As legend has it, two men approached MGM President Jonathan Symes separately suggesting the Stargate property they had purchased would make a good television series. Those two men, Brad Wright and Jonathan Glassner, were brought together to bring Stargate SG-1 to the small screen.
Now Wright is about to kick off the third Stargate television spinoff with co-creator Robert C. Cooper. Though Glassner left the franchise over a decade ago, we felt it was high time to debunk some old rumors. What was the tone of his working relationship with Wright? Why did he leave the series when he did?
Jonathan tells us about conceiving the pilot, screening actors for the recurring roles, working thousands of miles from the place he called home, and reactions from the crew when he departed. He also updates us on his current projects!
GateWorld: I see from your IMDb you've been doing a lot of directing lately. Is this something that you've wanted to do since you first started in this industry?
Jonathan Glassner: I actually came out here [to Hollywood] to be a director. I went to Northwestern University. We had a director speak there, a pretty prominent TV director at the time. His name was Robert Wright, and he said, "If you want to be a director in television, the fastest way to get there is by writing."
Which made me sort of redirect myself towards writing, which I had not even thought of doing yet. And so I came out here and started writing and sold my first script actually to Alfred Hitchcock Presents a billion years ago. The new one, not the original one. [I'm] not that old. And kept working my way up until I finally got to a point where I could hire myself as a director which is what I did.
I started directing all the shows that I was running. And then when I came back -- left Stargate -- came back to LA, I went on CSI: Miami as a writer.
Glassner was originally brought to Vancouver to help develop The Outer Limits, which filmed at Bridge Studios before SG-1.
[I] was having a rough time of it. It wasn't really my cup of tea to write that show. So I told the show's editor that I wasn't going to come back for another season, and she said, "Why don't you direct one?" Because I had spent a lot of time actually in the editing room, working on other people's stuff.
So I did and they liked me, and the Bruckheimer people liked me, so I ended up doing a bunch of them. I kind of had a late career doing that as a freelance director.
GW: So, this has been your master plan?
JG: It was my master plan when I was in college. Now it's a matter of 'I'll do whatever I like doing.' The one thing I won't do is work on a show that I'm not enjoying. I don't need to do that anymore. I used to do that just to have a job, but ...
GW: Life is too short.
JG: Yeah. But I'll do it all. I'll write, direct, produce, whatever they need, whatever I think I'm appropriate for.
GW: Now, legend has it that you and Brad approached MGM separately. I think John Symes was president at the time.
GW: About doing a Stargate TV series. They put the two of you together to fashion the pilot. What was it about -- aside from the fact that a Stargate can go many other places -- what was it about the movie that you found so enchanting?
JG: You just said it. To me it never should have been a movie. It should have been a TV series in the first place. At least the way they conceived the movie. Because, why does the thing have that many symbols on it if it only goes one place? Why not just have the seven symbols?
JG: And you just dial them in the right order. And also, why only have it go between two places? Why not have it be all over the place? So, we started thinking about that and it just seemed like, "Wow, it's a way to sort of do Start Trek without the ship and do it today." Set it today instead of set in the future.
GW: Have you been a sci-fi fan for a long time?
JG: You know, I stumbled into sci-fi, to tell you the truth. I've always enjoyed it but I was not the kind of person who went to conventions and read everything that ever came out and that kind of thing. But I was hired a while back to write a pilot for a show called Island City. That was the only sci-fi I'd ever written and I wrote it and they made the pilot and they made a two hour movie out of it.
It never went to series but that script launched me into sci-fi. All of a sudden I was getting calls from Start Trek and I ended up going over and doing Outer Limits and just kind of kept doing sci-fi after that for quite a while.
GW: You eventually found your way to Vancouver.
JG: Yeah, I was a writer on Outer Limits and the first season ... The Outer Limits was, still is actually, probably the hardest show I ever worked on. It was a tough show to pull off week after week.
The casting for Daniel came down to a familiar and unfamiliar face. The final choice was Michael Shanks, the unknown.
GW: Why is that?
JG: Well, because basically every week is a pilot. It's all new sets, all new characters, all new scripts, new visual effects, new creature effects. I mean, if it were just a drama anthology it would be hard but a science fiction anthology with all the effects and the creatures and the mythology and the wardrobes. Sometimes the wardrobe has to be literally otherworldly wardrobe. It's hard to pull off week after week.
It was hard. And it didn't have a massive budget and we really wanted it to look like it did. So it was quite a challenge.
GW: But you guys pulled it off though. It's one of my favorite shows to this day.
JG: Well, thank you. When it first started though, it was having a really hard time and they ended up asking me and a guy named Manny Coto to move up to Vancouver to try to straighten it out with the idea that we were only going for a few months. And I ended up being there six years. That's how I ended up in Vancouver.
GW: Had Brad [Wright] not been in the equation for the original pilot, what sorts of differences do you think would there have ultimately been in this series? What in the beginning do you think you would have changed in the nucleus of the show?
JG: We were very simpatico. I mean, we both saw all the great things in the movie and all the problems in the movie. Problems in terms of making it into a series. Between us we each did our share in coming up with a solution. I think that we agreed pretty much on all of that. I can't think of anything we disagreed on.
Now, keep in mind, that was 12 years ago.
JG: was an exciting time so it's pretty well stuck in my head. I think the only disagreement we ever had was some of the things that he and later Robert [C. Cooper] decided to do after I was gone. But that's his prerogative, I wasn't there anymore, he can do what he wants.
GW: Tell us about creating "Children of the Gods." About creating this cast of characters and bringing in Richard Dean Anderson.
JG: Well, I wish I could take credit for Richard Dean Anderson but John Symes called Brad and I think he thought we were going to reject the idea because he gave us this long sort of preamble of, "Now I want you to really think about this before you answer this, but what do you think of, to play Jack ... Richard Dean Anderson?"
And we both looked at each other and immediately said, "Can you get him? It'd be great." [Laughter] Rick wanted to meet with us first and make sure that we were going to make the show that he would like to do and he wanted it to be much more comedic and less dure.
I mean his character in the movie was suicidal and he didn't want to do that for, you know, ten years -- or who knew if for even a year. So we were on the same page, we weren't going to do that anyway. There he was.
"[Brad and I] both saw all the great things in the movie and all the problems in the movie."
GW: And then Amanda Tapping, Chris Judge, Michael Shanks?
JG: There're interesting stories on all of them, actually, except for Michael. Michael, we pretty much knew right away when we saw him that he was the guy. It was just between him and another guy who we both had worked with a lot.
We didn't know Michael and we saw the other actor we had work with, who was a spectacular actor, so it became sort of a, "Do we take a chance on this guy? He seems like he's really good and he's got a great look."
We ended up going with [Michael]. With Amanda it was actually an interesting ... It was a bit of a battle. Brad and I were one hundred percent sure she was the person for the part. We loved her. The studio did not.
JG: They were interested in T&A. They wanted this other woman who was sort of the cliché hot woman who didn't come across as very bright and we said, "You don't understand, this woman is smarter than anybody in the show. She's a scientist. We got to believe this."
And we fought and they finally said, "We think you're wrong and we may make you make the change later but if you feel so strongly about it ..." So we did. To their credit they could have forced us into this right away. And she turned out to be great. She ended up sort of carrying the show, I thought, for a while when Rick left.
I think she's a great actress. She's beautiful too. It's not like she was an ugly woman. [Laughter] She just wasn't the type they were looking for.