Joe Mallozzi is an experienced writer, producer and showrunner notable for his many contributions to the world of science fiction in television shows such as “Stargate: SG-1,” “Stargate: Atlantis,” “Stargate: Universe,” and “Dark Matter.”
Welcome! Before we begin, could you tell us how first got involved in the entertainment industry?
I used to write as a kid – short stories of the scifi variety heavily influenced by the authors I read growing up: Bradbury, Clarke, Asimov. I attempted my first SF novel in fourth grade, an action-heavy space opera written on single-spaced loose leaf then lovingly bound together with staples and scotch tape.
Throughout high school, when asked, I’d tell people I wanted to be a writer – to which my mother would helpfully point out that no one makes a living as a writer (somewhat true). Instead, I should aspire to be, say, a lawyer or a journalist and write on the side.
Ultimately, I didn’t take her advice and continued writing, prose fiction, then trying my hand at scripts.
From there, I worked my way up the animation ranks – writing, story-editing, developing – then made the leap to live-action: first teen sitcoms (Student Bodies), then action-adventure, and, ultimately, my then writing partner and I (Paul Mullie) landed on “Stargate” at the start of SG-1’s fourth season.
Which part of the process do you enjoy most (development, production, post, etc.) — and why? Did you miss pure writing endeavors when you became more involved in management?
Hmmmm. To be honest, a better question would be “which part of the process do you hate the least”?
Generating ideas can be tough, fleshing them out even tougher, pitching tougher still.
And don’t get me started on the writing, rewriting, producing, and post-production.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s an enormous satisfaction once all is said and done, but getting there can be a challenge.
What kind of writer-actor interaction was there on the different series of “Stargate”? How is the chemistry different behind the scenes when a showrunner encourages this kind of synergy?
It doesn’t so much differ from show to show as it does from actor to actor.
Anthony Lemke would often swing by my office to discuss his character or to pitch ideas. I loved the fact that they felt comfortable enough to do so.
Conversely, there were actors on the show who never swung by the office or texted to discuss the script, their character. It ultimately came down to their process.
On “Stargate,” my door was always open.
Bob Picardo and Beau Bridges, I recall, would always swing by my office to ask if they could tweak dialogue. Often the changes were so tiny that I’d tell them, “Hey, it’s not necessary for you to come by and ask me if you can make such a small change.”
But they’d worked on shows where even the tiniest line, changing a “the” to an “an” required major consultations with the producer.
Even though I told them it wasn’t necessary, I greatly appreciated the fact that they did make the effort to clear everything.
Jason Momoa was another great example of an actor who would come by the office to talk about his character and, occasionally, request a specific type of story. One of these discussions resulted in the episode “Reunion.”
Another is its sequel, “Broken Ties”, in which Jason delivered what I felt was his series-best performance.
What were some of the frustrations behind the scenes as you tried to simultaneously plan future “Stargate Atlantis” episodes or movies and understand what was happening with the renewal process? When things began to get a bit chaotic, did you have challenges trying to communicate with the studio and fans at the same time? Looking back, would you change anything about how you handled the situation?
It wasn’t chaotic at all. In fact, just the opposite. Without word of a renewal, we just moved forward, business as usual.
On “SG-1,” we assumed every season would be the last so the renewals were always a surprise.
In the case of “Atlantis,” we always operated under the assumption that we would go at least the full five.
As we were wrapping up the show’s fifth season, Executive Producer Robert Cooper suggested we extend production so that we could shoot an extra two hour long episode that could act as the season 6 two-part opener if we were picked up, or a standalone movie if we didn’t.
Ultimately, the studio never got back to us.
We had the script (“Stargate: Extinction“) written and ready to shoot, but the opportunity to shoot it on the heels of “Atlantis’s” fifth season came and went, and then the opportunity to shoot it as a standalone movie also went away.
If I could go back and change anything, I think it would be in my pursuit of the green light for that extra double hour. Instead of waiting for a decision, I should have been all over them.
I’m not saying the result would have been any different, but I’d least I’d have the peace of mind knowing I did everything I could to try and make it happen.
You have worked as a writer, a producer, even a showrunner. For those not familiar with the entertainment industry, what is the difference between being a showrunner (“Dark Matter”) and an Executive Producer (“Stargate”)?
All showrunners are Executive Producers, but not all Executive Producers are showrunners.
“Stargate” was very unique in that the entire writers’ room was made up of defacto showrunners, writer/producers who would write their own episodes and then see them through prep, production, and post.
As a showrunner, you oversee all aspects of a production, dealing with everything from creative to brass tack productions issues like budgets and scheduling, then taking point on dealing with the studio and network.
“Stargate” initially appeared on Showtime, but Brad Wright was insistent the show not include nudity or swearing — something appreciated by Mormons in Utah who love family-friendly programming. Why is this important for the “Stargate” brand? Do you find this approach to be restrictive or liberating? Somewhere in-between?
In no way was it restrictive.
I strongly believe that the enduring appeal of the “Stargate” franchise rests with the fact that it was accessible to fans of all ages.
I still receive emails and messages from fans telling me how they grew up watching “SG-1” and “Atlantis” with their family.
So much scifi nowadays is dark.
“Stargate” was always character-driven with that underlying sense of humor, a family show in the sense that this sense of family was at the core of each series whether it was “SG-1,” the Atlantis Expedition, or the crew of the Destiny.
Have you ever written an episode that was the product of writer’s block you never quite managed to break through? If so, did the episode seem better or worse than you feared when looking back on it?
Every episode is the product of writer’s block to a certain degree, but the fact that you’re able to type FADE OUT and deliver that script speaks to one’s ability to vanquish writer’s block.
Those who don’t manage to break through simply don’t deliver. Some way or other, you just manage to find a way to get it done.
I remember writing the outline for “Ripple Effect” back in the day and not having a solution for how our SG-1 team turns the table on their alt. counterparts.
I had no game plan going in but when I got to the scene in question, the solution presented itself in the writing.
And, looking back, I thought it was a pretty good one.
Most recently, on “Dark Matter’s” final season, I went in knowing I wanted to write a time loop episode. We spun our wheels in the writers room, unable to come up with an outline.
When it came time to write it, I simply sat down and started typing – and practically wrote the entire script in a day. It turned out to be a fan favorite.
Yes, writer’s block can be very frustrating – sad and all – but when you’re in production, you find a way to get in done.
In doing research for your interview, I was impressed to see how actively you engage with fans. What do “Stargate” and “Dark Matter” fans mean to you?
I have a ton of respect for the fan community because I share their passion for things scifi – and sundry geek things.
I understand what it feels like to create with these fictional characters onscreen or on the page, how it’s easy to become protective of them. I realize how a show or a series can become like a home away from home, a ship’s crew or off-world team like a second family.
I love the fact I’ve been able to make my living on the other side as well, having a role in bringing these worlds, characters, and stories to life for viewers at home.
And that’s why I can empathize with them when a favorite series is cancelled.
I realize that, for many of them, it’s not just a t.v. show, it’s an opportunity to check in with friends in a way. I get it.
Tell us about the “Stargate” marketing campaign you have coming up in March? What is it, when does it take place, how do people get involved, and what kind of results are you hoping for?
Well I know that MGM is considering launching a fourth Stargate series. At this point, it’s just a matter of when.
And, as I keep pointing out, there are three ways to go:
1. Reboot – which essentially wipes the slate clean on 17 years of “Stargate” t.v. history – and risk enraging longtime loyal fans,
2. A continuation – which would be great for longtime fans but be of little interest to new viewers, or
3. The Best of Both Worlds – a series that is set in the existing “Stargate” universe but offers a perfect entry point for new viewers.
And, if it’s going to be #3 (which it really should be), I can’t think of two better writer-producers at the helm than Brad Wright and Robert Cooper who are responsible for fashioning those 17 years of “Stargate” t.v. history I mentioned.
Why should there be a fourth in-canon iteration of “Stargate”? Why is now the perfect time for a new sci-fi show?
It would seem that most of the scifi out there is dark, grim, devoid of hope. There’s a lot of money spent on visual effects but, it would seem, very little time spent on developing relatable characters.
Executives are tripping over each other to grab the film & television rights to novels or comic books and figure that, once they’ve done so, the hard part of the job is over and the rest will work itself out.
I look back at shows like “Stargate” – but also “Farscape,” “Firefly,” “Dark Matter” – shows that still command a loyal fanbase because they offered hope, humor, and a sense of belonging.
It seems as though there’s a disconnect between what fans want and what executives think fans want.
As a longtime fan, I can tell you what fans want: a fourth in-canon “Stargate” series written by Brad Wright and Robert Cooper.
You are somewhat famous for how much you enjoy time travel episodes. If you could go back in time and change anything about your “Stargate” career, what would you change and why? (Bonus points for detailing your method of time travel.)
I would, of course, use “Dark Matter’s” Blink Drive to go warn The Powers That Be of the foolishness in cancelling Stargates “SG-1,” “Atlantis,” and “Universe.”
Then, I would skip ahead to today and head back to work on the SciFi Friday Block:
“Stargate: Universe” season 10,
“Stargate: Atlantis” season 15, and
“Stargate: SG-1” season 22.
Selected quotes from this interview were used in a March 5, 2018 article in the Deseret News.