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Los Angeles Times: Closing the Files

Los Angeles Times
Closing the Files
Greg Baxton

As “The X-Files” ends its run, its place in TV lore secure, one question remains: Will the truth out there be revealed?

The end of Fox’s moody and atmospheric “The X-Files” is only days away, marked by the return of David Duchovny as FBI Agent Fox Mulder and anticipation among die-hard fans that the answers to several dark mysteries will finally be revealed.

But even as series creator Chris Carter puts the final touches on the two-hour climax, which airs Sunday, his soft-spoken but intense demeanor is much the same as it has been during the show’s nine-season tenure.

“Yes, I feel like something is gone, but every day I wake up with the nagging feeling that it’s still there,” Carter said last week at his production office on the 20th Century Fox lot. “I’m a forward-looking creature….I have a willful inability to stop and celebrate something, or to mourn.”

For now, he is leaving it to others to pay tribute to his show as a phenomenon that not only helped establish Fox as a contending network, but also brought new life to the genre of dark and edgy dramas on prime-time television.

“It’s one of the icons of the 1990s, very emblematic of that era,” said Tim Brooks, coauthor of “The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows.” “It brought to the comedy-laden ‘Seinfeld’-era a much more serious attitude, a questioning of institutions. ‘The X-Files’ is also one of the great science-fiction series in television history. And one of the most complicated programs ever.”

The series, which revolved around the adventures of two FBI agents investigating the paranormal, supernatural and unexplainable, made stars of its leads, Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. The two exhibited a palpable chemistry even though their characters’ relationship was mainly platonic. While the series was steeped in stories of alien abduction, grotesque monsters and government conspiracies, it also handled its tales with a humanity and humor that attracted a huge cross-section of viewers, particularly women.

Jim Farrelly, an English professor at the University of Dayton, Ohio, calls “The X-Files” “the consummate thinking-person’s show. Like all great art, it is subversive in nature and challenges our values and belief systems by exposing the underbelly of human institutions and the hubris that fuels them.”

Paul A. Cantor, a University of Virginia English professor, said that the end of the series reflects a change in the mood of the country, which has less cynicism about the government after Sept. 11 than it did during the drama’s heyday.

Sandy Grushow, chairman of Fox TV Entertainment Group, who was president of Fox when the show was launched in 1993, said the conclusion is “very bittersweet. This is one of the shows that put Fox on the map. It helped define the network and proved we could play with the Big Three.”

Declining ratings for “The X-Files,” which started when Duchovny reduced his role two seasons ago, led Carter to decide in January to end the series.

But for several years, the show was a huge hit, and it propelled Carter into the elite club of A-list television producers with dream deals, even though his subsequent shows for the network–“Millennium,” “Harsh Realm” and the “X-Files” spinoff “Lone Gunmen”–failed to become hits.

“Chris is an extremely smart, talented and competitive guy,” said “X-Files” executive producer Frank Spotnitz, who has worked with Carter for eight of the show’s nine seasons. “He drove everyone….He was able to marshal really talented people and put them on the single-minded mission of what the show was. He is really heroic. The legacy belongs to him.”

Carter is uncertain about his next project. He plans to take some time off, a luxury he rarely allowed himself during the last decade. He has a deal with Bantam Books to write two novels. He also has a deal with Miramax for a movie. “I haven’t really allowed myself the indulgence of considering life after ‘The X-Files,’ ” he said. “I still have tremendous energy and a tremendous amount of ideas.”

At the same time, he knows that “The X-Files” will live on in various forms. “There’s still so much work to be done. There’s still a lot of business surrounding the show that will make it seem like it’s not gone,” he said.

The fifth season has just been released on DVD, joining DVDs of the previous seasons, and Carter will soon begin doing commentary tracks for the sixth-season edition. He is also overseeing a new line of merchandise being launched by Fox that will include action figures, trading cards, “The X-Files” magazine and a yearbook.

Then there is the long-planned sequel to the 1998 “X-Files” movie.

“At this point I can’t imagine the movie being filmed before summer 2003, and I can’t imagine it being seen before summer 2004, not to say that it would be a summer release,” Carter said.

Sunday’s finale, written by Carter, takes place during a military tribunal in which Mulder is on trial for murder. The FBI agent is trying to justify the investigation of the X-Files–the term refers to cases that fall outside the FBI mainstream–and to prove the existence of extraterrestrials.

Asked whether the show’s longtime fans will get closure on the dangling mysteries, such as the alien abduction of Mulder’s sister and the agenda behind the government conspiracies, Carter smiled, conceding that they probably would not. “We’re trying, and hopefully succeeding, in making it all make sense, giving it a logic and coming full circle,” he said.

Fans eager for Mulder and Scully to ride off into the sunset together “will be satisfied, though not absolutely satisfied. The people who want there to be closure on the mystery of Mulder’s sister, and the child that Mulder and Scully share, I think, will be satisfied. Those who have wondered about the conspiracies will be satisfied.”

Added Spotnitz: “People who have followed the show already know most of the answers. But for the normal viewer, they will be able to put together the pieces of the puzzle.”

“The X-Files” has also had its share of backstage drama over the years. The show was filmed in Vancouver, Canada, for its first five years, before making a costly move to Los Angeles in 1998, where it now ranks among the most expensive series on network television, at around $3 million an episode.

The following year, Duchovny filed a lawsuit against 20th Century Fox, the studio that produces “The X-Files,” alleging breach of contract in his profit participation because Fox gave its broadcast stations and FX cable channel sweetheart deals for reruns of the series rather than seeking the highest bid.

That suit was eventually settled (terms were not disclosed), but the actor reduced his appearances last season to a little more than half the episodes. He exited entirely this season, except for appearing in the finale and directing an episode.

A bit of industry drama will also surround the end of “The X-Files.” The episode is airing during perhaps the most competitive night in the May rating sweeps, facing off against the three-hour conclusion of CBS’ “Survivor: Marquesas,” NBC’s “The Cosby Show” retrospective and the season finale of ABC’s “The Practice.”

Carter shrugged. “There’s really nothing I can do about it.”

After the last episode airs, Carter said he will be able to put “The X-Files” more into perspective.

“This whole experience has been like a dream,” he said. “What I did was hire a lot of the right people early in their careers. My success is based on the good work of those people, perhaps the best work they’ve ever done.”

The finale of “The X-Files” will be shown at 8 p.m. Sunday on Fox. The network has rated it TV-PG-LV (may be unsuitable for young children, with advisories for coarse language and violence).

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