Richard Dean Anderson has never been a science-fiction buff.
"I'm not a 'Star Trek' fan except for being a friend of Jonathan Frakes," quips the former star of the long-running ABC action series, "MacGyver," and the 1995 UPN western, "Legend."
So how is it that Anderson is up to his neck in aliens in Showtime's new sci-fi series "Stargate SG-1"? The program, based on the 1994 hit film, which starred Kurt Russell and James Spader, kicks off Sunday with a two-hour movie.
"When this became available as a viable possibility for me to involve myself with," Anderson says, "I had to say to myself, 'You always thought of yourself as an adventurer. Someone who takes chances. You certainly have got the broken bones to prove it.' I would be a hypocrite not to, at least, try and see what the science-fiction venue was all about."
Besides, Anderson says, he was ready to journey back into the world of series TV.
"Enough time had passed [since "Legend"]," offers Anderson, 47. "I had done a couple of TV movies, and 'Pandora's Clock' was, of course, a big commercial success. I love to work. I love the machinery of series work. It's at least a nine-month gig to which you get a rhythm and you can be creative. I like the aspect of it."
John Symes, president of MGM Worldwide Television, approached Anderson about starring in "Stargate SG-1."
"He used to be one of my bosses over at Paramount with 'MacGyver,' " Anderson says. "He called and said, 'I want you to do this.' He sent me the movie and I took a look at it and saw the potential for its success as a series."
In "Stargate SG-1," Anderson assumes the Kurt Russell role of Air Force Col. Jack O'Neill, who led the first U.S. military mission through the Stargate to another planet. When the series opens, a year has passed since O'Neill returned from the remote planet of Abydos, leaving scientist Daniel Jackson (Michael Shanks) behind. The portal has been closed and O'Neill is retired.
But the officer is called back into service after guards are attacked by snake-helmeted aliens who suddenly bolt through the Stargate and take a female soldier hostage. O'Neill and his new team go back to Abydos in search of Jackson. They are helped by a resident named Teal'c (Christopher Judge), who later becomes a permanent member of O'Neill's team.
The series--which has a two-year, 44-episode commitment from Showtime--will air in syndication next year.
Executive producers Jonathan Glassner and Brad Wright, who previously worked on Showtime's popular sci-fi anthology "The Outer Limits," both were keenly aware of the pitfalls of turning a popular movie into a series. For every "MASH" success, there have been numerous adaptation failures such as "Dirty Dancing" and "Down and Out in Beverly Hills."
"Both of us have kind of been adverse to doing a TV series based on a movie," Glassner says. "I have turned down a few series based on that. Most movies are one story and the end, and there is no point going on with it."
"Stargate," Glassner says, was different. "When I saw 'Stargate,' I said, 'This should be a TV series.' It is like a great pilot for a TV series because it is, by definition, episodic in nature. The Stargate has 39 symbols on it and it takes seven symbols to go to the planet they go to in the movie. Why are there other symbols if they don't go someplace else?"
In the series, the Stargate team will explore new worlds, Glassner says, and quite often will "stumble into things that they have no business stuck in the middle of, and they have to find a way out. They have to find a way to solve the people's problems they are stuck with. We also have people and aliens coming through the Stargate and coming to Earth. Some of the episodes are set on Earth."
Anderson's O'Neill is less intense and severe than Russell's character. Anderson says when he met with MGM and "everyone else involved" in the series, he informed them "if they wanted me to be part of it, they were going to have to buy into allowing me to bring my sense of humor, my sensibilities and my sense of irreverence and play to the character. A 44-episode minimum is way too long a time to be as stoic and as hard, edgy and all of those other things Kurt was."
A series, Anderson explains, shouldn't have a lead character who is a "perpetual downer. I have a sense of humor that I want to sneak in here a little bit. They were amenable to it. They cut around a lot of my stuff, which is sometimes born out of some improvisations. So far, the blend has been OK."
The producers say there's already a buzz about the series on the Internet. "There are all of these unofficial Web sites that popped up," Glassner says. "They even have names of some of the episodes and story lines which we don't know how they got."
Glassner and Wright say the proliferation of sci-fi series and movies has to deal with the impending millennium. "I think that people are starting to think about what is going to happen," Glassner says. "What the future is going to be like. Is there something out there? These shows explore that wonderment."
"Stargate SG-1" premieres Sunday at 8 p.m. on Showtime. On Aug. 1, the series moves to its regular time slot, Fridays at 10 p.m.