On September 10, 1993, a strange series called The X-Files infiltrated Friday nights on Fox, with brooding story lines involving government conspiracies, sewer-dwelling man-monsters, and little green men. No one knew quite what to make of it at first — including the Fox executives who took a gamble on the project. But series creator and first-time showrunner Chris Carter (pictured above right, with stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson), a former editor of Surfing magazine, continued to carry out his obsessive vision of recapturing the hair-raising urgency and weirdness of Kolchak: The Night Stalker and other quirky programs he'd watched growing up. His efforts paid off, to say the least, and twenty years down the line, it's hard to overestimate the show's cultural reach: Besides notching Fox a first-ever Emmy nomination for Most Outstanding Drama in 1995, and making television safe for the countless shows with a skeptic-believer framework and scare-your-pants-off quality that followed, The X-Files also acted as a proving ground for an impressive number of writing phenoms — most notably Breaking Bad's Vince Gilligan, and Homeland's Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon — who are churning out some of the best stuff on TV today.
After 202 episodes and a pair of feature films, The X-Files’ deeply suspicious worldview feels as relevant as ever. Now, following a much-deserved break and plenty of television binge-watching, Carter’s ginning up a return to the genre with a sci-fi drama for Amazon Studios and a paranoia-fueled AMC project that can only be classified as Top Secret; he’s also helping to plot a tenth season of The X-Files (simmer down, it’s in comic book form). In order to celebrate the show’s big two-oh, Carter dialed in — from a blocked number, of course — to comment on the possibility of a third film, Mulder and Scully’s most virtuous traits, the pressures of following up such a massive success, and how The X-Files’ very, very long tail is even shaking up NBC’s fall schedule.
Thanks for taking the time to celebrate with us. What will you be getting Mulder and Scully as an anniversary gift?
[Laughs.] Let me see, twenty years out ... [Long pause.] I don’t know, I see them in a Cialis commercial. One of those vacations where they sit in bathtubs together.
Fans would love that. So let’s go back to the beginning. You pitch The X-Files to Fox, get rejected once, try again and get a hesitant green light. How much pressure were you under to deliver something that worked?
I was kind of unproven. Even though I had had some success, it was limited, and so there’s always a tremendous amount of nervousness on the part of the studio and network in sending lesser combatants into the field. So I think there was, maybe, a lot more oversight than there might have been otherwise. It was a novel concept. They were two unproven actors; we were filming in a distant locale [in Vancouver]. The process is typically fraught with anxiety, but I think that because we were tenderfoots, there may have been an added layer.
How did that oversight affect the development of the pilot? Fox had a big say in the casting, but what about choosing the writers, directors, and the right look?
Everyone weighs in and everything is considered. The casting was [difficult] — and I’ve talked about this a lot because it was a very nerve-wracking and pressure-filled experience. David and Gillian were our first choices, but they weren’t necessarily everyone’s first choices. A lot of that had not to do with their abilities, which were clear, but that they were relative unknowns. Certainly [in the case of] Gillian, who had done an episode of a Fox show, and then David had done Red Shoe Diaries, but people didn't really know him. He’d also done an arc on Twin Peaks.
Was he competing against someone who was more proven?
Somebody who had more screen time and who had been the co-star of another show, and who was a terrific actor.
Who was that?
You’re going to ask me this now? [Laughs.] He’s a very nice person. And I actually saw him during the run of the show up in Vancouver and we had a very nice conversation. [His name] will come to me.
Gillian was relatively young at the time of the pilot.
She was 24 and, really, to play an FBI agent and a doctor at such a young age, and to sell it, that was also for me part of the appeal. It was going to bring what I would call a certain need-to-prove-yourself quality to the character, a need to prove yourself to the FBI, a need to prove yourself to Mulder, to herself, to her father. And we played all these things out over the course of the series, and it worked well by casting a young, terrific actress.
Did you have that same sense as a first-time showrunner, the need to prove yourself?
Absolutely. Every step of the way. I have to say, that was an enduring attitude throughout the entire run of the show. You have to keep proving yourself each and every week. That was something that didn’t go away, even after the show’s initial success.
Let’s talk about the writers that you hired that have gone on to much success. Between you and writing partners Glen Morgan and James Wong [of Final Destination], and writing partners Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa [of 24 and Homeland], the five of you wrote 20 of 24 episodes of the first season. How’d you spot them?
Howard and Alex came to me via a mutual friend, John Strauss, who had recommended them and that was the simple connection, and their reputations [from the TV series Beauty and the Beast] preceded them. That’s how I found them. Morgan and Wong came to me via Peter Roth, who was running Twentieth Television, and was very involved in the process and suggested that I hire these guys who were actually, I think, hired or nearly hired on another show, which they were able to slip out of and came to work. Those two teams were essential to the show’s not just early success, but laying the foundation for its greater success.
What was the difference between the writers who stuck around — some of these guys were there for eight years — and others who only remained for a season?
There’s a thing that happens when you have a good writing staff and you’re on a successful show. Everyone — and most egregiously, the studio — is trying to parlay their success into greater success. So your writers and other staff get picked off to do other shows, and everyone [also] wants their own show. You lose to that fact of life, which is what happened with Morgan and Wong, who left shortly into the second season. Alex Gansa left after the first season, but Howard stuck around for four years, gratefully. When you speak about people who stayed around for eight years ... I look at people like Frank Spotnitz and Vince Gilligan and John Shiban as people who were so loyal to me and to the show that it really shows its longevity is due to their care and inspiration.
In the case of Frank Spotnitz, this was his first job on a series. You sort of gave him his big break.
Yeah, I think the first season he was on the show, which was year two, or his second season on the show, he also had a very attractive offer from Steven Spielberg, which he considered taking and ultimately didn’t take. The headhunting process was at work even on those folk, but they stayed, and I couldn’t have done it without them.
What was the atmosphere in the writers’ room at that time? Howard Gordon has said before that it was very competitive.
There really wasn’t a writers’ room, per se. It wasn’t the classic image of a bunch of writers sitting around a table pitching stories. Everyone would come up with a story and pitch it and if it was acceptable, the whole staff — and this is not in the beginning, what I’m talking about is something that developed over the long haul — the staff would sit and help plot that story. We sat in front of a bulletin board with three-by-five cards and carefully and rigorously worked out an X-File. In the beginning it was a more, as Howard says, competitive process. Everyone was looking to do the best X-File. It was not something we sat around and exactly worked out together. Everyone came at it with their own story and we sat and worked in front of that board, which was [owing to] Morgan and Wong and really, it’s one of the best things they added to the process. I typically worked on a written outline. The outline for the pilot was a nineteen-page, single-spaced document. You can’t do that on a weekly episodic basis. And Morgan and Wong, who had a lot of episodic experience with Stephen [J.] Cannell Productions brought this board. Glen Morgan, who would typically write the cards that became the plot points for the dramatic beats, has meticulous handwriting and it was a point of pride with him to have a beautiful and neat board.
In that first season especially, were people keeping their ideas close to the vest, then pitching to you?
It’s not exactly how it worked, but it wasn’t a writers’ room with people pitching out ideas and everyone sort of thinking out loud. We did 24 episodes in the first season, and 49 episodes in the first two seasons, so it didn’t allow for a lot of idle time. [Laughs.] You had to get with your idea and work it out. There were other writers who contributed to season one and two, I’m thinking of Marilyn Osborn [“Shapes”], Chris Ruppenthal [“Roland”], Paul Brown [“Excelsis Dei”], the Morgan brothers [Glen and Darin, who wrote “Blood” and “Humbug”]. Everyone contributed. As for Darin Morgan, though he wrote just four episodes, he helped expand the range of the show beyond science fiction and horror. His comedy episodes opened doors for Gilligan, Spotnitz, and Shiban.
Vince Gilligan came on in the second season and wrote a stand-alone episode. He said recently that he had a “life-changing” meeting with you and that’s how he got hired. What do you remember about that meeting?
It was more life-changing for me. He had come to my attention quite a while before I had ever met him. Unbeknownst to him, someone we had both worked with, Paul Brickman, who is most well-known for [writing and directing] Risky Business, said to me, “You should read this writer. He’s terrific and he’s rare.” And I read his Wilder Napalm script, which was made into a movie, and I saw somebody who had such a specific idea of what he wanted to see and who his characters were. His name stuck with me, and when his name came up again via his agent, who was actually a relative of mine, I think it was one of those things where the stars were in alignment and then Vince came and wrote that first episode. His contribution was wide-ranging and really helped steer the show in the, I’ll call it, unexpected directions it went in after his arrival.
It sounds like he just had “it,” which explains Breaking Bad taking off.
His work had preceded him into the office, which is always a good thing. And Vince is a very charming person; he was charming to speak with and [the fact] that he actually wanted to do an episode was something attractive and sorely needed at that point. The episode was “Soft Light,” and [the script] as it came in, as Vince tells it now, would have cost five times our budget. Howard Gordon and I did some rewriting on it to make it work. I’m not sure Vince was very happy with that idea, but I think that he was very happy to be asked to come to Vancouver where we were filming and be a part of the process and its filming. I think that excited him, and he signed up with us [as a staff writer] a short time later.
You’ve said the show was meant to be story-driven rather than being character-driven. How did that change over time?
I learned something in the first season and this came as a result of not just experience, but [from] a letter I had received from a fan who said, “[We] like the episodes that involve Mulder and Scully and their relationship and their lives and not the ones that are strictly procedural and case-driven.” It was a good note. And it helped to create the mythology of the show. I actually named a character after the letter writer in the season finale [“The Erlenmeyer Flask”]. I named her Dr. Berube [because] that person’s last name was Berube. It was the right letter at the right time. The mythology and the two-part episode approach began shortly thereafter and became a mainstay of the show.
As you began to flesh out these characters in the first season, how did you develop their quirkier habits? Mulder was known for eating sunflower seeds, throwing pencils in the ceiling, that porn obsession ...
The sunflower seeds came from the fact that I wrote while eating sunflower seeds. That came right out of there. The pencils in the ceiling were a good character trait or, I should say, revealed [his] character. Mulder’s love of porn came from Morgan and Wong, which is now kind of ... it is something that I was even asked [about] during a twentieth-anniversary convention, about where that came from, so obviously that’s a lasting impression people take about the character. But I have to say a lot of those quirky traits came from David himself. In the pilot episode, he does a little thing while he’s driving with Scully where he does like a funny kind of old woman, New York accent. David revealed himself as a funny person. He’s got a very dry sense of humor, so it sometimes takes a little while.
And where did these traits associated with Scully come from? What characteristic did you think was most revealing about her?
These things all developed over time. That her dad called her Starbuck came from Morgan and Wong. Going back to Mulder, the name Spooky came from the pilot episode. I think the most pronounced character trait that trumps all others in them is their single-mindedness. Quirks aside, I think that’s the thing that reflects the spirit that went into the making of the show and creating the characters.
Going back to the pilot ... you’ve told a story before about Fox screening the episode for Fox executives, including Rupert Murdoch, and it received applause, which was rare for a new show. Did that give you a sense that it would be a success?
I think that’s one of the times I realized we were poised to do something good. It was the first time — and I wasn’t even there, I only heard it secondhand — that I had gotten a group reaction to the show that wasn’t necessarily critical, from an audience that hadn’t been involved in the process. That was important to me. There’s just something funny that happens when you do television. You make a series of episodes, you work on them very hard, you sit in the editing room and polish them, and you go home and watch them on your own television, maybe with a few friends. You only have ratings, and in those days we didn’t have Internet, so you’d get mail. There wasn’t a lot of what I would call unbiased feedback. We started getting that on the Internet [later], but it wasn’t until we made the movie, which was essentially four to five years into the process, that I actually had the opportunity to sit and watch the show with a large group of people and see their reactions. The premiere was at the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, that’s one of the places that we went to, and I got to sit up in a private balcony above the crowd and I could actually look down and see them reacting in exactly the places where I’d hoped they’d react. For me, that left such an impression because I’d never had that experience before on the TV show.
The rise of online fandom happened in tandem with the show’s growth. As you received more feedback, did you let it dictate the show? Didn’t the Lone Gunmen end up returning because they proved popular in season one?
You would be foolish not to pay attention to all the feedback. That said, I don’t think there was ever an episode or a story that came anywhere other than from creative staff. We didn’t take story ideas from anywhere else. Certainly, if there were positive reactions to things, you would probably see more of that, much like you mentioned with the Lone Gunmen.
In the beginning, you were trying to do something that just wasn’t done at the time with overarching story lines that played out over the seasons. How high was the tension with Fox over their desire for you to wrap up episodes with nice little conclusions?
I had such a funny thing happen [recently], apropos of this. There was a writer [named Jon Bokenkamp] who I was working with last year who is very talented and has a new series coming up on NBC called The Blacklist, and he called me just as the show had been picked up. He was getting ready to go into production and called and said, “Can I take you out for a cup of coffee?” We went out and he asked what should he be mindful of, how to spend his time, energy, etc. We talked about it and he went off to do his thing and I didn’t hear from him for maybe six weeks. He wrote me an e-mail last week and said, “I’ve got a funny story to tell you. I wrote the second episode of the show and the studio liked it and the staff liked it, and we gave it to the network, and the network hated it. They told me it was exactly the wrong direction for the show. I had to throw it out and do another story.” You know, the pitfalls here in the beginning are many. This was obviously a crossroads for him and for the show. And so he went and wrote that new episode in like three days, like you are forced to do in episodic television, and he hated it. He turned it in and told them he hated it. The next day I think he was going to TCA, the Television Critics Association meeting, and happened to run into Bob Greenblatt, who runs the network there, and who was the person who bought The X-Files pitch twenty years ago at Fox. And [the writer] said, “You know I really hate this new episode, but I really love the episode that I had to throw out,” and Bob Greenblatt said, “Let’s do that first episode.” It was kind of a stunner for him and an awkward experience, but Bob Greenblatt said that he just had a sense of déjà vu back to The X-Files and me being adamant that the episodes weren’t tied up in a neat little bow and that they remained open and mysterious. That was a war that I kind of ended up winning. It was the right thing for the show. And so I think what he saw with this writer Jon Bokenkamp was a similar passion for telling stories that he thought he needed to tell.
Wow, your experience directly influenced the fate of his show twenty years later.
I know, it’s just crazy.
You were still filming the first season after the plot premiered and critics started weighing in positively and you were getting buzz as a cult hit. Did that put the pressure on you even more?
Sure. Pressure’s always there, even when you find yourself in the top ten in the Nielsen ratings. The pressure is never any less to make the show as good as it can be. And you have a limited amount of time and a limited number of resources with which to work and create something new and fresh every week. That’s for me what kept the show and the process exciting. It is an exhausting process.
We’re talking fifteen- to sixteen-hour days?
Oh, every day. Even if you’re not at work, you’re thinking about the show. Because we had these large orders, we worked eleven and a half months a year with two weeks off. If you weren’t thinking about the show in those two weeks and coming up with ideas and getting ready to go, you were already behind. There’s a famous Rod Serling quote that Darin Morgan told me — he said that if he dropped his pencil, he was two weeks behind. That’s the nature of the television business.
Are you jealous of series that are on now that have contained thirteen episodes and then get to go off the air for a year?
I think it’s why there is so much good television right now, because it actually promotes a creative approach rather than what I would call a mercantile approach to storytelling.
How would the show have ended up differently if you weren’t tasked with creating two dozen episodes every year?
It’s hard to say. I think the pressure actually does have certain beneficial effects and it certainly makes you better at your job because you have to become a very good problem-solver and live with your solutions. If you have too much time to noodle and to change your mind, you can get caught in not only a time-consuming process, but an expensive one as well. You don’t have those luxuries of time and money and financial budgets.
You’re self-described as a perfectionist, so when Fox tried to get you on a different track, did you just have to choose which battles you fought?
[The studio] knew I was passionate about the work and the storytelling, and they bowed to that. You always have to choose your battles. I think there were many battles earlier on and fewer battles later on, but you also become more creative and clever in solving what I would call conflicts, as you progress.
Any major battles come to mind?
I remember filming the pilot and there was a moment where Scully and Mulder are in separate hotel rooms and they’ve identified marks, two small dots, on the abduction victim’s bodies. Scully finds two small dots on her lower back and goes to Mulder’s room and sort of removes her robe in order to show Mulder these marks, and it’s kind of an intimate moment of sorts. And it’s a scary moment and important for the characters. I remember filming that, and the next day the dailies were watched by the people at the studio — and they thought there was absolutely no sexual tension in that moment. Which wasn’t [supposed to be] a moment of sexual tension! It was a moment of tension, but you know you have a scantily clad woman entering a strange man’s hotel room ... but it was about something else. I think that early on there was this idea that we needed to play with these characters’ physical relationship, and that [idea] was uninteresting to me and not only that, I felt was a way to ruin the show. As it turned out, the show had a tremendous amount of sexual tension in it, by virtue of the fact that the characters never had sex. Which was important to me, to the characters, and to the central concept.
Fans could be mad at you in the moment, but you probably did them a favor — by keeping them apart the show actually lasted longer.
When we were at Comic-Con last month and people got up and talked about the characters ... what they took with them, what lasted for twenty years, was the characters’ independence, intellectual honesty, all of these what I would call the more virtuous aspects of the characters, not their weaknesses. It’s what I think makes those characters last as long as they have.
As The X-Files was nearing its end, a lot of shows were digging into darker story lines and profiling antiheroes. One example is obviously The Sopranos. Did you anticipate this shift?
It’s funny, I was a big fan of The Sopranos. It became kind of a threat to The X-Files in a way because they could play with language, character, and story in ways that we never could because of the limitations of network television. Not to say we would ever deal with [those topics], they were two different kinds of shows, but it was a freedom that they had that I think made us, certainly made me feel [30-second pause] ... it made me feel ... [30-second pause] ... it made me jealous.
Did you think about what The X-Files would look like as a cable show?
I think if we had fewer governors, it would have been not as good a show. The show actually worked and works best with a sort of PG-13 approach.
Now there are very different expectations for launching a show. You guys premiered to 14 million viewers, and now a big cable hit like Homeland can survive on 2 or 3 million viewers.
It’s exciting. We played once to 29 million viewers, I think, at the height of our popularity, which is an enormous audience. If you translate that to the same amount of people going to a movie theater, it’s going to be a blockbuster. Our ratings were high almost until the very end when they started to winnow for interesting reasons, but the expectations now being lower are interesting to me. I was told by someone in the process that a show like Breaking Bad on AMC, if it wasn’t a critical success it would have been threatened because the audience is not what they considered ... it’s not their Walking Dead audience. I don’t know whether that’s true or not, but I found it curious. But as a show creator, these are all distractions. You write a show to try to attract and entertain a certain kind of audience, and/or as large an audience as possible. The problem and the problem-solving is the same.
Does that affect what projects you want to work on in the future?
Yeah, I’m involved right now with AMC and I’m also involved with Amazon [Studios], and these are, for me, new platforms and new approaches and they have different expectations. With Amazon, it’s completely uncharted territory, which is really exciting.
What can you tell us about the Amazon project? Is it true it centers on the moment of the apocalypse, which was something that was foreshadowed in The X-Files?
[Laughs.] That was what was reported in the trades. It’s not exactly a perfect description of the show. But because I’m superstitious I’m not going to try to elaborate on that. We are gearing up right now and it is a very exciting time; I think we’re going to start casting soon, and I think the show will take a lot of my storytelling experience on The X-Files and apply it in a really new and creative way.
You always like to do more than one series at a time. What’s going on with AMC?
They approached me with an idea that I really, really liked. It was actually a book. They wanted to know my take on it. At first, I turned them down; I said I didn’t have a take. Then they came back to me again with the book and asked if I would read it again. So I read it again and I did have a take on it. It also owes to The X-Files, and I’ve written a draft and I’m writing a second draft.
And is it a book that people might recognize?
[Long pause.] I’m not going to spoil it.
Not to get fans too riled up, but you’re also working on season ten of The X-Files ... in comic-book form. Why were you drawn to that idea?
There had been [X-Files] comic books before, but I’d never been involved or had the time to be involved, so when Fox told me they were coming out with a new series, I said yes, especially to this approach [of] the tenth season. That said, my involvement has been pleasant because of the folks who produce the comic books, and I also really like the writer, who is taking our show and applying to it what I would call a comic-book-storytelling sensibility. Each issue I’m asked to read and respond to, and it’s always surprising to me. It’s not exactly what we would do on the TV show, and yet it’s taking the show once again in a novel direction.
It must be strange to have someone else’s take on a topic you’re so close to.
Can I speak about something? It’s not something you’ve asked about yet, but it’s important for people’s understanding of what made the show’s success. The X-Files from the beginning was a very visual show, and with Bob Mandel directing the pilot and Dan Sackheim being involved in the production of the pilot and directing the first episode, they brought a visual style to it that was elaborated on by so many good directors. I think one of the big secrets of our success was in the directors we attracted. It made the show more than good storytelling, it made it visually exciting and interesting. There were a number of our mainstays [involved] from very early on. David Nutter set a standard for us and then Rob Bowman, Kim Manners, Bob Goodwin. These people directed many episodes and are as important to the success of the show as anyone. I would say that Bob Goodwin, who was the executive producer for the first five years of the show, was one of the five people who were directly responsible for our success, because he was able to get the studio to spend the money and give us the budget we needed to realize our visual style.
It was much more cinematic-looking than anything else at the time. Was that a goal of the directors, to see how close the show could get to looking like a film?
This is where a certain amount of inexperience actually comes in handy. I’d say that we didn’t know what we couldn’t do. We tried to do everything. In trying to do everything, we pushed back on boundaries and limitations that were just people trying to be prudent.
Was the filmmaking and style one of the biggest points of contention in the budget?
It takes money to create visual interest and effects and special makeup and all of these things that you have to do when doing a horror/science-fiction show. We blew up train cars [in “731”]; we created the polar ice cap onstage with tons of snow trucked in and covering the entire stage [for “Ice”]. We didn’t know we couldn’t do these things, so we wrote them and pushed as hard as we could. We kept the pressure on them as they kept it on us.
How does it feel now to watch a show like Game of Thrones with a $6 million budget per episode?
It’s exciting to think that people are spending this kind of money to create these beautiful pieces of art for an episodic series. It shows that oftentimes you get what you pay for. The secret, of course, in any successful endeavor, is to limit your waste. While it’s exciting to have the money to do these things, it’s a shame to waste money in the process. One of the great things about being in Vancouver early on was the savings. Because of the exchange on the dollar, I think we got 15 cents extra for every dollar we spent. People saw that as a savings, but I saw that as being able to put 15 percent more onscreen. The secret is to put all that expenditure into people’s homes each week.
What shows are you watching now? What other showrunners are knocking it out of the park?
Of course, Vince. I’ve just watched the first episode of the final eight episodes [of Breaking Bad] last night. I liked it. I was very surprised and excited to see what happens next. I’m a fan of Scandal.
That’s surprising! Would you ever pull a Shonda Rhimes and interact with fans over Twitter?
I have to say, hats off to her for doing it. It just takes up so much time and energy and I’m not on Facebook. I’m not involved on any social media, it’s really not my style.
What do you like most about Scandal?
I like its intense storytelling. At first I was flummoxed by the approach to character and that kind of rapid pace staccato dialogue. There’s something not necessarily naturalistic about it, but it really works. I’m curious and mindful of that going forward with my own work. Other shows that I like: Top of the Lake, and when our show ended I got a chance to watch all five seasons of The Wire back to back, and I saw all nine seasons of The Shield.
So after The X-Files was over you basically just binge-watched TV like the rest of us.
I did! [Laughs.] House of Cards, I love. I’m watching The Newsroom religiously. I watch Downton Abbey. I’m all over the map.
I’m curious now to see how your new projects might incorporate all these influences.
Each time you set out, you have an idea about characters, and your style and approach is really dictated not by fashion, but by concept.
Any shows on now that you wished you had made?
[Laughs.] All of them.
Did you ever consider doing an X-Files prequel, perhaps following Mulder at the FBI Academy?
[Laughs.] No, no one’s ever approached me about that. I’m of course hesitant to monkey with the show. It was nine years of good storytelling, and even though a lot of people would like to see a third movie, I don’t think there’s a whole lot we need to elaborate on.
You think that, story-wise, you’ve come to a conclusion that you’re happy with?
[Long pause.] We did the work and I hope we did it well, and, you know, you move forward in life. And while it’s wonderful to be recognized twenty years out, I’m very excited about telling new stories.
So no plans for a third movie at this time?
It would really be up to 20th Century Fox.
What do you think of directors now turning toward Kickstarter to show interest in their work and get it made? Veronica Mars is getting a movie out of it.
I think what people don’t quite understand is it’s not like you get a pack of money that you [then] get to spend it on making your movie or TV show. There are so many aspects to a production, including starting the business up, a production entity, accounting, marketing, insurance. And I’ve done this. It is a very complicated and tedious and necessary part of the process, and it’s something that I think is unappreciated by the folks who are taking the money and who are giving the money. There is a reason to be in business with the studio and there’s a reason to ally with people who’ve got these organizations up and running because it provides a structure within which you can be creative and focus on bringing your vision to life.
Looking at the influence of The X-Files on other shows like Lost, Fringe, Supernatural, and Bones, how much pressure is there being the guy who changed the way people made and consumed TV to do a worthy follow-up?
There’s pressure from without but there’s a lot of pressure from within to expand and try to do something not just well, but to amuse yourself. If it were just about commerce and ratings, there’s actually probably something else I would choose to do in life. I’m simply doing this because I want to have the experience again of writing something. The most beautiful thing about The X-Files is that I got to write about what I was interested in, and people came to watch it. That’s a rare and wonderful thing for a storyteller.
That reminds me of a line from your original treatment, which is something you wrote about Scully working on the X-Files. You wrote, “This is much more about work, it will become the defining event of her life. Nothing that comes after — religion, motherhood, anything — will not pass through the filter of this experience.” Is this how you feel after living with The X-Files?
Yes, I mean I don’t define myself by it, but it certainly is important. It actually changed me. It made me into a different person, a smarter person, a wiser person. Like any trial, it had its therapeutic aspects. I hope that I’m not simply defined by The X-Files, and I hope I have more work that is important to do.
Certain events in the news have been playing into the public’s paranoia, most recently with PRISM and Edward Snowden. What do you think about this idea of “trust no one” coming back into the public consciousness?
It’s come full circle. When we started the show in the early nineties, there was still what I would call a lingering mistrust of authority and government, which came as a result of Watergate and other events [such as] Iran-Contra, the Church Committee hearings, things of that nature, that gave an interesting context to the spirit of the show. After 9/11, everything changed. That’s curiously when the show went off the air, when basically we wanted authority figures to protect us; we wanted a strong government and wanted to place our trust in them. In the ensuing years, that’s not only changed back, but I would say our mistrust has been amplified — and for many good reasons.
What current events would you mine to turn into an X-file?
Actually, with the AMC project, I think that I am treading on some of this interesting ground that Bradley Manning, Edward Snowden, and Julian Assange have uncovered for us.
You said once that you created the show to tap into people’s vulnerabilities and what keeps them up at night. Twenty years later, is anything keeping you up at night?
Um ... yeah. [Laughs.] I have to say, I’ve become very interested in the spectrum of political discourse as seen on the cable news channels that are conveniently right in a row on my cable provider’s dial. I can flip from Fox to CNN to HLN to MSNBC, and I find myself at night flipping it back and forth through them and it’s something of an addiction. Not necessarily for the content, but for the context. [Pause.] And I’m writing about it.
And so your AMC show might touch on that as well, à la Newsroom?
There will be some of that.
You said you’re rewriting a draft now. Is this something that might be happening in the next year, two years, season?
I don’t know. It’s up to the Fates. I will be done with a draft shortly, so I will know more shortly.
There are many X-Files fans awaiting your next move.
And I want to say about those fans, two things really struck me at the Comic-Con twentieth anniversary event: I was so happy to see that people I worked with on the show had prospered and their families had grown, and also, I was struck by how nice and respectful those X-Files fans were. It’s been that way since the beginning.
It was a big anniversary for them, too. Twenty years of their lives flew by.
The fans made — and continue to make — a very grueling experience very worthwhile.