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Shock Till You Drop: Interview: The X-Files' Gillian Anderson

Interview: The X-Files‘ Gillian Anderson
Shock Till You Drop
Ryan Rotten

[Original article here]

ShockTillYouDrop.com spoke to Gillian Anderson on the set of Fox’s new X-Files sequel, opening in theaters on July 25th.

ShockTillYouDrop.com: Why return to the X-Files after all of this time?
Gillian Anderson:
I think that I’ve always made it pretty clear, no matter what has been rumored in the press, that were we to come together, or were somebody to get it together to do a film, that I would be happy, willing and hopefully able to participate. There were a few times there where it looked like it might not happen, but there are many times when I, when people were saying it was going to happen, didn’t believe it was going to happen. I was always on board, no matter else what I was doing at my time in my life.

Shock: You’ve done so much in your career and life in the interim, since the series ended, what’s it like to come back? Is it familiar or does it seem strange?
I wasn’t cocky, but I was really confident that it was going to be easy on the first day. I wasn’t afraid at all. I’m usually terrified for the first couple of days on something and it sucked. It was horrible. I had a really hard first couple of days and a I think a part of that was that I’ve spent such a long time trying to do something that didn’t remotely resemble Scully, I’ve been pushing it away for such a long time that when I was inviting it back, my brain was going, No! This isn’t supposed to be happening! And we started on the worst possible scene that we could have started with. It was a confrontation scene, so it wasn’t even normal, flatline Scully. [laughs] No, I don’t mean flatline. I didn’t mean that. I didn’t even have a chance to be normal Scully before I was upset Scully.

Shock: Do you look at her different six years later?
I think what’s important is that she has not changed a lot. It’s finding who she is again. I think it’s important to show someone who’s recognizable to the audience who is used to that. But there’s obviously a maturity that has taken place naturally. To hold that and to use that fact to inform how she might be in this present stage.

Shock: Is there anything in this film that tells us where she has been the last five or six years?
Not really, I think it’s a given that…there’s something said here about the choices that she’s made which covers that.

Shock: What was behind your willingness to take the role again, did you not want to be the one who said ‘no’?
No, it was a formidable experience for all of us. Even at the times when I was very outspoken about the challenges of it, it was still something I wouldn’t have changed at the time. I was always aware that this was something unique and valuable and precious. Something that doesn’t happen all of the time. We were incredibly lucky and despite my frustration at the exhaustion, I’ve always been grateful on some level. The idea of us all coming back together again has always been exciting.

Shock: You just didn’t want to be defined as Scully…
Sometimes I still am. When producers or whatever see my work, they go, Oh, she can act! There’s nothing much I can do about that, but I try to continue to challenge myself and challenge people who want to put me in a box…

Shock: Can X-Files still comment on the times we live in?
I think if one is paying attention they’ll see that the issues addressed are bigger than current events. I guess there’s some current stuff, but it’s the bigger picture in certain respects of human beings and…I’m going to dig myself in a hole here. [laughs]

Shock: Do you think the Mulder and Scully relationship here outweighs the scary plot that’s being promised?
I think what is remarkable – and still find it remarkable today after working with other actors – just what kind of energy there is. It just happens, it’s weird. It’s cool now once I’ve seen things in the past and wondered, Where the f**k did that come from? It’s still there and of course it’s going to be appealing to people. And I now see what the appeal is. In the old days, I was like, Yeah, so what? We get along? Yeah, there’s chemistry. I was just using that word. Now I see there really was, and there still is and I think it will always be there.

Shock: What’s that like with David now that you’re not with each other 16 hours a day on a series?
It’s great, but it was great then, too. This is like a sibling relationship and I never had siblings. I had brothers and sisters that started when I was 13, so I was out of the house and didn’t have that experience. There was always this love/hate – hate is too big of a word – but there was always something. It was a natural relationship over a period of time. Now we’ve grown up and we’re older, we’re more appreciative of the relationship period and the unique experience we had together and have an opportunity to continue that and foster it. We’ve always loved each other and we’re always going to be a battle sometimes.

Shock: Scully started as a skeptic, then a believer – are you going back to that skeptic/believer dynamic or is there no going back to that?
I think we have to. That’s part of one of the big premises of the film, of the relationship and what makes it work is this constant fight to be right in some way. I think no matter what film or what episode, you have to maintain an element of that. This isn’t a love story, [but] it can be. That can’t be in the forefront. What’s in the forefront is these two people’s minds and their passions. Naturally, they’re going to swing in the direction that they are built for and that’s going to cause tension between them.

Shock: How do you see X-Files now in the context of your diverse body of work?
It has never really been my cup of tea. I’m not really a television watcher, I don’t think I would have watched the show [were I not in it]. I see what it is and I can appreciate its appeal to people, I can justify it in the context of my life.

Shock: Are you more comfortable with the fact that this role is going to be with you for the rest of your life?
I feel very fortunate. I think my desire to distance myself stemmed from maturity. I started this when I was 24, I told them I was 27 to get hired. Somebody sent me an interview from some cheesy TV station and I was so sure of myself and the way I was talking… I think I had to surround myself with so many survival mechanisms in order to – just as a 24-year-old to be thrown into that so early… People would say in interviews, what a whirlwind life you’ve had and I didn’t even have enough of a perspective to stand back and say, Yeah, man… In a sense, it was to a detriment because I just assumed I should be able to deal with stuff. When it ended, there was part of me that didn’t want to see a set. It just got really intense. I didn’t do that much during our hiatuses. I didn’t go after that between exhaustion and being a mom – I just wanted to do something different for f**k’s sake. I needed that, I really needed that. But I’ve found a place again of appropriate perspective and great appreciation and gratitude for being invited into such an extraordinary experience.

Shock: How is the story intertwined by the character relationships that producer Frank Spotnitz says plays a big part in this film?
I should think they’ve done a really good job of touching on all of the elements that are important for it to make sense to people and to stand-alone. I think they’ve done a really good job in that respect and there’s enough of a balance between our determinations about the things that are currently working on mixed with the dilemmas that we find ourselves in as the two characters, mixed the history, mixed with everything… I think they’ve done a great job.

Shock: How is Scully different from when we last saw her in the series finale?
I think she’s more relaxed and she’s made some choices in her life that have allowed her to do what she most wants to do, and that has mellowed her a bit. She hasn’t lost any of her determination and passion about things by any stretch. How she is in this film follows perfectly with where we last saw her and who she has always been.

DVD Empire: Interview with Chris Carter

DVD Empire
Interview with Chris Carter
Shannon T. Nutt

Since The X-Files left the air back in 2002, little has been seen or heard from the sci-fi scribe who also created such popular cult hits as Millennium, The Lone Gunmen and Harsh Realm. But we were able to catch up with Chris at a hidden location and uncover the secret projects he’s been working on. We got the chance to ask him about the impending release of The Lone Gunmen on DVD, if he had any regrets about the way The X-Files or Millennium ended, and…of course…got the latest scoop on The X-Files 2 movie!

DVD Empire: The first question everyone wants to know is what have you been up to since The X-Files left the air?

Chris Carter: I’ve taken a little bit of time for myself and gathered myself before starting something new – which I’ve done. I’m writing two different scripts for two different studios.

DVD Empire: And what is the current status of a possible X-Files 2 feature film?

Chris Carter: It’s currently in negotiations, and things are looking positive.

DVD Empire: There have been rumors on the Net about how far along things are – whether there’s a script, whether there’s not a script…can you clarify that?

Chris Carter: There’s not a script, but Frank Spotnitz and I have worked out a story. Actually, we did that quite a while ago.

DVD Empire: What can you tell us about A Philosophical Investigation? I’ve read that it’s something you and Frank Spotnitz are working on.

Chris Carter: It was a book that Paramount came to me with, and I liked certain things in it – mostly the main character. And I took it to Frank, and he read it and responded to the same things. We took our ideas to Paramount and they liked them enough that we went forward…and we hope to finish that script soon.

DVD Empire: Is that a film that may happen before you get around to the next X-Files movie?

Chris Carter: We’ll finish that script before we finish the new X-Files script. Whether it makes it to the screen…that’s ultimately someone else’s decision.

DVD Empire: I’ve also read that this is a project you’d like to direct?

Chris Carter: When we made the deal, I tied myself into it as the prospective director.

DVD Empire: Another project that I’ve read about is The World Of Ted Serios.

Chris Carter: Yes, I’m working on that and am almost finished with it. It’s taken me a lot longer than I imagined – mostly because it took much more research than I had anticipated.

DVD Empire: Is that a project you also plan on directing, or are you just on as a writer?

Chris Carter: I would like to direct that.

DVD Empire: One of the reasons we requested an interview at this time is because The Lone Gunmen series is about to be released on DVD. Looking back at the show, and the characters – Langly, Frohike and Byers – it seemed like the perfect recipe for a spin-off series, given the popularity of those characters among X-Files fans. I was wondering what your assessment was of why the show didn’t work?

Chris Carter: I love those characters…they are the creation of James Wong and Glen Morgan. They were a nice addition to the show and I thought they were a good idea for a spin-off series. The idea for a spin-off series wasn’t mine though, it was the idea of Vince Gilligan, Frank Spotnitz and John Shiban. And even though my name was on it, it was really their series and I thought they did a fantastic job. The reason the show did not make it I think had more to do with the promotion of that show and the network and studio’s belief in it.

DVD Empire: As far as the DVD is concerned, I know you’ve contributed commentary tracks on releases of your other shows…are you involved on The Lone Gunmen release?

Chris Carter: Yes. I do commentary, but as I say, I’m really an equal partner with all these other fellas who have contributed more to it originally and ultimately their contribution is greater than mine. But that’s not to take anything away from it – I think it’s a terrific series.

DVD Empire: Let me ask you this about the series. I’m sure you recall that the pilot episode featured a scenario quite similar to the events that would happen on September 11, 2001. Were there any concerns from either FOX or those at 1013 Productions [Carter’s production company] about making that episode available on this release or perhaps trimming the footage in some way?

Chris Carter: I think that there have been concerns ever since 9/11. It is a different scenario, although the similarities are clear. I think there’s always been concern.

DVD Empire: The episode from season nine of The X-Files, “Jump The Shark,” which kind of wrapped up The Lone Gunmen storyline is also included on this DVD set. Without giving too much away for those who haven’t seen it, a lot of fans were upset with the fate of the characters. Do you have any regrets about the way their storyline was wrapped up…or, for that matter, the fates of other major characters on The X-Files, such as Cancer Man and Alex Krycek?

Chris Carter: I thought everyone got their fitting end. We thought about this a lot, and we talked about it, and I think we did everything right. I have to say though that Seasons 8 and 9 were – to use a parlance from football – “broken plays,” with things we didn’t anticipate, including the disappearance of David Duchovny.

DVD Empire: Looking back at it…obviously the decision was made that the show was going to continue even though David wasn’t going to be there. I’m wondering if David’s absence – or the absence for most of that final season, since he did return for the final show – changed the way that you wrapped up the series or changed your original ideas for how the show would end?

Chris Carter: Well, although I had clear plans in my mind of how I would wrap up the series, I could not have imagined nine years of the show way back when. It’s hard to say that anything was changed – we just dealt with the problems, assets and issues as they presented themselves to us and we tried to do the best job, as we always did. So, it’s hard to say if anything would have been done differently. We did what we thought was best at the time and I’m happy with the results.

DVD Empire: FOX has also been releasing season sets of Millennium. I’d like to ask a couple questions about that show…the show started as a very gritty drama about serial killers and very much grounded in reality; and then in the second season, Morgan and Wong came in as executive producers and the show had much more of an X-Files kind of feel to it. Would it be incorrect for me to say that the show took a different course than the one you had originally intended for it?

Chris Carter: When Morgan and Wong came on, they had very strong ideas. They had done such great work on The X-Files, I entrusted them to take the show in the direction that they saw fit. The show was a big enough ratings winner to get picked up for a second season, but it wasn’t as big of a hit as The X-Files was. I was very delighted when I heard they [Morgan and Wong] were coming onto the show, and knew they would come on with very good and strong ideas, as they always do. And they basically took the show in the direction they saw fit in the second season. Then they left the show for the third season, and I came back and – as I did with The X-Files – I dealt with the problems and pieces as they were presented to me, and that’s why I think maybe you get…it’s not a discontinuity…but there were certainly thematic changes through the course of the three seasons.

DVD Empire: Following up on the same question I asked about The X-Files earlier – you probably had a good idea about halfway through Season Three that Millennium wouldn’t be picked up for a fourth season – did the show end the way you would have preferred or do you think it was a missed opportunity?

Chris Carter: I think it was a missed opportunity. I think if FOX had to do it over again, they would have kept that show on the air. I actually knocked myself out of the box with Harsh Realm. It kind of stole away from Millennium [Harsh Realm replaced Millennium in its time slot in the fall of 1999]. Millennium’s ratings were actually better than anything that appeared in that time slot for quite a while.

DVD Empire: It seems to me that given the popularity of shows like C.S.I., as well as a renewed interest in religion after 9/11, that a show like Millennium was almost ahead of its time and would probably be quite successful today. Did you ever have any thoughts about revisiting those characters in some type of format, whether it be theatrically or perhaps a television movie?

Chris Carter: Because the business is a forward moving business, I think that they didn’t want to move backwards with Millennium. But yes, I think when you look at franchise shows like C.S.I. and N.C.I.S. and people go back and watch the Millennium pilot, they’re going to see the direct connection visually and I think thematically with the serial killer stories. That’s not to take anything away from C.S.I. I think one of the problems may have been the religious element…the apocalyptic element…which C.S.I. is not encumbered with. The mythology, if you will…it’s something they benefit from [not having], and something we may have suffered from.

DVD Empire: Looking at The X-Files and Millennium and the other shows you’ve been involved with, it seems to me that the ‘look’ that you brought to television – kind of the idea of making an hour-long ‘movie’ rather than just another episodic TV program – has kind of influenced all the popular one-hour dramas we see today. Every show we see now is moody and dark, and seems to have borrowed that look from The X-Files.

Chris Carter: Thank you for saying so. Whether or not that’s true, I don’t know and I wouldn’t want to take credit for it. There are so many talented people out there. If you look at the shows now on HBO and some of the beautiful shows on network television – they are all done by people that may not have been X-Files fans, so I don’t know…but I’ll tell you this – this is the secret to being a successful television show: the people that you hire. From your writing staff to your producers to your production designer to your D.P. [Director of Photography]…these are all critical positions, and I got very lucky and hired very, very good people.

DVD Empire: Because of the projects that you’ve done and the projects that you’ve been successful with, people tend to associate you with science fiction. Do you worry about forever being associated with the science fiction genre, and is there a burning desire to be successful in a totally different genre?

Chris Carter: No, I don’t feel pigeonholed at all. Really, it’s up to me to show people with my work the range of my abilities. It’s up to me to succeed or fail, to be honest. And so I don’t worry about that at all. I never considered The X-Files to be a science fiction show in the beginning, I considered it to be speculative science show…more of a science show than science fiction. But, you know, people call it science fiction. I think the supernatural does interest me…and people are going to label you no matter what.

DVD Empire: For my final question, I wanted to give you the opportunity to tell our readers about The Carter Foundation – which is a scholarship you set up for students who want to pursue the study of science.

Chris Carter: My brother, who is a scientist, and I put together this foundation and we selectively have given monies to people…kids…who would not normally have access to these funds for the pursuit of their education.

DVD Empire: Chris, I want to thank you for taking the time to talk with us, and wish you all the luck with your future endeavors.

Chris Carter: Thank you.

X-Files Fan Club: Paint it (Frank) Black: Chris Carter

X-Files Fan Club
Paint it (Frank) Black: Chris Carter

It goes without saying that we were thrilled when we learned that Chris Carter would be available to chat in conjunction with two high-profile DVD releases.

This issue, we kick off the interview with his thoughts on the first of those two releases, the debut season of Millennium.

Join us next issue for Chris on Harsh Realm, and two issues from now, we’ll get to the questions X-Philes have been dying to have answered, with the latest word from Chris on the upcoming X-Files movie.

But now, let’s return to the late 20th century and the early days of Chris’ second classic series for television, Millennium.

XFFC: Let’s talk about the genesis for the series concept. How did it evolve in the beginning?

CC: It came from an X-Files episode. There was an episode in season three called “Irresistible.” It was about a human monster rather than a supernatural monster, and it was a very successful episode. It was creepy and scary and disturbing. I thought, “This is interesting.” You can tell these stories about people who are among us and make a good scary show like The X-Files. So that’s what I set out to do. I had a character in mind that became Frank Black. The only thing I didn’t have was the concept of the oncoming millennium, but that later presented itself to me. So it was those three things: A murder mystery each week, the character of Frank Black and his cross to bear, and the upcoming millennium. Those were the three elements that made me interested in the show.

XFFC: You mentioned Frank Black, who was played by Lance Henricksen. What did finding Lance bring to the table?

CC: I wrote it for him. It was just a stroke of luck that I was able to get it to him. He was staying at the same hotel that we had all either lived at or stayed at during the early days of The X-Files. Luckily, I had connections there at the hotel, and I had someone slip a note under his door. I have to say, I did a little bit of extra sales pitching with him. But he was very receptive, and I think flattered. He loved the material and continues to. He and I have spoken about doing a Millennium movie, whether or not that would ever happen. Maybe it could, based on the success of this DVD release.

XFFC: So you had The X-Files up and running, and then you also launched Millennium. What was it like doing two shows at once? That must have been at least a little bit taxing.

CC: Yeah. I’d never done it before, so it was a trick. I wish I could tell you that I had a system, but mostly it was just that I worked like hell.

XFFC: Do you remember how many hours a day?

CC: It was crazy. You were never not working. We did the X-Files movie that year too.

XFFC: Unbelievable. Is there a moment or episode from that first season of Millennium that you’re most proud of?

CC: I have to say the pilot. It’s hard to come up with an idea that will launch a thousand episodes, but I think that I came up with the character and the idea, and you could see it. It only went 66 episodes, so it fell so much short of that goal. But the pilot sets up beautifully the world, the character, the objectives, and the obstacles, as all pilots should.

XFFC: Your shows seem to have a really strong thematic element to them. For you, what was the theme of Millennium? What was it about?

CC: It was about a person who was very good at his job, maybe even had a gift for it, and who had to make a choice between protecting his family and protecting the world. He had to weigh and balance and juggle both of those things as the millennium counted down. It began with the prospect of something terrible happening at the turn of the century, which we were all very nervous about in Y2K. That was interesting to me because it had been prophesied, not just in Nostradamus but in the Bible. There was power in those ideas, and I tried to use it as much as I could. What about a Millennium movie? what would that movie be, and what stage if any is the project in at this point? It’s only in the, “Gee, wouldn’t that be great?” stage. There’s been no talk about it, and I don’t know if there would ever be any talk about it beyond Lance and I saying, “That would be cool.” I actually have an interesting take on it, not even really a story, but an idea for how Frank Black would get into a movie. While there’s some inspiration, I don’t know if there will ever be opportunity.

Dreamwatch: Lone Star

Lone Star

As one third of THE X-FILES loveable geek squad, The Lone Gunmen, Richard ‘Ringo’ Langly will forever be remembered for his flowing locks, huge IQ and love of Dungeons & Dragons. More than 10 years after he first stepped onto THE X-FILES set, actor Dean Haglund recalls his role as Langly and tells Kate Lloyd why he wasn’t *too* disappointed when THE LONE GUNMEN spin-off series was cancelled…

DW: What did you enjoy most about playing Langly?

The wardrobe! Seriously, I didn’t have to change a thing. The hair was real, I would just come in my jeans, change my T-shirt and I was ready to go. Everybody else had to wear leather or put on a suit or something, but I was in and out in a minute and a half. It was nice.

DW: Looking back, why do you think TXF became as successful as it did? Was is simply a case of right time, right place?

It was the right time. I believe the Germans call it zeitgeist. There was a moment in history where the Berlin wall had come down, there was an Israeli peace accord and there was no war on terror. For this 7 to 10 year gap there were no enemies. You could just sit in this kind of peaceful silence and go, “Oh yeah, up in space there are enemies. Oh, and I don’t trust my government.” And you had time to really enjoy this story. Now, if you came up with the idea of an alien hybrid invasion with your government against you, everybody would go, “Oh God, not again. Do I have to hear this?”

DW: As someone close to the show, did you have any idea where it was heading in terms of its mythology?

They kept that really under wraps. I think in the press they said they had a long, rich plan, but I don’t think it was that laid out really! [Laughs] It was sort of, “Well, we should eventually get to there, I guess, but in the meantime let’s just try to make crazy stuff.” So I really had no idea!

DW: Were you disappointed when TLG spin-off series was cancelled?

Not really, I think it was a great amount of time. I know the writers were particularly hurt because they were just laying out the groundwork of what they were planning to do, which was going to be *really* cool, and so they were like, “Aw, what a shame!” It ended too early for their part, but for me I was just thankful that we got to do 13 episodes.

DW: Why do you think the studio pulled the plug?

It was the year everyone was watching WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE, which was showing five times a week in America. I don’t know, these game shows!

DW: In the end, the Lone Gunmen went out in a blaze of glory in TXF season 9 episode, “Jump the Shark”. Was that a good way to go?

I thought so. If they hadn’t ended it that way we’d probably have been walking into the sunset with a stick and a bag in search of another adventure. And that wouldn’t have been the smart way to go …

DW: What was the atmosphere like on the set of the final XF episode, “The Truth”?

There was this sense of relief because the show was really long and hard to do. Some of these guys would see the sun come up every Saturday morning because they’d worked all Friday night, for months on end. They were thrilled to finally get their lives back. So while it was sad to see it go it was also like, “Thank God, we can go shopping at a normal hour again!”

DW: Do you think it was the right time to end the show?

I do. I think it could even have ended with season 8. But, at that point, those are the decisions that the network makes and one is powerless to argue against. Plus, the writers still had some cool ideas, and didn’t really want to fully wrap it up and get that Smoking Man …

DW: Season 8 of TXF is coming out on DVD this month. Where does that year rank for you?

This was the year we were filming the Gunmen spin-off, so it became quite the ordeal logistically because we were in Vancouver shooting the spin-off and TXF was filming down in LA. We either had to get on a plane and film an episode, or they would send scripts up and we would shoot these extra scenes and they would be cut it. It was very confusing trying to keep track of the storyline. One minute we were at Mulder’s funeral, next there was a baby. But it was a lot of fun!

DW: What kind of reaction did you get from fans to the last few years of the show?

I think round about season 8 a lot of people said, “No David? I’m out of here, see you later.” And so those two last years just sort of hung on. Because of [Duchovny’s absence] some fans sort of went, “Oh dammit!”

DW: Do you have any favourite XF episodes?

Oddly enough, my favourite ones are the ones the Gunmen weren’t in. Maybe this is my taste but I really like the Jim Rose freakshow circus episode, “Humbug”, just because it was those guys and I’d seen them in the bar doing their act and always enjoyed it. Oh, and “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose”. From a Gunmen standpoint, I liked the flashback episode, “Unusual Suspects”. That set up how the Gunmen started and how we introduced Mulder to the concept of conspiracies. That was a lot of fun to do and that was the first all-Gunmen episode, so it was a real thrill for us.

DW: You guys were a big hit with fans. Was there ever a time when you were getting more fan mail than David Duchovny?

No. [Laughs]. He got a *lot* of fan mail. He would get all these girls painting him pictures — you know, ladies in sweaters and that kind of thing …

DW: What are you working on at the moment?

Where shall I begin? I did a movie called SPECTRES with [STAR TREK actresses] Marina Sirtis and Linda Park. I’m doing a lot of standup comedy and I’ve also invented a way to speed up your laptop computer without installing any hardware or uploading any software. It’s called the Chill Pak. It’s a simple little thing. It goes in your freezer and then you just whip it under your computer and it draws the heat directly away from the CPU. Time Warner Cable had just heard about it so they’re taking it to their regional meeting. We’ll see what happens.

DW: Finally, how likely is a second XF movie?

Well, Chris Carter is off surfing and climbing the mountains of the world at the moment, so I think the last thing on his mind is sitting around his computer. So it might be a little way off. I think they’re going to give it a little time so that fans can forget the Brady Bunch episode and move on!

DW: But it’s not a definite no?

It’s not a definite no. In fact, I know some executives at Fox are really looking forward to a second movie. So if they are the ones who have the wallet, then they make the decisions…

Afterword to "Richard Matheson's The Kolchak Scripts"

Afterword to :Richard Matheson’s The Kolchak Scripts”
Chris Carter

Much has changed in the thirty years since I sat trembling in my parents’ family room watching “Kolchak: The Night Stalker” on network television, not the least of which is network television. Codes, norms, mores, what traffic will allow; even vampires might not recognize themselves as the multicultural, conflicted MTV fashion plates they’ve become. Janos Skorzeny, The Night Stalker himself, would be hard pressed to get himself cast on The WB.

Thanks to the new technology, what scares us has also changed. Where once danger lurked in the shadows, computer generated images now leap out in a nonstop phantasmagoria. The sum effect being we’re not that easily scared anymore. Strangely enough, it’s new technology that scares us more than anything these days (and, of course, the unseen and unintended ways it might be used against us).

So what makes “The Night Stalker” and its manic sequel, “The Night Strangler”, worthy of our attention–and gushing fandom–after three decades of sophistication and progress? Well, it’s hardly the chill thrills I felt so long ago. Watching now, the once frightening confrontations with the vampire Skorzeny seem repetitious and stagey, more entertaining as relics of past innocence (the scariest thing about Skorzeny’s leering and growling bloodsucker now is his haircut). Dr. Richard Malcolm’s zest for eternal youth doesn’t seem quite so underground as it once must have, his methods only slightly more horrifying and macabre than some Beverly Hills plastic surgeons. (I know, Malcolm killed people, but do you know where all that collagen that’s being so freely injected is coming from?)

For me, what makes “The Night Stalker” and “The Night Strangler” stand the test of time is the antic, inexhaustible, ever-flappable character Carl Kolchak. As conceived and written by Jeff Rice and Richard Matheson, Kolchak is an American original who prefigured a whole generation of investigative journalists and media busybodies. Dustin Hoffman’s Carl Bernstein included. Wonderfully performed and embodied by Darren McGavin, Kolchak is a thorny and lovable square. In his seersucker suit, with his salesman’s tenacity, he’s more than just a pushy reporter, he’s uncool. And yet–he always gets the girl, because he’s smart enough to listen to them, and they all know he has the heart of a pussycat. More importantly, Kolchak does exactly what the star must do: he lights up the page and the screen; he keeps you wanting more of him.

Thirty years have passed since I sat watching Kolchak barge into his boss’s office, trying hysterically to convince him of the truth that was out there. I should hope the characters of Mulder and Scully seem so inspired in their pursuit thirty years down the road. In a throwaway line in “The Night Stalker” script, Richard Matheson has the scrappy Kolchak pay a debt to Ben Hecht, a tip of the hat for paving the way for him. I’d like to do the same for the creators of Carl Kolchak.

Sci Fi Magazine: The Sci Fi Files

Sci Fi Magazine
The Sci Fi Files
Melissa J. Perenson

Executive producer Frank Spotnitz considers his search for the truth as The X-Files comes to SCI FI.

From the outset, The X-Files provoked viewers with intricate storylines and chilling tales of the paranormal. But allusions to aliens didn’t keep the series from disavowing its fundamental ties to science fiction. It was only later in the series – particularly as the show’s complex mythology began to overtly tackle the subject of aliens – that the producers embraced The X-Files’ true lineage. By the end of the show’s run, there was no question of what genre the series belonged under – which is why the show’s arrival on the SCI FI Channel this fall is all the sweeter.

“This is a venue that makes perfect sense; people know that they can turn there and see science-fiction programming,” reflects the show’s former executive producer, Frank Spotnitz. “While The X-Files usually tried to disguise its science-fiction aspects, they’re undeniably there, and important to the show.”

The SCI FI Channel has an advantage in showing the entire series from the beginning nearly a decade after the phenomenon of X started. “There’s a real story, a real and incredible journey that these characters undertake [over nine seasons],” says Spotnitz. “If you were to watch the whole thing, you could see how the show evolved. And you can see how it got increasingly sophisticated and ambitious over time. There’s a real evolution. It’s rewarding from the beginning; there are many classic episodes in the very first year, but in some ways it got even better as it went on.”

The finer nuances of the series become more clear over the course of viewing over a compressed period, as well. “It’s an interesting thing that if you watch the show, you can really see how some ideas are planted in one season, and then grow in another, and then come back,” relays Spotnitz. “It wasn’t uncommon in The X-Files that an idea would take one or two years to return, but it would return. And that was one of the pleasures of being a devoted viewer: Your attention was rewarded. There were things that only you would realize were connected to the past. And if you’re watching these shows together over a few months, instead of a few years, you have an opportunity to really track much more easily.”

Making the transition to the SI FI Channel not only gives fans an easy way to relive the progression of the show over the years, but also gives new and casual viewers a chance to catch up from day one. “We’ve been off the air for a little over a month, and I’ve already had two people say to me that they never watched the show while it was on the air, but now they’re starting to catch up with it. That happens,” acknowledges Spotnitz. “And that’s what’s nice about it still being broadcast now. Of course, when you working on something, you want it to live on; and it’s gratifying to see that happening. I’m glad that The X-Files is continuing to get exposure, and I hope the show continues to gain new viewers through its broadcast on SCI FI Channel.”

One of the more astonishing things about The X-Files is the simple fact that the series endured for as many years as it did. The show is the longest-running network sci-fi series – going well past such venerable genre mainstays as Star Trek: The Next Generation, Babylon 5 and The Twilight Zone.

The fact that the show succeeded year after year is something that Spotnitz and the show’s writers and producers thought about often, even while in the thick of producing the series. “As we were writing The X-Files, we thought about the things that made television endure. What are the elements that make one TV show something you’d want to watch again 10, 20, 30 years later, and then another TV show instantly perishable, where people watch it, and then it will very likely, very rarely ever be watched again?” ponders Spotnitz.

“I think one of the things X-Files had going for it, like a lot of other quality science-fiction shows have going for them, is that it was idea-driven,” he continues. “We tried in every episode to have a strong idea – a truth – and something that we wanted to say. And the plot was in service to that idea. If you have a good idea or a truth to dramatize, that is something that does not go out of date. If it’s an interesting idea, it will always be interesting. That’s in contrast to other types of dramas, which, while they may be excellently written and performed, tend to be more about serialized, interpersonal lives of the characters. Stuff like that may be harder to endure, and to revisit in syndication, because you’re not necessarily willing to just jump back into the stream of these people’s emotional lives. Whereas you can revisit something like The X-Files any time, and don’t have to be in the flow of the series in order to enjoy that particular episode.”

Another surprising consideration is that, even though the show was contemporary to the time it was produced in, it’s remarkably undated, from its production values to the hairstyles, wardrobes, and even the technologies shown on screen. The most overtly dated component in the series was the size of Mulder and Scully’s cell phones.

Spotnitz laughs at this observation, but agrees wholeheartedly. “I think it’s remarkable that the pilot of The X-Files is exactly what the show was and remained. Even after the cast changed in the last two seasons, it was still exactly what the show was: It was skeptic and believer. And it was their dialectic that drove the investigations, and drove the stories. I think the one thing that did obviously change over the course of the years was the personal lives of the characters. But rarely were those important in the stand-alone episodes; it really [mattered] in the mythology shows where you could track the progress of their lives, and you could have characters dying. And those were a minority of the episodes we produced; of the 202 hours, I’d say maybe 30 were mythology.”

As would be expected, “the first season was about establishing the versatility of the series – just how many things the show could be, how scary the show could be and how exciting the show could be – and the ambition of the ideas,” notes Spotnitz, who didn’t join the show until its second season, when he came aboard as a story editor. The series really started to develop its voice in the second season, he adds, “when the show continued to get better, and the mythology bloomed for real.”

“The show really hit its stride in the third year,” states Spotnitz, pointing to the year that the show catapulted into pop culture’s consciousness. “While the third year may not have been the best season, it was the season that was the model for what the show remained the following seasons, which is mythology, scary episodes and humorous episodes, which really were invented by Darin Morgan at the end of season two with Humbug. That was also the year we showed increasingly sophisticated production value and storytelling – greatly aided by the fact that by that point, both Kim Manners and Rob Bowman were regular directors, and they were competing to outdo each other on a regular basis. The show was just onward and upward from there.”

The fifth season’s very carefully outlined stories about renewal and faith marked an undeniable reversal from past years: Thereafter, the show distinctly had one foot firmly planted in the realm of science fiction. “At the beginning of season five, Scully is cured of her cancer, although in typical X-Files fashion, you don’t know whether it’s because of medication intervention, religious faith or the scientific element, which was the chip that was removed from her neck was put back in. It was also the very weird season, where Mulder lost his faith in extraterrestrial life. He became disillusioned in the beginning of season five, and spent most of that season believing he had been wrong. And that was a very disorienting turn for some viewers.”

Also disorienting were all the twists and turns the conspiracy mythology began to take. Much like a monster that keeps growing new heads, by this juncture in the show’s life, the mythology had taken on a life of its own – something that both confounded and captivated audiences. “In the later seasons, the mythology started to become very complicated, and some people started to get confused. But the show went on for far longer than anybody anticipated it would go. I remember thinking into the fifth season that it would be our last year. So the mythology that nobody really thought would end up going five years, ended up going almost twice as long as that,” laughs Spotnitz. “We ended up going through some growth spurts and changes in direction that no one ever anticipated.”

The finale itself had to be so much to so many people – and Spotnitz is ultimately pleased with how the two-hour telefilm, a first in the show’s history, turned out. “I’ve discovered in the responses to that episode that there are some people who really like it, there are other people who said, ‘Oh, I already knew all of that,’ and then there were people in between. It was sort of impossible to play to everyone’s satisfaction, because everyone had varying levels of how much they’d paid attention, and how much they knew. But it really was a culmination of the series, and we tried to explain and connect the dots as best we could about everything that had gone on in the nine years of the show.”

Was the truth really out there, as the X-Files so often postulated it was? In the end, we learned many truths, but not all. Connecting the dots on the role of the alien artifact and impact of the aliens on our religions are some of the elements lost in the shuffle. “There was stuff that we wanted to write that we didn’t have time to write and put in the show, there was stuff we did write that we had to cut because we didn’t have time to film it and the show was running long, and there was stuff we did write and film, but at the end of the day, the show was still too long and we had to cut it out,” concedes Spotnitz. “So we were very, very conscious of our inability to answer everything and talk about everything, and so we tried to answer and talk about as much as we could in the time we had.”

Spotnitz found the final episode’s treatment of the elusive truth in turn served to highlight the long road Mulder and Scully traveled together. The two, he says, are intertwined. “More importantly, the show talked about the journey Mulder and Scully had been on,” he says. ” To me, the theme of the episode and the series was that you can never find the truth. The truth is out there, but you can never hold it in your hand. But you can find another human being, and Mulder and Scully found each other, and the believer and the skeptic were able to say at the end of the day that they believed the same things. That is the most powerful truth that human beings can hope for is finding another kindred spirit and not being alone. And that to me was the perfect end to the journey that they had begun nine years earlier.”