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tv-now.com: The "X-Files" (John Shiban)

The “X-Files” (John Shiban)
Maelee McBee

“The single hardest thing for us to do after all these years is to find great writers who understand Star Trek. It’s always been a problem.” “Enterprise” Executive producer Rick Berman on the hiring of John Shiban.

The X-Files Co-Executive Producer John Shiban was working as a computer programmer to pay the bills when he landed his writing gig on The X-Files in season three. “I went to film school at AFI. There I met Frank Spotnitz, we became friends and after school I continued writing features. I had no thought of writing for television at the time. I was still writing features and taking meetings and not having much success. Frank got the job on The X-Files and I was going to go pitch to him. He said ‘listen, why don’t you send a feature over. I know Chris is interested in hiring somebody with no TV experience.’ So I showed them one of my specs and I waited and waited. I got a call the last day before they went on hiatus to come down and meet Chris. I met him, we had a great meeting and the next day they hired me on staff. Overnight. Well, it felt like overnight even though it had been years of trying. It was beautiful.”

Shiban went on to give us such memorable episodes as Pine Bluff Variant, SR819,Underneath, which he also directed, and Dreamland I and II, Monday, and Field Trip, which he co-wrote with Vince Gilligan and Frank Spotnitz. One of the episodes he is most proud of is Underneath. The episode was Shiban’s directing debut, and proved to be “one of the hardest things I had to do on The X-Files. The first day of directing was hard but once I got through that, I had a blast. It’s like a giant toy store. You do all kinds of amazing things and you have a talented crew who follow your every whim. It’s a ball.”

Something that wasn’t a ball for Shiban was his last day as Executive Producer on The X-Files. “We had a little get together yesterday at Mark Snow’s house to listen to the music for the finale. We all got a little misty eyed. It’s not just seven years of great TV, it’s seven years of great people. It becomes a family. You can’t help that. They are great people that I worked with. Vince was there, Chris and Frank, David Amann, and Paul Rabwin and others. The way we had done it for years was that we’d all go to Mark’s house for music play back, and that was always the most pleasurable part of my job, because Mark Snow is so great at what he does. It was a nice thing for Mark to suggest we all get together for this one. We had a group hug kind of thing.”

Shiban gives away very little about the finale but does answer some questions about baby William, who we last saw being given up for adoption in the episode William. “We all discussed it and knew we wanted to bring some closure to that story as we were trying to do with everything on the series. There was some debate about what to do and what the best thing to do was. That idea (giving William up for adoption) was from Chris and Frank. It’s a safe place for the baby. I don’t think anybody wanted to continue playing jeopardy for the baby any longer. It started to become for all of us painful. The great thing about this solution is that it was a way to cure the baby in a very satisfying manner because it was a part of this revenge plot of Spender’s. It leaves Mulder and Scully with a huge emotional burden. You see in the finale that they do carry that with them. It’s not just ignored by any means. This is a family issue that must be dealt with. It’s a very, very emotional scene, a touching scene. I think you’ll be happy with the result.” Let’s hope so.

Looking back at the life of the series, Shiban says his two favorite episodes are Leonard Betts, which he co-wrote with Vince Gilligan and Frank Spotnitz, and Existence. “The teaser for Leonard Betts was so outlandish that even the director and writers said ‘how the hell are we going to get out of this? You can’t just cut a man’s head off in the teaser and let him live throughout the episode.’ It was so much fun for me and I think we worked it out pretty well. The science almost made sense. It was really exciting and it made me feel like we had a cool franchise here that Chris has created that can push the envelope like this and yet still be grounded in reality. That’s always stuck in my mind that hey, we can do anything on this show.”

Shiban’s other favorite, Existence, is purely personal. “That was my son’s acting debut. He was Scully’s first baby. So that will always stick in my mind as a high point.”

Shiban has moved on to Enterprise, the next installment in the “Star Trek” franchise. He will serve as Co-Executive Producer on the series, and hopes to eventually do some directing in addition to his writing duties. When asked if he was a Trekkie growing up, Shiban says he was a “fan of the original series, and I’ve seen my share of “Next Generation” and some of the “Voyager”. I haven’t seen much of “Deep Space Nine”, but I’m trying to catch up. I’m doing my homework.” That includes knowing the lingo of the Trek universe. “I’m a fan but I don’t know if I’m a Trekker or Trekkie. I know there’s a difference. I’m learning.”

In case he ever starts to feel homesick for The X-Files, he need only look to the cast of Enterprise. John Billingsley who plays Doctor Phlox, was in an “X-Files” episode Shiban co-wrote with Vince Gilligan titled “Three of a Kind.” By the time Shiban arrived at Enterprise, the cast had already gone on hiatus, but he is “looking forward to working with him.”

Shiban feels that just like The X-Files, the “Star Trek” franchise has been so successful because “the basic paradigm is so brilliant, that you can keep telling stories for years. It’s an honor to be a part of something like this.”

“There was no significance to the white buffalo on the flag or the mobile. It was to set the stage and tell us where we were. People should not read anything symbolic into that. To give credit where credit is due, as I understand it, that was a creative choice by David Duchovny who felt ‘I don’t want to do a legend here. Let’s do something a little more interesting’.” John Shiban to fans on the relevance of the white buffalo in the episode William.

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3 Responses to “tv-now.com: The "X-Files" (John Shiban)”

  1. […] William was played by Jerry Shiban, the son of producer John Shiban. He recalls of the experience, “That was my son’s acting début. He was Scully’s first baby. So that will always stick in… There is something quite sweet in the way that closing scene affords so much closer not only to the […]

  2. […] Underneath is notable as Shiban’s directorial debut. The writer was following in the footsteps of other X-Files writers-turned-directors, like Chris Carter on Duane Barry or James Wong on Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man or Vince Gilligan on Je Souhaite or Frank Spotnitz on Alone. It was a tough assignment: […]

  3. […] There was some debate about what to do and what the best thing to do was. That idea (giving William …– John Shiban […]