Archive for May, 2001

TV Guide Online: Gunmen’s Last Shot?

May-11-2001
TV Guide Online
Gunmen’s Last Shot?
Michael Ausiello

If you have yet to sample Fox’s quirky X-Files spinoff, The Lone Gunmen, tonight’s finale may be your last shot. After a strong start in March, Gunmen’s three conspiracy-obsessed computer geeks have watched their viewership disappear faster than data on an “I Love You” virus-infected hard drive. But it’s not all doom and gloom. Last week’s episode retained a best-yet 86 percent of its adults 18-49 lead-in from Police Videos (granted, a small victory, but a victory nonetheless), and in a recent USA Today poll, Gunmen ranked second only to the WB’s Roswell as the struggling series viewers most want to see return next fall. Still, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the show needs to flex some ratings muscle tonight. But short of hacking into Nielsen’s mainframe, what is series creator Chris Carter to do? Well, a little stunt casting couldn’t hurt, that’s for sure.

TVGO: The USA Today survey caught some people by surprise. No one knew Gunmen had such a loyal following. The ratings are certainly pretty stinky.

Carter: Actually, the ratings are respectable. For Friday night at 9, they are good ratings for Fox. Everything is relative in the ratings game because Friday night is a very small night. So, we’re actually heartened by what we have done in the ratings, but a show like this takes some time to find an audience. But I know that there is a vocal audience out there because they weigh in every day and every week on the Internet.

TVGO: Would you say the show has met your expectations ratings-wise?

Carter: Well, of course you want to always perform better than expectations. Right now I think we’re performing to expectations. So I think if we can start to build on what we’ve done – certainly through the sweeps period – then the chances for the show coming back will be great.

TVGO: If the show continues to perform at the level it has been, and Fox cancels it, will you be angry? Is this going to be another Harsh Realm? [Carter was miffed when Fox pulled the plug on his last TV venture after only a handful of episodes.]

Carter: Well, it already isn’t. That Harsh Realm situation was so peculiar and such an anomaly; it really was driven by someone’s gross inexperience. Luckily, now there are experienced people [at Fox] and we are getting our full run of Lone Gunmen episodes, so there really is no comparison. [But] it’s not my nature to be content, or contented, and so my feeling is that there are always other ways and other things you can do to promote a show.

TVGO: Speaking of which, I understand David Duchovny will appear in [tonight’s] season finale. Why is it such a big secret? This is just the ratings-grabbing stunt the show needs right now.

Carter: Where did you get that information?

TVGO: Um… reliable sources.

Carter: Well, I can’t comment on it, of course. On either the question or the pure fact.

TVGO: Well, let’s throw out a hypothetical: If David Duchovny were to drop in, wouldn’t you want to promote the heck out of it?

Carter: I will promote the show in any way I possibly can. I do what I can under the limitations that I am given, and that’s the way I always proceed.

TVGO: Hmmm… so David agreed to do it under the condition that it not be promoted. I get it now.

Carter: I think that is a rather complex hypothetical. Anything is possible, as I always say about The X-Files. I would say the same thing with The Lone Gunmen.

TVGO: Well, let me ask you this: Will there be any big surprises [tonight]?

Chris: Definitely.

TV Guide Online: X-Files’s Finale X-posed

May-07-2001
TV Guide Online
X-Files’s Finale X-posed
Michael Ausiello

When it comes to The X-Files’s highly anticipated two-part season (or series) finale – airing May 13 and May 20 at 9 pm/ET on Fox – the truth is, well, everyone’s dying to know what the heck Scully is carrying around in her belly. Is it a boy? Is it a girl? Is it Alf? Of course, as often is the case with the long-running serial thriller, the bigger cliffhanger involves the baby that executive producer Chris Carter delivered eight years ago: the X-Files franchise itself. In this exclusive Q&A, he sheds some light on the possibility of a ninth season (Hint: Count on it), the chances that David Duchovny will return (Hint: Don’t count on it) and the upcoming plot twists that could send viewers into labor (Hint: Read on…). –

TVGO: We finally get Mulder back and you pair him with… Doggett?? Mulder/Scully fans are rightfully infuriated!

Carter: I thought it was an interesting new dynamic. I mean, this is Episode 181 we’ve just finished filming. We had a chance to change the dynamic this year, and I thought there was another chance to increase the dynamic so that we could, in fact, reunite Mulder and Scully at the end of the show in an interesting way. So, I think infuriation is part of the fun with The X-Files, and certainly with the Mulder/Scully relationship.

TVGO: Is keeping Scully in the background, in essence, a way to give Gillian Anderson some time off?

Carter: No. Gillian had some time this year to spend with her daughter that we’ve built into the show, so there was no [more or] less given to her in this case. It really was a chance to explore Mulder with a new partner and keep Scully – because she was pregnant – FBI-bound. It seemed natural to us. And I think as you watch the two-part season finale, you’re going to see that there is a good logic behind it.

TVGO: For the record, run down the various scenarios that could play out in regards to the birth of Scully’s, um, thing.

Carter: First of all, we have a woman who is pregnant when all medical evidence pointed to the impossibility of that pregnancy, so we’ve got something strange already. We’ve got the possibility that it is an alien pregnancy. We’ve got the possibility that… this baby [was] produced by some kind of strange invasive science. And then we’ve got the possibility that it’s a miracle.

TVGO: What about the possibility that Mulder is the father?

Carter: There is that possibility as well.

TVGO: Who else could be the daddy?

Carter: I would rule out the Lone Gunmen, that’s for sure.

TVGO: Is the birth basically the centerpiece of the two-part finale?

Carter: Yes, but we get to it in a rather indirect way and then it becomes the centerpiece.

TVGO: What can you tell me about the finale that isn’t out there? Give me a big scoop.

Carter: I will say that you can expect the appearance of three wise men.

TVGO: We know the Lone Gunmen are going to be on.

Carter: Do you? Then I will say that you can expect a significant death in the two-parter.

TVGO: Now we’re talking. Where do things stand with 20th Century Fox in terms of a ninth season?

Carter: We are in, I would say, constructive negotiation.

TVGO: It’s looking good then?

Carter: Constructive.

TVGO: I see. How did you handle writing the final episodes considering you don’t know whether or not the show will be back?

Carter: The same way as I really handled last year, which was that I wanted to be satisfied that this could function as either a series or season finale, and that either way it would continue to preserve the possibility of The X-Files movies.

TVGO: Have you spoken to David about what commitment, if any, he might make if there is another season?

Carter: I haven’t spoken with him specifically about it, but I know that we had a really good, and I felt sweet, send-off for him his final night a little over a week ago. And whatever decision he makes, we have done eight terrific seasons together, and if there are more, great. And if there are no more, I will figure out a way to hopefully make the show as good as it can be.

Broward-Palm Beach New Times: Shoot Straight: Chris Carter considers the futures of X-Files and Lone Gunmen

May-03-2001
Broward-Palm Beach New Times
Shoot Straight: Chris Carter considers the futures of X-Files and Lone Gunmen
Robert Wilonsky

Last thing first. At this very moment, Chris Carter sits behind his desk in the Ten Thirteen Production offices, on the 20th Century Fox lot in Studio City, California, finishing the final X-Files episode of this season. The show’s creator has just one scene left to write–the very last–and that is how he will spend the rest of today: figuring out what, for the moment, is to become of Fox Mulder, Dana Scully and newcomer John Doggett. It would be imprudent and particularly geeky to push him for details; this is not a sci-fi convention, and my mail-order Special Agent Fox Mulder Official FBI Badge is at home. Besides, there is but a single question to be asked about the season finale: Is “Existence,” which airs May 20 on Fox-TV, also to be the series’ final episode?

It would seem Carter has wrangled with this issue at the end of the last few seasons; there was some doubt that this season, the show’s eighth, would even exist, after David Duchovny (who plays, of course, Fox Mulder) filed suit against Fox in 1999 claiming the network and Carter bamboozled him out of profits made when the show went into syndication on FX, the Fox-owned cable sibling. Duchovny would ultimately clean up: He appeared in only 11 of this season’s offerings and, reportedly, took home an extra $30 million for his troubles. The show has done well enough without Duchovny: Robert Patrick, as clenched-jaw skeptic Doggett, transcends the definition of “replacement,” and Duchovny’s early-season absence allowed room enough for Gillian Anderson’s Scully to evolve more in one year than she did during the previous seven. Carter even insists he sees the show returning for another season; still, the man who made the phrase “trust no one” a lifestyle is quick to defuse such optimism with a hastily added “but…”

“Right now, there is a lot of ground to cover in getting there for next year,” he says. “Right now, there are certain X factors–if you will–we don’t know. We’re all hopeful. I think everybody wants to come back. I am not sure if David wants to come back or not, but I don’t foresee any real concrete reason why we wouldn’t come back. That said, it is in negotiation.”

In no small part, the fate of The X-Files depends on what Fox decides to do with Carter’s fourth series for the network, The Lone Gunmen, the X-Files spin-off featuring three of the most clever and cunning numskulls in the history of television. Gunmen–starring Dean Haglund (playing the gangly Langley), Tom Braidwood (the stubbly, stumpy Frohike) and Bruce Harwood (the buttoned-up Byers) as publishers of a conspiracy-exposing newspaper–is a rare hybrid in these wearying days of weakest links and conniving survivors. It’s the only hour-long comedy airing on network television, and it’s bereft of laugh track and cynicism; the show’s humor has a heart. If The X-Files, which occasionally sags beneath the weight of its own self-contained mythology about aliens and abductions, has become too dark in recent months, then The Lone Gunmen is the light at the end of that very long and exhausting tunnel–Get Smart, done smarter.

The Lone Gunmen debuted March 4–in The X-Files’ temporarily abandoned Sunday-night slot–and was seen by about 13.2 million viewers, according to the Nielsen ratings; 9 million tuned in the second week, and the number was half that for the third–a precipitous drop that terrifies any network (smells like the XFL). But when the show moved to its regular Friday-night slot in late March, viewership actually increased: It’s estimated about 6.5 million people tune in each week. That’s nothing compared to a show like E.R., which attracts about 25 million pairs of eyeballs, but it still qualifies The Lone Gunmen as Fox’s most successful Friday-night series since the Chris Carter-created Millennium…which the network killed after its third season.

Of late, Carter’s relationship with Fox has been characterized by some TV insiders as tenuous: He was upset when the network axed Millennium (even now, he says, Fox “killed a hit”) and furious when then-network president Doug Herzog canceled his show Harsh Realm after a mere three episodes in the fall of 1999. One need only look back to the first season of The X-Files, in the fall of 1993, to discover Carter’s always been pushing a boulder uphill at the network: Sandy Grushow, then Fox’s head of programming, said at the time he’d “eat my desk” if The Adventures of Brisco County Jr., which debuted alongside The X-Files, didn’t become a hit. Brisco County lasted as long as the gunfight at the O.K. Corral; Grushow never offered to eat anything if Carter’s new show failed to take off.

So, yes, Carter admits his decision to bring back The X-Files rests, in part, on whether the network decides to bring back The Lone Gunmen for the 2001-2002 season.

“But it’s not how I look at it,” he adds. “Certainly, I want them to treat anything we do with respect here and to support it, because we work hard and do good work. If they didn’t, it would make me upset the place we’ve decided to call home–our partners–are not doing their part. It’s simply that. It’s a matter of Fox believing in the show–Fox the network and Fox the studio–and them not believing they have something on tap that has a better shot. It’s as simple as that, but certainly there are politics involved.”

Carter’s partner Frank Spotnitz, co-creator of The Lone Gunmen and X-Files writer-executive producer, puts it even more simply: “I hope The Lone Gunmen stands or falls on its own merits. It deserves to.”

In some respects, it’s surprising The Lone Gunmen exists at all, given Carter’s recent history with Fox and the current TV landscape, which looks more like a junkyard than a gold mine. Long gone are the days when network executives like Brandon Tartikoff and Grant Tinker would launch and coddle intelligent, interesting shows (such as Hill Street Blues or Seinfeld) and stand by them, even if that meant camping out with them in the ratings basement for a season. Because viewership is down for all of the major networks–during the week of April 16-22, NBC drew a daily average of 11 million viewers, 6 million fewer than it had during the same period in 1997–network programmers have become as disposable as Survivor contestants. To save their asses, they’ll kill a good show with low numbers because there’s always a British game show waiting at customs.

Or perhaps Carter looked around in recent months and saw a fertile landscape that looked remarkably similar to the one that nurtured The X-Files in 1993. Eight years ago, reality television was nearly as ever-present as it has become these days: Shows such as Cops, Rescue 911 and America’s Most Wanted provided endless hours of entertainment for the wife-beater T-shirt demographic, and you couldn’t tell the comedies from the dramas without the laugh track (cf. The Mommies and Coach). Only five non-news-related or reality-based series from the 1993-1994 season remain on the air: The X-Files; Law & Order, which undergoes a radical cast change during every other commercial break; The Simpsons and Frasier, which have become so awful they’re barely recognizable; and Walker, Texas Ranger, which ends its run this spring.

“People are still looking for hits,” Carter says. “That’s the long and short of it, and if all of the sudden Temptation Island hits or Survivor hits, you’re going to get lots more of those things, and it’s going to crowd out more conventional storytelling, like what we do–or unconventional storytelling, like what we do.” He chuckles.

Ironically, The Lone Gunmen was poorly received by the very people who should have embraced it: TV critics, whose reviews of the first two episodes were usually accompanied by headlines such as “The Lone Gunmen shoot blanks” and “The goof is out there.” Spotnitz says even he didn’t think the first two episodes were entirely successful: The pilot felt too much like The X-Files, he says, while the second show leaned too far toward the “wacky,” down to the scenes featuring a blind football team. “Now, we’ve found the right tone,” Spotnitz says, “which is funny and sweet and comedic, but it also has some reality and some heart to it.”

Carter also believes critics weren’t writing about the show as much as they were gunning for him; they wanted another X-Files, and he gave them a witty, charming amalgam of Mission: Impossible, The Wild, Wild West and Man from U.N.C.L.E. Carter felt as though critics were taking out their frustrations with The X-Files–the is-Mulder-dead-or-alive plot proved most grating for some–on The Lone Gunmen, and after the disaster of Harsh Realm, he felt he’d become a slow-moving target–the showrunner standing still.

“I think what happened is that now, people are reviewing this so-called powerful person, and they’re not reviewing the show,” he says. “They’re reviewing the circumstances surrounding the show, and that’s disappointing to me. I don’t think about power, to be honest. I think about doing a good job and the treatment you get when you produce something that’s good and deserves a chance. If it’s not given its fair shake, then I get irritated, but I’m not asking for anything more than that, nor do I think anyone should ask for more than that, because you’d keep too much crap on TV if it was just a power play.”

But The Lone Gunmen deserves another shot: It’s a television show for television fetishists, an homage to and parody of ’60s cops-and-thrillers series, only populated by dorks instead of hunks. And it’s charming, a quality lacking from all but the best commercials these days: Last week’s episode took place almost entirely on the dance floor, as arms traffickers made deals during a tango competition. The X-Files turned to comedy during its second season as a relief from the oppressive conspiracies and as an opportunity to prove just how elastic the series could be. The Lone Gunmen, quite simply, is the most consistently amusing and amiable show on TV–the hour-long smile, a reminder of how much fun TV can be when it’s made by people who genuinely love the medium.

“I’ll tell you what one of the best things is about doing this show,” Carter says. “Sitting in these audiences every day now, I will hear peals of laughter coming from down the hall, because they’re watching dailies, and it’s such a nice thing.” He laughs. “The X-Files is what it is, and to have something like this come along, it builds on something that has been wonderful and produced for me a wonderful amount of success and opportunity. The Lone Gunmen is the lucky product of that. I look at so much comedy on television, and I’m thinking to myself, “Well, we’re funnier than that.’ I just wish people would tune in and watch it.”