Much has been made over the past year about the proliferation of streaming video and digital downloads and other alternative media fans displacing viewers from traditional TV viewing. Now it seems that if science-fiction stalwart Stargate SG-1 is to return for an 11th season in this country, it’s going to have to soar on a distribution platform that extends beyond the traditional.
Word that cable’s longest-running drama, and the sci-fi genre’s longest running television show, had been cancelled leaked out on Aug. 19 at the Pan Pacific Hotel in Vancouver, B.C., where the series is shot, as cast, crew and executive producers convened to celebrate the show’s milestone 200th episode, the night after it aired on Sci Fi Channel. The cancellation was first reported by Multichannel.com last Monday.
NO NEW EPISODES
Mark Stern, executive vice president of original programming at Sci Fi, said in an interview last week that series producer Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. is contractually prevented from making any new episodes of the show to air on other U.S. channels, so that’s not a viable option for hopeful fans to pursue.
“There is not going to be [an 11th season] on U.S. television,” Stern said flatly. “Our contract with MGM prohibits it.”
A spokesman for MGM declined to comment on Stern’s claim. He did, however, offer encouragement, but no specifics, to devotees of the show that have been circulating online petitions, and establishing fan sites such as Savestargatesg1.com, since word spread that new installments on Sci Fi would end when episode 215 airs next year.
Stern also said that “if MGM came to us for less,” Sci Fi might be interested in more Stargate SG-1 fare, whether in the form of episodes, movies or miniseries. But a Sci Fi spokeswoman later said that should not give the fans false hope that the cancellation might be rescinded.
Stern wouldn’t disclose the network’s license fee to MGM. The show is expensive to produce, though, even in Canada. Multichannel News has previously reported that it is budgeted at about $2 million per episode.
MGM charges Sci Fi less than that, making the money back from syndication and DVD sales.
“We don’t look at Stargate SG-1 as a TV show, but a franchise,” the MGM spokesman, Jeff Pryor, said. “It is our intention to vigorously find a find way to extend the franchise.”
With the show’s various cable and syndication outlets and via DVD sales, MGM has called the Stargate TV franchise second in its stable only to the James Bond theatrical films.
Pryor said MGM was evaluating other potential distribution outlets. “We want to move forward, but no negotiations have taken place” at this time, he added.
Fan site Gateworld.net last week quoted show executive producer Robert C. Cooper as saying: “As far as the future, I can’t comment yet because nothing has been confirmed. What we want to emphasize is that the franchise is not dying. SG-1 will go on in some way. We’re just not ready to announce how.”
Fans and observers have suggested fresh SG-1 fare could materialize in the form of movies or miniseries. Sci Fi, for example, aired an original Farscape miniseries in 2004, a year after canceling that popular drama.
New shows also could appear episodically via premieres abroad, via distribution on the Internet or as a download series on Apple Computer Inc.’s iTunes media-download service or another pay platform. SG-1 and spinoff series Stargate Atlantis — which Sci Fi renewed for a fourth season last week — became available on iTunes a week ago.
Even without new episodes, Stargate SG-1 will live on abroad and in syndication. Internationally, the show airs in 120 countries, including all of the top 20 territories, according to MGM.
MGM declined to comment about the length of its contracts with stations around the U.S. Stern said repeats of Stargate SG-1 episodes would air on Sci Fi past the conclusion of 10th-season premieres.
A Sci Fi spokeswoman said three episodes have yet to be written, which could give the producers “an eye toward closure.” Pryor said the 10th season would wrap production in October.
Stern cited several factors behind Sci Fi’s decision to close the gate on another season.
“The ratings have softened,” he said. Sci Fi puts the decline at 11%, to 1.95 million average viewers per episode, during the current season, measured against the season nine average of 2.19 million. That average, though, was raised by the relatively highly rated 200th episode, with storylines and inside jokes aimed at the fan base. Initial episodes this season had been about 30% behind viewing numbers for early shows in season nine.
Stern cited creative considerations, too, in a show that over the years had weathered major cast changes, most notably the departure of original lead Richard Dean Anderson after the eighth season.
“It’s done a great job, rejuvenated with the additions of Ben [Browder], Claudia [Black] and Beau [Bridges], but we think we’ve come to the end of those stories,” he said. “We really felt like it was the right time to segue out, for the show not to overstay its welcome.”
“We would look for opportunities for some or all of the members to appear on Atlantis,” Stern also said.
He added: “We only have a certain amount of resources. We still have Atlantis, and Battlestar Galactica is our big show coming back in October.”
Sci Fi also added rookie hit Eureka and has high hopes for upcoming series The Dresden Files and miniseries The Lost Room. “There are also a couple of pilots we want to look at,” Stern said, and the network plans to decide soon about comic book legend Stan Lee’s Who Wants To Be A Superhero?
“It’s fun and it’s found an audience,” Stern said, but the network isn’t sure if it’s “a one-time reality show, or something that has life after that.”
As for life after this season, that’s something Stargate SG-1 fans are pondering, too.
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