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 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 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.
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.
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.
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!