Q&A with Atlantis showrunner Joe Mallozzi

by Paul William Tenny

Stargate SG-1 and Atlantis exec-prod Joe Mallozzi.
Stargate SG-1 and Atlantis exec-prod Joe Mallozzi.

It was announced a little over a week ago that The SCI FI Channel chose not to renew Stargate Atlantis for a sixth season. At least one TV movie based on the series will go into the early stages of development and another franchise series will be born: Stargate Universe. Fans aren't happy, but that's pretty much par for the course for any series.

After GateWorld interviewed series co-creator and all-around Stargate guru Brad Wright, and with some questions I think still unanswered, I thought it would be enlightening to bring in one half of the duo responsible for the day-to-day production of Atlantis, Joe Mallozzi.

Paul Tenny: It seemed like the decision not to split the 5th season of Atlantis in two was actually a good sign for the show. Do you know if that was in any way related to the cancellation, or why that decision was made?

Joe Mallozzi: I don't believe it was cancellation-related. In fact, when we heard we would be running straight through, we took this as a very good sign as it would allow the ratings to build, unimpeded, over the course of an entire season. Nothing cools off a hot show like a two or three month break.

Paul: Has anyone been selected, or do you have anyone in mind for directing the Atlantis feature?

Joe: The Atlantis feature is still in the very early planning stages so most of the big decisions have yet to be made.

Paul: Can you give us a picture of what the ratings situation has been like leading up to this point, hasn't this season been up from last year and aren't we always hearing that ratings are king in television?

Joe: Our fifth season ratings were certainly up from the back half of season four which were, in turn, up from the first half of season four. We knew going into this season that the odds were stacked against us, but we were heartened by the early numbers. Ratings are king but the financial bottom line is Queen and, as in most households, Queen trumps King.

Paul: Brad Wright said in an interview that the Atlantis movie "will be more accessible to new viewers". Are you on board with that, do you agree that the movie should be more accessible?

Joe: I wholeheartedly agree. I firmly believe that the feature should walk a fine line between welcoming new viewers aboard and rewarding long-time fans. Continuum did it. The first Atlantis feature will do it too.

Paul: Joss Whedon and many others have continued their canceled shows indirectly in comics, book tie-ins, and movies, something Atlantis has also done to a point. Anyone who reads your blog or knows of you knows that you have a passion for reading and discussing books. Is a franchise book something you'd like to tackle now?

Joe: Not really. I have the greatest of respect for authors and envy their skill and infinite patience. Writing a novel would be something way beyond my comfort zone and while I don't think that continuing the show in other forms is a bad thing, I wouldn't want to undermine these efforts by contradicting their presumably established canon in the Atlantis features. I use the plural "features" because I'm confident that this will be the first of many.

Paul: There seems to be a consensus developing amongst people I know -- and certainly a visible pattern -- of The SCI FI Channel only letting shows run for 4 or 5 seasons before they are jettisoned. Farscape and Battlestar Galactica got four seasons, SG-1 and SGA got five. It sounds greedy when most shows don't even get one full season, but that emotional investment isn't something fans take lightly. People are asking each other, what's the point in watching a series you know will only last four or five seasons and why should they get invested in that. Is that just TV, or could that be the way SCI FI does things?

Joe: I can't speak for SCI FI but I'd say that any emotional investment, be it a movie, a television show, or a relationship, will end, some sooner than others. The reality is that five years on the air is an impressive accomplishment for a series. Many shows don't make it past their first season. At least in the case of Atlantis, the door has not been shut on these characters or their stories. They will continue - maybe not as often or as regularly as fans have grown accustomed to, but they will continue.

Paul: People in the business, particularly actors, don't like to portray the same roles their entire career. Perfectly understandable, but we don't often hear about that in the other fields in television. If given the opportunity, would you join Universe as a writing producer, or are you perhaps looking forward to getting away from the franchise for a while, do something different?

Joe: It's hard to get burnt out on a series like Stargate simply because the basic premise allows for so many different types of storytelling. This was the case with SG-1, with Atlantis, and will no doubt be the case with Universe. One of the things that intrigues me about the Universe concept is the notion that this group is cut off from Earth and everything they've ever known. It was part of what made Atlantis so appealing in the early seasons, something we were never able to return to on account of those damn hyperspace-capable ships. Also, one of the things that bumped me about the SGU premise was its seeming inability to accommodate established guest stars. That was until Brad and Robert pitched out a clever little element that actually makes it very possible to see the likes of Daniel Jackson or Rodney McKay on SGU. While Paul and I certainly have our pilots polished and ready to go, we're not so sure we're done with the Stargate franchise.

Paul: This may not be something you can answer, but maybe you can draw on your experience to give us all some insight into how things like this work in general. You and Paul Mullie worked on SG-1 before working on Atlantis, and there have undoubtedly been many other people from one show who were "tapped" for another. Many of the staff writers for Buffy The Vampire Slayer stepped up to become producers on its spinoff, Angel. When a new series is launched in a franchise, such as Universe or Angel, how much do you go after established, trusted players, versus new and unique voices?

Joe: A number of fans consider us our writing department somewhat insular but the fact is that, every season, we make an attempt to try out new writers. What people don't realize is that ours isn't an easy show to write for. It's a franchise fraught with an overwhelming backstory and intimidating track record. Character voices are also very tough to nail and while we allow some leeway for newbies, they can't be so totally off as to be unrecognizable. In season 5, we took pitches from about a half-dozen new writers and all of one sold a story idea. It's very, very tough but, sometimes, the effort pays off. There's no better example of this than golden boy Martin Gero who wrote a fine first script for Atlantis, Childhood's End, and then translated into that experience into an unparalleled run that saw him take the series and make it his own. No doubt Brad and Robert will attempt to find the new Martin Gero (or two) in the ramp-up to SGU.

Paul: Brad Wright and Rob Cooper are listed as the creators and co-execs of Atlantis, but you and Paul actually run the show from what I understand. Were you and Paul involved in the -- as Wright put it -- "mutual" decision to cancel Stargate Atlantis, and if not, isn't it odd that the showrunners don't get a say?

Joe: Paul and I were not involved in the decision. The showrunner isn't usually involved in the decision-making process because, 99% of the time, the studio and networks damn well know where they stand on the issue. They want to keep running their show!

Paul: There's some background information on Wikipedia about how Atlantis came about, and how woven its birth was with the uncertain future of SG-1. If you had been told early on that Atlantis wasn't getting a sixth season, would you and the crew have tried to launch Universe off the back of Atlantis, to tie the two series together in some way?

Joe: In my opinion, that would have been the best case scenario. I think that Atlantis benefited considerably from having SG-1 as a lead-in and SG-1, in turn, benefited from having its little sister on the air. From a production standpoint, it allowed us a certain amount of leeway with sets and scheduling that would have been difficult to pull off if only one show had been in production.

Paul: There's a nifty concept in the Writers Guild of America contract called separated rights, which allow the author of a script to retain certain republishing rights even after it has been sold, such as in book form. Does the Writers Guild of Canada have similar rights, and would you ever consider now that SGA is going to wrap up, publishing some of your own scripts for people to enjoy and learn from?

Joe: To be honest, I know very little about the WGC outside of the color magazine they send me on a monthly basis. As for publishing my own scripts for people to enjoy - it's not something I would object to but, on the other hand, not something I'd actively pursue.

Paul: Are there any series props you've got your eye on? I think a Puddle Jumper would look fantastic in your driveway.

Joe: I'm thinking more along the lines of the goa'uld hand device. It's more in keeping with my personality and would make a really nifty accessory.

Paul: Darren Sumner of GateWorld explained to me that amongst the decision makers, it was felt that if they didn't do an Atlantis movie now, that opportunity may dry up no matter what happened with the series. If you had a say, would you have chosen more seasons, or the movie?

Joe: Our first choice would have been for a sixth season. But we'll certainly take the movie.

Many thanks to Joe for taking the time to talk shop. For what it's worth, although I'm bummed that Atlantis won't be continuing as a regular weekly series, I have all the faith in the world in Brad Wright and Rob Cooper. If you enjoy what they've helped to create so far, there's no reason to doubt them now. Not them, and not the other Stargate alumni they will surely bring in to make Universe a fine member of the franchise.
in Feature, Television


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Thank you so much, Paul, and Mr. Mallozzi, for an informative and delightful q & a.

Best wishes to everyone at Stargate on your future projects. Looking forward to the remaining Stargate Atlantis season five episodes, and of course, the new movie(s).


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