'Stargate: SG-1' signs off, but we haven't seen the last of it

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Brad Wright left the 1994 feature film "Stargate" and knew he had seen his future -- in television.

Eike Schroter, Sci Fi Channel

"Stargate SG-1," starring Amanda Tapping as Lt. Col. Samantha Carter, ends its run on the Sci Fi Channel Friday night. Trapping will join the cast of spinoff "Stargate: Atlantis."

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Listen In:

Hear Brad Wright, executive producer of "Stargate SG-1," speaking with the PG's Sharon Eberson:

As the series winds down to its finale, we've seen each character in the "Stargate SG-1" team get a stand-alone episode. Is that intentional?

Brad Wright appears as Scotty in a "Star Trek" parody that was part of "200," the 200th episode of "Stargate SG-1."

Bad weather keeps Wright from joining his cast and crew during filming in the Arctic for the straight-to-DVD film, "Stargate: Continuum."

"That was my first feeling as I walked out of the theater: That was a pretty good movie, but it will make an excellent television series," Wright said by phone from Vancouver, home of Sci Fi Channel's "Stargate SG-1" and its spin-off, "Stargate: Atlantis."

Wright is an executive producer of both series and was there from Day One, 10 years ago, when "SG-1" made its debut on Showtime, the paid-cable channel where it spent its first five TV years.

On Friday, "SG-1" exits as, by most accounts, the longest-running sci-fi series in television history ("X-Files" ran nine years). But that doesn't mean we've seen the last of it. The series that could also be called "Stargate: Survivor" defied its pink slip and is now in production on two straight-to-DVD movies, one written by Wright.

The title of the TV finale, appropriately, is "Unending."

Wright and Jonathan Glassner, his then colleague on the mid-'90s "Outer Limits," knew from the start that this was a TV idea whose time had come.

"The reason was because the Stargate itself is the ultimate storytelling tool. As good as ['Star Trek's'] Enterprise is, the Stargate I would say is even better because you step through it, and you're in another world. It's that simple. Although the rules around it have gotten more complicated and rich over the years, they at their core allow people from the here and now to step through into another world, and that is a terrific storytelling device.

"What I think is remarkable is that we still feel that way."

Others also saw its TV potential. Cable network Showtime gave the producers an amazing commitment of two seasons -- 44 episodes -- right off the bat. Then, with the show still in its first season, and with former "MacGyver" star Richard Dean Anderson leading a cast of unknowns, Showtime said it would like two more seasons, please.

"And then there was another remarkable turn, when Showtime decided that five years was enough on their air," Wright recalls. "I have to commend Hank Cohen of MGM for getting Sci Fi to move it over to their channel, because it was not that easy a deal to make."

Just as they've taken the unprecedented step of wrapping up the series and its current story line in straight-to-DVD movies, there was forward-thinking going on back then. MGM timed the release of DVD boxed sets to the show's debut on Sci Fi, so new viewers who were discovering the series could catch up.

"That brought a whole new audience and a whole new life into the show," Wright recalls.

"Stargate SG-1's" place in the sci-fi universe can be measured in longevity, spot-on cast chemistry, rabid fans who call themselves Gaters and the tough subjects it has tackled, although it has rarely been a critical darling. The other side of the Stargate has introduced powerful beings posing as gods, wielding power to enslave whole worlds. Anderson's wise-cracking Col. O'Neill kept the mood light despite the ongoing themes of slavery and the meaning of faith; by comparison, the acclaimed "Battlestar Galactica" is most often the very essence of dark drama.

Two seasons ago, Anderson left "SG-1" and "Farscape" stars Ben Browder and Claudia Black came aboard, joining series regulars Christopher Judge, Amanda Tapping and Michael Shanks. Beau Bridges also joined the cast as the general in charge. There were new enemies: The Ori, an even more powerful race of false gods than the nasty Goa'uld, have preached religious fundamentalism and practiced genocide. Still, scripts often called for the newcomers to help keep the mood light in Anderson's absence (although he still drops in now and then).

And now, while the merry band marches into the world of making two-hour DVDs, the series plays out, leading up to "Unending."

"It was emotional, walking into Christopher's and Michael's trailer on the last day and they were feeling sad, but I was there to talk about the movie, so I was already thinking forward to the next step. So yes, it was bittersweet. [Co-executive producer] Robert Cooper did a brilliant job, I think, in writing and directing the last episode. I was very moved by the script, and I think the actors embraced it so well."

Wright said that all of the characters get a shot in the spotlight in the finale, a departure from episodes that normally allow one character to shine.

"That's what I love about 'Unending.' It's an ensemble piece that gives every single character a wonderful moment, and more."

Filming on the first DVD, "Stargate: Continuum," is well under way, with a portion shot in the Arctic, complete with a scene of a U.S. Navy submarine breaking through ice. The team settles scores with the Ori in this one, then moves on to a time-travel adventure in "Stargate: The Ark of Truth."

Next up, Tapping's Col. Samantha Carter jumps aboard "Stargate: Atlantis," which has been renewed for a fourth season.

She would seem to be the last vestige of "SG-1" on TV -- but not so fast. Wright and Cooper are at work on another spinoff, with the working title "Stargate: Universe." It concerns the ninth "chevron" -- the symbols on the Stargate used to dial an address to another world.

In the new show, now in preliminary stages, "we figure out what the ninth chevron is for, and it sends us somewhere very interesting," Wright says.

Will it send us there with anyone we've seen before?

"It'll be by and large a new cast, but whether or not a familiar face is in there is to be decided."

It's "Stargate," so never say never.

Post-Gazette entertainment editor Sharon Eberson can be reached at 412-263-1960 or seberson@post-gazette.com .


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