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The X-Files X-Posed

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Television is a powerful medium. For example, a single word – "Flukeman" – can send a chill down the collective spines of an entire generation. If you just shivered, you must be one of the millions who followed the paranoid adventures of Agents Mulder and Scully as they investigated everything from mutant monsters to psychic killers to a global government conspiracy concealing the existence of extraterrestrials. Come along – if you dare – as we delve deeper into the mysteries behind The X-Files, one of the most beloved shows in television history.

The Inspiration

The X-Files was the brainchild of surfer dude turned television producer Chris Carter, who began working for the fledgling Fox Network in 1992 after developing shows for NBC and The Disney Channel in the 1980s. At the time, Fox was primarily known for half-hour comedies like Married...With Children and was looking to expand its line-up with hour-long dramas. So Carter approached them with a show in the same creepy vein as The Twilight Zone and the Kolchak: The Night Stalker made-for-TV movies and spin-off series. Influenced by The Silence of the Lambs' Clarice Starling, Carter made his lead characters FBI agents who investigated cases considered unsolvable because witnesses said they saw a UFO, Bigfoot, or some other unexplained phenomenon. The network greenlighted a pilot episode (above), but they were not expecting it to be picked up for the Fall season.

Pam Anderson as Scully?

When casting for the pilot began, Carter wanted to ensure the stars were fairly unknown to help the audience accept them in the roles. Carter quickly decided the part of UFO-believer Agent Fox Mulder should go to David Duchovny, who had done some television, most notably as the host/narrator of Showtime's Red Shoe Diaries. However, the casting of Gillian Anderson as the level-headed scientist Agent Dana Scully became a point of contention between Carter and the Fox execs. The network thought they needed an ultra-sexy bombshell to draw in male viewers, so they wanted buxom Baywatch beauty Pamela Anderson for the role. Carter and his casting director immediately felt that Gillian Anderson had the right intensity to be Scully, so they fought for her to get the part instead. Though the network relented, throughout the first season they repeatedly complained that Anderson was too cold and not likable enough. Thankfully, by the second season, they agreed with Carter's decision.

The Ratings

The X-Files debuted on Friday, September 10, 1993, after The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., which Fox execs saw as their #1 prospect for the Fall 1993 season. Brisco's two-hour premiere was a hit, but the ratings slipped after that, until it came in almost dead last in primetime by the end of its first and only season. The X-Files, however, ended its first season with an 8.8 Nielsen rating, almost a full point stronger than its premiere, which earned a 7.9 rating. The show grew thanks to "X-Philes," dedicated fans who discussed the show in online forums and brought in new, curious viewers. In fact, as the show went into summer reruns, the ratings were often higher than when the same episode premiered because people wanted to catch up thanks to all the online buzz. The season two debut received a 10.3 rating, and continued to grow to a 14.6 average rating while also earning a Golden Globe Award and an Emmy Nomination, the first for the Fox Network.

The show continued for nine seasons, with a peak rating of 17.1 for season five, before it started to drop off in popularity. After a difficult contract negotiation between seasons seven and eight, Duchovny ultimately decided to leave half-way through the eighth season so he could pursue film roles, only appearing again in the series finale. On the show, Mulder was abducted by aliens to explain Duchovny's absence, and Agent John Doggett, played by Terminator 2's Robert Patrick (at left), was assigned as Scully's partner. Many fans felt this is when the show "jumped the shark," and the ratings took a nosedive, bottoming out at 9.1 by the series finale on May 19, 2002. In all, The X-Files received 141 awards nominations with 61 wins, including 3 Emmys and 5 Golden Globes, and is considered by many to be the show that made Fox a serious force in network television.

The Writers

Aside from famous guest writers like Stephen King and cyberpunk pioneer William Gibson, some of the cast tried their hand at penning episodes of The X-Files. Gillian Anderson wrote "All Things;" William B. Davis, better known as The Cigarette Smoking Man, wrote "En Ami;" and David Duchovny scripted a total of eight episodes, three of which he also directed. One of the regular writers, Vince Gilligan, who also served as a producer, went on to write and produce the short-lived X-Files spin-off, The Lone Gunmen. But Gilligan is best-known today as the creator of AMC's Breaking Bad. Another writer, David Greenwalt, later teamed up with Joss Whedon to produce Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spin-off, Angel.

Famous Guest Stars...

While the regular cast was made up of unknowns, there were plenty of well-known guest stars throughout the nine season run. Just some of the big names include Brisco County, Jr. himself, Bruce Campbell, Peter Boyle, Burt Reynolds, Michael McKean, Charles Nelson Reilly, Ed Asner, Lily Tomlin, Gary Shandling, Jodie Foster (she voiced a living tattoo), and, most memorably, Jesse "The Body" Ventura and Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek as the legendary "Men in Black" (at left). Unfortunately, there are two names missing from this list: the unlikely duo of Roseanne Barr and Cher. The divas were asked to appear in the multi-Emmy nominated episode "The Post-Modern Prometheus" but, due to scheduling conflicts, couldn't be on the show.

...and those who became famous

The X-Files was also fertile ground for actors who would later go on to make a name for themselves in Hollywood. Some of these future stars include Seth Green, Jack Black, Giovanni Ribisi, Ryan Reynolds, Lucy Liu, Luke Wilson, Shia LaBeouf, Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston, Machete's Danny Trejoo, and Monk's Tony Shalhoub (at left). It also seems that a few future acclaimed series found most of their cast from The X-Files' stable: The Shield had three alumni (Catherine Dent, Benito Martinez, CCH Pounder), Lost counted six (M.C. Gainey, Alan Dale, Terry O'Quinn, Michael Emerson, Mark Pellegrino, Titus Welliver), and HBO's Deadwood had no less than nine (Brad Dourif, William Sanderson, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Garret Dillahunt, John Hawkes, Jim Beaver, W. Earl Brown, Ray McKinnon, Titus Welliver).

The Alien Factor

One of the defining aspects of The X-Files – and easily its biggest influence on television today – was its over-arching mythology regarding the colonization of Earth by alien invaders. This was not originally supposed to be part of the show, but when Gillian Anderson got pregnant during the second season, Carter had to find a way for her to be absent from a few episodes. His solution: Scully was abducted by aliens. Mulder's search for the truth about Scully's abduction turned out to be a huge success, so Carter kept the idea going, sprinkling in unrelated "Monster of the Week" episodes to keep the tension high and help expand the boundaries of The X-Files universe.

I Want to Believe

The famous "I Want to Believe" poster that hung in Mulder's office was slightly different in the first season than in the rest of the series. As the show became popular, fans wanted their own copy of the poster, but the first season version was not easily reproducible by the prop team. So a new poster was made for Mulder's wall and, shortly after, copies were hanging on dorm room walls all over the world. The revised poster appears to use a UFO from a series of photos taken in the 1970s by controversial UFOlogist Bill Meier. The actual prop poster was donated to the Smithsonian in 2008, along with other memorabilia, such as a copy of the script for the pilot episode, Mulder and Scully's FBI badges, and a model of an alien from Fight the Future.

The Romance That Never Was [Update: OK. It was.]

Although Mulder and Scully could have easily become a romantic couple, Carter refused to let it happen. He specifically didn't want the show to end up like Moonlighting, the 1980s sitcom whose ratings rapidly declined once the characters became involved after a few seasons of "Will they or won't they?" tension. Mulder and Scully did lock lips a few times during the show, though. In the episode "Millennium," the two puckered up at midnight on New Year's Eve in accordance with the long-standing tradition. Another kiss happened in "Triangle;" however, in a twist that could only be on The X-Files, the Scully that Mulder kissed was from an alternate timeline, whom he met on a ship that disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle in 1939.

Too Disturbing for Reruns

While every X-Phile has their own favorite episode, there's one that didn't go over so well with the general public. The episode "Home," about a violent family of inbred mutants, featured such horrifying moments as a newborn baby getting buried alive, the brutal bludgeoning of a sheriff and his wife, a decapitation, and an image burned into most X-Philes' memories: a deformed, limbless woman, who has been stratpped to a rolling cart and is kept under the bed. After the show aired, Fox received numerous complaints from concerned parents that such a disturbing episode appeared on network TV during primetime. The network apologized and banned the episode from future reruns on Fox, though it has been seen in syndication and on DVD.

X-Philes

The official X-Files website was launched on June 12, 1995. Before then, the online service Delphi was the official internet home of the show, attracting around 25,000 X-Philes every month. Many fans on Delphi were women, who formed an online club called The David Duchovny Estrogen Brigade. Not to be outdone, male fans formed The Gillian Anderson Testosterone Brigade, though their numbers paled in comparison.

The Soundtrack

Almost all of the music for The X-Files, including the iconic theme song, was composed and performed by Mark Snow. The music was extremely popular with fans, especially in Europe, who helped push the 1996 CD single to the #2 spot on the UK Charts and to #1 in France. Just this year, Snow released a limited edition, 4-CD box set of some of the musical score highlights.

On the Big Screen

There have been two feature films – 1998's X-Files: Fight the Future and 2008's X-Files: I Want to Believe. Fight the Future was a hit, making nearly $190 million at the worldwide box office, while I Want to Believe only made about $70 million. There has been talk of a third film in the series, but nothing solid has been announced.

Okay, X-Philes: What was your favorite episode? Is there a moment that still keeps you up at night? Is there a fun fact you'd like to add to the list? Tell us all about it in the comments below!

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25 Things You Might Not Know About Friends
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Here's a look back at the series that helped get mental_floss off the ground.

1. The show was originally called Insomnia Café ... and a bunch of other things.

In the early '90s, the creators of Friends, David Crane and Marta Kauffman, wrote a seven-page pitch for Insomnia Café. In addition to the different title, the plot itself was quite different from what we know as Friends. For example, Ross and Rachel weren't the key relationship. Instead, Joey and Monica were supposed to be love interests.

After NBC bought the pilot, the title became Friends Like Us. NBC president Warren Littlefield came up with another title that was also considered, Across the Hall. By the time they shot it, the title had switched again to Six of One. When the show premiered on September 22, 1994, they had finally landed on simply Friends.

2. The cast could have been much different.

With a cast of six people, it’s not a surprise that many different actors were considered for each role. For example, Kathy Griffin and Jane Lynch actually became friends after meeting while both were auditioning for the part of Phoebe.

Both Jon Favreau and Jon Cryer were considered for the role of Chandler before it went to Matthew Perry. And Perry almost didn’t get the gig either. During the 1994 pilot season, he filmed the pilot for a show called LAX 2194 in addition to Friends. The show would have been about baggage handlers at LAX who sorted aliens’ luggage. Thankfully, it wasn’t picked up, and Perry was able to take the Friends gig.

Before the show premiered, Courteney Cox was probably the most famous cast member. She was known for many commercials plus Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” music video. The Friends producers originally asked her to play Rachel, but she requested the role of Monica because she liked the “strong” character.

3. The role of Ross was written for David Schwimmer.

This may come as a surprise because Eric McCormack, the Will of Will & Grace, made news when he said that he auditioned “two or three times” for Ross. But, executive producer Kevin Bright had worked with Schwimmer before, so the writers were already developing Ross’s character in Schwimmer’s voice. And indeed, Schwimmer was the first person cast on the show.

4. The opening credits were shot at Warner Bros. studio, not in New York.

Don’t let your NYC tour guide trick you into thinking that you’re looking at the fountain from the iconic opening credits featuring “I’ll Be There for You” by The Rembrandts. Unless you’ve brought your tour guide with you to Burbank for some reason. Although the fountain looks a lot like Pulitzer Fountain in Central Park, the actual shoot occurred on a Warner Bros. lot.

5. The cast went on a Vegas trip before the show aired.

Director James Burrows, who went on to direct a handful of episodes for the show between 1995 and 1997, brought the six cast members to Vegas because he “had a feeling about the show.” While they were at Caesar’s Palace, he encouraged the group to enjoy themselves. “This is your last shot at anonymity,” he told them. “Once the show comes on the air, you guys will never be able to go anywhere without being hounded.”

Friends fans might remember Caesar’s Palace as the place Ross and Rachel got married on a whim in the fifth season finale.

6. Lisa Kudrow hated playing guitar at first.

Kudrow later recalled, “I didn’t like the guitar. I wasn’t getting it. So I think I even asked, ‘What if she plays the bongos?’” They ended up bringing a guitar teacher in, but that didn’t last long. Kudrow learned a couple of chords, then announced that she was done with the lessons. She decided that Phoebe would only know a handful of chords anyway. And thank goodness because “Smelly Cat” is perfect just the way it is.

7. Monica was an early Mental Floss fan.

In the 2003 episode "The One With the Soap Opera Party," Monica is shown casually reading a new magazine called mental_floss in Central Perk. We really owe David Arquette a lifetime subscription, because he's the one who made it happen. "I thought it was so interesting," he told Entertainment Weekly at the time, "[so] I gave it to Courteney" for the show.

8. It was filmed in front of a live audience—except for cliffhangers.

Shooting an episode of Friends was a lengthy process, typically lasting five hours, with multiple takes per scene and 20 minutes between scenes to change sets. Still, the show was filmed in front of a live audience made up of 300 fans. And that’s the way the cast preferred it. “It’s kind of like a test to see if the material works, if the jokes work, if the story tracks,” said LeBlanc. Perry agreed, “Our energy just elevates every time there’s an audience.”

So, what wasn’t filmed in front of a live audience? One example is the cliffhanger in the season four finale, “The One With Ross’s Wedding.” At the end of the episode, Ross is about to marry Emily, but accidentally says Rachel’s name at the altar. “We couldn’t have an audience for that,” Aniston said. “We always remove the audience for the cliffhangers because, obvious reasons, you don’t want to spoil it.”

9. Many people, including Lisa Kudrow, thought that Chandler was gay.

Kudrow said that she was surprised to hear Perry’s interpretation of Chandler at the first table read because when she first read the script, she thought Chandler was supposed to be gay. And she wasn’t the only one. During the first few seasons of the show, many fans speculated about Chandler’s sexual orientation. In 1997, David Crane told Entertainment Weekly, “No, Chandler isn’t gay. Nor will he be gay.”

10. They were the first TV cast to negotiate as a group.

During the first season, they were each receiving around $22,000 per episode. But allegedly, by the second season, each actor had a slightly different salary. In 1997, all six cast members refused to work until they all earned an equal salary of $100,000 per episode. This was big news. The New York Times reported, “Stars of hit shows often threaten to boycott their series in pursuit of higher salaries. What is unusual is this cast’s effort to use solidarity as leverage.”

This negotiation worked very well. By the final season, each cast member was earning $1 million per episode.

11. The apartment numbers switched during the series.

At the beginning of the series, Monica’s door had the number 5 on it. The producers later realized that didn’t make sense as Monica lived on a higher floor. They changed her apartment number to 20. The number on Chandler’s apartment changed as well—from 4 to 19.

12. Phoebe Buffay’s twin sister, Ursula, was also a character on Mad About You.

Kudrow was already playing Ursula the waitress on Mad About You when she was cast on Friends. NBC and Mad About You encouraged Kudrow to take both roles. According to her, it was the producers of Friends who decided to “address this and say they're twin sisters.” She went on to play Ursula Buffay in eight episodes of Friends as well.

13. Kudrow’s pregnancy was written into the show, but Cox’s was not.

Kudrow got pregnant with her son, Julian Murray, in 1997. Kudrow was dubious about Phoebe getting pregnant too, but the writers decided to have Phoebe act as a surrogate for her brother’s triplets. On the other hand, in the final season, Cox was pregnant with her daughter, Coco Arquette. This was not written into the show for an obvious reason: the series had already established that Chandler and Monica couldn’t have kids. So, they hid Cox’s pregnancy to the best of their abilities with costumes and props.

14. Joey’s Magna Doodle art became a job for the crew.  

Loy Chen, YouTube

Loy Chen, YouTube

Over the years, a few crew members were responsible for drawing on the Magna Doodle on Joey’s door. But in the later seasons, it was primarily a job for Paul Swain, who was the best boy on the electric crew.

The Magna Doodle became one of the show’s stars. It sat right in the middle of Joey’s door, so whenever a character walked through that door, the Magna Doodle was prominently displayed. Fans became obsessed with the drawings. Swain said, “They were looking for hidden meanings being given through the Magna Doodle.” 

15. For the opening credits in “The One After Vegas,” everyone was given the last name “Arquette.”

This episode was the sixth season premiere. It was also the first episode after Courteney Cox married David Arquette. In the credits, her name was switched to “Courteney Cox Arquette” and the other cast members followed suit with new names like “Jennifer Aniston Arquette,” “Lisa Kudrow Arquette,” and so on. You can see the credits above. The episode is dedicated: “For Courteney and David, who did get married.”

16. The actors didn’t always play well with animals.

It was widely publicized that Kudrow was afraid of the duck who made an appearance in season three. Before that, Ross had a pet monkey, Marcel, who was actually played by two monkeys: Monkey and Katie. Marcel was written out of the show in season two because it became too time-consuming to shoot scenes with a monkey. According to Katie’s trainer, Nerissa Politzer, Monkey was once supposed to pick up a bra, but ended up throwing it at Aniston instead. There’s also a fun blooper [at 6:20] in which Rachel is trying to explain a TV show to Marcel, but it doesn’t go so well.

17. Cox and Matthew Perry confronted Judd Nelson on a nearby soundstage about an on-set bet.

While promoting the show on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Cox told the story of an elaborate bet between her and Perry that later involved the major '80s star.

“One day I was on the set, and I was sitting around, reciting this line, like, doing this imitation of Anthony Michael Hall,” she told Leno. “He has this line in a movie. The line is, ‘Chicks cannot hold their smoke, that’s what it is.’ And Matthew Perry walks over to me and very adamantly says, ‘Oh, Weird Science.’ And I said, ‘No, Matthew, that’s The Breakfast Club.’ And he was 100 percent sure that it was Weird Science and I was 100 percent sure it was The Breakfast Club.”

More and more crew members got involved in the debate and the stakes kept rising. “We realized that Judd Nelson was over on stage 29, doing Suddenly Susan,” said Cox. “So, we ran over there and found out that yes, indeed, it was The Breakfast Club.” As for the bet, once Cox finishes telling her story to Leno, she rings a bell and Perry brings her a tissue. She tells Leno that Perry has five more months of being her “man slave.”

18. Bruce Willis appeared on the show for free after losing a bet to Perry.

Apparently Perry was quite the gambler. He got into a debate with Willis while the two were making The Whole Nine Yards. Perry believed that the film would be number one in the box office on its opening weekend, but Willis disagreed. In February 2000, the film was number one. Willis was set to appear on Friends as the dad of Ross’s girlfriend and Rachel’s love interest. As a result of the bet, he had to donate his earnings for the guest stint to charity.

19. For “The One with the Dollhouse,” the props department had to make SIX different cardboard dollhouses.

In the season three episode, Phoebe makes a dollhouse out of cardboard. But the dollhouse ends up catching on fire, which meant six identical ones had to be created from scratch. And in true television deadline fashion, they were put together in three days. The Friends props master, Marjorie Coster, described it as the “pièce de résistance” of the department.

20. In “The One Where Old Yeller Dies,” a few takes were messed up thanks to a chatty kid.

The plot of the episode is that Rachel hears the first word of Ross’s son, Ben. Ross is desperate to hear Ben talk again and spends the rest of the episode trying to get his son to talk. In one scene, Ross says, “It’s Ben and his Dada. Dada. Can you say ‘Dada’?” He’s supposed to be met with silence, but the child actor kept actually responding, “Dada.” Later in the series, Ben was played by Cole Sprouse, who would go on to star with his twin brother in the Disney Channel show The Suite Life with Zack & Cody.

In 2001, two of these bloopers were released on Late Night With Conan O’Brien. You can see them here [at 9:30].

21. Matthew Perry struggled with addiction during production.

In 1997, Perry went to rehab for an addiction to prescription drugs and alcohol. He went again in 2001. He later told People, “I was never high at work. I was painfully hung over. Then eventually things got so bad I couldn’t hide it and everybody knew.”

22. The cast had a huddle before every episode.

Every week before filming commenced, the cast would get together for a moment to prepare for the show. This was the moment that David Schwimmer was dreading before the finale because he knew it would make him emotional. “I started to lose it in this ritual that we had before the show," he said, "which is just a group hug, kind of get in a little circle, right before we come out. And that was the moment I was dreading for a long time because I knew that moment of just looking at everyone in their eyes, and saying ‘Have a good show,’ and knowing that was the last time we were going to be able to be in our little circle.”

23. Jennifer Aniston almost didn’t return for the last season.

By the time the show ended, Aniston was arguably the most famous cast member thanks to films like The Good Girl and Bruce Almighty. Her then-husband, Brad Pitt, didn’t hurt her celebrity status either. With that fame came the rumors that she was almost responsible for the show ending prematurely. In a 2004 interview with Matt Lauer, Aniston admitted that she had hesitations. “I had a couple issues that I was dealing with,” she said. “I wanted it to end when people still loved us and we were on a high. And then I was also feeling like, ‘How much more of Rachel do I have in me?’” She eventually agreed to the final season.

24. There are Central Perk cafés based on the famous coffeehouse from the show.

While there isn’t an actual Central Perk in New York City, the fictional café has inspired some real ones. In 2010, Friends fan Du Xin opened a Central Perk replica in downtown Beijing, which became extremely popular. Its success meant that Du Xin could later afford to reproduce Joey’s apartment next door. In 2012, another Central Perk popped up in Liverpool.

25. A (real) reunion isn’t happening.

In 2015, Cox went on the Late Show with David Letterman where he asked her about the possibility of a reunion. Cox responded, “It’s not going to happen.” She went on to explain that it’s difficult enough for the six of them to get together for a cast dinner, let alone a full-fledged reunion.

Kauffman and Crane have similar views about a reunion. In a 2014 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Crane said, “People say they want it, and the more that we say it’s a bad idea, people [disagree]. But I think if we actually gave it to people, there would be such backlash.”

This Jimmy Kimmel segment from 2014 may be as close as we're going to get:

All images courtesy of Getty Images unless otherwise stated. This post originally appeared on the 10th anniversary of the finale.

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Man-Eating Space Lizards: When V Was a TV Smash
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American broadcast television in the 1980s didn’t leave a lot of room for subtlety. Shows like Hill Street Blues were outliers, crowded off the schedule by head-hammering episodic series featuring mercenaries (The A-Team), car chases (The Dukes of Hazzard), or soapy melodrama (Dynasty).

On its surface, V appeared to be no different. A two-part miniseries airing on consecutive evenings in May 1983, it told the story of the “Visitors,” gregarious aliens who arrive on Earth in three-mile-long spaceships and greet humans with a bargain: Let the Visitors harvest a chemical needed for their continued survival and receive advanced medical knowledge in return.

As the humanoid aliens reveal themselves to be malevolent lizard-like creatures who prefer to dine on humans rather than prolong their lives, V took on the look and feel of a pulpy sci-fi epic—the kind of thing that could be easily summarized in one Amazing Stories cover image from the 1940s. But writer Kenneth Johnson had something far more subversive in mind. The Visitors were stand-ins for fascists, and V was a cautionary tale about the perils of complacency.

Jason Bernard and Robert Englund star in the NBC miniseries 'V' (1983).
Warner Home Video

A Carnegie Mellon graduate, Johnson had broken into television with a writing stint on The Six Million Dollar Man, for which he conceived a female counterpart in the form of Jamie Sommers (Lindsay Wagner). Sommers got her own series, The Bionic Woman, which Johnson produced until he was tasked with adapting The Incredible Hulk as a live-action drama.

It was around this time that Johnson became fascinated with a 1935 novel by Sinclair Lewis, It Can’t Happen Here, about a fascist group that rises to power in the United States. Johnson reworked the concept into Storm Warnings, a feature-length screenplay; that work landed on the desk of NBC president Brandon Tartikoff, who encouraged Johnson to adapt it into a television miniseries by casting Soviets or the Chinese as the antagonists.

Tartikoff’s request made sense. The miniseries format, which took off in the 1970s with Roots and Rich Man, Poor Man, was drawing record numbers of viewers. The Thorn Birds, about a priest who is tempted to break his vow of celibacy by a younger woman, was a hit; so was Shogun, about a 17th century man who shipwrecks in Japan and becomes a pawn in a war between samurai. (Both starred Richard Chamberlain.) Storm Warnings had an appropriately sprawling narrative with multiple characters, a feat of creative engineering Johnson was encouraged to use after reading War and Peace.

But the writer was less enthused about casting a foreign superpower as a rival. Tartikoff then suggested aliens, the allegorical turf of Rod Serling that had fueled many a socially-conscious episode of The Twilight Zone. Johnson later told Starlog he “ran screaming from the room” at the suggestion, but eventually warmed to it. Storm Warnings became V: NBC committed $13 million to produce the four-hour drama.

A scene from the NBC miniseries 'V' (1983).
Warner Home Video

While a generous budget for television, the scope of Johnson’s idea taxed every available dollar. A 60-foot-long model of one of the Visitor ships was built; a giant hangar intended to depict the inside was made to scale, albeit cut in half; matte effects, with the ships laid over a background painting, depicted their unsettling arrival over Earth’s major cities. A feature with those same ambitions might take months of pre-production planning: Johnson got three weeks.

Whatever was lacking in the special effects and costumes—Johnson opted for a regal, military-inspired garb for his aliens that hasn’t aged well—never diluted the real attraction of V. Following a television cameraman (Marc Singer) and a botanist (Faye Grant) as they grow suspicious of the true intentions of the Visitors, the series quickly turns into an examination of what happens when a population is seduced by the promise of a helping hand. Celebrities and world leaders endorse the Visitors; scientists questioning their motives are corralled and delivered to ships for “re-education.” By the time their foot soldier Diana (Jane Badler) is seen devouring a guinea pig, Singer and his cohorts have decided to form a resistance to push back against being turned into alien kibble. For viewers who didn’t care for the subtext, there was still the birth of a lizard baby to talk about with coworkers and friends the next morning.

In a departure from conventional advertising, NBC decided to take a conservative approach with V. Posters in subway stations and bus stops depicted illustrations of the Visitors in propaganda-style posters; later, a “V” would be spray-painted over the ads. There was never any mention of the series.

The premiere of V drew a 40 share, which meant 40 percent of all households watching television at that hour were watching the lizard people establish their dominance on Earth. Tartikoff even granted Johnson the ability to run 15 minutes past the allotted two-hour time slot, cutting into local newscasts. On night two, V maintained much of that audience.

What might have turned out to be a lucrative franchise for NBC quickly lost its way. Tartikoff wanted Johnson to oversee a weekly drama continuing the story of the resistance while ramping up their licensing efforts; Johnson argued that the premise would be too expensive for the format and suggested a two-hour movie air every month or two instead.

A licensed action figure from the 'V' miniseries
Amazon

In the end, neither quite got their wish. Another miniseries, V: The Final Battle, aired in 1984, but Johnson disowned it after extensive rewrites. V: The Series followed, but lasted just one season. Johnson lamented that the network had taken his cautionary tale and turned it into a spectacle, with gunfights and lizard people eating small animals taking the place of the allegory.

V was revived by ABC in 2009, but low ratings led to a quick demise after two seasons. Other shows and movies like 1996’s Independence Day had borrowed heavily from Johnson, wearing out the premise. In 2007, Johnson published V: The Second Generation, a novel based on one of his follow-up scripts.

The miniseries format would continue throughout the 1980s and 1990s before serialized dramas with shortened seasons edged them off television schedules. Like The Thorn Birds, V remains one of the most well-remembered entries in the medium, due in no small part to Johnson’s nods to levity. When the aliens arrive, a high school band plays the Star Wars theme.

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