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San Francisco Chronicle: Chris Carter's X-File agenda

San Francisco Chronicle
Chris Carter’s X-File agenda
Laura Evenson

Hit Show’s Creator a Skeptic, Just Wants to Scare People

The man behind the “X”

A small boy reaches high for the microphone and asks “X-Files” creator Chris Carter how he came up with the idea for the television show about two FBI agents who work with cases that often involve eerie incidents of the paranormal.

“There was a show on when I was a kid called ‘The Night Stalker’ that I wanted to watch forever,” Carter tells the boy, one of 2,500 fans who’ve shown up to see him at an “X-Files” convention held at the Masonic auditorium in San Francisco [on Feb 11]. “Since there were only 18 episodes, I had to grow up to be a big kid and create a new show of my own.”

Carter is also executive producer of the show about Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), the “X-Files” agents who solve cases most G-men won’t touch. Aside from its interest in the paranormal, the show is rife with allusions to conspiracy theories and anti-government sentiments that dog the agents’ every move.

Backstage moments earlier, Carter, 39, explained that the Watergate scandal broke when he was 16 years old, shattering his moral universe. “I believe the government often is not working in our best interest, and I think that is quite a prevalent attitude in the U.S.,” he said. The current climate of economic instability has only added to people’s paranoia, he said, creating a “climate that is right for this sort of show.”

So successful has “X-Files” been that Carter, a former Surfing magazine writer and passionate surfer, now spends more time surfing the Internet to keep up with fans’ responses than he does hanging 10.

Carter is getting ready to produce a 20th Century Fox movie that will star Duchovny and Anderson. He said he expects to release the film in 1997 or 1998, but declined to provide details about its plot. “All I can tell you is that it’ll be an ‘X-File’ for the big screen,” he said.

The muscular Carter exudes the relaxed and confident air of a man content with the fact that his sleeper sci-fi series has gone from cult status to mainstream media hit. “It’s been a great three years, and I’m a blessed person, touch wood,” he said, noting that “X-Files” won a Golden Globe award last year. “The show will go five years total, and past that it’s gravy,” he added.

Carter isn’t resting on his laurels just yet. He’s also working on a second “very dark cop show that involves a man with a peculiar method of solving crimes.” He said the new show will hit the Fox network next fall.

Carter, who describes himself as a “person of very few wants in life,” clearly knows how to generate the most bang for his hard work. “X-Files” not only draws fans to conventions around the country, but it has spawned a merchandising empire that includes publicity fanzines, collectors’ cards, key chains and little faux alien embryos packed in what look like lab jars.

A stickler for details, Carter works hard, spending 16 to 18 hours a day overseeing the writing, editing and music cues for each show. He even recently visited an FBI field office in Seattle to learn how agents operate, and he partook of peyote on a Navajo reservation in Arizona to acquaint himself with peyote rituals portrayed in this year’s season opener.

But the demands of his work wear on his private life. “This is the first time Chris has seen me vertical in a few weeks,” said his wife, Dori, an elegant former screenwriter who flew up from Los Angeles to squeeze in a little private time with her husband.

Mitch Pileggi, who portrays FBI assistant director Walter Skinner on the series and also appeared at the convention, said Carter’s attention to detail is staggering. “But I won’t call Chris a control freak, because he hates that,” he said.

Carter admits that his attention to detail extends to scanning science journals and UFO magazines for ideas. He recently used a popular UFO theory that suggests that the military conspires with aliens. But he insists that he is a skeptic by nature and has little interest in making a statement about little green men or bigger G-men.

“All I want to do is take people on a roller-coaster ride each week and scare the pants off them.”

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