'Stargate' stays open at Sci Fi

Network puts 'Universe' spinoff on 2009 launchpad

Sci Fi Channel isn't about to let down "Stargate" fans.

The network is set to announce the order of a new series from MGM Television, "Stargate: Universe," that will mark the third entry in Sci Fi's longest-running original series franchise.

The green light comes on the heels of Sci Fi's confirming Thursday that "Stargate: Atlantis" will not receive a sixth-season order. The "Universe" pickup ensures the continuation of the popular "Stargate" franchise, which has been on the air in various incarnations since 1997.

"Universe" will premiere as a two-hour movie early next year and will assume a regular hourly slot in the summer. Brad Wright and Robert Cooper, co-creators of "Stargate: SG-1" and "Atlantis," will serve as executive producers and writers on the new series.

The new show will involve more space-based action than "SG-1" or "Atlantis." With the "Star Trek" television franchise having folded in 2005 and Sci Fi's "Battlestar Galactica" airing its final episodes next year, the network hopes "Universe" will become sci-fi fans' new favorite space-travel series.

"We've had great success with 'Enterprise' repeats on Monday night, and there's an appetite for space opera as 'Battlestar' goes away," Sci Fi president Dave Howe said. "There's an opportunity to keep the space opera as part of our programming strategy."

"Universe" introduces a team of explorers who find an ancient unmanned ship called the Destiny. Unable to return to Earth, the crew must fend for themselves aboard the ship, which has a preprogramd mission taking them to the far reaches of the universe.

The series will employ a new cast of characters, with the network seeking a known performer for one lead role and fresh faces to play the rest of the ship's crew. Appearances by former cast members from "SG-1" and "Atlantis" are very possible.

Howe said the new series will reinvigorate the franchise by targeting a younger audience.

"This is an opportunity to reinvent this franchise and make it relevant to a new generation," Howe said. "We really don't want to be more of the same. It's going to build clearly off the existing franchise but with a cast that gives it a younger vibe."

Said co-creators Wright and Cooper: "In 'Universe,' we plan to keep those elements that have made the franchise a success, such as adventure and humor, while breaking new ground in the relationships between mostly young and desperate explorers, thrust together and far from home. Above all, we believe the Stargate itself remains an enduring icon with infinite potential as a jumping-off point for telling stories."

Also on Thursday, Sci Fi announced an order for a two-hour "Atlantis" movie in lieu of a sixth-season order. Airing two-hour movies of such franchises as "Stargate" and "Galactica" and quickly releasing the films as stand-alone DVDs has been a successful strategy for the network. But the news depressed "Stargate" fans that the long-running sci-fi television franchise, like "Star Trek" a few years back, was going to be retired as a weekly series.

"SG-1" ran for 10 seasons, launching on Showtime in 1997 then moving to Sci Fi after its fifth season. The spinoff "Atlantis" premiered in 2004 and will mark its 100th episode this year. Friday night airings of "Atlantis" have averaged more than 2 million viewers per episode.

Sci Fi has not yet made a decision which new project might serve as a companion for "Universe" next summer. The network has three pilots under consideration, including the terrestrial-bound "Battlestar Galactica" prequel "Caprica."