The other day, I did a rundown of the top ten episodes I had the most fun writing. Today, I switch gears to focus on My Top 10 Toughest Episodes.  Why were they tough?  Well, the the issues varied, ranging from script challenges to productions issues, scheduling headaches to post-production problems.

A few may surprise you…


My Top 10 Toughest Episodes!
#10 Built, Not Born (Dark Matter)

Notwithstanding the fact that this episode turned out to be a fan favorite – and I ultimately ended up very pleased with the results – this one was a tough script to write and, at times, an even tougher episode to produce.  Plenty of twinning also meant long days that turned into nights, and one memorable Fraturday.


My Top 10 Toughest Episodes!
#9 Prodigy (Stargate: SG-1)

The issues with this one were rooted in a fundamental disagreement in pre-production regarding the character of Cadet Jennifer Hailey.  In the end, I lost that particular argument and a character who was introduced as a potential recurring player faded into obscurity once the episode aired.


My Top 10 Toughest Episodes!
#8 Shadow-play (Stargate: SG-1)

While I loved the exploration of Jonas Quinn’s backstory, the tale of his addled mentor never quite synced for me.


My Top 10 Toughest Episodes!
#7 Welcome to the Revolution (Dark Matter)

This one had the misfortune of being overly ambitious – everything from scripts to sets, scheduling to extras conspired against us.  Ultimately a great performance by Roger Cross and some nice moments save the day, but it was a very tough time getting there.


My Top 10 Toughest Episodes!
#6 Avenger 2.0 (Stargate: SG-1)

One of the last episodes my then writing partner, Paul Mullie, and I truly co-wrote (moving forward, although we would share onscreen writing credits, we would do most of our scripting solo), it’s one of those episodes you wish you could do-over.


My Top 10 Toughest Episodes!
#5 Revisions (Stargate: SG-1)

Although I’m happy with the way this episode turned out (and include it among my favorites), I pitched a very different version of this story only to end up being steered in another direction.  I was not convinced it was the right choice.  Even while writing the script, I was not convinced – which made for a very unhappy process.  But, as I said, it all worked out and all it cost me was a little extra time…and some of my sanity.


My Top 10 Toughest Episodes!
#4 The Fourth Horseman (Stargate: SG-1)

I don’t think I’ve spent more time in an editing room working on an episode than I did on this two-parter that proved an exercise in frustration.


My Top 10 Toughest Episodes!
#3 This Mortal Coil (Stargate: Atlantis)

Another episode that turned out surprisingly solid despite the pains it took to get us there.  I was sent back to the drawing board multiple times on the script, writing, rewriting, and re-rewriting.  “It’s still a little bumpy,”fellow EP Carl Binder informed me following what must have been my fourth pass, couching his words in the gentlest way possible, no doubt fearing I was close to hurling my laptop out the window, and me after it.


My Top 10 Toughest Episodes!
#2 Home (Stargate: Atlantis)

The network hated the first draft of this script and, to be honest, I don’t think they were ever particularly fond of subsequent drafts or the finished episode.  Given my hitherto solid experience writing for SG-1 those prior four years, the overwhelmingly negative feedback I received to this script shocked me. Fortunately, my next script for Atlantis, Siege II, was a much more positive experience.


My Top 10 Toughest Episodes!
#1 Prometheus (Stargate: SG-1)

When I got my first draft of this script back from Richard Dean Anderson and Michael Greenburg, I marveled at all of the check marks that adorned its pages.

“No,” showrunner Brad Wright solemnly informed me — “Check marks are bad.”

Oh. In all fairness, I was never privy to Rick’s notes on scripts not my own but, at the time, I remember thinking I’d never seen him hate on a script so much.  Despite my attempts to address his notes, he simply never bought into the possibility that this ship could have been hijacked in the first place.  Throw in one of my, uh, least favorite guest stars in franchise history, and you have an experience I’d sooner forget.

Ah, but I’m sure tough times are not limited to television production alone.  Please, regale us with your professional lowlights.

16 thoughts on “My Top 10 Toughest Episodes!

  1. Please tell me it’s John de Lancie (least fave guest star) because I saw him blow off even young (ie preteens) fans with utter chill. On stage… charismatic. Off, utterly devoid of human warmth. Having seen him at several cons, I admit to strong schadenfreude if he is your least favored.

    I also want to send Akemi wishes that her family is safe. Japan has been having it really tough. 🙁

      1. You can’t really top a character like “Q”. To be fair his Stargate character was completely forgettable.

  2. Re: “”Shadowplay”
    In one of my very few fan fics, I posited a favorable outcome for Dr. Kieran. Email me if you want to know.

    Letting your question percolate.

  3. Cadet Jennifer Hailey was not unlike the Wesley Crusher character in Star Trek: The Next Generation. It’s very easy for a bright, young, overeager cadet character to become the butt of save-the-universe jokes and the focus of the series, like Wesley Crusher had become in TNG. While Crusher was an okay character, he was ultimately detrimental for TNG series. The TV Tropes site labels this archetype as “The Creator’s Pet”.

    TV Tropes says of the “Creator’s Pet” archetype, “The main characteristic of the Creator’s Pet is that the writers’ focus on him is detrimental to the show.”

    I’m quite sure that those on the SG-1 production team who didn’t vote your way were not eager to revisit this character archetype within SG-1. It would have changed the dynamic of the cast and would only serve to divert story lines to Hailey for character development at the expense of the rest of further SG-1 stories. It’s probably best that she didn’t become a recurring character.

    To be perfectly fair, when I watched Prodigy, I got the distinct impression that this character might become a recurring character. I also knew how easy it would be for her to become another Wesley Crusher. To my relief, she didn’t appear in any further episodes, thus avoiding this entire problem.

  4. Professional lowlight: Defense Logistics Agency office(s) at contractor plant(s) in mid-1980s, mainly due to the personalities involved. Realized within a month of entering on duty that a male supervisor and a female colleague were having an affair. That was just the beginning of of about two years of feeling like a round peg in a square hole.

  5. Interesting that SGA’s “Home” had such a negative reaction. I remember on first viewing thinking it was rather clever, though on reflection the change of heart of the aliens was a little too easy.

    I will say that Prometheus was not one of my favourites.

  6. Who knew RDA read the scripts, especially six seasons in??

    I agree, John De Lancie for the d-bag. Otherwise, it’s a sign of how much I need to rewatch the eps that I had to go to Solutions to look up the episode summaries for your Stargate ones. It’s been 12 years since SG-1 ended. Unbelievable!

    Professional lowlights… every time I have to write something more than 2 pages long. I don’t know how you do it, Joe – every page is torture! In my current job I have to write long proposals. There’s not enough coffee (or chocolate) in the world…

  7. Your choices of most difficult to write were interesting.
    There are a couple of DM eps I was surprised didnt make your top 10 list
    considering how much you bemoaned them at the time.

    I’d be even more interested to learn ‘if’ and ‘how’
    these terribly difficult to write/experience episodes helped you grow
    and learn new tricks as a writer & show runner?

    “Ah, but I’m sure tough times are not limited to television production alone.
    Please, regale us with your professional lowlights”.

    I must plead the 5th, Your Honor.
    Grounds: If folks knew I was anything less than the perfect, indestructible, ingenious, wonder woman of their cherished comic book covers, they’d likely find themselves much less inclined to get me this awesome new high tech hoverboard for my b-day this year.
    (And given the current testerone dominated political climate
    I wager that argument would even hold up in the U.S Supreme Court, eh!).

    Joking aside,
    The real reason is
    I don’t view my so called professional mistakes/low moments
    as “low” at all.
    I view them as learning opportunities.
    I’ve always done my best to never forget
    mistakes are an equally important part
    of the ongoing learning and growth process.

    Just remember practice makes perfect.

    Sooooo, my handsome scruffy grasshopper friend,
    Someday, when you are very old
    and your beard has become 100% grey
    and you have mastered making mistakes/having low points
    as I have, …
    you will even learn how to weaponize those seeming mistakes
    for the sweet revenge filled purpose of
    pissing off certain beloved friends, family
    and perhaps, if you are very lucky,
    some less beloved work colleagues/network execs,
    at just the exact right moment when needed
    with absolutely no trace of mal intent detected.

    Mah-Wah-Ha-Ha! 😀 😀 😀

    BTW Ya’ll: Cadet Hailey was portrayed by the beautiful, brilliantly talented,
    Elisabeth Rosen who was absolutely magnificent in this role!
    She nailed it with as much of same seeming natural ease as Mel Oneil did TWO in DM.
    I would have loved to have seen more SG episodes of her in this role. XO

  8. I like “Home”.

    Professional lowlight: Working on the VFX for the first Lord Of The Rings movie just before lunch one day everything stops working. The phone starts ringing off the hook and irate artists start beating down my office door. It turned out the file server that held all the artist’s application software had had several disks fail at the same time. Something that was supposed to be impossible. After a few hours trying to fix it I decided it was time to start restoring files from the backups. The VFX producer decided at that point to send all the artists home for the day. Several hours into the backup restore the service engineer from the storage company figured out that the hard disks hadn’t actually failed, a bug in the software had just marked them as bad. A few commands to reset the failed flags and the disks started working again! That was a stressful day.

  9. There are three Stargate SG1 episodes there that I have vowed to never watch again…I have 5 on my list btw

    I can understand your frustration with Fourth Horseman…

    I rather enjoyed “Home”..

    I love “Revisions” because…Chris Heyerdahl can do NO wrong ever in my eyes..<3

  10. Professional lowlights? Hmm, well, not my fault, but having to remain at the command 24/7 waiting for parts after a radioman jammed a power plug into an audio jack and fried the switchboard and several circuits was not exactly a highlight of my time in the military. We were overseas, not like we could run down to the local Radioshack. But could we go home for the weekend? Noooo. As if we had spare parts in the backroom we might remember at the last minute. Heaven forbid we should go home and feed our cats or sleep in a real bed. We had pagers, so were allowed to go eat at the Club A. Whoop.

    Or the time I had to stay at the command during a typhoon, sleeping on the floor, and drinking days old coffee because I was “essential”, then standing courtesy duty for Navy friendship day the next morning without even going home for a nap first. Fortunately I had a dress uniform in my locker. Everyone who had been off for three days at the typhoon party wasn’t expected to stand in the sun at a barricade and cheerfully direct our Japanese guests to the cherry blossom park.

    And then there was our storekeeper (supply clerk) who rented the apartment below me, having an affair with my married boss, a very loud affair which the tatami mats did not block in the slightest. She who was buddies with my immediate supervisor, both of whom decided I was a traitor when the Command MasterChief called me into his office to ask what I knew. Yeah, fuck that noise. I had to find a new place and was not promoted when I should have been because my evals got downgraded. My married boss had hit on me first, which really made the SK irate, perhaps moreso than the fact that I was perfectly happy to spill every detail I knew. Freaking soap opera, and that was the TLDR. There was an angry Japanese wife and a baseball bat, a female seaman who was pregnant, and many more gory details. Yikes.

  11. Hello everybody!
    Hmm none of these episodes were any of my personal favourites. I loved heroes and inauguration. I know that the latter was more of a repetition/summary, but I’m a fan of William Devane and I thought he played the role brilliantly.

    I haven’t been working that long, but when i finished my thesis in a start up company I had a boss who fired his employee by telling everybody in a team meeting, while the guy in question was on holiday totally clueless. He also lied in the name of his employees and gave me a bad evaluation after personally ensuring me he was very pleased with my work. This lowered the grade of my thesis, even though I finished it in 3 months instead of 6. Finishing early was necessary because he had fired the guy who was supposed to supervise and help me before I joyned the company and who was then about to leave. Luckily I got a job at one of the biggest european companies despite his lying, back stabbing and devaluating.
    It taught me that having a great boss and a good team is more important than the field you work in and the actualy work you do. Everything can be fun, if you work with good people.
    It also taught me that everything is a lesson and it’s true when they say, everything that doesn’t kill you makes you stronger (or wiser for that matter).

    Best wishes,

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