Monday, September 10, 2018

The 25th Anniversary of The X-Files

It was 25 years ago today that The X-Files debuted on Fox. The show would run for 218 episodes from September 10 1993 to September 26 2002. During its run The X-Files went from a low-rated, cult show to a hit TV series. It would eventually produce two feature films (The X-Files in 1998 and The X-Files: I Want to Believe in 2008), one spin-off (The Lone Gunmen), three series of novels, several non-fiction books, comic books, and a revival series that ran from 2016 to 2018.

The X-Files centred around FBI special agents Fox Mulder (played by David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (played by Gillian Anderson), initially the only two agents assigned to the X-files unit and charged with investigating cases that deal with the paranormal and other phenomena that is not easily explained. They worked under FBI assistant director Walter Skinner (played by Mitch Pileggi).

The X-Files was created by Chris Carter, who had written for such shows as Rags to Riches and The Disney Sunday Movie. He created the short-lived sitcom A Brand New Life. Wanting to deal with more serious fare than the comedies on which he had been working, Mr. Carter drew upon such childhood favourites as Kolchak: The Night Stalker and The Twilight Zone for inspiration for a new show. Also influencing Mr. Carter's idea for a new show were such sources as diverse as the TV show Twin Peaks, the movie The Silence of the Lambs (1991), and the Watergate scandal. Chris Carter's first pitch for The X-Files was rejected by Fox executives. He then went back to work on the project, fleshing out its characters and further developing the series' concept. He worked with Daniel Sackheim, who had served as a producer on Miami Vice and Law & Order, on the pilot.

David Duchovny, who had appeared in films since 1988 and guest starred on Twin Peaks as cross-dressing DEA Agent Denise Bryson, was cast as FBI Special Agent Fox Mulder. The casting of Gillian Anderson would actually have some opposition from Fox executives, who wanted an actress who was ""taller, leggier, blonder, and breastier" in the role of FBI Special Agent Dana Scully. Fortunately, Chris Carter was convinced that Gillian Anderson was right for the part after several auditions. Prior to The X-Files, Miss Anderson had appeared on only a few television shows and in a few movies, with most of her experience being on stage. Mitch Pileggi, who had played character parts in TV shows from Alien Nation to Get a Life and movies from Three O'Clock High (1987) to Basic Instinct (1992), had actually tried out for two other parts on The X-Files before finally being cast as Walter Skinner.

The X-Files debuted on Friday, September 10 1993. Its ratings for its first season were less impressive, coming in at only no. 105 for the year out of all the shows in prime time during the year. The show avoided cancellation because of two things. The first was that it received fairly positive reviews from critics. The second is that it developed a vocal cult following who took to the then young World Wide Web to express their love for the show. The ratings for The X-Files rose sharply in its second season, to where it ranked no. 63 out of all the shows in prime time for the year. They rose again slightly in its third season, when it ranked no. 55 for all the shows in prime time for the year.

What might have been the major factor in turning The X-Files into a hit was Fox's decision to move the show from Friday night (traditionally one of the lowest rated nights for television) to Sunday night (traditionally one of the highest rated nights for television) in its fourth season. The X-Files leapt to no. 12 in the ratings for the year. While ratings for The X-Files would begin a slow decline in its 7th season, they remained respectable until its 9th and final season.

The success of The X-Files would lead to the feature film The X-Files (also known as The X-Files: Fight the Future), which was released between its fifth and sixth seasons. The film received mostly positive reviews and did relatively well at the box office.

Unfortunately all would not go well for The X-Files during its initial run. It was before the seventh season that David Duchovny entered into a contract dispute with 20th Century Fox. As a result, he only appeared in eight episodes of the eighth season and only in one (the finale) of the ninth season. He was replaced by Robert Patrick as Special Agent John Doggett. During the eighth season the character of Special Agent Monica Reyes (played by Annabeth Gish) was introduced due to fears that Gillian Anderson might leave the series at the end of its eighth season. While Monica Reyes would become one of the main characters, Gillian Anderson remained with the show until the very end.

David Duchovny's departure from The X-Files would have an adverse effect on the series' ratings. Its ratings dipped slightly in the eighth season. In its ninth season its ratings dropped to no. 63 for the year, the lowest they had been since its second season. The X-Files then ended its run with its ninth season.

While The X-Files had been cancelled, it went onto a healthy run in syndication. Its continued success would lead to a second feature film, The X-Files: I Want to Believe, released in 2008 While the first film was directly linked to the show's mythology, the second film was a stand alone story more in keeping with the show's "monster of the week" episodes. The X-Files: I Want to Believe received mixed to negative reviews from critics. It also did poorly at the box office, earning only $68,369,434 worldwide.

Despite the failure of The X-Files: I Want to Believe, The X-Files continued to be popular. It continued to do well in syndication. Comic books based on the show continued to be published. Non-fiction books about the show continued to be published. For several years there would be talk about a third movie. It was in 2015 that Fox confirmed that they were looking to reviving The X-Files as a TV series. It was on April 20 2017 that they officially announced a revival of the show. The 10th season of The X-Files, consisting of six episodes, debuted on Fox on January 24 2016. While the 10th season received mixed reviews from critics, it did well in the ratings. It was then that Fox went forward with an 11th season of 10 episodes. The 11th season was better received by critics, who gave it mostly positive reviews. It also did well in the ratings. Unfortunately, in January 2018 Gillian Anderson announced that the 11th season would be her final with the show. It was in February that Chris Carter said that he could not see the show moving forward without Gillian Anderson. There are then no plans for another season of The X-Files.

The success of The X-Files would lead to other shows. The first, Millennium, is perhaps best defined as a related show set in the same universe rather than a spinoff.  Created by Chris Carter, Millennium centred on criminal psychologist Frank Black (played by Lance Henriksen), who investigates crimes committed by serial killers and other murders. The series ran for three seasons, and its finale aired as the episode "Millennium" on The X-Files. Both Fox Mulder and Dana Scully appeared on Millennium. The second series was a spinoff of The X-Files. The Lone Gunmen centred on three recurring characters from The X-Files. John Fitzgerald Byers (played by Bruce Harwood), Melvin Frohike (played by Tom Braidwood), and Richard "Ringo" Langly (played by Dean Haglund), collectively known as The Lone Gunmen. The Lone Gunmen were conspiracy theorists, initially united by theories regarding John F. Kennedy's assassination, who assisted Mulder and Scully from time to time. On The Lone Gunmen the trio often found themselves facing everything from crimes committed by powerful corporations to government conspiracies. Sadly, The Lone Gunmen suffered from low ratings and was cancelled after 13. Its de facto series finale aired as the X-Files episode "Jump the Shark".

The X-Files would have an impact that is still being felt to this day. When The X-Files debuted on Fox in 1993, its only hit series was The Simpsons (on which Mulder and Scully would eventually appear), with the sitcom Married...With Children a somewhat popular cult show. Alongside The Simpsons, The X-Files proved that Fox could compete with the three older networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC) and was pivotal in turning the struggling, young network into one of the majors.

As the first hit science fiction/horror series in years, The X-Files also opened the doors for similar series. In its wake such shows as Dark Skies, The Burning Zone, The Visitor, and Strange World debuted. Arguably, The X-Files may have even led to somewhat dissimilar genre shows, such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Lost. It could be argued that the mythology arc of The X-Files (the various episodes dealing with the government's efforts to hide evidence of the existence of aliens from other planets) led directly to the serialised format of many television shows that have debuted since. The X-Files has been referenced and even parodied on shows ranging from The Simpsons to NewsRadio to Archer.

In the end it seems likely that The X-Files may be the most popular genre show of all time except for The Twilight Zone and Star Trek. It has had a lasting impact on television that is still felt to this day. While I seriously doubt that there will ever be another season of The X-Files, I have no doubt that it will continue to be seen in reruns for decades to come.

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