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Dreamwatch: Never say never again

Never say never again
David Hughes

In The X-Files, things are hardly ever what they seem. Unfortunately, right now, things at the show itself are precisely as they seem, as the triple Golden Globe winning show suffers from what writer/producer Vince Gilligan would describe as ‘unruhe’ – trouble; strife; unrest. Hugh Davies reports on recent troubles at Ten-Thirteen, home of The X-Files and Millennium.

Signs on The X-Files first showed signs of going south during the preparations of the fourth season when creator and executive producer Chris Carter began to devote most of his time to launching his new show, Millennium.

Eager to shake off his one-hit-wonder potential (the ghost of Gene Roddenberry looming large in his eyes), Carter virtually handed The X-Files over to first season veteran Howard Gordon, despite the fact that the show had already lost Emmy award-winning cinematographer John S. Bartley, visual effects supervisor Mat Beck and writer Darin Morgan at the end of season three, and badly needed Carter’s direction.

Carter did manage to secure the brief return of the show’s ‘dream team’, Glen Morgan and James Wong, albeit with conditions. “Basically the understanding was that we were going to do four shows early on to get the staff squared away,” says Morgan. “I said [to Chris], ‘I’m doing four shows and I’m putting all our Space: Above and Beyond actors in ’em, and he said, ‘Okay.'”

Nevertheless, new executive producer Gordon was faced with not only following the series’ best season yet – a season in which its rating grew steadily, and it converted more of its Emmy nominations into awards than any other show – but overseeing its transfer to Sunday nights to make way for Millennium, a move Carter was less than thrilled about. “I wish it wouldn’t’ve stayed where it was,” he told Entertainment Weekly. “Friday night is a good night to be scared.”

Within a week of the Millennium pilot’s impressive performance, Friday nights began to give Carter his own reasons to be scared, as ratings plunged lower than Gillian Anderson’s neckline at a photo shoot. The audience halved between the pilot and the first episode proper, and began to slip further, a trend that alarmed the network which was sinking more than a million dollars into each episode, since every ratings point slip means a potential loss of $100,000 of advertising revenue.

Mark Snow, who was busy composing music for both shows, highlighted the problem, saying “They can’t keep doing the old story every week – going after bad guys, killers, and finding body parts strewn all over the place, and variations of that.” Aware that Millennium was in trouble, Carter began to spend more and more of his time shoring up The X-Files’ subsiding sister show, and less supervising the series that made Millennium possible, and pretty soon viewers began to notice.

The first signs that all was not well were the enormous problems Herrenvolk suffered at the hands of cinematographer Bartley’s replacement, Ron Stannet, whom sources close to the production say was fired mid-way through the season premiere’s shoot for “lighting the show like a soap opera”. John Hoffin eventually took over, but so much time had been lost that Carter ran out of script revision time, leaving Herrenvolk a confusing follow-up to the excellent Talitha Cumi.

The next indication that problems were mounting at Ten-Thirteen was the colossal continuity problems of Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man. Stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson were reportedly delighted to learn that an entire episode would be filmed without them, giving them a much-needed ten day break – “It’s like the fourth season and they’re really burned out,” commented James Wong at the time. “And we thought, wouldn’t it be great to do a show that they’re not even in?” – but writer Glen Morgan was less than happy, for several reasons. Firstly, that no-one on the staff had picked up on the errors; secondly, that Carter had changed the original ending, refusing to allow Morgan to kill off Frohike, whom Morgan had created; finally, that Carter had dismissed the entire story as being apocryphal as soon as the continuity issue was raised.

The fans, understandably, went ballistic, calling for Carter to come back and take control of The X-Files before it went completely off the rails. By this time, Millennium was an increasingly dirty word at Fox, the final damnation coming when a re-run of the pilot show scored the network’s lowest ever numbers for a prime time slot. It was likely that if it were not for the fact that Fox would not do anything to prejudice their relationship with Carter while The X-Files star was in its ascendancy – and the spin-off movie had yet to be made – they would have canceled Millennium at the mid-season mark. (They had, after all, taken the ill-fated LA Firefighters off after four episodes, as it was scoring the same kind of numbers as Millennium.)

A further blow came when the Directors Guild of America foiled attempts to have Quentin Tarantino direct Morgan and Wong’s final episode for the show, the appropriately titled Never Again. When Tarantino was on board, the writers abandoned their original outline – described by Wong as “sort of Lincoln’s ghost in the White House type of thing” – in favor of something more suited to the director of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. “It just didn’t seem like Quentin’s style,” Wong commented last November. “We wanted to do something more gritty…something he was familiar with.”

Instead, Morgan and Wong began work on a new story featuring a killer whose tattoos talk to him, a plot inspired by Gillian Anderson’s own tattoo. “Gillian has a tattoo,” Wong explains. “And she said, ‘Why wouldn’t Scully get a tattoo?’ And we said, ‘Let’s make it so she can – if you get the situation right, let’s see if we can get this character to the point where she can get a tattoo.'” They succeeded. “It’s just a tiny little scene, [and] it ties into the plot and everything.” The episode would eventually become a solo investigation for Scully, co-star Duchovny being rewarded with another week-long break, following his calls for a shorter season this year. And while it may have lost one ‘name’ participant in Tarantino, it does feature the voice of another star, Academy Award winner Jodie Foster, in a guest voice role.

By the new year, Carter was spending almost no time on The X-Files, and it should have come as no surprise when he announced his intention to leave both shows, The X-Files after season five and Millennium after season two (reportedly the most that Fox had promised him). “I think five years is a good length of time to do something,” he said. “I have said to David and Gillian that I just want to do five really good years and then be able to look back and say that we did our best work. Anything past that is gravy to me.”

Carter is leaving to take up one of the many offers he has allegedly received to direct feature films, the first of which may very well be The X-Files movie itself. “Fox would like to do the feature before the finish of the run of the show,” he said. “There are no real details, though I have some ideas as to how I want to incorporate a movie into the show’s mythology arc and also have it be a stand-alone [story] worthy of the big screen.”

Although Carter implied that he would prefer for the show to end upon his departure, Fox responded to his announcement by commencing a search for his replacement – after all, stars Duchovny and Anderson are contracted through to the end of season six, and although Fox has already sold the show into record-breaking syndication deals, it has no plans to kill the only series that continues to show growth.

Less than a week after Carter’s announced intention to quit The X-Files, Gillian Anderson ‘upstaged’ him with an announcement of her own: her separation from Clyde Klotz, her husband of three years, a former X-Files set builder. Anderson had expressed doubts about her marriage as early as last summer; holidaying alone in Italy, she made it clear to the local press that she was very unhappy. Nevertheless, Anderson’s announcement insisted that the split was amicable, despite typically scurrilous tabloid reports that the actress had left her “boring” husband and taken up with a “toy boy,” British actor Adrian Hughes – actually four years her senior – who had played one of the abnormal Peacock family in the early fourth season episode Home. Both parties insisted they were merely “good friends”, not lovers. “There’s nothing in these love stories – our relationship is purely platonic and nothing more,” Gillian was quoted in one newspaper while her alleged lover said bitterly, “Gillian and I are friends, but my relationship with my girlfriend and my relationship with Gillian may be coming to an end because of all of this.”

The show’s surprise triple win at the Golden Globe Awards – closely followed by three nominations from the Screen Actors Guild – did nothing to defuse the situation; on the contrary, the awards seemed to justify the acres of tabloid space being devoted to the private lives of the stars, rather than the show itself. The fact that less outlandish stories than those published around the world have been investigated by Mulder and Scully themselves does not seem to deter the publications in question from their wearying quest to find anything out there – truth or otherwise…

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5 Responses to “Dreamwatch: Never say never again”

  1. […] and there were rumours that he planned to depart the show completely after its fifth season. “I think five years is a good length of time to do something,” Carter has been quoted as saying. After all, five twenty-something-episode seasons would produce […]

  2. […] contrast, the episode that became Never Again began its life as “a sort of Lincoln’s ghost in the White House type of thing”, according to Morgan. Reminiscing nostalgically about interesting episodes of The X-Files that […]

  3. […] To be fair, the production of Herrenvolk was apparently a painful process for all involved. Chris Carter’s attention was now split between The X-Files and Millennium, and cinematographer John Bartley had stepped aside. This left quite a gap: […]

  4. […] Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man was quite a controversial episode among fans, and its production was notably difficult for all involved. It served to bring Chris Carter into conflict with Glen Morgan and James Wong, causing considerable friction: […]

  5. […] the introductory text to Herrenvolk, the point at which it became clear Chris Carter’s “five seasons and a bunch of movies” plan would not be happening. Four years later, maybe it was […]