Archive for 1996

Cinefantastique: The X-Files leading genre Emmy winner

Cinefantastique (Vol.28, No.6)
The X-Files leading genre Emmy winner
Paula Vitaris

ER may have won Outstanding Drama Series at the 1996 Emmys last September, but for genre fans, the real winner was The X-Files, which took a total of five statues when it added Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series to the four won the previous night at the Creative Arts Awards ceremony. Gulliver’s Travels tied with The X-Files for a total of five Emmys, the most awards given to any show this year. Also, The Outer Limits episode, “A Stitch in Time” won for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series, Amanda Plummer.

At the Creative Arts Award ceremony on September 7, Director of Photography John Bartley won an overdue award for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Cinematography for the episode “Grotesque”. Thierry J. Couturier and 12 colleagues at West Productions in Burbank won for Outstanding Sound Editing. Michael Williamson, also of West Productions, and 3 colleagues, won for Outstanding Sound Mixing for “Nisei”. And guest star Peter Boyle won for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series for his performance in “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose”. The only X-Files nominees to come away empty handed that evening were art director Graeme Murray and set decorator Shirley Inget, nominated for art direction on “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space”.

At the main ceremony on Sunday, September 8, The X-Files was up for three more awards. For the second year running, the show was nominated for Outstanding Drama Series, and Gillian Anderson received her first nomination as Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama series.

Peter Boyle read the list of nominees for Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series and then announced the winner: Darin Morgan, writer of “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose”, the episode for which Boyle had received his award a mere 24 hours before. “I didn’t even hear them call my name,” said Morgan, who had never met Boyle until he joined the actor on stage for his acceptance speech. “I just heard ‘The Emmy goes to Da~’ and everyone leaped up and was screaming.” The loudest screamer was his older brother Glen Morgan, a writer and producer on The X-Files. The elder Morgan happily kidded, “Of the greatest thrills in my life, Darin’s Emmy was just a notch under Steve Garvey’s Game Four home run against the Cubs in 1984.”

The eight nominations and five wins represented a particularly sweet accomplishment for the show. Not only did it win in the creative arts categories that usually bring genre shows their only Emmys, but with the writing awards, The X-Files broke through the glass ceiling to win in a category usually reserved for mainstream fare (Rod Sterling won for The Twilight Zone in 1961.)

Darin Morgan had no expectations that “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” would net him a nomination, let alone a win, although he felt certain Boyle was a shoe-in. “Most people don’t think of The X-Files as a writer’s show; they think of it as a special effects, science fiction thing. It’s looked down upon by mainstream TV in several areas,” he said. When his nomination was announced, his first thought was “Oh God, I’ve got to get a tux,” an outfit he found only slightly less constricting that the latex suit he wore when he played the Flukeman in “The Host”. But with the Emmy in hand, he admitted that he felt “good”.

The list of nominees included some surprising omissions, including lead actor, David Duchovny. “David got screwed,” Morgan stated firmly. “At least John Bartley won. He should have won last year. You look at the other shows and you go, ‘Well, it’s obvious that he should have been winning all this time.’ My only complaint is they gave an award to the writer of the episode, but they didn’t even nominate the director, David Nutter. And if he directed both the actor and the script to an award-winning status, then he should have at least gotten nominated.”

The lack of nominations for the shows directors is curious indeed. Morgan believes that Emmy voters won’t give serious consideration to a series about aliens and the paranormal, citing the Academy’s neglect of director Rob Bowman’s work on his episode ‘Jose Chung’s From Outer Space’ as an example. “That’s one of the best hours you’ll ever see on TV. But there are people who see a story with an alien and say, ‘Ob, it’s an alien thing’, and they will completely disregard the content of the episode.”

David Nutter, who directed the Emmy winning “Nisei”, as well as “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose”, credits the lack of nominations to the remoteness of the X-Files shooting location in Vancouver and the fact that while the show’s directors are members of the Director’s Guild of America, the assistant directors and production managers are members of the Directors Guild of Canada. “We’re further away from the real action in Los Angeles where a lot of the voting takes place,” he noted. But he was delighted with the “Nisei” and “Clyde Bruckman” wins, adding that “I feel like I got a little piece of the statue.”

Darin Morgan, who has departed the X-Files to work on feature film scripts, watched a videotape of the Emmy broadcast after he got home. To his dismay, he thought he “looked and sounded like a Peter Sellers character – a cross between Claire Quity in Lolita and Dr. Strangelove. You see something like that and you say, ‘Oh man, never again. I’m going into hiding.” The biggest thrill was watching the reaction of all our producers. They were so goddamn happy. I’ve never seen all those guys that happy over one single thing. It was great just to watch.”


American Atheists News

[Original article here]

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   In This Issue...
   * British Atheist Takes On "The X-FILES." The Truth IS Out There!
   * GOP "Big Tent" Ready To Collapse?
   * Bishops Plan ~ You Pay


   Dr. Richard Dawkins, Oxford University zoologist and Atheist,  attacked
what he termed an "epidemic of paranormal propaganda" on British television
last night, during the 21st annual Richard Dimbleby memorial lecture.  He
decried the growing cultural trend of obsession with mysticism and paranomal
phenomenon as "an appetite for wonder," but cautioned viewers: "By all means
let's be open-minded, but not so open-minded that our brains drop out."  
   "Who would go back to astrology when they've sampled the real thing --
astronomy?", mused Dawkins.
   Noting the burgeoning public fixation with astrology and television
programs like "The X-Files," Dawkins sigled out a recent half-hour prime time
program which focused on the bizarre claims of a man claiming to be a faith
healer reincarnated from 2,000 years ago.  "Some might call this
entertaining," noted the British scientists, "comedy even, though others
would find it objectionable entertainment, like a fairground freak show."
   Darwkins also criticized astrologers who "are playing on -- misusing,
abusing -- our sense of wonder.  Real astronomy is the rightful proprietor of
the stars and their wonder.  Astrology gets in the way, even subverts and
debauches the wonder."
   The popular "X-Files" program was also singled out by Professor Dawkins.
 This award-winning program carried in America on the Fox Networks, depicts
two FBI agents on the trail of bizarre, "unexplained" phenomenon who also
battle a shadowy government cabal linked to aliens and UFO abductions.
 "X-Files" producer Chris Carter also has launched "Millennium," an even
darker program dealing with serial killers, cults and turn-of-the-century
madness which is combatted by a semi-secret "Millennium Group."
   Dawkins noted that programs like "The X-Files" present a mystery and
"offer rational and paranormal theories as rival explanations," according to
today's Electronic Telegraph.
   "And, week after week, the rational explanation loses," said Dawkins.
 "Imagine a crime series in which, every week, there is a white suspect and a
black suspect.  And every week, lo and behold, the black one turns out to
have done it.  Unpardonable, of course.  And my point is that you could not
defend it."

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Details Magazine: Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

Details Magazine
Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid
Gavin Edwards

Chris Carter is the man behind the creepiest shows on TV:

The X-Files and Millennium

Gavin Edwards crawls inside his nightmares.

Chris Carter is picking a murder weapon. He knows a lot about death and its tools, like how Glock handguns are growing more popular with detectives, or how it can be hard to tear off pieces of duct tape when you are trying to suffocate a victim quickly. But when he selects a weapon, he puts all that information aside for one consideration: how it looks. He doesn’t bother to handle the axes or the scythe, doesn’t test their weight, or experiment with how they feel in his right hand. He makes his choices quickly, collecting a pile of hand axes and a gun for good measure, never hesitating or second-guessing himself. After all, it’s not like it’s his first time in a props room.

Chris, the creator and executive producer of The X-Files, is busy launching Millennium, another show designed to turn your REM sleep into nightmares. It’s the story of a retired FBI agent named Frank Black who’s studied serial killers for so long, he’s started sharing their dark visions — a serious advantage on the job, not so much fun at home with the wife and kid. Next week, Chris and his crew will begin filming the third episode, which is why on a Friday morning, accompanied by director Thomas Wright, he’s choosing from the objects presented by prop master Kimberley Regent for an episode about a serial killer who paints his messages on strands of hair. Beer bottles, an Igloo cooler, a tool chest filled with lethal weaponry: all fine. Coffee mugs and a pair of scissors: rejected for looking brand-new.

“Do you want something more Edward Scissorhands?” asks Kimberley.

“Not to the point of Grand Guignol — they should just be well used.”

The killer in this Millennium episode, “Dead Letters,” hacks his victims into pieces, so the conversation turns to how the show will conceal the corpse cutlets. “The nice thing about a white sheet,” observes Chris in a chipper tone, “is that you can have body fluids seeping through.”

Chris’s company, Ten Thirteen Productions, takes its name from his birthday: October 13, 1956. Chris grew up in the L.A. suburb of Bellflower; his childhood was fairly normal, even if Chris’s construction worker father was a little on the strict side. After playing with the girl next door one night when he was eight, Chris came home late for dinner. This was forbidden in the Carter household. To emphasize the point, his father took Chris’s dinner plate out to the street, placed it on a manhole cover, and made his son eat off the pavement. Since the Carters lived on a dead end, Hegel Place, Chris was never in danger. But even when passing cars are going fifteen miles an hour, eating in the street is humiliating.

“My parents never broke rank,” says Chris. “Even when they were wrong, they would back each other up.” Confronted with an unassailable power that he knew was wrong sometimes, Chris lost faith in all authority figures. “Trust no one” is an X-Files slogan; it’s also Chris’s personal philosophy. He doesn’t trust anybody. With a dry chuckle he admits, “This is an issue between my wife and me.”

As a teenager, Chris loved the show Kolchak: The Night Stalker,” which starred Darrin McGavin as a hapless newspaper reporter who, whatever his assignment was, would end up stumbling across a zombie or werewolf and then try to convince the local authorities this wasn’t just any ordinary murder, dammit. The show lasted only twenty episodes, but Chris watched every single one and wished there had been more. Two decades later, financed by 20th Century Fox Television, he’d make his nightmares come true.

Chris’s Millennium office is barren; he hasn’t had time to decorate. The bookshelf holds only three volumes: a dictionary, a Bible (with the Apocrypha), and the Yellow Pages. Chris is sitting in his leather chair, talking on the phone with David Duchovny while watching dailies of The X-Files. On Chris’s TV, David and Gillian Anderson interrogate a suspect, over and over and over again.

Chris hangs up: It’s time for a “tone meeting” for the “Dead Letters” episode of Millennium, attended by director Thomas Wright, writer James Wong, and a couple of producers. The goal is to study the script scene by scene, to ensure that everybody is striving for the same effect. But since this is Thomas’s first time working with Chris, it also becomes a seminar on the Chris Carter Principles of Dramatic Episodic Television.

Chris believes: (1) That point of view is everything in television. He urges Thomas to think of the camera as another character, not just an observer of the scene. (2) That a show can only be as scary as it is believable.(3) That a script should never include a scene where characters are drinking any beverage; it only encourages the actors to take portentous pauses, and makes the editing much harder. (4) That an actor’s posture is vital. When FBI agents have their hands in their pockets, they communicate lack of interest in the crime scene — even if the reason is the cold weather. (5) That stuntmen will always want to stage overly elaborate fight sequences.

Chris eats sushi during the meeting, guarding the pages of his script with a cupped left hand. Scene 9 of “Dead Letters” has a problem. Learning that the serial killer covers his victims with his own feces, Frank Black says, “The only psychological release he could perform was defecation.” The Fox Broadcast Standards department is not happy about this dialogue, and have issued a memo declaring that “the reference to ‘fecal remains’ is unacceptable. We also will not accept references to urine, urination, or masturbation.”

“This is a very well-researched thing about defecation,” fumes writer James Wong. “Thieves burgle your home and leave behind a calling card. I find it unacceptable that they find it unacceptable.”

Chris takes action: He calls up Ken Horton, his co-executive producer in Los Angeles, and advises him to walk over to Broadcast Standards, rather than just fire off a countermemo: The personal visit might help persuade Fox that the scene is not meant to titillate. And as Chris hangs up to resume the tone meeting, he has final words of advice for Ken: “Don’t take any of their shit.”

Chris majored in Journalism at California State University in Long Beach, paying his way by working as a production potter. A typical evening by the kiln: cutting up a hundred four-pound balls of clay, each of which he then shaped into an identical pot. Where some people would find drudgery, Chris saw an opportunity to exercise mastery. He says that there are hundreds of thousands of pots in the world made by his hands. He saw one outside the studio only once, as a planter in a doctor’s office: All Chris could think about was how one day it would break, and how all his pottery would eventually disappear, unremembered.

After college, Chris went to work for Surfing magazine, where he was the greenhorn running through the hallways, colliding with the art director. He profiled surfers, profiled beaches, reviewed new equipment — whatever was needed. By age twenty-six, he had become a senior editor and had nearly drowned in Hawaii’s big surf seven winters in a row. He had also just seen Raiders of the Lost Ark, which made him realize that he wanted to work in the movies. Chris wrote a script about three kids heading off to the Vietnam War. It circulated around Hollywood, generating a buzz wherever it went, and Jeffrey Katzenberg hired him at Disney for a three-picture deal. At the time, Disney was experimenting with putting lots of writers near each other, in the hope that they would stimulate each other’s creativity. As Chris remembers it, everyone did congregate in the hallways — to bitch about deals and executives.

Chris got sidetracked into television when he discovered that the appetite for new scripts that would fill up airtime was so insatiable, he actually has a chance of seeing his words spoken by actors. Having a successful show is not a prerequisite to getting promoted at TV studios — sometimes you don’t even need to make it on the air. So Chris hopped from job to job, with credits like the Sunday-night TV movie Meet the Muncies (“a very funny Beverly Hillbillies kind of idea that would have been terrific, but they didn’t give us enough money or time to make it the right way”), Rags to Riches (a musical-comedy series on NBC about five dancing orphan girls), and the wholesome family sitcom A Brand New Life (“I was kind of manipulated into that project”). By 1992, his Hollywood reputation had grown sufficiently that Fox signed him to an exclusive deal. Remembering Kolchak: The Night Stalker and reasoning that there were no scary programs on the airwaves anymore, Chris managed to convince his bosses of the merits of The X-Files. (“I pitched it once and they didn’t buy it. I pitched it a second time and they bought it, I think, just to get me off their backs.”)

Fox thought they were getting a spooky reality-based program: reenactment of actual alien abductions. But The X-Files quickly became weirder and wittier than that, as FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully investigated everything from cannibals to government conspiracies to cockroach invasions. Once a cult hit, The X-Files is currently the Fox network’s highest-rated show. And with the Pearl Jam-size success of The X-Files, the networks have shifted into Stone Temple Pilots mode. NBC offers three Generation X-Files shows in a row on Saturday night: Dark Skies, The Pretender, and Profiler. UPN has The Sentinel and The Burning Zone. Even Baywatch Nights is supposed to take a paranormal turn this season.

What they seem to be borrowing from The X-Files is what many people focus on: the sense of paranoia, communicated through old genre conventions like vampires and space aliens. What often gets ignored is the sense of religious desire. Mulder repeats the mantra “Trust no one” but he also says “I want to believe,” and “The truth is out there.” It’s a heady notion: that no matter how confusing the modern world may seem, there is a single unifying truth behind all its uncertainty — you just need to look in the right place to uncover the architecture. Mulder often seems less like an FBI agent than a pilgrim en route to Damascus. Always lacking the hard evidence he needs to confirm his theories of abductions, in the end all he has is his faith.

Last year, Fox reminded Chris that despite the epic proportions of X-mania, he still owed them another pilot under the terms of his development deal. (They may well have decided that if other networks were going to copy The X-Files, they should just go right to the source.) Chris remembered Frank Black, a character he’d been carrying around in his head for a long time: not the former Pixies singer, but a retired FBI agent who learns to understand wrongdoing so deeply that he gains quasi-psychic insight into criminals. With Millennium — starring Lance Henriksen as Frank Black and Megan Gallagher as his social-worker wife Catherine — Chris wants not to just xerox The X-Files, but to explore the nature and meaning of evil. Chris hopes the show runs long enough that it becomes an issue whether the millennium begins in 2000 or 2001.

With his broad shoulders and curly blond hair, Chris looks as wholesome as an actor in a soap commercial. But in his head, he sees himself as an outsider, with dyed hair and body piercings. He doesn’t let this side of himself leak out into anything but his scripts, however, and when pressed as to the origins of his black art, he sidesteps the question. He says that he thinks of his series as driven by character, not horror, or that he’s not really interested in showing blood and gore on the screen, or that he simply doesn’t know where his grotesque ideas come from.

All of us have unknown terrors, monsters inside our head. Some of us run away from them; some of us just pretend they don’t exist. Some of us try to conquer them, maybe paying a therapist for a talking cure. Chris copes with them in the way he’s learned best: by dissecting them into structures of four acts (plus a teaser), and then exiling them to your television set. Chris knows that he has good instincts for what scares people. “I think our lives are rather mundane, and we like to be shocked. We like the sensory burst.” It would be easy to peg him as a calculating Hollywood operator who recognized that a modern Twilight Zone would fill a market niche. But like Agent Mulder, he throws himself into his job until it swallows up his life. Unlike Mulder, Chris doesn’t make speeches about why he does what he does before we cut to commercial.

For all the grisly events on The X-Files and Millennium, Chris is surprisingly squeamish. A few years back, he went to a specialist to find out why his hearing had gotten so bad. He learned that he has a condition known as “surfer’s ear.” When you get pounded by big waves day after day, a lot of water enters the ear; to protect itself, the ear forms lumps of bone under the skin of the ear canal which block out the surf. The doctor told him the news and began probing the ear to make a precise diagnosis. Chris fainted. The creator of TV’s scariest shows woke up in the arms of his ear-nose-and-throat man.

Chris steps into the sunshine of a Vancouver parking lot. Both The X-Files and Millennium film up here: It’s accessible to L.A. but cheaper, and the local terrain can mimic just about any part of the United States. (Except for Southwestern deserts: To simulate a New Mexico ravine last year, the crew covered a local quarry with 1,600 gallons of red paint.) Chris has been asked to help with an X-Files casting decision; as he strides the fifty yards that separates his two shows’ buildings, Teamsters unloading a truck smile and wave at their boss.

“They’re casting a mutant,” Chris explains to me. “Well, not a mutant, exactly. More of a freak of nature, a woman with no arms or legs. She lives under somebody’s bed. Her own, I guess.” The director, Kim Manners, and the casting director, Coreen Mayrs, have narrowed their choices for Mrs. Peacock to three actresses. Chris examines the Polaroids of each actress, and then the women are brought in one at a time for their final callback.

Actress No. 1, Karin, turns her chair toward Coreen, who is feeding her lines, and does Mrs. Peacock’s monologue as a slow burn, hands behind her back, eyes bulging. Karin is completely focused on Coreen; I wonder whether she realizes that Chris has the only opinion in the room that really counts right now.

Chris already knows Actress No. 2, Barbara — she played a small part as a hostage in an X-Files episode he directed two years ago. He nicknamed her “my Canadian wife” because she kept bringing him homemade jam. She reads with a Southern accent, building into a scalding fury.

Actress No. 3, Lenore, tells us how she scared the children at the local mall while she was practicing the monologue. When she begins, we see why: She wails at the top of her lungs, rocks violently in the chair, and scatters her script all over the carpet. Chris watches with his hands folded in his lap.

A pause as No. 3 leaves the room. Coreen and Kim look at Chris expectantly. “Well, we have to send really nice cards to two of them,” Chris begins. “They all obviously a lot of work. Barbara did a great acting job, but she’s a little too robust for the part. Karin was doing some creepy stuff with her eyes at the end. Made me really nervous. That’s a good sign.” The decision is made, with no further debate: Karin is whisked off to wardrobe and makeup, to get fitted for clothes and prosthetics.

Chris’ staff have nicknamed him The Phantom because he appears and disappears in the office hallway when they least expect it. He skitters off to his X-Files office, decorated with props from the show and posters of the stage magician Carter the Great (“In Mid-Air, Carter Materializes a Bowl of Water Weighing 150 lbs!”). First he places a phone call to a Fox executive (Chris does most of his own dialing himself, only occasionally asking one of his assistants to get somebody on the line). Talking with the exec, Chris politely but decisively kiboshes a planned tie-in between Millennium and Domino’s Pizza. Now Chris has a chance to demonstrate his sterling-silver etiquette: He writes thank-you notes to the two actresses who weren’t cast as Mrs. Peacock. Most producers, if they thought to do this at all, would just scribble a quick sentence. Chris, however, fills up both cards: As always, compulsively writing.

If Chris Carter were a character on The X-Files, who would he be? Gillian Anderson: “Chris would be the Cigarette-Smoking Man, because he’s at the top, he knows exactly what he wants, and he can snap his fingers and people will obey his whims. I can imagine him standing in a corner with half-light, only he wouldn’t be smoking, he’d be doing something else. Maybe he’d be the Jellybean-Eating Man.” Chris Carter: “Mulder and Scully are equal parts of me. David makes fun of me; he says that means Mulder is only half a character.” David Duchovny: “Actually, Chris already played a character in the second-season finale: one of the FBI agents who was grilling Scully about my whereabouts. He was in the script as Other Agent, so we called him Agent Other Agent. He just had a few lines, but he felt like he was flubbing them. No recurring role.”

Although The X-Files and Millennium shoot in Vancouver, the writers work on the Fox lot back in Los Angeles. So Chris spends a lot of time shuttling between the two cities; he’s on a first-name basis with the Canadian Air flight attendants, baggage handlers and pilots. Canadian Air’s even been known to hold takeoff for a few minutes so Chris can get on the plane.

Aside from overseeing every episode of The X-Files, Chris writes eight episodes a season (and revises most of the other 16): a grueling workload, which he now plans to double. Says David Duchovny, “Chris is driven beyond all common sense, but at his core he’s just a really good, decent man. He’s loyal like a dog — but a little more intelligent.” Chris works until about eleven most nights, typing on his PowerBook, and then drives straight home in his Land Rover.

On the Fox back lot, every single parking space is labeled RESERVED, even the ones nobody ever uses. Ten Thirteen Productions sprawls over many buildings in what was once the Shirley Temple section of the studio. Monday mornings at Ten Thirteen begin with a Millennium meeting. Chris — wearing maroon shorts and a gray T-shirt — joins six writers and co-executive producer Ken Horton around a table piled high with doughnuts and pastries. One writer, Tedd Mann, is chewing a piece of nicotine gum and drinking tea out of a huge Pyrex mixing cup. Chris keeps the meeting moving briskly — except when he feels like he needs to share what’s on his mind, whether that relates to the nature of Bill Murray’s appeal or how Olympic archers eat junk food to speed up their heart rate. Other writers are allowed to derail the conversation in this fashion, but few dare. Each staffer reports on how his script is progressing, and Chris tells them about the “fecal remains” brouhaha.

“Would ‘poop’ be acceptable?” asks one writer.

Ken provides an update: “The guy we’re going to win the argument with is on vacation right now. So we’re going to shoot it, and then we’re also going to shoot a version without it.”

“Don’t tell him we’re doing that,” says Chris.

“Well, we don’t want to give them the big finger. They’ll figure out what’s going on anyway.”

An hour late, Chris walks to the X-Files meeting, held in co-executive producer Howard Gordon’s bungalow. (In TV, most successful writers end up titled as some variety of producer.) Seven writers crowd around a small coffee table, which holds a plate with five bagels.

“Year four, this is all you get,” Chris tells them. Everybody grumbles good-naturedly about how there aren’t enough bagels; nobody actually eats one. Howard’s working on a script about an albino who kills his victims by stealing their melanin. The writers debate plot mechanics, the racial implications of the story, hiding places for the killer. “The end-game should be urban,” Chris declares. “What if he’s under a bowling alley, and the balls start to back up?” More ideas are tossed around, including a mushroom farm and the crawl space under an escalator (both already used on the show), the pipes of an oil-drilling rig, and a big industrial darkroom.

“What’s that like?” Chris asks the writer who suggested it.

“Um, it’s dark.”

Chris improvises some Mulder-Scully dialogue as they try to revise the scripts third and fourth acts. It’s slow, frustrating work, but Chris keeps the plot twists flowing. He has another idea for the melanin killer: “If only he needed melatonin — you can get it at any health-food store.” Once the meeting has been going on for about an hour, Chris begins balancing his chair on its rear legs and drumming his fingers on the table. He’s got a script to revise and he can’t contain his anticipation. His tool is a laptop computer, not a surfboard, but he’s still itching for his daily adrenaline rush.

Cinefantastique: Darin Morgan

Darin Morgan
Paula Vitaris

The X-Files’ court Jester on Turning the Show Inside-Out

There’s a scene in the X-Files episode “Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space”‘ wherein a teenage girl wakes up after a possible alien abduction to find she is wearing her clothes inside out or backwards. “Inside out or backwards” also serves as a fitting description for the comic X-Files episodes written by Darin Morgan, author of “Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space”‘ and three others: “Clyde Bruckman”s Final Repose,” “The War of the Coprophages,” and last season’s “Humbug.” Morgan’s episodes are all bonafide X-files, with cases to be solved and creepy monsters and aliens on the prowl, but like any good court jester, he has no hesitation in sticking a pin into the inflated balloon of X- files convention, be it Mulder’s reputation as a well-dressed genius, Scully’s ultra-professionalism, or the show’s thoroughly serious tone. The person behind all the hoopla is a self-effacing 30-year-old man with a love for the work of Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, Howard Hawks, Preston Sturges, and Billy Wilder. The younger brother of X-Files producer-writer Glen Morgan, he was offered two jobs during the X-Files’ second season: to play the mutant Flukeman in “The Host” and to help work out the story for the “Blood” with Glen and James Wong. Morgan’s work on “Blood” earned him a spot on the writing staff, which he accepted even though he was unsure of his ability to turn out a script due to his slowness as a writer and his natural bent towards comedy. When he finally turned in “Humbug,” the staff and the network were understandably apprehensive, since the episode was so unlike anything done before. Even though “Humbug,” his first produced script, turned out to be massive hit with the fans, to this day he is unsatisfied with the final result, lamenting the loss of a number of good gags. Morgan got the feeling he was on the wrong show. No matter how much he tried to be serious, he kept turning out funny stuff. “At least on The X-Files, there always was a point to why I was being funny. I tie it into the show in various ways,” he said. “The thing I was always careful of was to make sure I had a real investigation, with theories from both Mulder and Scully. I was aware I was doing things differently, but I also wanted to make sure I was doing all the things the show would normally do. In ‘Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose,’ each time Mulder says Clyde is psychic, Scully had a legitimate reason to say he’s not. I did even more in ‘Coprophages,’ where, in the end, Scully was wrong, but she was right in the beginning, and that’s what the whole show is about: different theories, how to explain certain phenomenon. My scripts had that, and I always had stereotypical ‘boo’ scenes or act-outs [ending an act] with a dead body. I was proudest of ‘ Jose Chung,’ in which only two people died, and I didn’t have a death on an act-out. You get in the habit of saying. ‘Okay, here’s a dead body,’ cut to commercial. But you usually have to have those. The X-Files is a kind of horror show, so you have to have those moments of genuine terror or grossness. ”

His lingering disappointment with “Humbug” took him in another direction, a story that would become his second episode, “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose,” about a weary middle-aged insurance salesman with the ability to see people’s deaths. When Mulder and Scully ask his help to help solve a series of murders of fortune tellers, Clyde, played by Peter Boyle, is reluctant. To his mind, there is no altering the future. “I felt I had done ‘Humbug’ wrong, so I watched ‘Beyond the Sea” [Morgan’s favorite X-Files episode] again to see what the show is really about. I decided to try to write one that was much more serious and much more depressing. I really was trying to write a show with no jokes in it at all–but I failed.” The character of Clyde Bruckman was named for a comedy writer and director who had committed suicide in 1955. “I was so depressed after ‘Humbug’ that I felt suicidal,” he recalled. “So I said, ‘I’m going to write about a character who will commit suicide at the end.’ You hear these things about people’s careers going downhill, and Clyde Bruckman always struck me as being the ultimate Hollywood horror story. He worked with Keaton, Lloyd, Laurel and Hardy, and W.C. Fields. There was a ten year span that must have been the greatest. I can’t think of a greater series of jobs. Yet the guy obviously had some problems. He was an alcoholic, and ending up killing himself.”

Another source of inspiration came from Morgan’s insurance salesman father who is, said Morgan, “kind of a depressive guy,” like the fictional Clyde. Morgan was also intrigued by the notion of an insurance salesman who can foresee the future. “Insurance is about what will happen to you. You don’t know, so you have to take out insurance, and to have a character who actually does know trying to sell people that was kind of amusing.” The episode’s exploration of free will versus determinism, and coincidence versus fate grew out of Morgan’s difficulties with plotting. “I’ve always been really bad with plot and trying to figure out twists,” he said. “So Clyde Bruckman and the killer character act in ways that were really easy to plot, but which make the story seem complicated. Stu Charno, who played the killer, asked me, ‘Why does the guy kill?’ I told him ‘Because I needed him to.’ He really doesn’t kill for any specific reason. I had come me up with this idea of the killer as a puppet, someone who doesn’t feel in control of his own life. That’s why I like the story so much. It’s so contrived, that if you think there’s a future out there that you can see, you have to assume it was contrived or plotted that way by someone.”

Morgan researched fortune tellers and psychics, learning about their tricks to delude the public. Out of that grew a memorably over-the-top character, “a cross between Uri Geller and the Amazing Kreskin,” according to Morgan — the Stupendous Yappi, played by Jaap Broeker, David Duchovny’s stand-in. “Jaap is such a bizarre character,” Morgan said. “He has a very interesting facial structure, and he’s mesmerizing. I based Yappi’s speech patterns on him. Japp really talks like that, very fast, and sometimes he doesn’t stop.”

The first act opening scene, when Mulder, Scully and Yappi all show up at the scene of the latest murder, is Morgan’s favorite of all his episodes “Even though it was just a series of one-liners, a lot of information was conveyed. It was all done so fast that it seemed to work. Also, the other cops bought into Yappi’s explanation, which separated Mulder and Scully from the other investigators. I like the fact that it was Mulder who was making those points. Even though he believes in psychic phenomenon, he’s smart enough to know the difference between a charlatan and a real psychic.”

Besides Clyde Bruckman, the episode also demonstrates Morgan’s care in delineating Mulder and Scully. “Everyone looks at Mulder as having all the answers, he said, “Most of the other episodes present him as usually right. I’ve always found that the things he talks about, if a normal person talked about them, you’d go, ‘This guy’s crazy.’ He’s supposed to be a smart guy, but I’ve never looked at him as such. He’s just more lucky in some of his explanations. And Scully, although skeptical, has the right approach when she says, ‘I don’t believe this.’ Before I wrote for the show, Mulder always seemed like the more interesting character, but once I started writing for it, I found that I liked Scully more.”

The result is that Morgan often shakes up Mulder’s image, as at the end of “Humbug,” with Mulder unwittingly striking a GQ pose. “I don’t mind making fun of Mulder,” Morgan said. “He’s presented as the seeker of the truth, and to me such people are always somewhat ridiculous.”

Mulder’s and Scully’s attitudes toward Clyde also demonstrate Mulder’s views of their characters. “My pitch to Chris was that Mulder is so involved in psychic phenomenon that he’s interested in Clyde only for his abilities. But Scully, doesn’t believe in these abilities, so she can consider this man as a person and see how, even though he believes he’s psychic, it’s ruined his life. That was one of the main points of the episode. Everyone considers Mulder to be the one who has all the answers, but I think sometimes he’s so narrow-minded that he doesn’t do some things properly. He never really considered Clyde Bruckman as a person only as a phenomenon. The note Clyde leaves for Scully is written to her, because Bruckman knows that she’s treating him as a person.”

“Clyde Bruckman”s Final Repose” contained several lines of dialogue that sent fans into a frenzy pondering their meaning. The first came when Bruckman told Scully she wouldn’t die. “Some people took it to mean that Scully was immortal, but the meaning was that Clyde knows how Scully’s going to die, but he likes her so much he’s not going to tell her, because telling her would ruin her life, whether she believed it or not. Telling someone they’re not going to die is one of the nicest things you can say. That’s why he says it to her. It had nothing to do with whether she was immortal or was going to be hurt in the show.”

The other line of dialogue that transfixed fans came when Bruckman says offhandedly, “I’m sure there are worse ways to go, but I can’t think of a more undignified one than auto-erotic asphyxiation,” and Mulder quickly demands, “Why are you telling me this?” Is it just another joke, or is there some deeper meaning? “Well, yes and no,” Morgan hedged. “I think that’s what Mulder will die of A homicide investigation book I read had several pictures of people who died in that manner. There’s something in those pictures that is so disturbing, in the sense of going back to the ancient Greeks, and their idea of ‘don’t dishonor my body after I die.’ It’s bad enough to be found dead, and suicide is tragic, but then you see these people who have these really complicated, almost Rube Goldberg type set-ups. It would be humorous if it wasn’t so disturbing. This ties in with Clyde’s dream about what your body looks like when it dies. How will it be found? In what condition and what manner? That was the gist of that character. The autoerotic asphyxiation is obviously a joke line, but it came about from studying those photos.”

Third season post-production for Morgan was a much more pleasant experience than it had been with ‘Humbug.’ “On this show, you’re really regarded as being a producer of your own episode,” Morgan said. “No one trusted me on ‘Humbug,’ because it was my first. But on ‘Clyde Bruckman’ and the cockroach episode, it worked out that both David Nutter and Kim Manners had to start prepping another show immediately. They each had one day of cutting and then I was allowed to be in there with the editor.”

“Clyde Bruckman”s Final Repose” won Morgan praise from an unexpected quarter, when the science fiction author Harlan Ellison called to express his admiration. Morgan not a science fiction fan, had no idea who Ellison was. “He was the childhood idol of some of the writers on our staff and they were all pissed off that I didn’t even know who he was, and he called me,” he laughed. “I’ve since learned about him, although I’ve yet to really read his stuff. He really liked the episode and thought Peter Boyle was great.”

‘The War of the Coprophages, ” in contrast to the more measured, meditative “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose,” was Morgan’s lightest, fastest, most farcical episode. “There were some serious, actual ideas in this one, so I felt free to be a little bit lighter,” Morgan explained. The episode opens on a weekend with Mulder up in Massachusetts, hanging about UFO hot spots, and Scully at home doing those mundane things everyone does during the weekend. The X-File arrives when Mulder is pulled in by local law enforcement to help solve the mystery behind some strange deaths caused, according to witnesses, by swarms of roaches. Mulder traces the roaches–which he believes, naturally, to be robotic alien probes–to a factory that produces methane from dung.

The episode worked, Morgan feels, but it’s another script with which he is unhappy, although he can’t put his finger on what bothers him. ‘I don’t know!” he laughed. ‘I had less time to do that script than any other one. I wrote it in a week. I was a couple of days late with the last act, the only time I was ever late with a script. Fortunately [ director] Kim Manners really liked it a lot, even with just the first three acts, so no one was mad at me.”

Morgan conceived the idea of alien robot insects from his research into robotics and artificial intelligence. “Everyone assumes that if there are extraterrestrials visiting us, that they would look like gray aliens,” he said. “There is this idea that our own future in space exploration is going to be robotic. It would make sense that other alien forms, if they do visit us, would also be robotic. There is a roboticist at M.I.T., Rodney Brooks, who has devised robots in the forms of giant bugs a foot long. They operated much better than other robots, because he had decided that instead of trying to duplicate the way the human brain works, he would make his robots’ brains work the way an insect brain works, purely on reflex. The other idea in the episode was how we think our brains are so complicated the highest level of evolution, and yet so many of our actions and beliefs and thoughts are dictated solely by reflex responses, much like a cockroach’s. That was the idea behind the mass hysteria: that people don’t think about what’s happening. they just hear something and react, and scurry around like insects.”

The big “scurry around” scene in “The War of the Coprophages” was a hilariously slapstick mini-riot staged in a convenience store where the indefatigable Scully has stopped to buy a road map. Morgan’s source for this scene was the famous 1938 radio adaptation by Orson Welles of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds (the X-Files episode is set in Millers’ Grove, Massachusetts, a tribute to the radio show’s Grover’s Mills, N.J.), which Morgan considers a fascinating case of mass hysteria. “Nothing like that has ever happened in my lifetime. War of the Worlds is an example of people reacting by reflexes rather by complex thoughts. I always wonder what I would have done–you always like to think of yourself as being clearheaded. There are so many inconsistencies in the War of the Worlds radio broadcast that if you actually listen to it, it doesn’t make any sense. But I’m sure at the time and the moment, I would have been as terrified as anyone.”

Mulder and Scully prove to be immune from the panic gripping the town, but they have their own unique ways of reacting. “Although Mulder never reacts to the hysteria he has his own mindset, so whenever he hears killer cockroaches, he goes, ‘Oh my God!’ without thinking,” Morgan said. “Scully keeps telling him, ‘Oh no, it’s probably this other thing.’ She’s always right. But because Mulder has his own way of perceiving things, he keeps trying to convince himself that he’s on to something bigger.”

Another memorable character makes her appearance halfway through the episode, Bambi Berenbaum (Bobbie Phillips), possibly the most luscious entomologist on the face of the earth. “I thought it would be amusing if Mulder found another woman partner.” Morgan explained. “All of sudden Scully starts going, ‘No, this isn’t just cockroaches! This is something big! I’m coming up there!’ I thought it was amusing, that she would abandon some of her beliefs in order not to lose Mulder to another woman. We received some letters from people who were displeased that Mulder could find Bambi attractive. On the other hand, she is a very intelligent woman. So I don’t see why people got mad at that, but just the idea of Mulder having an interest in someone other than Scully put people into shock. You kind of forget Mulder is a man, because he’s so interested in the paranormal. But he’s a man, nevertheless, and I thought it would be interesting to have him be attracted to a woman.”

Morgan’s final verdict on “The War of the Coprophages” is resigned: “It’s never boring. It moves really fast. And there’s a certain achievement in centering an episode around cockroaches and dung.”

Morgan’s last effort for The X-Files was “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space,” an episode rooted in the show’s most basic premises, going all the way back to the pilot and “Deep Throat”: the government and the military are covering up proof of alien existence and while they’re at it, they’re deleting and altering your memories of whatever you think you witnessed. It’s also the show’s most baroque, flamboyant hour, as Scully relates to a cheerfully cynical writer named Jose Chung the events of a most unusual alien abduction case involving – possibly – the government abduction and hypnotizing of innocent citizens.

When Morgan joined the X-Files, he knew very little about alien abduction or UFO lore, so he bought some books on the subject. “There was actually a lot more information about typical alien abduction in ‘Jose Chung’ than there has been in most X-Files,” Morgan commented. “Usually the episodes that deal with abductions are about the Cigarette Smoking Man and the conspiracy. That has nothing to do with standard abduction stories. I thought there’s so much more out there about extraterrestrials, and these things should be mentioned. Even Roky, the character who goes to inner earth, is another aspect of that, because UFO people think there are inner earth people. And the published accounts of Men in Black are actually more ridiculous than what I had in the episode.”

Director Rob Bowman had to read the script 15 times before he understood it, Morgan said, grateful that the director gave it the extra attention. Although Morgan was interested in exploring the nature of reality in “Jose Chung,” the convoluted narrative design is also his strategy to maneuver around the problems he has with plotting. There’s always a practical reason behind the deeper thoughts,” he observed. It’s often a search to find a way to ease out of having to explain your plot. The coincidences in ‘Clyde Bruckman’ and the weird things about aliens and government involvement in ‘Jose Chung’ had to do with my needing an out. That out was the hypnosis angle. I felt like I could do anything. Unlike saying it’s all a dream, I could always go, ‘It’s all just memory implantation.’ Even though the episode is all about aliens and the government conspiracy, it actually has more to do with hypnosis and how much we can actually know and remember. I always thought it was more interesting to have some of your memories changed than to have them completely wiped out, so this show was more along the those lines. ‘They’ have the ability to change what you remember. To me, that’s more terrifying than being abducted by aliens. It’s kind of confusing to talk about, I know, but all this stuff was invented to avoid a specific plot. In terms of the multiple storytelling, I wanted to do something like Rashomon, where everyone had a different memory. I originally wanted to do it with Jose Chung interviewing a different person for each act. That still happens in the third act, when Chung talks to Blaine.

But it was too complicated, so I stuck with Scully. But I find it appealing to use tales within tales, where someone is telling a story and then a person in that story starts telling another story. The whole episode is really that, because even when Scully is telling her story, she’s actually telling everyone else’s account.”

Lord Kinbote, the hulking red creature who abducts Chrissy, Harold. and the two Air Force pilots, is a double tribute to stop-animation genius Ray Harryhausen and to Morgan’s favorite writer, Vladimir Nabokov. “We didn’t have the time or money to do a proper stop-action model, ” lamented Morgan. “Toby Lindala (special effects makeup supervisor] built a suit. The scene was shot, speeded up and then slowed down by computer to give it a jerkiness. Mat Beck [visual effects supervisor] had to do a lot of work on it. I hope it looked like stop-animation.” The name Kinbote is taken from Charles Kinbote, the possibly mad scholar of Nabokov’s novel Pale Fire. “In one of his interviews, Nabokov made the point that reality is a word that should always have quotes around it, because everyone’s reality in a sense is different,” Morgan said. “People will look differently at the same object, depending on their backgrounds and past history. That was a direct influence on this episode.”

Morgan could not resist adding his own satire of Fox’s alien autopsy show. The X-FILES’ second re-creation of the program this season. “We were all watching the alien autopsy tape one day, and it was so ridiculous!” Morgan recalled. “The Bigfoot footage at the end of ‘Jose Chung’ is just so damn phony, but you have no idea how much it costs to get the rights to that thing. You think about how much money has been made on that footage, and it’s a crime! And I feel the same way about the alien autopsy: it’s a swindle, and it’s almost disturbing to see how many people take it seriously.” Morgan expressed his sentiments by having his alien autopsy hosted by the Stupendous Yappi, his fake psychic from “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose.”

The episode ends on a poignant note, with Jose Chung wistfully reading from his book that “in our own separate ways, on this planet, we are all…alone.” “It was quite touching,” Morgan remarked. “It felt right. I didn’t want to end on a wacky note. The scene is humorous, but you also have certain points or feelings you like to express, and I guess the loneliness of human existence was one of the them. When Chung goes on about how some people don’t care about extraterrestrials, that is, I guess, my own summation about working on the show. I want to write about people rather than about aliens.”

“Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space'” is so confusing that one’s initial reaction, besides laughter, is to rewind the VCR and watch it again–precisely the effect Morgan wanted. “I think it worked, for the most part, and even if people are confused–because it is confusing, and purposely so–I hope that they would recognize that for being part of it and enjoy it even more. I just want to get a reaction. I don’t care if they learned anything or got anything out of it. I hope they thought it was funny and moving, and were entertained on whatever level they needed.”

After the X~Files’s third season, Darin Morgan left the show, burned out by the relentless pace of writing for television. “I did only four episodes, but they took a lot out of me,” he said. “There’s still a chance I might come back and write another one, but right now I have certain things I would rather write, rather than a couple more Mulder and Scully stories. I want to do something that’s more romantic-comedy, rather than those scary things.”

The Orange County Register: Interview with Mark Snow

The Orange County Register
Interview with Mark Snow
Kinney Littlefield

The News-Times: Television News: Composer Mark Snow puts the super-shivers in a very hot sci-fi show.

SANTA MONICA, Calif. – Aliens don’t give Mulder and Scully the quivers on The X-Files. What really jangles the daring FBI duo is composer Mark Snow’s moody music score.

Right now, Snow is busy spooking up X-Files’ fourth season of paranormal pursuits in his cozy home studio in Santa Monica. He’s also scoring the first season of Millennium, the apocalyptic saga of serial killers from X-Files creator Chris Carter, premiering Friday on Fox. And if it seems weird to hear the sounds of alien abduction, killer viruses, bloody mutilation and incestuous genetic mutation emanating from such a sunny, well-heeled corner of Southern California, it suits the dry-witted Music Man X-traordinaire quite well.

Today, as he does three to five days a week, classically trained Snow sits at the keyboard of his well-used Synclavier – a digital audio recording system – and improvises in sync to a videotape of the latest X-Files.

It’s the sound that is shivering the world. As you chat in Snow’s studio, a FedEx guy delivers a package from France. It’s a kitschy-looking Disque d’Or – a gold record for selling 100,000 copies of The X-Files theme in the land of brie. And two other X-Files albums – Songs in the Key of X and the just-released The Truth and the Light – have made Snow nuclear-hot.

Yet Snow, 50, looks like an unlikely X-Files kinda guy. Trim, bald, clad in black jeans and T-shirt, he seems shy and serious when you ring his doorbell. Later, he warms when you start talking music of all kinds, as he relaxes with eager cocker spaniels Bixon, Cowboy and Poppy at his feet and the score for this season’s fifth episode of X-Files in the can.

Q. Do X-Files fans expect you to look weirder?

A. I do surprise them. I’ve been thinking about Hair Club for Men and ear-piercing.

Q. So how did you get the X-Files gig?

A. Through R.W. Goodwin, an executive producer on X-Files who I’d worked with on TV movies. I think they looked at about 20 people or so.

And for Millennium, Chris and I already had the shorthand.

Q. How did you cook up the X-Files theme?

A. I was having a miserable time coming up with the The X-Files theme, and Chris Carter was being real nudgy about it and obsessive about it. And I called my agent and said, “You know, you might have to get me out of this, because this guy’s driving me nuts.”

We did The X-Files main title (theme) five times before Chris liked what was happening. I mean, he was very polite, but I finally said, “Why don’t you just politely go away and we’ll start from scratch?” Literally an hour after he walked out of the room, I put my hand down and there was a sound there – that repeated duh-duh-duh-duh. And I said, that could be the rhythm, now we need a pad under it, a melody. I tried a female voice, a female chorus, a boy chorus, saxophones, piccolos, guitars, oboes, trumpets. And I thought “Ordinary, not cool.”

Then that whistle thing popped in and I said: “Wow. I haven’t heard that in a long time.”

Q. You’d heard the whistle before?

A. Well, you know The Andy Griffith Show has it – in a different kind of music.

(In fact, Snow studied with Andy Griffith composer Earl Hagen.)

Q. And?

A. There’s a real, real special eerieness to the whistle that plays so well against the show. I mean, you think X-Files – Nyeeahhh. (Here Snow emits a big, screeching, throaty sound).

But this whistle has mystery and simplicity and transparency.

Anyway, in typical (understated) Chris Carter fashion, when he heard it he said, “I like it. Hmm. It’s good.”

Q. What’s Chris Carter like to work with?

A. Well, I have seen him get really angry, but not with me, not about the music. I’ve seen him get down on an editor, or a director, or the head of the studio, screaming, “We need more money.”

At the beginning, Chris wanted a lot of music in the show (The X-Files). And I think he didn’t have all that much experience producing this kind of show. And so in all these scenes where Mulder and Scully are walking down the hall or sitting in the car, there are long stretches where we could probably do without the music, but we’ve established this thing. So I’m kind of like their third partner, their unseen imaginary friend, lurking there. And it’s held up.

In fact, David Duchovny (who plays agent Fox Mulder) sent me a picture of himself signed, “Thank you for giving subtext to my performance where there isn’t any.”

And I appreciated his candor.

Q. What’s the Mark Snow sound?

A. I bring a sense of real instruments to X-Files.

A lot of composers start here (Snow gestures at his Synclavier), and their sound is very cold and unmusical. It’s very important to me that X-Files sound as musical as possible – human, warm and emotional, although still in the electronic setting.

And you have to weigh each scene on its own. A little electronic music goes a long way. Scully’s father comes back as a vision – that had to be really emotional, but really emotional in X-Files language. That meant not a cornball, florid, over-the-top melody but a simple, heartfelt melody like Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings.

Sometimes you have to lay low with it and go simple or neutral, because what’s happening on video is so wild. Charles Nelson Reilly telling an anecdote, or The Men in Black show up – it’s so abnormal that big music or busy music would really hurt it.

In the global conspiracy shows, you don’t really get into ethnic sounds. It’s more the straight-ahead big X-Files. But these so-called boutique shows, as I call them, give you the ability to experiment. We did a lot of African chanting and drums on last week’s show, about an African man who put a curse on people and turned them into albinos.

And I never do any special sounds for Mulder or Scully. It’s always about the situation they’re in. Sometimes I come up with a musical theme that recurs that’s about the protagonist, the killer, the bad situation, but for Mulder or Scully – never.

Q. How do you work?

A. First, Carter sends me a VHS copy of the next X-Files to watch. The next day, usually, I get a video to score.

An easy day is scoring seven to 10 minutes of music. A killer day is scoring 20. That’s the limit.

(The average 45- to 46-minute episode of X-Files uses about 38 minutes of Snow’s music.)

If I have a real tough schedule, I love to get up very early, like 6 a.m., and be in the studio before 7 and really jump on it. I don’t like to write at night. I’m not obsessed, but when I get into it I’m really focused. I rarely have writer’s block. I don’t need a writing room in the woods or at the beach. For me, if this was in the North Pole, or it’s dark, or it’s Hawaii, it wouldn’t mean nothin’. I get the sound from what I see in my head.

Then, after I score, my audio engineer, Larold Rebhun, comes in and adjusts the echo and EQ and highs and lows, and then he plays it for me. And I make my adjustments – too much violin, not enough piano. Later, Chris comes in, or one of the other producers, and sits right where you are and says, “It’s a little strong there”. Or “We need a ping there where the girl gets hit.”

Q. How did you segue from studying classical music at Juilliard to TV?

A. I came to L.A. cold in 1974. My wife’s sister, Tyne Daley, was married at the time to Georg Stanford Brown, who was on Aaron Spelling’s The Rookies. So I took my first demo tape – which was a joke, it was ridiculous – to Aaron Spelling, and he said, “That sounds good.” And that was my first job. Other shows came up, and very slowly I started to break in.

Q. Was that actually your name in the music credits on the pilot of NBC’s new sci-fi show Dark Skies?

A. Yes. You know, NBC told me the show was really something else, more of a ’60s period piece, not sci-fi. Then I saw it.

(The Fox network was not pleased to have Snow, the sound of The X-Files, working on a rival network’s show. Snow no longer works on Dark Skies.)

Q. So what are your best and worst X-Files moments?

A. The best thing is getting a scene that’s just full of great character revelations to score. The hardest thing is when it isn’t good, or when you get a long, shlogging chase scene to deal with. But I’ll have to say we get very few bad moments on this show.

You know, I could see X-Files was a cool show the first time I saw it, but I didn’t expect all this. I mean, when I got the job I didn’t feel like Steven Spielberg had called and offered me Schindler’s List II.

And I certainly would love to be doing big movie scores. But I’m 50. I’ve been doing this for 20 years. In terms of TV work, you know this is as good as it gets.

Source: Kinney Littlefield; The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.) October 24, 1996

Entertainment Weekly: The Next Files

Entertainment Weekly
The Next Files
Benjamin Svetkey

Chris Carter made the paranormal sexy with The X-Files. Now, with his eagerly anticipated new creep show, Millennium, he’s shooting for just plain shocking.

Chris Carter has a horrifying idea. More monstrous than the Flukeman who wormed his way onto The X-Files during its second season. More hideous than the jumbo cockroaches that wiggled across the screen last season. More appalling than the apocalyptic serial killers about to be unleashed this season on Millennium, the deeply creepy X-Files spawn arriving Oct. 25.

“Let’s go jogging,” the TV producer suggests with hair-raising cheeriness. “How about Sunday morning? Sunday morning good for you?”

The horror, the horror. And that’s just the beginning. Hanging out with Carter for a few days in Los Angeles turns out to be an exhausting voyage into an otherworldly realm of paranormal scheduling. He may look like an ordinary 40-year-old human being–graying blond hair, blue eyes, the mellow demeanor of a man who’s spent far too much time on a surfboard–but there are definite signs that something not quite terrestrial lurks beneath the surface. For example: The guy never sleeps. At the office every morning at 7 a.m., seldom home before 11 p.m., he’s such a compulsive worker he makes James Brown look like a slacker.

Of course, Carter has lots to lose sleep over these days. After his breakthrough triumph creating The X-Files–the show that made UFO abductions chic–the world is waiting to see what he’ll come up with next. And what he’s come up with may just be the most boldly gruesome series ever allowed on the airwaves. Chockful of decapitations, live burials, incest, and other way-gross atrocities, Millennium pushes the limits of TV horror to such shockingly bleak levels it’d have Cancer Man reaching for the night-light.

Lance Henriksen (the robot from Aliens) stars as the not-so-subtly named Frank Black, an ex-FBI agent who belongs to a shadowy quasi-governmental organization of ex-law enforcers called The Millennium Group (supposedly based on a real quasi-government serial-killer-chasing group called The Academy–or so Carter insists). Using mysterious empathic powers to get into the heads of violent criminals, Henriksen skulks through each episode tracking down a growing tribe of psychopathic no-goodniks, apparently made extra cranky by the cosmic forces of the looming fin de siècle. “We’ve got this very important date coming up,” explains Carter. “The end of the millennium is an unsettling time, very nervous making. It sounds so obvious now, but I got this idea that someone should capitalize on it.”

That someone, of course, turned out to be the Fox network–home to The X-Files–which is betting big bucks on Carter’s new show. Spending $10 million on a feature-film-style launch, Fox is pre-premiering Millennium in 25 theaters across the country Oct. 23, followed by a satellite link-up in which Carter will answer questions from the audience. Millennium is also getting Fox’s prime time slot–The X-Files’ Friday-night hour–while Mulder and Scully are being transferred to Sunday evenings. A Millennium book is in the works as well, to be published by HarperCollins, a company owned by the same media mogul–Rupert Murdoch–who controls the Fox network (and Mulder thinks he’s the only one who can sniff out a conspiracy).

In short, get ready for Millenni-mania, the biggest hype attack of the TV season.

A writers’ meeting at 9:30 a.m. Carter has been toiling on the Fox lot for several hours already, tapping away on a laptop in his comfy bungalow office. Now he’s moved to a nearby conference room, where he’ll review script schedules with his Millennium scribes, mostly young, mostly male vets of shows like Homicide and NYPD Blue. It is instantly clear why these guys got their jobs–even their banter is dark.

“Remember that man who got killed by an errant golf ball near Griffith Park?” Carter asks. “If you think about it, it’s the perfect murder. If you were a good enough golfer, you could kill your victim and claim it was an accident.”

“Yeah,” nods one of the writers. “But you could only get away with it once. You couldn’t be a serial golfer.”

Carter usually spends about half his week on the Fox lot, taking meetings like this one, holding auditions, dealing with an endless barrage of emergencies (like when an assistant storms into the room to demand, “We need to know Mulder’s mom’s name, right now!”). For the other half, he jets up to Vancouver and visits the Millennium and X-Files sets (“He’s like a phantom—whenever we need him, he turns up,” says Henriksen). Technically, he lives in Santa Barbara, with his wife, Dori, and dog, Frankie. But the couple spend most of their time at their modest second home in Pacific Palisades.

On the surface, at least, it seems an utterly normal Hollywood lifestyle. Perhaps a bit too normal. Eerily normal. “People expect me to be a weirdo,” Carter admits. “They expect me to be pierced and tattooed and look a lot different. I do have a very dark sensibility, but it’s all inside.” Which is pretty much the way head X man David Duchovny describes his boss: “He’s not a psycho or anything,” he says. “If you get to exorcise yourself weekly on a TV show, you get all that stuff out of your system. He is a dark guy, but it’s all internal. He’s tough to get to know.”

Certainly there’s nothing obvious in Carter’s biography to suggest a portrait of a serial killer–although there are early signs of nascent neurotic work habits. He grew up in Bellflower, outside L.A. His father, Bill, who died last year, was a construction worker; his mother, Catherine, passed away five years ago; his younger brother, Craig, is a physicist working in Washington, D.C. In junior high, Carter got seriously hooked on surfing, a habit he still occasionally indulges. He put himself through Cal State University at Long Beach by, believe it or not, making pottery. His wife remembers him as a budding workaholic even then. “He would make 100 casserole dishes in a single night,” she says. “With tops that fit!”

After college, Carter took a job at Surfing magazine, but Dori (a screenwriter who penned the 1988 comedy Big Business) soon persuaded him to try his hand at script writing. Carter’s first effort, a Vietnam home-front drama called National Pastime, was never made, but it did catch the eye of Jeffrey Katzenberg at Disney, who gave the 27-year-old novice a three-picture deal. After cranking out some more never-produced screenplays–like a comedy called Rest Home for Spies–Carter made the jump to television, where he labored in obscurity on such brief-lived projects as Copter Cop.

Then, in 1992, X finally marked the spot. At first, Fox had zero interest in a show about FBI agents chasing little green men. “It was a really tough pitch,” Carter remembers. “They just didn’t understand it. They already had a UFO show, Sightings, so they weren’t interested.” Carter repackaged the concept, emphasizing the paranormal as much as aliens, and pitched it again, this time successfully. Flash-forward to the present and The X-Files is Fox’s top-rated drama, a show that’s redefined sci-fi for the ’90s and inspired countless imitations (like NBC’s Dark Skies, which gets this year’s Oliver Stone Award for wackiest JFK conspiracy theory—that he was killed for knowing too much about the Roswell aliens).

The success of The X-Files has also turned Carter into something of a cult hero, a sort of post-Watergate Rod Serling (at X-Files conventions, he gets almost as mobbed as Duchovny). More to the point, it’s made him the hottest producer on the Fox lot, especially now that the network’s other big shows–Melrose Place and Beverly Hills, 90210–are starting to slip in the ratings. No surprise, then, that Fox has granted Carter virtually free rein with Millennium, gambling that he can catch lightning in a bottle once again. Carter got the cast he wanted (although Fox execs did want William Hurt for the Frank Black role, until they found out Hurt doesn’t do TV); he got the budget he wanted (nearly $1.5 million an episode); and he got the look he wanted (hiring Seven art director Gary Wissner as production designer for the Millennium pilot).

“The concept is that we live in a culture where justice has been stolen from us,” says Carter, riffing on the new show with his trademark enigmatic caginess. “People have lost faith in the system. That’s the madness and insecurity I’m trying to write about. But, at the same time, I wanted to create a very bright hero who carries the weight of the world, who’s trying to make it a safer place for his wife and child [played by Megan Gallagher and Brittany Tiplady].”

Now that he’s famous, of course, Carter has to deal with some madness and insecurity of his own–celebrity nuisances like marital-discord rumors and other unkind whispers. Recently, things got ugly when the press reported a sexual harassment suit filed by a former X-Files script coordinator. Carter denies the charges but says his lawyers have advised him not to discuss the case. Others around him are less constrained: “It’s ludicrous,” says X actress Gillian Anderson. “It’s not him. He’s gentle and kind. He’s a wonderful guy.”

He certainly seems like one. And yet…something about Carter–the chilling California chipperness, the spooky sunshiny serenity–smells ever-so-slightly fishy, like one of those bottomless government cover-ups Mulder is always bumping into. Somewhere under that coolly bland exterior must beat a secret heart of darkness. How else could so seemingly pleasant a fellow hatch such brilliantly diabolical TV shows?

“You know, I have seen evil,” Carter reveals teasingly after the story meeting. “I’ve stared into its face.” With this, the master of the cliff-hanger leaves you dangling, only a tiny sliver of his psyche exposed. Typical.

Sunday morning. Pacific Palisades. Time for the dreaded jog. Carter, of course, has already been up for hours, working in his home office, a narrow space crammed with X-Files leftovers, like an alarmingly realistic dead alien from the show’s pilot episode (“I think he’s starting to decompose,” Carter says, giving him a sniff).

A quick ride in his Land Cruiser and he’s standing on the runners’ path on San Vincente Boulevard. As he starts to jog, the conversation returns to Carter’s face-to-face confrontation with evil. Mercifully, he finally opens up, recalling a seminal incident that happened over 20 years ago, back when he was umpiring his younger brother’s Little League team.

“There was a boy my brother’s age,” he begins. “He was 14 or 15. He was a good athlete and a good kid from a solid family. And then one day he was arrested. He had killed an Avon lady. Then they found that he had also killed his girlfriend with an ice pick. I didn’t know how to feel. I think I was wearing one of the kid’s T-shirts the day it happened. It was very unsettling. I would never have suspected he was capable of that. I think that was my first touch with darkness.”

As if on cue, another touch of darkness jogs into view–an ominous, skanky-looking fellow with greasy hair and a mottled beard. On his T-shirt is a portrait of the ultimate Millennium guest star, Charlie Manson. “Did you see what it said on the back of his shirt?” Carter asks. “It said, ‘Charlie don’t rave.'” He smiles. “Odd, isn’t it?”

He continues jogging on his merry way.

The X-Files Magazine: Brother from another planet

The X-Files Magazine [Manga/UK]
Brother from another planet
Paula Vitaris

You might say that writer Darin Morgan became the proverbial overnight success – after a decade toiling away on unproduced scripts – on March 31, 1995, the day the Fox Network broadcast “Humbug”, the first X-Files episode from his pen. Although fans had already learned his name earlier in the third season – he played the ‘Flukeman’ in “The Host” and received a story credit on the subsequent episode “Blood”, written by his brother Glen and James Wong – it was Morgan’s comedic take on The X-Files that instantly struck a chord with fans. It also earned the fledging writer a place on The X-Files staff.

Humbug” was a weird experience,” he recalls. “Everyone thought it was going to be a disaster up until the time we aired it.” Then, almost immediately after its premiere showing, Morgan knew the response was far more favourable. “(Co-producer) Paul Rabwin called to tell me about the online response back East, and how everyone liked it.” Only one person seemed to have been somewhat disappointed with the show – Darin Morgan himself. As an unproven writer, Morgan had little to say in the episode’s editing process, and found that some of the character interplay didn’t make it to the final cut. “There was this funny bit with Mr. Nutt, the hotel manager (Michael Anderson),” he says. “it was a gag David Duchovny came up with on the set. The manager goes through his big long spiel about making judgements based on people’s appearances, and then Mulder goes, ‘But I am an FBI Agent.’ and shows his badge. The manager says, ‘Sign here, please,’ and you see a close up of a hand ringing a bell. That’s how it ends now. But when we shot it, the manager turns to Scully to say ‘And you’re an FBI agent as well?’ Scully nods, and then he says, ‘But you’re a woman.’ Gillian reacted as if to say, ‘WHAT? I’m going to KILL you!’ but before she could speak, Duchovny leaned over quickly and rang the bell. It was a wonderful little bit of business for both David and Gillian, but people were concerned that we were being too funny, and the decision was made to cut that out.”

Lucky for Morgan, in the wake of “Humbug’s” success, the writer was allowed much more freedom in the editing room with his three subsequent third season episodes. “I love editing,” he enthuses. “this will sound like a schmaltzy one-liner, but I told the other staff writers – who came from shows where they weren’t allowed in the editing room – that (that’s) where you do your final rewrite. All my scripts were too long, which in one respect is bad, because they had to shoot more footage, but as (editor) Stephen Mark said, it’s always so much better to trim that to have to add on.”

As a boy, Morgan had no ambitions to be a writer. He describes himself as a “regular kid” whose goal was to be a professional baseball player. He liked watching TV and went to the movies regularly with his father, a film buff. But when elder brother Glen decided to try acting in high school, Darin saw “how much fun he was having” and also became an active participant in high school dramatics. When Glen enrolled in the film school at Loyola Marymount University, Darin would visit and help his brother create student films. Eventually, Morgan the younger enrolled in the same course, discovering the classic filmmakers who would become his principal inspiration.

“I saw Buster Keaton’s THE GENERAL for the first time in a theatre that had an organ,” Morgan recollects, “and I don’t want to sound melodramatic, but seeing THE GENERAL changed my life. I thought, ‘Wow, this is what I want to do! I had a similar experience with Charlie Chaplin, when I saw CITY LIGHTS for the first time. I’d always heard Chaplin was a genius, but I hated the image of him as the Little Tramp. Watching the boxing scene in CITY LIGHTS, I realized he really *was* a genius.” Morgan’s film studies, particularly the physical comedy of silent film and the screwball genre, provided invaluable instruction in how to think visually. “I think of slapstick as a way of positioning the camera, to make a bit of business funny to look at, rather than someone having someone say something. That sounds very simple, but you mention slapstick to most people nowadays, and they just think of someone being conked on the head. The only time I write camera movement and angles is when I have a specific gag requiring the camera to be positioned in a particular way. Some gags just aren’t funny if they’re shot wrong. So in that way silent film has influenced me – you have to think about how the scene is going to be filmed. The X-Files’ visuals are mostly atmospheric. I’m told that when other television writers read our scripts, they hate them, because there’s so much description, whereas other shows don’t have *any* description. But the directors on The X-Files don’t mind being told specific things that need to be seen or shown because we are a visual show. I’ve heard stories of some directors on other shows getting very upset when a writer puts in too much description, and just to show the writer up will intentionally shoot it differently. On the X-Files, the directors are willing to have the writers put in as much as possible so that they knew exactly what we wanted.”

Morgan began writing in college, but dropped out after selling a script to a film studio. “I thought my career had started,” he says, “and that was part of my decision to leave college. I felt I’d already accomplished what I was hoping to get started there.” Then after an embarrassing attempt at writing a studio conceived “cross between BEVERLY HILLS COP and POLICE ACADEMY” which ended his Hollywood career as abruptly as it started, Morgan found himself without a job or a diploma. By this time, his brother Glen was working, with partner James Wong, for producer Stephen Cannell, and helped his brother land some guest roles on THE COMMISH and 21 JUMP STREET (which also starred Steven ‘Mr. X’ Williams). Then, in 1993, Morgan and Wong left Cannell to become writers and co-executive producers for The X-Files. “Glen showed me the pilot before it had been picked up for a series… and he was all excited about it.” But at the time, Darin, who has never been a sci-fi or horror fan, couldn’t appreciate his brother’s enthusiasm for the show. That was all soon to change. Glen, who was enjoying success on The X-Files first season, had great faith in his brother’s writing abilities, and suggest that he work on a script for The X-Files during the hiatus between the first and second seasons. Glen would then present the finished script to executive producer, Chris Carter, with a view to get it into production. Darin’s first idea was for a ‘teaser’ – TV parlance for the sequence before the titles of each episode – about two kids in a car, which eventually became the teaser for “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space.” At the same time, Glen and James Wong were suddenly faced with an unexpected assignment to write episode three (Blood), and Glen asked Darin to come up with a story idea about postal workers. Darin suggested a postal worker who goes berserk from reading subliminal messages on a sorting machine’s digital display screen, and when the amount of time allotted for writing “Blood” was cut, Glen asked Darin to come to Los Angeles to help him and Wong storyboard the episode, for which he would receive a story credit.

X-Files producer Howard Gordon, who had sat in on a Morgan and Wong story meeting which Darin had attended, proposed that Darin join the writing staff. “I guess Howard thought I understood the show,” Morgan surmises. However, Morgan himself wasn’t sure that his preference for writing comedy would suit such a serious show. “I had learned from my other job at the movie studio that I always wanted to make sure that I could do a good job on what I was writing. And I was so slow a writer back then that I was terrified of the idea of being on a staff, where you have specific deadlines. But they contacted my agent directly and my agent said, ‘Yeah, okay, he’ll do it.’ And then my agent called and said, ‘You start on Monday. you’ve been out of work a long time. You need to start somewhere again. why not do it?’ I thought that made sense.” The first contract was due to run for nine weeks, but Morgan was unconvinced that he would last even that long. “Once I started I knew right away I was in trouble,” he say. “I was trying to figure out what I could do to fit in. Fortunately, everyone assumed that Glen was supervising me – but he wasn’t. He let me go off and make up my own stories.”

The first such story was “Humbug,” after which expectations suddenly skyrocketed. And Morgan more than lived up to them, with three more outstanding third season episodes, “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose”, “The War of the Coprophages” and “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space”. By the end of the season, he felt burned out from all the deadlines and distressed that his episodes upset some fans, who didn’t agree with his off-kilter view of the show. Most of all, he was ready to step away from the worlds of Mulder and Scully and return to fashioning worlds in feature scripts that were wholly his own. “I prefer doing a story that stands by itself,” he explains. “With a series, you have to consider how your episode affects everyone else’s episode. I don’t want to have to worry about that anymore.”

The reputation this remarkable writer earned during his residency on The X- Files – and the nominations of his “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” script for a 1996 Prime Time Emmy Award (this article is a bit dated as we all know that Darin won too!!!) – suggest that, whether his scripts end up on film or television, The X-Files was anything but Darin Morgan’s final repose.

Warner Brothers Records: Cybertalk with Mark Snow

Warner Brothers Records
Mark Snow – Cybertalk Transcript 10/07/96.

Marksnow96: We’re here with Mark Snow…

OnlineHost: An eerie, yet intriguing, melody glides over a
: shimmering, sinister rhythmic pattern. A familiar
: sense of anticipation and delightful dread settles
: in, as one of the most evocative musical themes in
: television history announces another episode of
: The X-Files; the latest triumph in the eclectic
: career of Mark Snow.

Marksnow96: Tosend your questions in for Mark Snow, click on the interact
icon and send it in!!
Marksnow96: We are ready to begin!

From Mtowns102:
Question: Mark, What equiptment do you use in the X-File theme, and how many
tracks did you use in
Question: recording it. Were you the only musician or where there others
recording the score?

Marksnow96: My main instrument is the synclavier, a bunch of MIDI gear and my
wife whistled it and
Marksnow96: I doubled that with PRODEUS 2 (Whistling Joe).

From Eve23:
Question: Where do you get your ideas for the music on the X-Files?

Marksnow96: Just from years of listening and studying music and being heavily
Marksnow96: influenced from my favorite composers. Such as: Stravinsky,
Bartok, Ravel and John Adams
Marksnow96: And Brian Eno.

From DJL509:
Question: Are you finding it difficult to score two shows this fall instead
of just one?

Marksnow96: No – my schedules are working out really well and there’s less
music in MILLENIUM than
Marksnow96: in X-Files.

From SfStegall:
Question: Mark: Have you written any lullabies for your grandchild yet?

Marksnow96: No, but that’s a good idea. I don’t want to scare the poor

From rob220:
Question: Will the XFiles ever be filmed in Portland Oregon?

Marksnow96: No it won’t, it is only filmed in Vancouver.

Question: Is that u on the hidden tracks on the x files cd

Marksnow96: No, it’s Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds
Marksnow96: I’m not sure who is on the other hidden track.

From RBWoodb:
Question: where did you get your musical training?

Marksnow96: The Juilliard School Of Music in New York City.

From WuChou1:
Question: I regret to say that I was on a ferry to Nantucket last Friday at
nine and missed the
Question: premire. Could you tell me what happened with the alien? Most

Marksnow96: The alien got in all sorts of hijinx. He was buried alive in
sawdust, stung by thousands
Marksnow96: of killer bees, injected with killer alien juice and finally at
the end of the show,
Marksnow96: saves Mulder’s mother.

From IIIFaDell:
Question: What other music have you made? Are you involved in the making of
the show?

Marksnow96: I’m doing the Millenium show. I’ve done many tv movies and
min-series, including
Marksnow96: “The Last Confederate Widow Tells All” and “Children Of The
Marksnow96: I also did a series called “Nowhere Man” which was cancelled.
Marksnow96: I have nothing to do with the making of show.

From LingnH:
Question: Do you know what happens later in the season? Please tell!

Marksnow96: The next bunch of shows don’t have anything to do with the
Marksnow96: global conspiracy theories.. and I am sworn to secrecy about what
happens next.
Marksnow96: I hope you understand!

From FoxxMulde:
Question: What is your favorite cut on your new CD and why?

Marksnow96: Ahha… I don’t have any one favorite, but the ones I like the
most are:
Marksnow96: “One Breath” “Humbug” “Conduit” and “Soft Light”

From SLP Hawk9:
Question: Has your versio of Starsky & Hutch been released? I found it only
on a BBC import in
Question: 1980 (“BBC Detective Themes” recorded by “Laurie Holloway”, but
that record got destroyed in a
Question: move. Thanks!

Marksnow96: No.
Marksnow96: That was a long time ago. There is no version of that out that I
know of.

Question: Hiya Mark! This is Mr Sp00ky! 🙂 I was wondering how it feels to
work with such talented
Question: producers Chris Carter and Paul Rabwin (and all the others) and
how it feels to work with an
Question: award winning Drama Series? Thanks!

Marksnow96: When they all like what I do, it’s great! When they don’t, it
Marksnow96: But mostly they do! It’s a great group of people, and we all get

From IIIFaDell:
Question: Your wife whistled it? It sounds synthetic, did you improve it

Marksnow96: It’s the machine and my wife’s whistling sample combined.

From Gingerbab:
Question: I wa rather disappointed to see the X-files open their season with
the same theme song and
Question: opening sequences. Any plans to change either soon??

Marksnow96: No! We are not going to argue with success.

From TwnklToes:
Question: I was wondering how you chose victims for yor show. I’ve always
wanted to be on your show.

Marksnow96: We interview people and see who the most vulnerable are. The
ones who get
Marksnow96: scared the most, we keep them!

From Gambit161:
Question: How do you come up with the songs on the show?

Marksnow96: Well. it’s like, I’m an accompanment to the show.
Marksnow96: I loook at the action and the drama and that gives me the ideas.

From KReedstro:
Question: Can you think of some shows that have failed because of poor music?

Marksnow96: No – but I can think of great music that has failed because of
poor shows.

From Sam67:
Question: are you worried that the synclavier, which is your main axe, won’t
be supported much
Question: longer?

Marksnow96: good question…
Marksnow96: But, even though the company has gone down, a fellow in New
Marksnow96: has inherited all of the blueprints and all of the spare parts.
Marksnow96: There is still very good support in L.A.
Marksnow96: The synclavier is still (for me) the quickest and most
Marksnow96: elegant of all.

From Scooby134:
Question: How long does it take you to write the score for a whole show?

Marksnow96: It takes anywhere from 3-5 days.

From Bondo9401:
Question: With the two shows being so close in their dark tone, is it a
challange to keep the music
Question: different and original for both?

Marksnow96: It was at the bginning, but in the opening episode of Millenium,
I established a different
Marksnow96: sound that that of X-Files. I’ll be able to stick with that
sound on Millenium, which
Marksnow96: I hope you will find different from X-Files.

From JJRobb:
Question: hi love your show. will we ever find out the truth about mulder’s
Marksnow96: There will be clues about Mulder’s sister throughout this year…
Marksnow96: conclusion.

From QL Tiersk:
Question: Which of the X-Files episodes contains your favorite score?

Marksnow96: There are a few. “Colony/End Game” “Humbug” “Grotesque” “Jose
Marksnow96: and “Ice”

From Tanis8002:
Question: Mark, what is your favorite episode?

Marksnow96: “Jose Chung”

From Bailey917:
Question: Does anything ever happen between Mulder and Scully?

Marksnow96: Nothing has happened, or will ever happen between Mulder and

From CBrown511:
Question: Are you yourself interested in the supernatural??

Marksnow96: Yes I am! I saw a UFO once.
Marksnow96: At least I think that is what it was.
Marksnow96: On the New York stat freeway near Albany, I was driving and
looked up and saw
Marksnow96: a large round craft with lights.

From TNaszcyni:
Question: When will your new CD be out?
Marksnow96: The new cd called “The Truth and the Light” is out on October
8th. Tomorrow!

From LBock9814:
Question: You say it is only filmed in Vancouver. Why does it give viewers
specific locations such
Question: as Washington D.C.?
Marksnow96: The great thing about Vancouver is that it has many different
Marksnow96: Urban, mountains, lakes, rural countryside, desert, and so on.
Marksnow96: I’m just fine, thank you!

From Larencel:
Question: Mark, are you planning to release any of the music from “Nowhere
Man” or “Millenium” on CD?

Marksnow96: There’s ionterest for themusic from “Nowhere Man” from a label in
San Francisco.
Marksnow96: And Interscope records wants to do the Millenium soundtrack.

From Wu Chou 1:
Question: Have you ever been filmed in an episode?

Marksnow96: No, not yet, but I’d love to be one of the serial killers.

Question: What are you going to be for Halloween?

Marksnow96: I’m going to dress up as FoxxMulder and go to Paris and ride the
subways and
Marksnow96: see if anyone recognizes me.
Marksnow96: If that doesn’t work, I am going to dress up as Eugene Tooms and
sneak into people’s
Marksnow96: houses and give them very bad spankings!
Marksnow96: Question: Are there monsters under your bed?
Marksnow96: The only monster I know, are the ones lurking in my brain.

From MoeWarner:
Question: Mark…what other ambient artists do you listen to?

Marksnow96: Brian Eno, Deep Forest, Philip Glass, Bob Dole

From Litl Hmbr:
Question: DId you enter Juilliard as a piano student?

Marksnow96: No, as an oboe student.

Question: Mark, do you like pastrami or corned beef on your reuben sandwich?
Marksnow96: good question!
Marksnow96: I love pastrami plain, but on a reuben sandwich, corned beef.
Marksnow96: But my favorite deli sandwich of all is: briskett with Russian
dressing and coleslaw
Marksnow96: on rye.

From StarTravr:
Question: What are your favorite present electronic composers? If there are

Marksnow96: Spectrum
Marksnow96: they are my current favorite…

From Starbuck2:
Question: How much influence, if any, does Chris Carter have on the music
that you write for the
Question: show?

Marksnow96: At the beginning, he was very specific with what he wanted. He
hated melody and loved
Marksnow96: ambient atmospheric sound, but I knew I couldn’t do that for
every show. So, now
Marksnow96: the shows are a combination of ambient music and actual music.

From Sigenpob:
Question: why can’t i find your cd anywhere?

Marksnow96: You will tomorrow!
Marksnow96: It’s called “The Truth And The LIght” from Warner Bros. Records
and it comes out tomorrow.

From XPiperBlu:
Question: Mr. Snow- do you ever want to actually be in an X-Files episode?
perhaps, as one fan
Question: suggested, whistling the theme to the show?

Marksnow96: I think that’s a great idea..
Marksnow96: I’d love to be in a scene at night with Mulder and Scully talking
t o each
Marksnow96: other in the street, and I’m this guy with dark glasses and a tin
cup, whistling the
Marksnow96: theme song.

From Krazkin:
Question: Mark, are you ever overwhelmed success of the X-Files and
furthermore by the fame you’ve
Question: achieved through your contribution.

Marksnow96: Completely surprised by it and actually very happy about it. I
never thought it would be
Marksnow96: this successful.

From Gzjena:
Question: Have you ever considered working on a music and/or interactive
CD-ROM with the producers
Question: of the X-Files?

Marksnow96: The producers of the show don’t have time for anything but the
show, but I’ve been
Marksnow96: contacted by people who do interactive games to do music for

From JK 12005:

Marksnow96: That’s my secret!

From Go4Itt:
Question: How many CD’s are there for XFiles with your music and what are
there names? Which is
Question: your favorite piece?

Marksnow96: “Songs In The Key Of x” and “The Truth and The Light”, which is
Marksnow96: the background music for X-Files. It comes out tomorrow!
Marksnow96: Buy it! You’ll like it! Play it loud!!!

From Carter101:
Question: How do you know so much about the show, if you only write the

Marksnow96: Because I see it before I write the music for it!!!!

From AKins721:
Question: Hello…I am a huge XFiles fan…What do you have planned for this
season…The opening
Question: show was great

Marksnow96: There are some amazingly bizarre shows this season, more
Marksnow96: adventurous than the first three years. Especially, show # 3
entitled “Home.”

From Tanis8002:
Question: Mark, what other TV shows do you watch?
Marksnow96: I love “True Stories of the Highway Patrol”

From Krazkim:
Question: Mark! I have to know this. How come when Moulder stabbed the alien
with the AWL he didn’t
Question: die?? Please!!

Marksnow96: Because, he was a much more pwerful alien than the one portrayed
by Roy Thinnes.
Marksnow96: Mulder’s AWL was purchased by K-Mart.

From Reaper417:
Question: Did you write any sone on the CD Songs in the Key of X?

Marksnow96: No – just the theme.

From Machroon:
Question: Do you get and grupies because of the show??

Marksnow96: Only on the internet, since we don’t tour with the Mark
Snow/X-Files orchestra.

From Silvag721:
Question: What is your favorate instrument?

Marksnow96: Cello, English horn, and the harp.

From Restopan:
Question: Mark, are you pleased with the mixes on the show ?

Marksnow96: I always like to hear the music a little hotter, but mostly they
do a good job.

From Bondo9401:
Question: Tell us about the studio you have in your house to do the music.
Do you use that on
Question: Millenium?

Marksnow96: yes, it’s my garage that I converted into a studio.
Marksnow96: It’s a very neat compact room.

From Sigenpob:
Question: For the X-movie will you compose a complete symphonic score or will
it be more synthesiser
Question: stuff?

Marksnow96: It will be a huge 85 piece orchestra, combined with some of my
cooler electronic sound

From PJMcCanna:
Question: Do you ever get scared of your show?

Marksnow96: There was one scene, where somebody was taking a shower and he
coughed some
Marksnow96: horrible slimy seaslug thing.. I had to watch that scene a lot.
It was pretty gross.

From PFadis107:
Question: How did you learn about the X-files?

Marksnow96: A producer/friend of mine named R.W. Goodwin got me involved in
the show and
Marksnow96: introduced me to Chris Carter.

From Eve23:
Question: Is there a specific process you use to create your music for
X-Files and Millenium? If
Question: so, what is it?

Marksnow96: I always start on the longest hardest piece of music first, and
base the rest of the
Marksnow96: score around that.

From Wu Chou1:
Question: Do you wear a lot of black?

Marksnow96: When I am feeling extra-overweight I do.

From SLMooney:
Question: How does working on the X-Files compare to other shows you’ve
worked on?

Marksnow96: It’s the most fun I’ve ever had! It’s the best show
Marksnow96: on TV. I don’t know if there will ever be anything as cool as
the X-Files.

From Machroon:
Question: Marksnow what are some purks as a result of the show????

Marksnow96: I got a free Paul Simon hair piece and autographed pictures of
David Duchovny
Marksnow96: and Gillian Andersen.

From Sexyman02:
Question: What is Gillian Anderson like off camera?

Marksnow96: She’s incredibly sweet, unpretentious, a really great down to
earth person.

From Sexyman02:
Question: Is there plans for another X-Files CD in the future?

Marksnow96: Well, depending on how this one sells…
Marksnow96: so, everybody buy “The Truth and The LIght” tomorrow!!!!

Question: Mark, when did you first start to write music?

Marksnow96: After I saw the first Planet of The Apes movie.
Marksnow96: Jerry Goldsmith’s score really inspired me.
Marksnow96: Last question here…. time to go!

From Ophelia41:
Question: Hi Mark! What’s your favorite key or chord?

Marksnow96: Hi Ophelia! Thanks for showing up!
Marksnow96: I do love F minor and D minor.
Marksnow96: That’s the real “Key of X-Files.”
Marksnow96: Thank you all for showing up!
Marksnow96: I love you all. They were great questions.
Marksnow96: Hope to see you in some of the X-files chat rooms soon.
Marksnow96: Good night everyne!!

OnlineHost: Copyright (C) 1996 Warner Bros. Records.
: CYBER-TALK (TM) is produced in-house by
: a Warner Bros. Records staff.

Los Angeles Times: TV’s New Season

Los Angeles Times
TV’s New Season
Brian Lowry

Small Screen, Big Headaches

Talk about static. Three top series creators get together to discuss the future–and find an ominous new ratings system, intrusive network execs and increasingly demanding talent, among other concerns.

How do some of television’s top producers feel about the state of the industry?

Seeking to take the pulse of TV’s creative community on the eve of the new prime-time season, Calendar brought together three producers of current hits–Steven Bochco, Marta Kauffman and Chris Carter–to explore that question.

Bochco, 52, will soon be inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame and can claim one of the best batting averages in television history. Through the years, he has been associated with such hits as “Hill Street Blues,” “L.A. Law” and “Doogie Howser, M.D.” as well as the returning ABC series “NYPD Blue” and “Murder One.” Bochco has also earned a reputation as a risk-taker, someone who seems to welcome controversy. His latest show (and first under a new deal at CBS), “Public Morals,” focuses on vice squad cops and is expected to air with a parental-discretion advisory because of its language and subject matter.

Kauffman, 39, with partners David Crane and Kevin S. Bright forms the producing team responsible for NBC’s “Friends,” an enormous ratings draw entering its third season, whose cultural influence has ranged from fashion to hairstyles. Before that, Kauffman and Crane created the popular HBO comedy “Dream On.” In addition, the “Friends” trio has a deal with NBC to produce a new comedy starring “Cheers” alumna Kirstie Alley, tentatively scheduled for next fall.

Carter, also 39, created Fox’s top-rated show, “The X-Files,” which will move from Fridays to Sundays in late October. With the possible exception of “Friends,” the series has become prime time’s most-imitated program, with NBC alone introducing three new Saturday dramas designed to attract the same sort of audience. Carter’s latest series, “Millennium,” is an even darker hour about a former FBI investigator with a facility for profiling killers. With the series taking over “The X-Files” time slot, Fox’s fortunes ride to a large extent on Carter’s shoulders.

Calendar asked these producers–representing shows on all four major networks, as well as comedy and drama–to assemble for an informal round-table discussion about issues facing the industry. Bochco and Carter had met briefly, but neither previously knew Kauffman.

Not surprisingly, the biggest challenge involved finding a time when all three could meet. The interview ultimately took place in Bochco’s office.


Question: What issues, as the season approaches, are top of mind with you relating to television?

Kauffman: All three of us seem to have one issue in common, and that’s the V-chip TV ratings system issue.

Carter: Or the C-chip: the content chip.

Kauffman: That’s what I’m afraid of. That’s what scares me. We have lesbians in our show; does that automatically give you a rating, just because there’s an idea that some people may be uncomfortable with?


Q: Does it change the way you approach the shows? Each of you has shows that specifically have raised different issues.

Bochco: It’s not going to affect what Chris is already doing or what I’m already doing.

Kauffman: Oh, yes it does. Very much so. We came under such fire once we moved to 8 o’clock. As the climate changed, it became more reactionary. It’s affected us enormously.

Bochco: What I’m concerned about, and what I’m sure Chris is concerned about, is what’s going to happen with development [of new shows]. That to me is the most chilling part. It’s one thing to say, “Well, ‘Friends’ is ‘Friends,’ ” and of course it’s a big hit. If tomorrow they moved it back to 9 o’clock, you’d then be dealing with a different set of standards, more akin probably to what you started with.

The thing that I find so potentially distressing, and I’ve said this before, is that I don’t think in this climate I could develop “NYPD Blue.”

Kauffman: I couldn’t develop “Friends” in this climate. One of the issues is we are suddenly being asked to write something we are not familiar with. The show makes certain demands on you as a writer. After a while that takes over.

Carter: I actually developed something that is definitely pushing the limits of standards, so I don’t know that you can’t develop [risk-taking programs] in this climate, although we have the luxury of having proven ourselves with what we do. A case has already been made, so I was able to push the limits of content to an extent–not violence per se but content.


Q: Isn’t that the assumption: because you’re associated with hit shows, you have more latitude?

Kauffman: I don’t believe so. It may be different in the 8-10 p.m. hours. My fear is that once the TV ratings system is in place, people are going to say, “You know, I don’t think we want to develop those kind of shows anymore, because we know that these advertisers are not going to want [to support them].” I think that this year is less of a concern than next year.

Bochco: I’m less concerned with how we execute a show once it’s on the air. I’ll fight those battles, and I think you can win those battles. Because in fact once your show is on the air, particularly if it’s getting any sort of viewership, the truth is you’ve got [the network] over a barrel.

The other issue may well be that this is an election year, so just from a purely practical point of view, all of us are going to be scattered and none of us are going to be able to develop any momentum in the early going. For an established show it’s not a problem, but for a new show it is going to be a problem.

Once that election is over, politically, who knows? This could really go away. Listen, you can’t un-ring a bell. I’ve been in television for almost 30 years, and I’m here to tell you it doesn’t go back. It goes forward. It’s not an unbroken line. If you graph it, it’s spiky here and there, but inevitably this medium is dragged [forward] kicking and screaming.

Kauffman: I think we think we’ve gone farther than we have. We’ve made a little progress here and there.

Bochco: But it’s a different medium now than it was. Twenty-five years ago, you couldn’t have a real dialogue with broadcast standards, and the rules were such you couldn’t show two married people in bed together. You couldn’t say the word “damn.” I remember the first time I ever put the word “bastard” in a script, the [expletive] hit the fan. It’s just a different world.

Kauffman: I have to say, I react as a mom too. I have two young kids, and I find the whole V-chip TV ratings system incredibly offensive. First of all, my kids watch my show, and most of it goes over their heads. The only questions my kids ever ask me is “What’s a lesbian?” and I should answer that question.

Beyond that, I think it [leads to] uninformed decisions being made by the government, not by the individual or especially by the parents.

Bochco: Every show is rated already, just in terms of the fact that nothing that gets on the air is an unknown commodity, so there is a book on everything. No one’s going to tune in to “Public Morals” unaware that it’s kicked up a little controversy by virtue of its language, so to that extent everything out there is already informally rated.

To me the chilling part is hooking that rating to a technological system that then becomes by definition censorship. That’s the part of it that’s scary.

Carter: I’m doing a show, “Millennium,” and it’s very intense. As a responsible producer, there’s a limit to which I think kids will be too young to watch this show, and without putting an advisory on the beginning, I don’t know how to put that point across except in that way you’re suggesting, which is this informal ratings system. The press does this job, the media does this job, of informing viewers.


Q: In some respect, isn’t an advisory liberating? If you know “Millennium” is going to get an advisory, then you can play with it a bit more?

Kauffman: It’s one thing to have an advisory, and then you go back to content, which to me is the scariest issue here. When you start advising about content, you’re talking morals and judgments and a system that just doesn’t make any sense.


Q: Do you feel you’ve been well informed about this process?

Carter: I don’t. It’s always changing, [and] I don’t know quite what is going to be incorporated when. My fear is that the dialogue will end, that there will be a final, definitive decision.

Kauffman: When we did our lesbian wedding episode, NBC put on extra operators. That night, they had four phone calls. That’s it. Months later, the mail started pouring in: Rev. [Donald] Wildmon got a bunch of people together to complain, and he never saw the [expletive] thing. They knew it was something with lesbians, and they got mad.

Carter: I just hope the dialogue continues. I don’t want, once these things move farther along, for us to quit talking about what it is that we are going to be censoring or governing.

Bochco: I may be a little more cynical, to the extent that I’ll believe it when I see it. I am more skeptical than most people in this creative community that this will actually eventuate into a coherent system of ratings and technology.


Q: Let’s cut to another issue, which is not just the content of the shows but getting them launched with the low ratings the networks have had over the summer.

Bochco: That’s going to be tough this year. It’s always tough in the fall with the glut of new shows. You’ve always got events, with the World Series, the playoffs–and this year you’ve got a presidential election and debates.

Then, by the time most everything gets on, you’re going to be deep into October, so you’re into the holiday season and those holiday preemptions. It’s real tough for new shows.

Carter: I keep saying, all I can do is just the same good work and hope that people come.

Bochco: “Murder One” is a perfect example of a show that just got killed in terms of its time slot, getting yanked off for seven weeks, then coming back in a different time period. You couldn’t have asked for a more horrific scenario, and yet we’re back, because we kept our eye on the one thing we did have control over, which is the work.

I have no control over where they put me. I have no control where they move me or preemptions. All I can control is the quality of the work.


Q: What do you think of the quality of television generally right now?

Bochco: I think there’s an awful lot of good stuff on television. That said, none of us can watch it all, and there’s so much stuff that the majority of it will always be mediocre.

Kauffman: A lot of people will probably get [angry] at me for this–and maybe it’s because I don’t do drama and don’t have the same harsh judgment–but it seems to me that drama has really improved, and comedy for the most part still sucks.

There’s very little comedy I can watch and really enjoy. I think it’s banal and stupid.

Carter: I sort of agree, although it may be unfair because I’m taking potshots at a format I’m not working in. I think what bothers me about it is that it’s that same proscenium show; it’s all the same. The lighting is the same, the rhythms are the same. It’s setup, joke.


Q: Do you attribute any of that to the glut of shows?

Kauffman: Honestly, what I attribute it to is people feel they can write TV from whatever they were doing. Lawyers go, “You know, I can do that.” What happens is there were no people who learned theater, who learned dramatic structure, who learned how to write a scene.

Bochco: Everybody thinks they know what funny is. What’s funny is like music–everybody’s an expert about music, because everybody has their own sensibility. When it comes to what Chris and I do, you tend to get a little more regard, because most of those folks at the network don’t have a clue about how to do what we do, but they all think they have a clue about how to do [comedy].

It’s been 15 years since I’ve ever submitted an outline to a network or even told them what we’re doing. The first time they know what we’re doing is when a script plops on their desk, and then we go and shoot the script. That’s it. Nobody ever calls and gives me notes on a script from the network. You get your broadcast standards stuff, then you go and make the show.

“Public Morals,” and I’m sure it’s the same with every other half-hour, you go to your table reading [rehearsal], and there [the network executives] are. They’re hovering, and they have their notes, and then comes the night of the taping and the filming, and there they are again, and they’re rubbing their hands. You look over and you see somebody from the network, and of course they never laugh, they never smile. You think, “Where do they find people to work in comedy who never enjoy what they’re doing?”

Kauffman: We must have very good network people. Chances are, we’re going to be a lot harder on ourselves than they will ever be on us.

Bochco: Yeah, but Marta, you’re doing “Friends.” They can afford to come in, have a Diet Coke and chortle and giggle and have a good time.

Kauffman: I got asked a lot last year about “Friends” rip-offs. I think one of the problems with quality is that networks and studios somehow believe it’s a formula–“There’s a hit, so this is what it was about, let’s just do that again”–without taking the time to find anyone who has a passion for saying something.

Carter: I see it as a hedging of bets. They hedge their bets all the way along by wanting a proven commodity. In the beginning, much less now, I felt like I was sort of dared to succeed–they were always spending as little money as they could because we were going to fail anyway.

Bochco: It gets you to that fundamental difference between the business that they’re in and the business that we’re in. They really are in the manufacturing business and the selling business, and we, God help us, are sort of in the art business.

Fifteen years ago, no one in our position would have the arrogance to use the “A” word in television. I started using it eight or 10 years ago with a slight embarrassment, and I don’t anymore. There is a lot of fine art being produced and written for television.


Q: You all have to staff your shows with writers. What does the number of shows do to the talent pool?

Kauffman: Three hundred scripts you read to find 10 writers, and maybe six of them you’re interested in. I get very, very upset about this, that people get title promotions only because they’ve done it for a year. Suddenly it says “supervising producer,” and they can’t spell.

Bochco: On “Hill Street Blues,” 13 years ago, there was a staff of writers on that show five deep, every one of whom could go off and write a great “Hill Street Blues.” I’ll bet you there’s not an hour show in television that can boast a staff five deep, any one of whom can go off and write a script like that.

Carter: What I’ve found too is that when you do find somebody that’s good, all of a sudden I feel like a major-league manager running a farm system at the same time, because the network or the studio is going to take that person I’ve found and try to develop [new shows] with them. It’s like mitosis, wanting to divide the cells and grow new ones.

Kauffman: It’s so frustrating, when you’ve found people and groomed them, and you finally get somebody who can take over your show someday, and they’re gone.


Q: What about talent demands? Have talent demands gotten more difficult or less difficult? Is it just that we report on it more now?

Bochco: Obviously, you hear more about it. The amount of interest in what goes on behind the scenes of what we all do is unparalleled. I’ve never seen anything like the way it is now. All of us, in a certain way, are of interest to the audience as much as the actors are.

When [producer] Dick Wolf took those two guys [the stars of “New York Undercover,” who briefly tried to hold out for more money] behind the shed, everyone in our business, and I suspect everyone reading about it in the papers, said, “Atta boy, Dick. Those two guys are dopes. What a pair of mopes they are. They really stepped in something squishy, and they got what they deserved.”

Kauffman: That’s the worst part of it. Negotiations are never fun for anybody, but they’re negotiations and you get over it and keep doing the work. The problem is when it gets out [publicly], it’s very disruptive, and things get bent out of proportion.

Bochco: If I’m an actor on one of those ensemble comedies, where maybe two or three or four of them look exactly alike, there’s every reason to believe they may never have a success like they’re experiencing now. It may never happen again.

It’s like being a professional athlete. You’ve got a real small window. This man [pointing to Carter] is going to make 10 more shows and going to have more [expletive] money than God. This woman [Kauffman] will do the same thing, and so will I. Actors may never have another opportunity.

The truth is, I’m sympathetic to them. I’m married to an actress [“Murder One’s” Barbara Bosson]. Smart actors know that. I’m for them getting everything they can legitimately get within the boundaries of professional behavior, [understanding] that we all have contracts.


Q: Beyond the obvious, because you’ve all experienced something very few people will, what’s the best part and most aggravating part about being associated with a hit show?

Kauffman: Truthfully, the best part is doing something you’re proud of. It’s an amazing feeling. You don’t get to do that a lot.

Bochco: And doing something that everybody also acknowledges, because I’ve done things that haven’t succeeded I’ve been very proud of.

Kauffman: The worst part for me is not seeing my family. It’s so hard.

Bochco: It’s a crucifixion. Nobody knows, nor need they know, because it’s not anybody’s problem. They shouldn’t see how hard we work, but it’s routinely six- and 6 1/2-day weeks, nine months a year.

Kauffman: It’s also really hard to go to work, for me, and look at those women [in the “Friends” cast] every day.

Carter: Actually, what really makes me happy is doing something that people respond to. It sort of vindicates your view of the world. As a storyteller, you’re telling a story that people want to see and to hear.

Also, when I get a group of people working together and it clicks, there’s actually a team, an esprit de corps that happens. It’s really special.

Kauffman: Collaboration. It’s invigorating.

Skeptical Briefs: World Skeptics Congress Draws Over 1200 Participants

World Skeptics Congress Draws Over 1200 Participants
Skeptical Briefs Volume 6.3, September 1996
Tom Flynn with Tim Gorski

[Original article here]

Amherst, N.Y. — More than twelve hundred skeptics representing some twenty-four countries flocked here for the “twentieth birthday party” of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) on June 20-23. The First World Skeptics Congress was held at the State University of New York at Buffalo’s Amherst Campus and at the nearby Center for Inquiry, world headquarters of CSICOP. Titled “Science in the Age of (Mis)Information,” the congress probed the role of the media in promoting scientific illiteracy and contributing to the spread of pseudoscientific beliefs.The events began on Thursday, June 20, with a press conference that drew a record media turnout. It was there that conference organizer Paul Kurtz, chair of CSICOP, Kendrick Frazier, editor of Skeptical Inquirer, and many others presented examples of the media’s pandering to pseudoscience. Kurtz announced the formation of CSICOP’s Council for Media Integrity, a new watchdog group that will monitor and respond to media mishandling of the paranormal. “The media have now virtually replaced the schools, colleges, and universities as the main source of information for the general public,” said Kurtz, according to press reports. “If you look at these shows, Unsolved Mysteries, Sightings — there are a whole slew of them — they make it seem as if what they’re portraying is real. Yet they don’t provide any scientific evidence.” Kurtz called for either allowing a fair chance for the rebuttal of questionable material or presenting it as fiction.

CSICOP fellow Joe Nickell also made comments that were picked up by the media. With respect to claims of UFO abductions, he was quoted by Ulysses Torassa of the Religious News Service as saying, “I’m now encountering children who believe that they might be abducted by extraterrestrials.” Also quoted by Torassa was Australian skeptic and TV moderator Phillip Adams, who pointed out, “We are seeing a new delivery system for pathological states of mind.”

The congress itself opened formally with remarks by Erie County (New York) Executive Dennis Gorski and a performance of selected movements from Gustav Holst’s The Planets by the Buffalo Philharmonic Ensemble. This performance was accompanied by a special video production based on NASA images of the planets, for which the suite’s movements are named, refocusing The Planets from the composer’s original astrological conception of the work.

Milton Rosenberg, Professor of Psychology at the University of Chicago and longtime radio moderator, chaired the meeting’s first plenary session, “The Role of the Mass Media in (Mis)Informing the Public.” Panelists included George Gerbner, Professor of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania; Piero Angela, Italian TV journalist; Phillip Adams, Australian columnist and TV moderator; and John Allen Paulos, Temple University Professor of Mathematics and author of Innumeracy. Nationally known radio commentator on medical subjects Dr. Dean Edell also participated by live radio feed as part of his syndicated radio show which airs on several hundred stations. In what was perhaps the congress’s only misstep, one of the panelists onstage mistook Edell’s scheduled participation as an interruption in the program and criticized Edell for disturbing the proceedings. The error was redressed minutes later when Paul Kurtz appeared on Edell’s program by telephone for about six minutes clarifying what had happened and outlining CSICOP’s call for heightened media responsibility, a call which Edell himself has long advocated.

The Conference Address, “A Strategy for Saving Science,” was delivered Thursday evening by Leon Lederman, Nobel laureate in physics and Director Emeritus of Fermilab.

The congress resumed Friday with a plenary session entitled “The Growth of Anti-Science,” chaired by John Maddox, former editor of Nature. The participants included Paul R. Gross, director of the Center for Advanced Studies; Norman Levitt, Professor of Mathematics at Rutgers University; Susan Haack, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Miami; and Victor Stenger, Professor of Physics at the University of Hawaii.


Skeptical Inquirer editor Ken Frazier and X-Files creator Chris Carter.

A luncheon address was given by Chris Carter, creator of the Fox TV series The X-Files. Carter defended his series against critics who say he promotes paranormal beliefs. He claimed that the series is meant solely to entertain and should actually heighten, rather than dull, viewers’ skepticism. But at least some congress participants doubted such an optimistic assessment of the program’s effects.

The afternoon was devoted to concurrent sessions. One session was on UFOlogy, given by Philip J. Klass, James McGaha, and Robert Sheaffer. Another program dealing with astrology was given by Cornelis de Jager, J.W. Nienhuys, and Ivan Kelly, while homeopathy was considered by Wim Betz and James “The Amazing” Randi. Vern Bullough, Bela Scheiber, and Dale Beyerstein examined therapeutic touch. Prominent anti-health-fraud activist and author Dr. Stephen Barrett discussed chiropractic. And National Center for Science Education Executive Director Eugenie Scott and Professor of Anthropology H. James Birx looked at the evolution/creationism controversy.

The Keynote Address was given by Harvard University paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, who drew (according to one local media estimate) some two thousand persons to an illustrated lecture on Darwin, evolutionary theory, and the role of skepticism in forming and evaluating hypotheses.

Saturday opened with a plenary session titled “Parapsychology: Recent Developments.” This session was chaired by James Alcock, Professor of Psychology at York University in Canada, and featured: Ray Hyman, University of Oregon Professor of Psychology; Richard Wiseman, University of Hertfordshire (U.K.) Professor of Psychology; Jessica Utts, University of California-Davis Professor of Statistics; and Stanley Jeffers, York University Professor of Physics and Astronomy. The focal point of this session was the disagreement over interpretation of laboratory studies of parapsychology by Hyman and Utts, who had come to contradictory conclusions after analyzing data from the U.S. government’s Stargate project. Utts believes that meta-analysis has clearly proven the existence of some sort of cognitive anomaly such as psi, so that further research should be aimed at probing its nature rather than multiplying efforts to establish its existence. Hyman believes that the existing studies are generally so flawed that they do not constitute proof of any anomaly, so that the existence of psi remains a very open question and one clouded by more than a century of laboratory failures to isolate a replicable psychic phenomenon.

John Maddox, emeritus editor of Nature, spoke on the importance of the scientific method at a gala luncheon at The Center for Inquiry, located across the street from the State University of New York at Buffalo’s Amherst Campus.

Saturday’s concurrent sessions included “Mechanisms of Self-Deception” by Barry Beyerstein, Thomas Gilovich, and John Schumaker; “Alternative Health Cures” with Jack Raso and Wallace Sampson; “Philosophy and Pseudoscience” with Paul Kurtz, Daisie M. Radner, Lewis Vaughn, Theodore Schick, and Tim Trachet; “Psychoanalytic Therapy and Theory After 100 Years” with Adolf Grunbaum; “Critical Thinking in Education” with John Kearns, Clyde Herreid, Lee Nisbet, Carol Tavris, and John Corcoran; “Spiritualism and the University at Buffalo Expose” with Joe Nickell and Gordon Stein; and “The Paranormal in China” with Chinese skeptics Madame Shen Zhenyu, Lin Zixin, Sima Nan, Zu Shu-Xian, and Guo Zhenyi.

The last two of the above-mentioned sessions were of special interest. For as it happens the University of Buffalo (UB), a precursor of SUNY at Buffalo, was celebrating its 150th anniversary during the congress, and one of the first “extracurricular” activities undertaken by UB faculty a century and a half ago was one of the earliest scientific examinations of the Fox Sisters, three young women whose floor-tapping activities launched nineteenth-century spiritualism. The UB investigators succeeded in partially unmasking the Fox Sisters’ fakery, an expose which was, tragically, insufficiently noted at the time. In later life, the sisters themselves confessed to having been frauds.

The session on paranormalism in China, meanwhile, represents the latest fruit of a long and productive relationship between CSICOP and pro-scientific persons and organizations inside mainland China. The session also included a report by members of the CSICOP delegation to China, which recently returned from an expedition of fact-finding and investigation of Chinese paranormal claims.


Stephen Jay Gould accepts the CSICOP “Isaac Asimov Award” from new CSICOP Executive Council Member Eugenie Scott.

Leon Lederman accepts the CSICOP “In Praise of Reason Award” from astronomer Cornelis de Jager.

An awards banquet followed Saturday’s sessions at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Buffalo. CSICOP bestowed the Isaac Asimov Award upon Stephen Jay Gould. The In Praise of Reason Award was presented to Leon Lederman; the Public Education in Science Award to Dr. Dean Edell, who accepted via videotape; and the Distinguished Skeptic Award to James “The Amazing” Randi. The Distinguished Skeptic/Lifetime Achievement Award was given to talk-show host, humorist, author, and general Renaissance man Steve Allen, and the Responsibility in Journalism Award went to Phillip Adams, Piero Angela, and Pierre Berton. The banquet was also marked by news that independent astronomical working groups had succeeded in naming asteroids for Paul Kurtz and CSICOP. The CSICOP asteroid ended up being named “Skepticus” after concerns were aired among astronomers that people might not know how to say “Csicop.” Steve Allen, author, entertainer, and creator of the original Tonight Show, provided entertainment at the banquet.

Sunday’s session was devoted to a three-hour “World Skeptics Update” in which leaders of skeptical groups from across the globe described the situations in their home countries. Participants included Tim Trachet (Belgium), Mario Mendez Acosta (Mexico), Amardeo Sarma (Germany), Michael Hutchinson (UK), Miguel Angel Sabadel (Spain), Henry Gordon (Canada), Stephen Basser (Australia), Lin Zixin (China), Massimo Polidoro (Italy), Cornelis de Jager (Netherlands), Valery Kuvakin (Russia), Rudolf Czelnai (Hungary), Premanand (India), and Sanal Edamaruku (India).

The congress attracted unprecedented media coverage, including partial coverage on C-Span. In addition, National Public Radio’s “Talk of the Nation: Science Friday” program made a rare trip out of the studio to originate from the congress site with host Ira Flatow. The congress was also distinguished by the raising of more than $200,000 toward the “Fund for the Future” campaign, a $20 million Center for Inquiry program and endowment fund. Congress proceedings are now available on audiotape.