After 15 years of producing Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis, creators and executive producers Robert C Cooper and Brad Wright decided to do something that they describe as “new” – Stargate Universe.
As they sat on the stage at the Langham Hotel along with their cast, including Robert Carlyle, David Blue, Ming-Na and Lou Diamond Phillips, to speak to the TV Critics Association, the fire alarm went off startling all the participants, except for Brad Wright, who announced, “The fire alarm went off 12 years ago, when we pitched Stargate SG-1, and we finished the meeting in the parking lot. So this is a good sign for us,” he laughed.
The new series follows a band of soldiers, scientists and civilians, who must fend for themselves as they are forced through a Stargate when their hidden base comes under attack. The desperate survivors emerge aboard an ancient ship, which is locked on an unknown path and unable to return to Earth.
Did you and Robert feel it was a difficult decision to continue to do Stargate, or did you feel that Stargate is ‘what you do’, and you’re going to do more of it?
Brad Wright When we had done 15 seasons of Stargate we wanted to do something new, we wanted to do something different, and when MGM and Syfy approached us we started talking about something new that was also called ‘Stargate’. We came up with a notion and wanted to do something very different, and honestly that’s what this show is. We’re very proud and excited to still be doing what is basically our 16th season of Stargate.
One of the things about some of the past Stargates was that they seemed to get lost in their mythology sometimes, and this series seems to be a little more character-driven.
Robert Cooper I think we learned a lot from a number of shows that have inspired both of us as television fans. We were huge fans of Firefly, which I think set the bar for modern-day Science Fiction for us. I’m a big fan of The Shield and Friday Night Lights and their shooting styles and the way they use character to forward their series.
Brad Wright We actually hired the director of photography of The Shield to do our first three hours, Ron Schmidt, to help establish that look that we were looking for.
Robert Cooper When we were conceiving the series, we definitely felt that, in some ways, Atlantis and SG-1 had gotten a little too self-referential and a little bit too far into their own mythologies, and we really wanted to make the show that, for a number of reasons, is broader and more accessible to audiences not just of Science Fiction.
We felt that we had told a lot of Stargate stories, 300 or so episodes, and we had to come up with a way to make it fresh. And the best way to do that is to tell stories through new characters’ eyes and really emphasize their perspectives. It’s contemporary, we have the characters who are from our world, and our show doesn’t just take place on a spaceship, it takes place on Earth, and we’re hoping that, by focusing a little bit less on the Science Fiction aspects of the series and a little more on those characters, that we can have audiences who wouldn’t normally embrace a Science Fiction show will embrace our show.
Brad Wright There’s one thing that Robert and I decided when we wanted to step away from the other series, and that was we wanted to step away from rubber-faced, English-speaking aliens, and you will see none of those in the new show.
And an ensemble of people where the performers are both hero and villain, and they can both inhabit the same skin.
You say there are not going to be latex-faced aliens, but they’re at the other end of the universe. Are they likely to be running into a bunch of other Earth people out there who didn’t come with them in the first place? Who will they be interacting with?
Robert Cooper As I said, we spend a lot of time on Earth. There’s a device in the show that allows people on the ship to switch consciousness with someone on Earth, so it’s actually a fun way of getting people on Earth potentially on the ship and vice versa.
But the first 10 episodes are more about survival. This show is much less about typical good guys and bad guys and much more about the community of people who get trapped on this ship, and how they interact, how they are going to survive, how they’re going to get along. And there are various agendas and motivations which are often very conflicting.
Brad Wright We do run into aliens, they’re just not going to be human, latex-faced, English speaking aliens.
Robert Cooper One of the problems with doing a show like this is you’ve got an entrenched fan base, but you’ve also got people who are coming new to the whole Stargate franchise. Are you writing with a consciousness to people who have no clue what a flipping Stargate is?
Brad Wright Yes is the short answer. We honestly think that any new person to Stargate Universe could tune in and watch the show and find out, in the course of the first two hours, what a Stargate is and how it works through the introduction of Eli, David Blue’s character, to the program.