Subject: Chris Carter
As we talk in his mysteriously small office on the Fox lot in Los Angeles, Chris carter is surrounded by a library that includes Dolphins, ETs and Angels, Conversations with Nostradamus, Cosmic Top Secret, UFO: The Continuing Enigma and perhaps the scariest book of all — The Bridges of Madison County.
Carter grew up in Bellflower, Calif. He started surfing at 12, and after he graduated from California State University at Long Beach, he worked as an editor at Surfing magazine for 13 years. With the encouragement of his future wife, screenwriter Dori Pierson, Carter started writing screenplays and soon found himself working for Disney TV. Softball pal Brandon Tartikoff brought Carter to NBC, where he developed some pilots and produced the … Joe Bologna vehicle [Rags to Riches]. In 1992, Peter Roth, the president of Twentieth Century Fox Television, brought him on to develop programs for the studio.
A few short years later, Carter’s a power broker. “The X-Files phenomenon is first and foremost Chris Carter,” says Roth. “He’s extraordinary, unique, slightly twisted, a little paranoid with a huge commitment to quality.” John Matoian, the president of Fox Entertainment Group, is similarly impressed: “Chris is a perfectionist and his own worst critic, which is great for me.” Carter has recently created a new fall drama for Fox called Millennium, which will follow the exploits of a 21st-century Seattle private investigator trying to solve seemingly unsolvable crimes.
Everywhere one looks in Carter’s office are reminders of the huge impact of The X-Files, including a Mad magazine parody (The Ecch-Files, with Fax Moldy, Agent Skulky, and FBI Assistant Director Skinhead) and the box for The XXX-Files — a porno tape featuring one Tyffany Million. I plan on investigating this last title further.
When you’re onstage at one of these “X-Files” conventions, do you ask yourself, “Who the hell are these people?”
The weird thing is, I know exactly who these people are. They’re kindred spirits.
So you don’t have the Shatneresque urge to say, “Get a life!”
How do you feel when you see people who aren’t just fanatical about the show, but fanatical in general?
You mean the paranoids? Again, we’re kindred spirits. The thing that has come through on this show that’s really alarming and wonderful for me is that almost everybody feels the government is not acting in their best interests. One survey by the Roper poll said there are 5 million people who believe they’ve been abducted by aliens. People say, “Well, then you knew you had an audience.” But that’s not my audience; that’s my fuel.
Don’t you worry about the lunatic fringe that thinks of “The X-Files” as a documentary series?
The lunatic fringe is out there whether they’re watching us or not. There’s tons of UFO literature — these people have much more that The X-Files to hold on to. The X-Files is just high profile because it’s so successful.
And at least one hour a week, you keep us safe from them.
I don’t think they’re dangerous. I think these are peace-loving folks. People have asked me about the connection between The X-Files and the Oklahoma bombing. And as I’ve tried to make clear, I’m saying question the government, not overthrow it. It’s fiction, first of all — we make this stuff up.
So you think most conspiracy freaks are nice and benevolent, like your lovable Lone Gunmen on the show?
When you go to conventions, you see these guys. They exist. They have booths with literature about mysterious organizations like the Illuminati. But is it anything more than wacky and subversive? I don’t think so. I don’t think these guys are making pipe bombs.
How do you feel about the very explainable phenomenon of “X-Files” merchandise?
I resist a lot of stuff. If this becomes a show that you can find at your local KMart or Wal-Mart too easily, it’s going to lose the thing that’s made it special. The X-Files is coming out on videotape, and it’s going to be in all those stores. It makes me a little sad. I’d like it better if you could only find them at a head shop in Van Nuys.
Talking about head shops, were any of your ideas for the show drug-inspired?
I was actually never a big druggie. But I was a surfer, so I was around it. There are certain sacraments and rituals that had to be conducted. I did do a Native American Church peyote ritual with the Navajos in new Mexico, so that spawned a couple of the early Indian episodes.
I always dismiss conspiracy theories on the basis that the government seems incapable of conspiring to do much of anything.
That’s my feeling, too, about, like, JFK. Everything comes out in the end. But the idea that there are bad people out there working in dark and shadowy ways outside the system, I think, is very believable and real.
Have you gotten any postcards from any cigarette-smoking members of the Trilateral Commission saying, “Love the show. Now shut the hell up?”
No, but I bet there are people who watch the show and say, “They’re onto something.”
In casting, it took some convincing to get the network to go along with Gillian, correct?
I sort of staked my pilot and my career at the time on Gillian. I feel vindicated every day now.
How do you explain the celibate sexual heat between them?
I’m adamant about not putting them in a romantic situation. Their passion would be directed toward each other, and all the aliens, mutants, and other ghosts and ghoulies would run amok. But when you have two smart people who are passionate about what they do and happen to be physically attractive, you get sexual heat. Fox is very respectful and protective of Scully. He’s gentle with her and playful, and people take it as flirtation.
So then what do you make of our cover shot?
That’s David and Gillian in bed, not Mulder and Scully.
What kind of reaction have you received from the FBI?
There’s been no official reaction. Mr. Freeh [FBI Director Louis Freeh] has not commented. He did unofficially allow us to come and visit the FBI. We got nice treatment from the agents who were big fans of the show. They think it has shed a good light on the FBI.
They tell me that’s the case, and that they have to tell people there are no X-files to investigate.
Any fear of running out of stories?
I won’t allow myself that fear. The stories are out there.
Do you think that the show plays into our victimization craze? Now we can not only blame our parents for our being fucked up, we can blame the government and aliens, too.
To a certain extent we play on fears that things are out of control, out of your power. I think that’s what is scary about life, so we capitalize on that.
Are X-Philes more likely to vote for Clinton or Dole?
I have to think they’re more conservative in a weird way. The idea of questioning authority is not just a liberal idea. People say the show is obviously Republican because it says government is a bad thing. I think Republicans say, “Trust us.” And I’m saying, “Trust no one.” I do often wonder if Chelsea Clinton is a fan.
Who are the most surprising fans?
The grandmas and grandpas. People in the intelligence community who say, “You don’t know how right you’ve got it.”
“The X-Files” is also an Internet phenomenon. How often do you go online?
I’m on like 12 times a week, but I’m a surfer. I lurk.
Do chat types want romance between Mulder and Scully?
They do and they don’t. They want elements of it without them jumping into the sack. There are these “relationshippers” who kind of dominate the online chats. I’m a little dismayed because I don’t want to do a show about fuzzy warm Mulder and Scully. Never.
[At this point the subject begins looking nervous, as if an alien force had taken over his brain or, alternatively, as if he had a lot of work to do and couldn’t waste any more time with me. He says he and story editor frank Spotnitz have to meet with visual-effects editor Mat Beck to check out some alien discharge.]