Joe Mallozzi is the executive producer and a writer for the popular series “Stargate: Atlantis.” This Vancouver, British Columbia resident was also a prominent writer for Atlantis’ parent show, “Stargate: SG-1,” the longest running U.S. sci-fi program in television history. Mallozzi was one of the writer’s responsible for SG-1’s highly praised and fan-popular episode, “Window of Opportunity,” that famous tribute to “Groundhog Day,” set in the Gate-verse.
Right before the Christmas holiday our roving reporter Linda Craddock sat down with Joe and the two of them talked about the upcoming continuation of Season 4 of SGA and some of the things we can expect for Season 5. We hope you enjoy this end of year interview with one of Slice of SciFi’s favorite writers and producers, Joe Mallozzi.
Linda Craddock (SoSF): First let me congratulate you on Peoples Choice Awards Nomination
Joe Mallozzi (JM): Well thank you.
SoSF: And, the return of “Stargate Atlantis” for a Season 5.
JM: Yes, all good news.
SoSF: So how is the Screenwriters strike affecting “Stargate Atlantis”?
JM: Well, it’s not something we really want to go into to be honest we haven’t really discussed it. Carl is a WGA member and he’s on strike so we are impatiently waiting for it to be resolved. From day to day, it looks promising but to the other side it doesn’t look promising so as WGC members, we’re hoping this settles quickly.
SoSF: We have seen where some shows bow out gracefully while the run is still in good standings and not necessarily is canceled. Are you hoping SGA will run as long as SG-1?
JM: Well, for the people involved, I would love for Atlantis to go 10 seasons. I mean there’s no reason why it shouldn’t just from a creative standpoint, the talent, the expertise, and the people working in front and behind the camera. That said I don’t know if I’d want to be working on ‘Stargate Atlantis’ for ten years (chuckle). I’ve already worked 8 on just the ‘Stargate’ franchise in general and ‘Atlantis’ is a lot of fun, but at some point you want to move on to something new but right now that time has not come and we are looking forward to a 5th season but I don’t know if another 5 years of Stargate is in the cards for us. We’ll have to just play it by ear I guess.
SoSF: What aspect of Atlantis, do you think it will sustain a long run, gate travel to different worlds, more Wraith, and so forth?
JM: To me it’s always really come down to the characters and I think that the fans would agree. You tell interesting stories about characters that the audience could respond to and that was frankly the case with ‘SG-1’. We had a core of 4 very interesting characters. The core was somewhat shaken in the end but the characters always remained very interesting. As Paul and I sat down with the actors when we took over the show in season 4 and we said ok this is what we want to do, we want to focus on the characters and their relationships. We still wanted to continue to tell the fun stories we told in the first 3 seasons, but focus more on who these characters are and create maybe a little conflict there as well, maybe explore a relationship that we hadn’t explored in the past. This is all stuff we set out to do and our experience has been successful in Season 4 and what we’d like to continue to do in Season 5.
SoSF: Speaking of character development, which character do you think really shined this season and which one has changed the most?
JM: Well, second question first. I think Teyla for obvious reasons. The character is pregnant and I mentioned in other interviews we had originally set out to do a dark Teyla turn, the mystery of the missing Athosians kicks off, I guess sort of a decent for her character with more of an edge. We saw a bit of it in ‘Missing’, but ultimately wouldn’t be able to pursue because of the pregnancy and the fact that the pregnancy story took precedence, so that played through Season 4 with the missing Athosians and the mystery with what’s up with Teyla, then we find out in the back half, or the team finds out, she’s pregnant and they all react somewhat differently to the news and as the back half of the season progresses, this pregnancy actually dove tails into a couple of story lines. Teyla’s story and pregnancy take a bit of a dark turn at the end of Season 4, then ultimately have the baby and that will impact the character and is something for Season 5. So with reference to which character changes, she is definitely the character that changes the most in Season 4 and sorry the first half of the question was which character…
SoSF: Shines the most.
JM: Shines the most? You know at the beginning of Season 4 we really attempted to have a story for each character on the front half and allow them to take center stage at some point. In terms of shines, I don’t know if any one character outshines any other. In previous seasons we’ve always had a lot of heavy McKay stories, but we’ve tried to rectify that. He’s still front and center, but we’ve added a little back story for Sheppard in an episode like ‘Outcast’ which is in the back half of the season and he’s flying solo in an episode like ‘Travelers’. We’ve seen a bit of Ronon’s past in ‘Reunion’ so in terms of shining, I don’t think any one character out shines any other, although in the fact that she’s new, the inclusion of Samantha Carter on Atlantis in Season 4 certainly commanded a fair amount of attention, both on screen and off, obviously.
SoSF: There was an interview with Jason Momoa pursuing perhaps the dark side of Ronon, is that a plan for Season 5?
JM: Well, he came in and pitched the story where he had an idea, well, actually it came about because he was having trouble with his dreads and they were getting heavy and they were tearing out at the roots. He didn’t touch them and they would tear out of the scalp and he wanted to come up with an idea in line with ‘Apocalypse Now’, a dark side Ronon he suggested he’s furious at Sheppard, he thinks he’s abandoned him and the I.O.A. wouldn’t allow a rescue mission and he’s been captured by Michael. I like the idea of dark side Ronon, I mean I just like the idea of dark side characters in general, but the idea that Ronon would hold Sheppard responsible for not coming to his rescue in a timely manner was something that I thought was really not in character for Ronon. There is a story I’ve been wanting to do in the back half of the season, which is a Ronon story which essentially is the sequel to ‘Reunion’, just because the stories that needed telling in the back half of Season 4 and we never got around to making it, the sequel that I would like to do in Season 5 and it would afford us the opportunity to see a little of Ronon’s dark side so in response to that Jason will get the opportunity to go to the dark side whether he wants to loose the hair or not is the question for him.
When he pushed out the idea about cutting his hair we said “Well, that’s kind of problematic because we end on a cliff hanger and the Ronon we see at the end of Season 4 has got to be the same Ronon we see at the beginning of Season 5 and he can’t have gotten a hair cut.” So we discussed it and there’s a woman who actually does his hair in Vancouver and he said apparently they can cut off the dreads and if I keep the hair long enough, we can reattach the dreads and it will look exactly like before then a couple of episodes down the line, if we want to cut them off then we can do that. We talked to this woman and she said yes, it’s a laborious process that will take two full days to do which means he will be sitting in a chair for two days while she painstakingly reattaches the dreads and at that point I think he would reconsider cutting them off. If he’s going to sit in a chair for two days he might not be so quick to want to cut them off. But we’ll see. That’s a story for Season 5 that we have to sit down and talk to Jason about and whether he wants to loose the hair or not. It will be interesting to see how the fans react because they are so used to seeing him with dreads.
SoSF: We make the comparison, well, not exactly a comparison, but we know that SGA is a spin off from SG-1 and there are a lot of similarities. How do you as a writer face the challenge of retelling the same kind of story for a different show and what do you look for to make SGA unique?
JM: Well, again, it always comes back to the characters. There will always be people who point out there is something similar to something you did on SG-1, or this story is very similar to something that was on ‘Star Trek’. The fact that we did over 200 episodes of SG-1 and God knows how many episodes they did of ‘Star Trek’, it’s very hard not to do something that’s already been done. The key is and, I’ve thought of this example before, is not so much to point and say “oh, this is similar” but worry less about the similarities and concentrate more on what makes this story unique to our character and the example I gave is one of our first scripts, a ‘Window of Opportunity’, when we first came on with Stargate. We pitched out a story that was actually very dark, very unlike the ‘Window of Opportunity’ that we saw as a finished episode. Robert gave us notes that said “no, no, you guys need to be more of this, do this, and wanted to be more comedic” and, I said “this is just ‘Groundhog Day'”, and he goes — “exactly” — and at the time I said why would you want to do ‘Groundhog Day’? — and, yet in writing the script, you realize yes it is the same basic premise as ‘Groundhog Day’ but what makes it so much fun is the fact that it’s our characters, O’Neill and Teal’c caught in a loop and you’ve got them juggling and trying to learn the science. The two characters who in most episodes do not save the day by using let’s say science, had to actually learn the science to save the day in this case and that what was fun about that episode and the fans agreed and it turned out to be one of the top ten episodes of SG-1. So, in answer to your question, again it always comes down to the characters which is what makes the story special to them and if you can, whenever possible, obviously find a way to reveal a bit about the character within the body of the best stories.
SoSF: The 100th episode will, of course, arrive at the end of Season 5. Do you have anything in mind and will you do something like the 200th for SG-1, the tribute to the fans.
JM: No, the 200th fell right in the middle of the season. It was momentous that it was the 200th episode, but we could afford to be comedic. Atlantis’ 100th episode is essentially the season finale so we have some serious idea in mind and it won’t be a comic episode. Fans have asked if it will be comedy but no doubt there will be flashes of humor as in most episodes but no we’re not planning a comedic episode.
SoSF: Well, you mentioned a lot of character development, obviously with the filming of a new Season 5 coming up in a couple of months, how much of Season 4 will you pursue as a continuation of the existing story arc and what challenges are imminent?
JM: We ended Season 4 on a cliff hanger and didn’t know if it would be picked up or not, but it was a decision we made very early on that we would end it on a cliff hanger and if need be continue potentially with a movie, but we got the 5th season pick up so that’s great. I can’t really get into details simply because the back half of Season 4 has not played out and a fair amount of the development of Season 4 will carry into the beginning of Season 5. I sort of left off with a hint of the premiere and the title is ‘Search and Rescue’. Who exactly is doing the searching and who is in need of rescuing is a question for another time, probably later this season, once the rest of Season 4 airs. There definitely will be carry over in terms of certain relationships, character and big story arcs.
SoSF: I know it’s early but do you have any plans that you know of for any reprisal appearances for guest stars or prior regular cast members for the new season?
JM: It’s still up in the air and hopefully we’ll have an announcement in a week or so but, again, I can’t give away too [much] because the back half of Season 4 hasn’t aired yet, and the back half of Season 4 will reveal the fate of some of our recurring characters so not much in terms of details for guest cast.
SoSF: In the 1st half Season 4 finale, we see the further development of a division in ranks among the Replicators as we have with the Wraith, the conflict. How will duplicating the team with nanites affect future episodes or character arcs?
JM: Again, I can’t really reveal too much about that, again simply because it may spoil an up coming episode. So I guess by not commenting I have commented (laughter).
SoSF: Every fan of SGA wants to know if you guys plan to further develop the relationship between Sheppard and Teyla beyond [a platonic] friendship?
JM: I can answer that one directly. There are no plans to pursue either a Teyla/Sheppard or a Teyla/Ronon romantic relationship. We find that very early on that the father of Teyla’s baby is neither of them. Teyla will be attached, shall we say.
SoSF: Oh, ok.
JM: Yeah, sorry about that.
SoSF: We know in ‘Missing’ she makes mention of a new beau but we also know from the prior three seasons there’s been this teasing between Sheppard and Teyla.
JM: True. I would say for the time being, she will be attached at least for Season 4, but obviously her beau is in absentia. One thing the fans might be interested in seeing or read into it… what they will… what is Sheppard’s reaction to the news she’s pregnant?
SoSF: You mentioned that this season was one of the best that you and the writers have had to devote your time and energy to Stargate Atlantis. Are you pleased with the response from the fans and viewers for Season 4, or was there something that surprised you?
JM: No, not really surprised. The fans sort of went in with an open mind and looking forward to the show or were even uncertain about the show but decided to tune in and check it out. For the most part we’re very happy. One of the things they did mention is the character development. They really appreciated it, which is what we set out to do. Obviously there are fans that are unhappy with the fact that [Dr.] Beckett was killed off at the end of Season 3 and a lot of Weir fans were unhappy with the fact that Carter is on the show and will not be happy. Fans of Carter, who maybe liked her in SG-1 who don’t want her on Stargate Atlantis, and there are fans who resent [Dr.] Keller’s presence in place of Beckett. All that has obviously soured certain fans towards [the show] and when certain fans are unhappy they will be very vocal. At the end of the day you write a show that in your mind and in the minds of some of the writers, the best show that tells the best stories and I’ve always said that at the end of the day we could just basically start from scratch at the beginning of every episode you know, just have the team go off world and come back and there’s no growth in their relationships, no growth in the story arcs and in the long run it doesn’t make for very interesting stories as a whole just because there’s no progress within the characters themselves and there’s no progress within the relationships, no progress in terms of the big picture. So change happens and they may disagree with some of the changes and frankly, we’re seven writers when you factor in Brad and Robert who are not as hands on with Atlantis but will occasionally sit in on story sessions, read scripts and outlines. I, Martin Gero and Carl Binder and Alan McCullough all pitch in ideas. We help fashion scripts and story arcs and even at the end of the day we might not agree on some of the creative decisions made but overall we are pleased with the progress we’ve created, in Season 4 in particular.
SoSF: Here is a subject I am particularly interested in, new visual effects or any additional changes in the physical aspect of the show for Season 5?
JM: We haven’t really looked at any real physical changes. You’ll see in the ‘Be All My Sins Remember’d’ [episode], I think one of the best visual effects sequence we’ve done on the show. I love that space jump in ‘Adrift’ where Zelanka and Sheppard kind of leap over the chasms. In this case ‘Be All My Sins Remember’d’ , and that’s all Mark Savela and his team, and they did a fantastic job in Season 4. You kind of worry after seeing Season 4, how we’re going to top that in Season 5 but I’m sure he’ll find a way. I think every year the looks for the visual effects have improved so we expect to see that improvement again in Season 5. It will be interesting to see the fan reaction to ‘Be All My Sins Remember’d ‘ when we come back, I think in early January. This is one of the shortest layovers for the show in terms of the mid season break. We were only off for like 2 or 3 weeks which is great, maybe like a month.
SoSF: Is that because you premiered in September versus…?
JM: …on the one hand, it’s good for the fans in that it gives them that uninterrupted flow for the show’s 4th season. Arguably you could say it’s not as great for us to be going up against the network shows because during the summer the better the numbers just in terms of whom you’re up against. In terms of the time slot, I think we’ve done very well with the 10:00 p.m. Friday night time slot in the fall when you factor in DVR and such and the bleed-off viewers across the board and I think Atlantis is one of the top ten shows downloaded or certainly one of the top 10 DVR shows on television. For the ratings it becomes trickier and trickier and more confusing the gage but once we see the bottom line numbers, we’re actually heartened by them.
SoSF: What sets Atlantis apart from SG-1 obviously is the Wraith. In Season 3 you steered away from them and this season you are actually making them allies with Atlantis. Will you refocus on the Wraith in Season 5?
JM: Yes! The Wraith will always be a presence and a threat. In Season 3 we attempted to not necessarily shift focus but to introduce another villain in the form of the Replicators. One of the things I always like about villains is personality and I mentioned Lord Yu and Ba’al [from SG-1]. The system lords were always great to work with as individuals but I’ve always had kind of a problem working with the Ori as a threat, kind of a nebulous entity so we introduced Adria who had a bit of a personality, which I liked and it was kind of the same thing with the Wraith. They were left without any real identity and what we tried to do in Season 4 is inject a little personality into the Wraith by creating this individual who shall become to be known as Todd, who not necessarily befriends us, but becomes an unlikely ally simply because this individual becoming an ally doesn’t make the Wraith as a whole, allies. Thrown together by circumstances because we figured in the Wraith/Replicator War and it worked great for us in the beginning especially in the ranks of the Wraith and in the end, it ended up working a little too well, as they [the Replicators] ended up getting the upper hand by targeting their [the Wraith’s] food supply — human worlds, and then we had to realize holy crap!, we have to help the Wraith out or the Replicators are going to exterminate both human and Wraith alike. That puts in the scenario we find ourselves in the ‘Be All My Sins Remember’d ‘. As we get into Season 4, the back half we will refocus a little more on the Wraith into Season 5.
Michael is still a threat out there and we haven’t heard from him in Season 4 — yet. He’s another character we like with personality and Connor is terrific. He’s a character that will probably be back and is always nice to have, the big baddie which will always be the Wraith but it’s also nice to have these sort of rouge elements like Michael, like this Todd character who you don’t know what to expect from them.
SoSF: When do you guys begin shooting Season 5, if I may ask?
JM: Late February.
SoSF: With the Season 5 premiere, are you going to follow the September schedule or is that going to be SCI FI Channel’s decision,… not sure how that works.
JM: SCI FI Channel’s decision. Whatever they decide, like I said I think the long layover hurt us a bit, the mid-season break between the front half of Season 3 and the back half of Season 3, then the long wait for Season 4 to begin but we’re back at it whether they want to put us on in September or even earlier, we’ll be ready to go.
SoSF: Joe we appreciate you taking the time for this interview.
JM: Hey no problem.
SoSF: We are looking forward to the second half of Season 4 this January.
JM: Great, when we’re further into Season 5 production we can talk again.
SoSF: That sounds great and you have a happy holiday.
JM: Thanks and have a Happy New Year Linda.