial run.
In another brilliant turn, Sci-Fi put the shows in direct competition with Monk and The Dead Zone, which have a lot of audience crossover with SG1 and Atlantis. Finally, the network stopped airing “Stargate Mondays”, a block of past SG1 episodes that kept viewer interest and awareness of the series high. It’s easy to see that Sci-Fi was warming-up to cancel one or both of the Stargate series and had probably made the decision to axe SG1 well before the 200th episode aired. I think that’s pretty shabby treatment for Sci-Fi’s bedrock series and a show that had helped bring in money and viewers for the network. You could make a good argument that without Stargate SG1’s success on Sci-Fi, there would be no BSG, nor current flavor of the month, Eureka. They’re eliminating their foundation and replacing it with rasslin’ and reality shows, which are cheaper to produce than an aging and expensive anchor show.
All in all, it was a good ten year run, but creative disinterest, loss of key actors, increasing production costs, and lack of real network support all conspired to doom one of the pluckiest TV shows to have aired.