Scifi cancels Atlantis; needs lobotomy

by Paul William Tenny

stargate-atlantis.jpgThe ratings were up over last year, and the writing is as good as it has ever been. The franchise movies have been doing so well that MGM wants a third. Its predecessor became a staple of the Scifi Channel lineup and gave the channel its first original hit, and after the 5th and final season wraps up, it'll be gone.

And all I've got to show for it is this stupid tee-shirt.
Less than a month ago, Stargate Atlantis exec-prod Joe Mallozzi arranged for me to receive the 5th season premier of Stargate Atlantis for early review. The short but cordial conversation I had with him some years ago when I was looking for produced scripts for the series to look at left me with quite an impression. That he took time out of his day to talk shop with me several times over the course of that day gave me some insight into who Mallozzi is as a person as opposed to a name in the credits and a writing style that I admire; he is to the best of my knowledge a genuinely good person that I would have loved to work with someday.

Just two days ago I created a list of nine ideas I could use to turn into one or two really great spec scripts. When I want some new spec material, Stargate is always my first choice. I could do House or something that more people would be familiar with, but Stargate is what I'm familiar with, it's what I know and do best, so I always believed it was the smartest way to show off my talent rather than my ambition or hubris. House is a great series that I would be proud to write for, but it's way out of my league.

Stargate is far more approachable, it's the every man series, and that's not an insult either.

You see, I've always loved the Stargate franchise. It wasn't until I discovered SG-1 -- ironically when the Scifi Channel picked it up -- that I realized writing is something I wanted to do. SG-1 made me feel like it was something that I could actually do, something I could enjoy and excel at, and I thought that such as it is, it would have been a really stellar fit. I didn't just want in as a job, although I'd write anywhere and make the best of it, this was a show (both SG-1 and Atlantis) that I felt at home with. It's one of those places where I'd work for free if that's what it would take.

There are a lot of shows that inspire me like that now, but I think this is a franchise that made me believe.

It hurts to lose it as a fan, it hurts to lose it as a prospective place to work no matter how terrible the odds might have been, and honestly, it's a terrible loss for a channel that's slowly devolving from the home of science fiction into a cable network of generic garbage.

It should have been obvious when Scifi started broadcasting "pro" wrestling where things were headed. As a former fan who enjoyed the entertainment aspect, I understand that there's an audience out there for it. What I don't understand and cannot condone is how the "what if" network of science fiction could ever justify airing wrestling and horror movies and be so seemingly desperate for a larger audience that it would actually delude its own brand, selling itself out like a cheap whore to get .2 better ratings from reality smut and B-horror movies.

I'm not a part of this business yet, but I've been around long enough to understand that salaries generally go up every time contracts are renewed and that anything successful enough to not be canceled exactly 1.5 seconds after launch -- a record set by Fox when it nuked Anchorwoman after I think 1 episode -- is going to get more expensive as the years pass. If the ratings don't also rise, no show is ever going to be worth keeping around forever. On the other hand, a network like Scifi which isn't really all that successful when compared to sister properties NBC and USA isn't in a position to pick and choose. After producing bombs like Flash Gordon and Painkiller Jane, it's extremely likely that whatever replaces Atlantis -- so long as it's not another Stargate franchise show which obviously would be ideal -- is going to go up in flames. The Scifi Channel does not have a real strong track record producing quality original fictional series.

SG-1 was already in a groove when they picked it up, to their credit since it deserved to live on, which only leaves Battlestar Galactica -- which Scifi screwed around with on the schedule so badly that people just quit watching it -- and Atlantis. Eureka does well in the ratings from what I understand, so credit to those guys as well, but all and all that's it. With BSG and Atlantis wrapping up, that leaves precisely one original show of any quality.

What does that say about the Scifi Channel's ability to manage their business? Is a show with high cost and moderate ratings worth it to a struggling network when the alternative is replacing them with cheap, outright failures?

It's hard to wish that Scifi would greenlight Stargate Universe because at this point as a fan, I have zero faith in that network to do anything good with it. Even though Scifi helped to turn Stargate into a franchise, right now they are clearly the number one obstacle to the growth of that franchise. It's time for MGM to move on to a stronger partner that can give Stargate the kind of time-to-live that it deserves and can provide, because money matters aside, there aren't very many shows that can even deliver this kind of quality content for more than five years.

On the periphery, it also makes you wonder the wisdom of signing short contracts such as they are. People believe that they should be rewarded for success in show business like no other industry. Every new contract should be larger than the one that came before, much like how the union-level contracts work, otherwise it's taken as a sign that you aren't worth keeping around anymore, because anyone worth keeping around is worth a raise.

That kind of circular reasoning seems to dominate Hollywood (and apparently Canadian production as it were) and it seems as if they entire thing is designed to prevent shows from lasting as long as they could, as long as fans wish they would. I think -- and call me crazy here -- that performance pay structures should be considered for some shows in order for them to survive. Sounds bad for talent, but just how bad is it when everyone working on Atlantis is out of work after the show wraps? Having a locked-in pay structure is not worse than being unemployed.

Based on the average ratings of the network, on the ratings of the show, on the growth of a show, and on the specific talent on an individual basis, pay increase should be at least factored into performance. A show whose ratings don't grow shouldn't have players that get regular raises that eventually cost the show its life -- that's self defeating.

Either way, I think this sucks. I'm so bummed for everyone who worked so hard and actually brought the ratings up this year, and got the ax anyway. How lame is that? How unprofessional and pathetic is that?

So where does that leave us?

I suppose it depends on your personal tastes. Until Scifi does more with the franchise -- if Scifi does more with the franchise -- I pretty much don't have a reason to watch the Scifi Channel anymore. Obviously the 5th season isn't over yet, but once it is, I'm not sure that I'll be one of those tiny fractional ratings points that doesn't disappear forever. What can I say, I watch the Scifi Channel to see sci-fi, and if they don't have any, what's the point? Based on how badly Scifi treated Battlestar, I can think of no reason that Caprica won't be ruined or canceled after three or four years just the same.

That network hates itself like no other, and right now, that feeling is mutual.
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Mark Stern, who is one of the VP's over at the SciFi Channel, has a background in producing and writing for SciFi (The Outer Limits and The Poltergeist tv series), so there's at least one executive at the SciFi Channel who has a foundation in scifi.

Unfortunately, it seems the accounting departments at MGM, SciFi Channel, and other entities are now also making their programming decisions in addition to their accounting duties.

It's sad news, made even sadder that SGU "with the young and desperate" explorers, is the replacement show. Sure, it's going to draw in the OC crowd, but will alienate a lot more, and hey, those over-40 viewrs are the ones who earn the most money and control the budget.

I'm not interested in a franchise, otherwise,I'd go to Starbucks. I liked STargate Atlantis on its own.

Damn shame the networks don't realize folks over 20 watch tv too.
Bravo. You've echoed the sentiment of every Stargate fan. Scifi is shooting itself in the foot, then staring down the smoking barrel.
"Have you heard? Stargate Atlantis was cancelled. NO...say it's not true!!!" seems to be the ballyhoo in all the chatrooms and forums these days.

Most are blaming Sci-Fi and MGM together for giving SGA(Stargate Atlantis) the ax.

I don't know why they call themselves the Sci-Fi channel if they are going with so much non-sci-fi programming. *shakes head* And, MGM is so hot for it's new show Stargate Universe, they seem to have forgotten they need the fans to make it viable.

I love this wrote just what so many of us fans are thinking!

I'm not buying the cancelled due to not making enough money excuse either. Many reasons have been given as to why the show isn't making enough money. I know the US dollar is down, but it's down for every show made. Are they not going to make any more shows? Of course they that argument is bogus.

The cast will/does want more money at the five year mark, is often cited. How about giving TPTB at SGA, and the cast/crew a chance to keep it going? Like you said...a steady paycheck has to trump acting like prima donnas and expecting major raises all around.

I'm not saying the cast/crew of SGA are like that(I'm hoping they aren't, but many in the industry are that way)...but it seems that if they were given a bottom line figure that maybe everyone could work something out to keep the show going.

Everyone working in show business has to know that the almighty dollar is all that motivates Sci-Fi and MGM. Wouldn't it be worth it to keep the same pay(or small raises), let go of some staff that aren't absolutely necessary and reduce high-cost production items to keep most everyone with a steady paycheck? It has to be better than no check and iffy chances to find a regular acting/working job.

It would also keep the fans happy and buying Stargatey things! As opposed to ticking fans off and causing so much anger and feelings of betrayal in many previously loyal fans.

It was clever of MGM/Sci-Fi to have Stargate Atlantis air a few years before cancelling SG-1. While the fans were happy with their SG-1 give them another Stargate show to get hooked on and love. Then give SG-1 the ax. It's too bad they aren't using that formula for Stargate Atlantis and Stargate Universe. We all could have gotten sucked into a new show before they pulled the plug on Atlantis. Then even if we were disgruntled over that, they already would have us hooked. Were they smart in how they went about it this time? As Jack O'Neill would say...not so much.

The online chatter from fans is that many of them are so disgusted with Atlantis's cancellation that they don't want to give Stargate Universe a chance. Many want to put their money where their mouths are and make a point to TPTB. You mess with our SGA...we won't watch anything else you create/show.

Many also plan to bombard TPTB at MGM & Sci-Fi with campaigns to get the show another season. There are plans to bombard them with lemons(as in "this sucks"), to email/write TPTB in complaint and even to send them stuffed monkeys with their heads sewn up their bums(my personal favorite*wink*).

I hope it works....I'm a bit pessimistic though right now. You know what I mean? Depressed...feeling down...actually quite gutted. My favorite show Stargate Atlantis was cancelled...have you heard?

Kimberly aka Kdvb1
I don't get why everyone's upset. When SGA is over we'll still get to watch great sci-fi tv like wrestling....

Oh wait a minute! Wrestling might be FICTION but it's not SCIENCE fiction! NOW I see why everyone's angry.

What else is there to watch on that stupid channel anyway?

I think I hear crickets and nothing else.

I suppose only time will tell just how HORRIDLY wrong this decision is. I'm guessing it's along the lines of UBER bad.

Thanks for writing an article that tells it like it is.

I agree, Joe Mallozzi is a class act all around. He is a good person. And I'm sorry for not only him, but the entire SGA family. They did a great job and deserved at least five more years.

Trish (aka whovian)
Great article. You said exactly what I thought about this insane decision to ax SGA.
They are just fools!!!

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