HOLLYWOOD -- 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 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 tonight with a two-hour movie on Showtime.
"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 [genre] was all about."
Besides, Anderson says, he was ready to journey back into the world of series TV.
"Enough time had passed [since 'Legend']," says 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."
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 has 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 soldier hostage. O'Neill and his new team go back to Abydos in search of Jackson.
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 "M*A*S*H" success, there have been several adaptation failures, including "Dirty Dancing" and "Down and Out in Beverly Hills."
"Both of us have kind of been [averse] 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. We also have people and aliens coming through the Stargate and coming to 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 that, "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."
On Friday, the series moves to its regular 10 p.m.-11 p.m. time slot on Showtime.
What: Series premiere
When: 8 p.m.-10 p.m. tonight
Star: Richard Dean Anderson
Pub Date: 7/27/97