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DreamWatch: Exit Strategy

Exit Strategy
Jenny Cooney Carillo

After nine seasons and more than 200 episodes, series creator Chris Carter says an emotional farewell to The X-Files, the SF TV phenomenon of recent years.

Chris Carter had mixed feelings when he recently sat down to tell Dreamwatch about the demise of his drama series, The X Files. The creator and producer of the SF TV phenomenon announced earlier this year that the current ninth season would be the last for the show, but as he talked during a break in filming on the Fox lot in Los Angeles, with David Duchovny (aka Fox Mulder) in the sound stage across the street directing one of the final episodes, he couldn’t make up his mind if he was in mourning or celebration.

Dreamwatch: Whose decision was it to finally call it day and how was the decision made?

Carter: It was mine. I thought about it over the Christmas vacation. We had premiered the show in its ninth season in November and we were up against all kinds of stiff competition. We were counter-programmed very effectively – including our season premiere, which was against Saving Private Ryan – and so our numbers were down. They were respectable numbers and we were still head to head with the competition, but they weren’t the numbers that we had been getting in year eight.

After six episodes of the show, the ratings had levelled off at a respectable level but they had not come up. I felt that some of the audience had left and I didn’t know where they had gone because I thought we were doing good work and I thought that the addition of Annabeth [Gish, Agent Reyes] and Robert [Patrick, Agent Doggett] to the show was a good and effective one. But I didn’t want to see any analysis that they were somehow responsible for the lower ratings, so I decided that I would rather call it a day than see someone trash the show, trash them and trash me when I thought we were still doing excellent work. We’ve really created a new franchise and I thought it was time to go out strong and to look forward to the series of The X Files movies.

You sound very disappointed.

Well, I created the show, so for me it’s been 10 years now; it’s been on the air for nearly nine years when we complete this year and it took me a year to get it off the ground, so I’ve been involved for 200 episodes’ worth. So it’s something I’ve been doing for quite a long time and I just thought we were doing such good work this year.

And what was the reaction of the cast when you told them?

It was very difficult to tell Robert and Annabeth because I think they feel responsible and they’re not. They worked hard, they’re terrific actors and they gave their everything to it. If there’s any blame, it’s really on some mysterious X factor.

What about the end of the show? How can you wrap it up while keeping enough of a hook to lure viewers in for the movies?

You know me well enough to know that I’ve always got a trick up my sleeve, but we really look to the movies as an opportunity to do stand-alone movies, not mythology movies. It’s not like what we had to do with the first movie, which I thought was worthwhile, but it was really a movie where you couldn’t have a beginning, middle and end; you could have a beginning and middle, but the end was going to come with the rest of the series so it prevented us from really making it as big and blockbusterish as we might have. So I’m looking forward to just doing what we call stand-alone stories but doing them as a movie franchise.

What will David Duchovny’s involvement be?

He’s actually back directing right now. So he’s warming his feet by the fire and he’ll be back in action as Mulder in [the show’s closing two episodes, The Truth]. They’re going to air as a two-hour episode, which is something we’ve never done before.

Were you surprised David agreed to return?

I wasn’t surprised because we’ve been in contact all year long and any differences that we had seem to have been something we’ve both gotten past. He and Gillian [Anderson, Scully] are both very anxious to do the movies. We’ve got to do them one at a time, so I’m only fantasizing about more than one. And so he realized it was important to the future to participate in the present.

Do you hope for a happy ending between Scully and Mulder?

Yes, we’re going to end it in a big way. I mean, we’ve never known we’re ending before. I’ve had to create provisional endings for the last two seasons not knowing whether or not the show is coming back, but the show has always done so well with its ratings and I guess it was always irreplaceable as far as Fox was concerned [that it was renewed]. This is the real ending, so, as you can imagine, we’re trying to give it all we’ve got.

Will you tie up a lot of the loose ends? Will the mythology be resolved so that the movie can be a stand-alone?

Yes, but I’m not saying we’re going to answer every single question because there’s just too many questions to answer. But many of the questions we don’t answer specifically will be resolved by a lot of the bigger threads being tied up.

Can you give us an example?

No! [Laughs] But I will say that we’re really trying to make [The Truth] a reward to people who’ve watched The X Files for the last nine years.

Why do you think The X Files work so well all over the world?

Because people are scared of the same things. I think ‘scared’ travels across borders very well. I want to knock some wood right now because I’m very fortunate for having created something that everyone seems to like. And I get to write what I’m interested in and people like it, so it’s one of those miracles.

Which episodes have you been most pleased with in season nine and why?

I’ve been happy with the whole year and I’m trying to think of a specific episode that stands out for me and the one I’m thinking of right now is [Improbable], which is also the Burt Reynolds one. I have to say that I think that’s going to be a standout because it does what the best X-Files episodes do which is to expand the storytelling possibilities of the show, meaning that I’m telling a story that we’ve never told before. And I think that’s the beauty of the show.

If you were asking why I seem disappointed [about the X Files’ demise], it’s because the show’s format and storytelling structure was so incredibly elastic. It was a comedy, it was an intense drama, it was a melodrama, it was a horror show, it was a thriller. It could be so many different things and so that’s what I’ll miss.

How important do you think the Mulder and Scully partnership has been to the show’s success?

It is The X Files. It was The X Files for eight years so I think you can’t discount it.

What sort of reactions have there been from fans about the series ending? Do they protest?

Online, people are sorry to see it go now and that’s kind of the way I hoped they’d look at it; that it was something they enjoyed and now of course they’ll be able to enjoy it for a good long while in [US TV] syndication. So it’s not like it’s going away really, it’s just going away ‘originally’.

How quickly can we expect to see a new X Files movie?

It depends on how long I take for my vacation. I hope to write it over the summer and I hope to prep it over the fall and spring and to shoot it maybe late spring and summer. So I think you would end up seeing it in 2004.

Do you know the story in your head already?

I have rough ideas and I’m sort of deciding what to do. Frank Spotnitz and I will just sit down one day and we will throw out a lot of things and put in a lot of things. It’s a process rather than an idea that is in my head. It sort of takes shape.

How aware are you of the impact the show has had over the nine years? It gave birth to a whole new genre.

As far as what it’s done on television, when I watch shows now, particularly shows that are FBI shows, CIA shows, espionage shows, even CSI – you see a lot of Millennium in CSI – I see that our attention to detail, our lighting, our production design, all the things that go into making these little movies we make each week I think have affected the standard of good television.

How important was it to get David back?

Very important. I mean, it was important for the series because you want to end it in a sort of symmetrical way, ending where we began in a way. And it’s important I think to the movie franchise.

Are the Lone Gunmen going to feature more towards the end of the show?

Yes, the Lone Gunmen feature in the series in a very interesting way and you can all look forward to it.

Do you know who the father of Scully’s baby is?

I think everyone kind of knows now who the father is because we’ve sort of said it’s Mulder. But still, Scully was barren, so how does a barren woman give birth to a child regardless of who the father is? I think that it’s pretty clear now that there was some hanky panky.

The X-Files final season makes its UK debut on Sky One from 20 June.

The Truth!

Chris Carter spills the beans on Robert Patrick (Agent John Doggett):
“I always had Robert in mind to play Agent Doggett, but initially he was attached to another project. But I have a hard time taking no for an answer and I knew I wanted to work with him, so I was determined to make it happen and eventually I did. He was perfect for the character we wrote.”

Gillian Anderson (Agent Dana Scully):
“Gillian has been a dream to work with. I just finished directing an episode and she called me up at the end and thanked me for the work and said it was a joy.”

David Duchovny and ‘that’ lawsuit:
“We’ve had several meals at several different times since the settlement of the suit and since we’ve gone back to work. I still blame vertical integration as the big problem and this is the beginning of something that you are going to see a lot more because what happens is that when the buyer and the seller are the same person, it pits everybody against everybody and it’s not good for working relationships. But I think we’ve buried the hatchet.”

Harsh Realm’s cancellation:
“I’m still a little bitter about it, but it’s water under the bridge now. The truth is that the guy who I hold responsible for the quick demise of that show has been cancelled himself, so that relieves some of the bad feeling. I actually have an idea about how I may be able to resurrect the show, but I have to be secretive about it, so I’m not going to tell you any more just yet.”

The Cigarette Smoking Man:
“We don’t know whether he’s dead or not! We left him lying at the bottom of a flight of stairs and he was looking in pretty bad shape, but this is The X-Files.”

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2 Responses to “DreamWatch: Exit Strategy”

  1. […] members across the ninth season as whole, suggesting that the audience just never turned up. “I felt that some of the audience had left and I didn’t know where they had gone,” he recalls of the […]

  2. […] The decision to end the show came by mutual consent between Chris Carter and Fox. According to Chris Carter, he made the decision over the Christmas break: […]