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Hollywood Reporter: Fate of new 'X-Files' is latest Fox mystery

Hollywood Reporter
Fate of new ‘X-Files’ is latest Fox mystery
Gina McIntyre

[typed by Alfornos]

LOS ANGELES (The Hollywood Reporter) — One of fall television’s most shocking cliffhangers will be resolved this weekend when the season premiere of “The X-Files” airs Sunday night on Fox. But the suspense has nothing to do with the fates of Special Agents Mulder and Scully; it stems instead from the uncertainty surrounding whether viewers will tune in.

“X-Files” has long been the focal point of the network’s weekend lineup, anchoring Sunday nights for roughly four years. Although it was widely held that the show would conclude at the end of last year, controversy erupted when Fox sought to extend the series’ run for an eighth season.

Neither star David Duchovny nor series creator Chris Carter had a contract in place, and Duchovny had filed a lawsuit against Fox claiming lost royalties from a syndication deal the network inked with its own cable subsidiary FX. The suit alleged that Fox sold the show for less than its actual value.

After down-to-the-wire negotiations, Carter’s contract was renewed, the lawsuit was settled for an undisclosed sum, and Duchovny was signed for about half of this year’s 22 episodes, most of which will air during the latter half of the season.

In Mulder’s absence, a new character named John Doggett (Robert Patrick) will partner with Gillian Anderson’s Dana Scully.

But no matter how adept Patrick might be at assuming his new FBI mantle, beginning the show’s eighth year with a new leading man is nothing short of risky. Duchovny and Anderson together defined the series’ singular style in many viewers’ minds, and breaking with that proven formula could lead straight into troubled ratings territory for the sci-fi drama.

“I make no secret of the fact that I wasn’t sure it was a good idea to come back for another year,” executive producer Frank Spotnitz said. “It was a huge gamble to replace a character like this. It’s not an ensemble show like ‘NYPD Blue’ or ‘ER’ where there are so many fine actors to carry the series. Mulder was one of two central characters in this show. But having been drafted to do this, I just was determined to make a success of it.”

To help “X-Files” remain on course despite the cast changes, Carter has stepped in to write or rewrite six of the show’s 10 episodes thus far, and he has directed one of his own scripts, marking the first time he has helmed one of his own episodes since the series’ sixth season.

“It’s strange not to have David around every day, but I have to say his absence has really framed the season, which is (about) the search for Mulder,” Carter said. “By adding a new character to the show, we have a new way to tell ‘X-Files’ stories. Scully now has seen too much to deny, and she becomes a kind of reluctant believer, sort of taking Mulder’s place, and Robert Patrick comes in as a knee-jerk skeptic. All of a sudden, Scully’s the provocateur.”

New creative direction aside, it remains to be seen whether the show can still deliver the same kind of quality episodes it once did and if the series’ audience, which has consistently waned during the past few years, will continue to watch each week without Agent Mulder at the helm.

Even though the show is still perceived among the top of the ratings charts, its audience has slipped by nearly 26% during the past three years. At the end of the show’s fifth season, “X-Files” claimed some 17.1 million viewers; the next year, that number dropped to 15.2 million viewers. By the conclusion of last season, viewership totaled 12.6 million.

The Hollywood Reporter’s TV critic Barry Garron admits that it is possible for the show to find success despite Duchovny’s lessened involvement. What is more pertinent, he said, is the series’ ability to develop interesting story lines at this point in its television life span.

After a feature film, a spinoff series starring the Lone Gunmen, the show’s computer hackers (set to debut on Fox as a midseason replacement) and an absentee leading man, “X-Files” might have simply run out of steam.

“There’s no question this show has peaked,” Garron said. “Virtually everyone who is going to watch it has sampled it by now. It’s really a question of how quickly or slowly viewers desert it for other shows.”

“Under other circumstances, this show might have ended after seven seasons,” he added. “It certainly would have gone out a winner, both for its solid ratings and for its unique style. Fox, however, could ill afford to put the show to pasture at a time when the network already was scraping the bottom of its development barrel just to fill all the other holes in its schedule. With or without Duchovny, Fox knew that having ‘The X-Files’ was better than anything else it had to replace it.”

Fox Entertainment president Gail Berman agreed that the series is vital to the network’s programming roster, but she is optimistic that the retooled show will perform as well as it has in previous seasons.

“We certainly view it as a very important piece of our programming roster and have for many years now,” Berman said. “I feel that the show is in excellent shape. I think Chris has been creatively energized this year. We think the episodes thus far are really wonderful, and we’re very satisfied with where things are at the moment.”

Even at this early stage, the network is hoping to be able to keep “X-Files” in its Sunday night slot for at least one additional season and perhaps for years to come, Berman said.

“Of course, we are absolutely looking beyond this year,” she said. “I’d like to think it is a new day that’s moving forward and embracing your former life as well.”

Carter said he would continue on with the series under the right circumstances but that it is too early to determine how likely that scenario might be.

“I know Fox would love it to be on the air next year, but there are many factors,” Carter said. “David doesn’t have a contract for next year, and I’m sure he’d be looking for a rich deal. I don’t have a contract for next year. Most importantly, I want to make sure I’m working toward something. I don’t want to ever let this show peter out or just die of its own weight. This show has to be good for me to continue, and that’s what I’m working to do this year. If I’m satisfying myself that it can be good, I would certainly consider it.”

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