Last year, I took us all on a trip down memory lane as I reflected back (and attempted to recall what details I could of) my seven seasons on Stargate: SG-1. Our journey began here (April 24, 2011: Days of Stargate Past – SG-1 Season Four!) and ended here (November 9, 2011: Ending my SG-1 trip down memory lane with Unending!). Along the way, we reminisced on the shipper controversy, Daniel Jackson’s untimely demise and fortuitous resurrection, and even offered some insight into ideas and scenes that never made the final cut. If you missed anything, just use this blog’s handy search function for the terms “memory lane”, “Days of Stargate past”, or “SG-1” and they should lead you to the appropriate entries between April 24 and November 9 of 2011.
While SG-1 was my first love (We were together for seven years!), my time on Atlantis proved equally memorable. The show was possessed of a similar tone in its mix of high adventure and humor, yet proved distinct in its exploration of Ancient mythology and an unfamiliar galaxy as seen through the eyes of a new set of heroes. Atlantis offered a sense of wonder and camaraderie born of isolation and constant danger. Whereas SG-1 could always go home at the conclusion of their adventures, the members of the Atlantis expedition (at least for those first few seasons) could only draw comfort from the city of Atlantis itself – and, of course, each other. It was unique and compelling yet, at the same time, comfortingly familiar. Nowhere is this more evident than in opening theme, composed by the late Joel Goldsmith, which is, at turns fresh, haunting, stirring and, throughout, discernibly Stargate.
Stargate: Atlantis wasn’t envisioned as a companion to Stargate: SG-1. It was intended to replace the long-running series. The only problem was, with eight seasons under belt, SG-1 wasn’t quite done yet. And fans (and the network) weren’t done with it either. And so, instead of passing the torch and seguing to a new Stargate series, we ended up producing both. In retrospect, it was quite a feat: 40 hours of television! Lesser productions can barely manage a third that output, but Stargates SG-1 and Atlantis delivered two fantastic 40 episode seasons before SG-1 took it’s final bow. It wasn’t easy, but it was certainly made easier by all of the enormously talented individuals who made it happen, from the office staff and crew to the cast and my fellow writer/producers.
That first season of Atlantis was special for a lot of reasons. Not only did it introduce viewers to an exciting new world, but it also introduced them to two equally exciting new writer-producers in Martin Gero and Carl Binder who would both make their debut’s in the show’s first year (with Childhood’s End and Before I Sleep respectively) before joining the staff and eventually leaving their notable marks on the 5-year production.
As for me – well, while our burgeoning writing staff (made up of series creators Brad Wright and Robert Cooper, my writing partner Paul Mullie, Damian Kindler, Alan McCullough, Peter DeLuise, Martin Gero, and Carl Binder) straddled both shows, spinning ideas and helping to break stories, there was a wavering demarcation between the two productions. While Paul and I wrote three episodes for SGA’s first season (Suspicion, Home, and Siege II), we were, for the most part, on Team SG-1, writing six episodes and (more importantly) producing more than half the show’s eight season episodes.
Still, as I said, the entire writing department was involved in all things Stargate. And, prior to the commencement of principal photography on the SGA series opener, Rising I and II, we were privy to exhilarating/frustrating/surprising/ultimately satisfying road to putting together the pieces of the puzzle.
And, one of the most challenging of these puzzle pieces was the casting. It may surprise you to know that, when it comes to producing a show, not everybody cares about costumes or set design or whether the script’s fifth act denouement is emotionally satisfying, but everybody – and I do mean EVERYBODY – has an opinion on casting. Studio and network execs, producers, hell, even your significant other peering over your shoulder as you screen the auditions on your home computer will want to weigh in. Of course, the more voices in the mix the more likely there will be disagreements. So it is with every production and Atlantis was no different. Different individuals envisioned these characters in very different ways and, as a result, consensus was only achieved after many auditions, calls-backs, heated discussions, and not-so-gentle reminders that our start date was drawing closer and we really needed someone to say the lines on camera.
To be honest, I don’t remember a whole lot about that whirlwind casting process, but I do recall:
The part of Carson Beckett was one of the first ones cast. The other producers were in Rob’s office, screening the first batch of local auditions when Brad called me in and told me to check out the guy onscreen. I hadn’t imagined Beckett with a Scottish accent but, after watching Paul McGillion in the role, I couldn’t imagine him without one. He’d brought something unexpected to the part and we all responded to it.
Elizabeth Weir was not an easy character to pull off. She had to be smart, confident and strong yet needed to exude a certain warmth and empathy we were looking for in the civilian leader of the expedition. When it came time to (re)casting the role, several established names were considered (one had her own hit show back in the day while another went on to break out on a hit show soon after), but it was Torri Higginson who managed to strike just the right balance and vault her to the top of the list.
The role of Teyla Emmagan was a tough one to cast. Like Weir, she needed to be a strong, empathetic leader. But she also required something even more important – quite literally, an other-worldly quality that made her unique. Although she may have looked human, Teyla was an alien and, as a result, we needed someone who could make use buy into her character, convince us and never make us doubt. Some equally excellent actresses auditioned for the role but, as good as they were, they were never quite able to achieve that gravitas Rachel pulled off with such seeming ease.
The role of John Sheppard was the second to last one cast. It came right down to the wire and there were several candidates in play. The character was originally envisioned as a good ole southern boy, so it only made sense that Ben Browder’s name was bandied about early. However, he was busy shooting Peacekeeper Wars. A number of other actors were considered (one went on to play the lead in a hugely popular show the following year while another made his mark as a handsome heart throb on another hugely popular series still on the air) but it was Joe Flanigan who won the part based on his ability to pull off the devil-may-care attitude Brad and Robert were looking for.
We come to the final role cast, a character who, in many ways, embodied everything Atlantis was about: exploration, discovery, fun, humor, and seat-of-your-pants-Holy-Sh&%-how-the-hell-am-I-going-to-get-out-of-this-adventure. And he almost didn’t make the trip to Pegasus. Originally, the casting call went out for a completely different character, an earnest young doctor who would lend the team much-needed medical support on their off-world ventures. Unfortunately, no one could agree on who that actor should be. If the casting of Sheppard went down to the wire, then the casting of this final role went a step past it. Finally, days away from production, Robert Cooper had an idea: Forget the doctor character. Why not use an established character from SG-1? How about Rodney McKay? We all loved the thought of McKay being part of the expedition but others weren’t sold. They found him annoying! Hell yeah, but he’d be sooo much fun to write for. Rob got on the phone and pointed out that the character had come a long way since first being introduced way back in SG-1’s 48 Hours. He’d evolved, going from annoying jerk to endearingly irritating. To this day, I’m convinced that they weren’t totally convinced but, with production poised to commence, relented, I suppose figuring they could just replace the character somewhere down the line. No one, even those of us who loved the idea of having the endearingly irritating Rodney McKay on board couldn’t have predicted how hugely popular the character would become.
Whew! Didn’t expect the intro to be this long. In the next few days, we’ll start getting into the actual production as I offer hazy reminiscences and insight into the individual episodes. So, buckle up and keep your arms and legs inside the ride as we begin our journey down Atlantis memory lane…
I’m finalizing my Comic Con plans. I will be there, of course, in support of my SF comic book series, Dark Matter, but would be happy to chat macarons, pugs, french bulldogs, oh, and Stargate while I’m there. I’ve already heard from some fans who’ll be there. Anyone else?