To celebrate the return of The X-Files, The Hollywood Reporter gathered Chris Carter, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson together along with a couple of the writers and several of the higher-ups at Fox who were responsible for putting the show on the air in the first place.
Here are 11 things I learned from the resulting oral history:
1) Fox Expected Chris Carter to Pitch Them a Family or Teenage soap, Not a Sci-fi Procedural
CHRIS CARTER (creator) I was hired by Peter Roth to develop TV shows when he moved to 20th. We were both interested in something in the vein of [the 1974 cult series] Kolchak: The Night Stalker, and I already had an idea. It was partly inspired by the shows of my youth, The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery, but I had recently come upon a scientific survey done by Dr. John Mack. It said that 10 percent of Americans believed they had contact with, been abducted by or believed in extraterrestrials.
BOB GREENBLATT (former executive vp primetime programming, Fox) We had a blind deal with Chris. We thought he was going to pitch a family or teenage soap, so we were surprised when he brought us high-concept science fiction. We were reluctant to develop it because we didn’t have any other drama like it and weren’t in the market for sci-fi.
2) Fox Ultimatately Went For It Because They Needed a Procedural
SANDY GRUSHOW (former president, Fox Entertainment Group) Shortly after [Chris’] pitch was bought, Peter Chernin left to replace Joe Roth on the feature film side. My mandate was to make really good shows that spoke to a younger demographic that had been largely disenfranchised by the Big Three. I was looking for whatever the Fox version of a procedural could be — a cop show or a medical show with Fox topspin. The X-Files fit that bill.
3) Duchovny Got Over His Elitism Because He Needed to Pay Rent
DAVID DUCHOVNY (Fox Mulder) In 1993, there was an elitist division between movie actors and TV actors. And because I was an elitist and thought myself an artist, I was going to do movies. But my manager [Melanie Greene], bless her, said she had a feeling about The X-Files — and that I needed to pay rent.
4) The Pilot Casting Director Had Very Interesting Messages for the Two Leads
ANDERSON [The day I auditioned with Duchovny] I was secretly told that I got the job the by Randy. He had been holding out for me and naughtily told me before I left. Female characters like that didn’t exist back then on television.
DUCHOVNY I had conflicting feelings signing away what I thought would be three to five years of my life to a show about aliens on a network that had kind of crappy programming. But [pilot casting director] Randy Stone, who’s since passed, said, “I know you have a lot of opportunities.” I didn’t. “I’ve only told this to one other actor, one other time — but if you do this show, you’ll never have to work again.” He was talking about Woody Harrelson for Cheers.
5) The Pilot Was Picked Up Because of Anderson and Duchovny’s Chemistry
BOB GREENBLATT There were no cool, dark cable shows at the time because there were no cool, dark cable networks. The ending of the pilot is very ambiguous about whether or not these kids were abducted by aliens, so [it] was somewhat troubling to people. The show was far from a slam dunk to getting picked up, [but] the chemistry between Gillian and David was a big selling point.
GRUSHOW I loved the rough cut of the pilot. We ordered 13 episodes and scheduled it on Friday nights at 9.
6) The Composer’s Wife Helped Him Perfect the Theme Song
MARK SNOW (composer) Chris kept saying he didn’t want a complicated production number [for the theme]. After several tries, I put my elbow haphazardly on the keyboard. That created that repeated echo effect. Once I got to the melody, my studio — and by that I mean my garage door — was open. My wife walked by and said, “Maybe it needs a little more realism in the whistle.” So I combined her whistle and the sample. Chris liked it. He might have loved it, but he’s a man who doesn’t jump up and down for anything at first.
7) Fox Was More Interested In Promoting Another New Show Airing on the Same Night
GRUSHOW We really focused our promotional efforts on the 8 p.m. show, The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., which coincidentally was co-created by Carlton Cuse. Back then, if you didn’t get your night started successfully at 8, you were dead at 9. About 12 million people showed up to the premiere of The X-Files. That was so-so, but I immediately felt like it had a heartbeat.
DANIELLE GELBER (former director of drama development, Fox) It was buried on Fridays, but the audience kept growing and people really keyed into the whole Mulder-Scully dynamic — which, for once, was refreshingly not about, “Will they or won’t they?”
8) The Internet Impacted the Show As Early As Its First Season
JIM WONG (writer) This was the early days of the Internet. I would go into chat rooms and talk to fans. There weren’t really trolls back then, but everyone felt like Scully was being a dick. She didn’t believe in anything. We originally wanted to hold off on Scully having a mind-changing experience until the end of the first season — but because of that response, Glen [Morgan] and I wrote an episode that flipped the Mulder and Scully dynamic much earlier.
9) Duchovny’s Exit Wasn’t Just About Boredom; He’d Actually Sued Fox For Undervaluing the Show In Its Syndication Deals
GRUSHOW Not only was the studio producing The X-Files for the network, syndication rights went to FX on cable. It was doing extraordinarily well on DVD and internationally. Chris had a good sense of the value to the corporation, so it wasn’t always easy to reel him in. And, to be fair to him, there was an extraordinary amount of pressure to keep topping himself.
CARTER David had a lawsuit with 20th Century Fox, and when that was over and resolved, one of the stipulations was that he would leave the show for a time.
GRUSHOW There weren’t a lot of things that kept me up at night, but two I remember was after the day Chuck Rosen, who was running 90210 at the time, told me “Luke Perry has hair growing out of his ears. These kids have got to graduate high school.” The second was The X-Files, when one of our two leads decided to call it a day.
DUCHOVNY It’s hard for me to remember exactly how uncomfortable it was on set. The lawsuit was just the business part of show business. But I remember asking Chris and Gillian, “Shouldn’t we go out on top?” I wanted to try something else.
ANDERSON It was complicated, because I didn’t necessarily want to go on. But Fox made a deal that I couldn’t say no to. I was kind of over the barrel at the time.
10) The Show’s Return Is Partly Because of Comic-Con
DANA WALDEN (former senior vp publicity, current co-president) This was shortly after a Comic-Con panel for the 20th anniversary. It was so apparent that there’s still such an appetite for the show. We talked very briefly about if it would be possible to mount an event series.
GARY NEWMAN (former vp business affairs, current co-president) The show left a very specific hole. When Dana and I got to the network, it was very much on our minds.
DANA WALDEN We felt pretty committed to the fact that it would have to be the three of them. And Chris wanted to get the right writers room.
G. MORGAN (writer) He said he wanted to put the band back together — Frank, Vince, Howard, Darin and Jim. [Director-producer] Kim Manners has sadly passed away. We ended up with six episodes and only four of us because most of the guys are busy making great TV.
11) As Far As Chris Carter Is Concerned, This New Series Is a New Beginning, Not a New Ending
CARTER Someone close to the show said to me, “Isn’t this great to do a victory lap?” That’s the last thing I’m looking at the show as. The writers came to do fresh, original material. It’s perfect timing to tell a great X-Files story.
DUCHOVNY Everybody is trying to breathe life into comic book material that was never popular in the first place. Fox has this property that doesn’t need reinventing. The show will just always be a great frame for storytelling.
CARTER Is there closure? There’s always a certain amount of closure, but I think it’s very open-ended.