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Stargate SG-1 Cast Interviews: Michael Shanks

Star Gazing
Greg David, TV Guide Canada, Oct 04


It sounds like a mission in failure: create a TV show about a group of military officers and scientists who step into a mammoth spinning ring and travel to different parts of the galaxy.

Who believes this stuff, anyway?

Turns out, a whopping number around the world. Now in its eighth season, Stargate SG-1 is the longest running sci-fi series save The X-Files, and has made mincemeat out of the once-powerful Star Trek franchise.

If you ask star Michael Shanks, who plays archaeologist Daniel Jackson, if he is proud Stargate SG-1 has unseated Star Trek as THE sci-fi show to watch, he is of course diplomatic; he doesn't want to anger any remaining Enterprise Fans.

"I wouldn't be so bold as to say that we've trumped Star Trek. That's a 40-odd-year-old franchise, and I grew up watching the original Star Trek on television," he says from the Vancouver set, where the show is wrapping Season 8.

"I think right now we're certainly the hotter of the shows, with the original Stargate in syndication, the spinoff [Stargate Atlantis] and Enterprise getting all the flak that it's been getting... we seem to be at the pinnacle of excitement. But I think we've got a long way to go before we hit their success level.

Based on the hit 1994 film Stargate, which starred Kurt Russell and James Spader as Col. Jack O'Neil and Dr. Daniel Jackson as the heroes, the characters were recast with Richard Dean Anderson (MacGyver) and Shanks as leads.

It's as American as apple pie: every week, the SG-1 commando team undertakes dangerous missions in faraway places and blows up stuff real good.

Airing on Citytv, Space and CH in Canada (and the Sci-Fi Channel in the U.S.), the series bristles with special effects, the most obvious being the magical, mythical hoop that transports heroes O'Neil, Jackson, Major Samantha Carter (Amanda Tapping) and bald alien Teal'c (Christopher Judge) to strange new worlds.

And the viewers have been tuning in. While other sci-fi shows (hello, Enterprise?) have been struggling mightily, SG-1 has sustained itself. Vancouver native Shanks thinks it's for a couple of reasons.

"We've had this quiet success in Europe and the U.S., just doing well enough not to get canned and not too good to get that X-Files-type hype where we go on for so long that people start talking about how we've lost our edge and all those other criticisms that come with it.

"We're also not pressured in that network sense like Enterprise is, where you don't get the ratings for a couple of weeks in a row and the network wants to change it up and start to dictate story lines. We're able to do our own thing and it's earned us a snowballing audience."

Co-star Richard Dean Anderson is more blunt about why SG-1 succeeds.

"You can only fool an audience for a few minutes with special effects," he has said. "It's the stories that make them stick around."

Anderson is right. The original movie and TV pilot exploited the fact that aliens had arrived on Earth and interacted with the ancient Egyptians, a cool futuristic twist on human history. Shanks says that's what fans can relate to.

"We get to take the archaeological mysteries and the mythos of our past and relate them to science fiction," he says with enthusiasm. "We get to attach them to this whole other storyline. We're tapping into an audience's notion of the pyramids, all things we don't have the right answers to or clear answers to, and we can speculate and weave stories out of that."

And those tales feature characters who live in our time, not some planet a gajillion light years away in another future. Sure, they travel to other galaxies, but their base is still good ol' Earth.

The team is stuck using today's technology - indeed in a lot of cases they are hemmed in by it - and use modern speech patterns.

"It gives us a chance to use pop culture references and sarcasm to fight some situations," Shanks interjects. "It keeps the science fiction from being too pretentious."

Says series co-creator Brad Wright: "The Stargate itself is a magical thing, but the show isn't about some futuristic society. It's about people who are pretty similar to the people watching."

2004, TV Guide Canada.

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