Archive for December, 1993

USA Today: Duchovny’s strange encounter of the Fox kind

Dec-17-1993
USA Today
Duchovny’s strange encounter of the Fox kind
Jefferson Graham

David Duchovny normally spends his time in Vancouver, British Columbia, where Fox’s creepy cult hit The X-Files is filmed.

But this is Christmastime, and Fox likes its stars to get into the holiday spirit. Duchovny was called down to the Fox lot to shoot promotions of him and co-star Gillian Anderson exchanging gifts. On The X-Files, Duchovny plays an FBI agent who investigates paranormal phenomena. He often looks through a telescope in his search for alien beings.

So, on the Fox promo, he’s looking through the scope, but the only out-of-towner he finds is Kris Kringle.

Ah, to work for the Fox network.

Besides the promos, Duchovny also found time to report the morning weather on Fox-owned KTTV in Los Angeles and have breakfast (orange juice and hot cereal) with USA TODAY.

The X-Files has been renewed for the entire season by Fox, despite cellar-dweller ratings. It’s a cult hit that the Twin Peaks and Quantum Leap contingent have discovered; the show just hasn’t made its way to the general audience.

“Anything that’s weird or tinged with sci-fi will be a candidate for a cult show,” says Duchovny, 33. “But this show deserves to be very popular.”

The actor, who is single, was born in New York City and spent many years in school until he decided his only skill was teaching. Rather than pursue that, he began acting – his first role was in Henry Jaglom’s movie New Year’s Day – and came to Hollywood at age 29.

He got small parts in other films such as The Rapture, Chaplin and Kalifornia. He also appeared in three episodes of Twin Peaks, playing a transvestite, and 20 episodes of Showtime’s The Red Shoe Diaries as the host/narrator.

Then Fox sent him a copy of the X script.

“My only concern was, I thought it was too good to be a series. I also didn’t know where the show could go. How do you do a show about UFOs every week?

“What I found was that the subject was unlimited,” he adds. “The show isn’t just about UFOs, but about things that are strange, weird and unexplained.”

Duchovny believes that’s why the show has struck a chord with some people. “We’re a show that’s good, scary and fun. There’s not a lot of scary stuff on TV anymore, and people really like to get scared.”

Duchovny enjoys working in Vancouver. His one beef: The producers should build a motel room set. “Every week we drive around for 45 minutes going to another seedy motel room in a hideous location. Why not just build one and change the sheets every week?”

Working on a show about weird stuff has given Duchovny a better appreciation for the supermarket tabloids. He recalls a recent headline from the Weekly World News about extraterrestrial hamsters who had come to take over the earth. They look just like regular hamsters, says the story, except they have bright green eyes and tattoos on their ears.

This really cracks him up. Especially the part about how the alien hamsters, not realizing we earthlings were so big, were forced back home.

“Before, I would just glance over and notice how much weight Cher lost,” he says. “Now it’s UFO and alien stories. I don’t know which is more important, but that’s where my eyes are going these days.”

Los Angeles Times: Fox’s ‘X-Files’ makes contact with a Friday-night audience

Dec-12-1993
Los Angeles Times
Fox’s ‘X-Files’ makes contact with a Friday-night audience
Joe Rhodes

They are out there, watching, trying to make contact. Chris Carter suspected this even before he created “The X-Files,” his Friday-night Fox drama about a pair of special-assignment FBI agents exploring all manner of unexplained phenomena, everything from alien abductions to abominable snowmen. But now Carter knows for sure. He has spoken to them, received their messages. He has seen them with his very own eyes.

“They are credible, sane, believable people,” Carter is saying, talking about the thousands of X-Filophiles who have latched onto the show in its first few months, many of whom have gone to the trouble to write, call and mention that, oh by the way, they’ve had contact with extraterrestrials themselves. “They wholeheartedly believe they have had these experiences,” says Carter, who has gotten word of a growing “X-File” cult not only from letters and phone calls but also from a flurry of activity on computer-modem bulletin boards. “And who am I to say they haven’t?”

And, what’s more, they’re not alone. According to a 1992 Roper poll, more than 2% of all Americans believe they may have been abducted by aliens and at least 16% believe they’ve had some kind of contact with beings from another realm.

“That’s an amazing amount of people,” says Carter, who knows a hot demographic when he sees one.

“That’s millions of people who believe.” Which may explain why “X-Files” ratings, although low by traditional network standards, are higher than anything the Fox network has ever seen on a Friday night, high enough for the network to order a full season’s worth (22 episodes) of the series in spite of its usual aversion to hourlong dramas and high production costs. (Even though filming in Vancouver is cheaper than L.A., each episode still costs about $900,000.)

Carter, you should know, is no saucerhead. A lifelong Southern Californian who wrote for Surfing magazine before he became a television writer and producer, he didn’t create “The X-Files” to convince American TV watchers that UFOs exist or that the FBI has special secret files jam-packed with proof. “It’s just that I wanted to do something that was scary and suspenseful and smart,” he says.

Carter does his best to keep “X-Files” as hooey-free as possible, not an easy task considering that his main characters (David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson as FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully) spend a great deal of each show arguing about whether a particular crime has a logical explanation or might have been caused by visitors from outer space.

“The first few episodes,” says Duchovny, whose character tends to look for supernatural causes for everything from unsolved murders to missing socks, “nobody believed me and I was always right.”

That will change. “Sometimes,” says Anderson, “I have a logical theory that is right. And with a lot of the ‘X-Files,’ we don’t know what the real answer is. It’s kind of left up to the audience to decide what they believe.”

None of this was an easy sell. Carter had to persuade a squadron of Fox executives — including Fox owner Rupert Murdoch himself — that the premise had enough possibilities to fill out a long-running series.

The show has already moved from the obvious cases — your aliens, your Bigfoot, your spontaneous human combustion — into more abstract realms, such as the limits of artificial intelligence. Anything, Carter says, that could be construed as “a speculative scientific possibility” is potential fodder for the show. In the early going, that phrase was a problem for some of the network suits, who were a little unsure about what exactly they were agreeing to put on the air. One question Carter was asked at almost every meeting was: “What exactly is an X-File?”

“It’s like obscenity,” Carter told them. “You know it when you see it.’

The production offices and sound stages where most of “The X-Files” is filmed are in a converted brewery on the southwestern edge of downtown Vancouver. Carter’s office, which probably once belonged to a shipping clerk, is depressingly bare. The only thing on the walls is a bulletin board with photos of actors being considered for parts and some curious newspaper clippings.

There is an obit from the New York Times: two biologists, one of them a botanist who was the world’s leading authority on rain forest plants, have died in an airplane crash off the coast of Ecuador. And there’s a tiny item from USA Today about how the Coast Guard in Alaska had traced the source of phony distress calls to misdirected signals from a fax.

“I don’t quite know how I’m going to use those yet,” Carter says. “But I’m intrigued about the idea that this guy who was the repository of this amazing amount of knowledge is suddenly gone. Why did his plane crash?”

So this is where Carter gets his ideas, flying back and forth from Vancouver to L.A., scanning scientific journals, magazines, as many newspapers as he and his staff can absorb. But he hasn’t said how he really feels about this stuff.

“I’m a natural skeptic,” he says when pressed. “I want to believe, though. I think everyone — including me — wants to be driving through the desert some night, bright stars out, and they see something in the sky that they can’t explain.

“Scientists, eminent professors, have said that if we were to find out that there was extraterrestrial life, it would be the biggest discovery ever made by man … And I like the idea of that.”