If any of you are familiar with the Stargate franchise, you might be asking why I’ve included it on this list given that the franchise was at one point one of the most successful Sci-Fi franchises in history. Bearing that in mind, the franchise is pretty well dead these days, and there are a number of reasons why one of the best new franchises in the genre is nowhere to be found today.
You see, Stargate started in 1994 as a major motion picture. Released by MGM, the movie was a massive success, and there were talks of two more films to be released as part of a trilogy. However, MGM decided that the concept would work far better as a TV Show, calling the Stargate device itself the greatest plot device in Sci-Fi since the USS Enterprise. Thus, Stargate SG-1 was born, and went on to become one of the longest running Sci-Fi shows in history. It spawned a spin-off, Stargate Atlantis, that also ran for five years, and both shows established the Stargate franchise as one of the best and brightest in Sci-Fi.
However, in 2006, things went screwy. Stargate SG-1 had entered its tenth season, and was one of the highest rated shows on Sci-Fi. However, shortly after their 200th episode, it was announced that the show would not be renewed, and the writers were forced wrap things up. However, given the stories they had planned, such a thing was impossible, and thus two direct to DVD movies were produced to tie up loose ends. Both movies were successful, but fans everywhere questioned why Sci-Fi would want to give up such a profitable show. They still had Atlantis, but that situation was about to become very complicated.
With Atlantis, the show had become a success and despite some rough patches, had gained quite the following by itself, its third season alone running some of its highest rated episodes. However, with some questionable casting and creative changes at the end of that season, and again in season 4 and 5, the fan-base began to falter, ratings began to drop, and the show was cancelled at its 100th episode, the Wraith storyline nowhere near finished.
A third show, Stargate Universe, debuted the following year, but was poorly received by fans and critics alike, the show a stark departure from the rest of the franchise. To me, it seemed like they were trying to be Battlestar Galactica, which didn’t work because they weren’t Battlestar Galactica. The show only ran two seasons, and was mercifully cancelled, though the damage had already been done. After that, there was talk of having multiple direct-to-DVD films for all three series, possibly more, but with the financial difficulties MGM was suffering at the time those projects faded in obscurity.
Why did the Stargate franchise get cancelled? Each situation was a little different, so let me break down each show and then the franchise as a whole.
With SG-, the chokepoint was distribution. After their 200th episode, which was largely a comedy episode, Sci-Fi seemed to lose their taste for the show and announced its cancellation. I didn’t really like that episode myself (personal opinion), but in any event, I don’t know how much impact one episode would have. Executives within Sci-Fi and MGM claimed that they wanted to take the characters from SG-1 and incorporate them with Atlantis, but that doesn’t make much sense to me as the two shows were doing fine standing on their own. Production cost may have had something to do with it as well, the budget for SG-1 had never been big and the storylines were getting bigger every year, needing more complicated sets and special effects to make things work. Whatever the reasons, it shouldn’t have happened, and Sci-Fi made a very stupid decision in my eyes.
With Atlantis, the chokepoint was most definitely content. This is just my opinion, but I feel very strongly that the creative decisions made in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th seasons were the direct cause for fans turning away from the show. First if all, popular character Carson Beckett was killed off unexpectedly near the end of the 3rd season, for no other reason that the writers thought it would be a good story. Then, in the season 4 premiere, Doctor Elizabeth Weir, a character specifically created to lead the Atlantis program, was reduced to a recurring role, a decision that was literally sprung on actress Tori Higginson on her last day on set that year. Weir was replaced by Samantha Carter of SG-1, but the move was not met with a lot of enthusiasm by fans, many feeling they were just trying to boost ratings with a known character (ironic seeing as it had the opposite effect). Finally, Carter was replaced by Richard Woolsey, a very unpopular character among fans. Now, I maintain that Woolsey became a great addition to the show, but it would have worked better if he had been put in charge directly after Weir, the hot potato with the co-leading role hurting the show tremendously. Despite adding Jewel Staite as Jennifer Keller, and bringing back Dr Beckett at a later date, the show’s rating continued to drop, and as the fifth season was wrapping up, Sci-Fi decided to cancel the show. My opinion, the writers were trying to do too much too soon. These kinds of decisions would have been more acceptable years down the line, after an audience that would stick with them through the choices was already established. I also feel that they insulted the fans’ intelligence with some of these moves, thinking that the fans would understand what they were doing and be thrilled by it (killing off popular characters NEVER works by the way). This is why it is so important to get the right person in charge of a show, who can weigh the creative decisions properly and not just go for the “hey, that would interesting” hooks that the Atlantis writers seemed to love. In short, the writers and producers of Atlantis wrote themselves off the air, the fans by Season 5 having grown tired of their shotgun actions.
With Universe, the chokepoint was once again content. As I’ve already stated, the show was too much of a departure from what Stargate had been for thirteen years. They tried to go dark and emotional, butans of Stargate didn’t want that, and the show’s short run is all the evidence needed to prove that point. You can’t change the basic style of a franchise that drastically without losing a fair bit of fan base, and unless you gain new fans, you’re dead in the water.
As for the franchise as a whole, the chokepoint there was financing. MGM was having a lot of financial problems at that time, even declaring bankruptcy. Without the money to fund any new projects, the planned Stargate Direct-to-DVD films were effectively killed, and likely will never be revisited.
In case that was too much information for some of you, here's the bottom line: Stargate ended because of a series of occurrences where all three chokepoints came into play. First, their most popular and profitable commodity lost it's distribution, then the second commodity changed it's content too much for fans to stomach, the third project's content completely departed from what made the franchise successful sending even more fans away, and once those were gone the production company no longer had the financing to continue any further projects.
Since then, there have been some effort by former cast and crew to get the franchise going again, but I won’t speculate on whether or not that can happen. I hope it does, I loved this franchise to death, but things just don’t look promising right now. Looking at how this franchise rose and fell though is a perfect example of what happens when people try to mess with a good thing, it can and will blow up in their faces more often than not.