Even though I generally don’t struggle with words, when it comes to my total adoration of anything “X-Files” related, I’m often tongue-twisted. When Chris Carter’s series first debuted in September 1993, everything for me as a genre fan changed.
I was lucky to have grown up exposed to episodes of shows like “Kolchak: The Night Stalker,” “The Twilight Zone” and “Dark Shadows” so the very first time I laid eyes on Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and his ‘I Want to Believe’ poster, I knew I had found my “Dark Shadows.” What continued to bring me back season after season was the series’ incredible storytelling that somehow balanced a nuanced mythology that carried through from Episode 1 to Episode 202 (and two movies) and also managed to continuously deliver compelling side stories and creatures that were unparalleled for that time on network television.
Quite frankly, there never had been, nor will there ever be again, a network show quite like “The X-Files.”
That being said, it was this writer’s huge honor to have the opportunity to sit down and speak exclusively with Carter during San Diego Comic-Con recently to talk about the upcoming 20th anniversary of “The X-Files” series and everything from his favorite supporting characters and scenes to the challenges of keeping up the romantic tension between Mulder and Scully and so much more.
Dread Central: Considering that “The X-Files” hasn’t been on the air for something like ten or eleven years now and the series first began 20 years ago this September- does it continue to surprise you just how much this series has endured with fans new and old and how popular it still remains after all these years?
Chris Carter: It’s surprising to me and I think it would be surprising to anyone that something could continue to interest people when there’s so much other entertainment out there, the world is just full of it. There’s almost too much good stuff out there to even be able and keep up with, so that something that used to be a popular TV series still gets this kind of a response from fans is mind-blowing.
Dread Central: If I’m remembering correctly, the first season of “The X-Files” was particularly nerve-wracking because you weren’t necessarily sure just how it was doing at first. I was wondering if you could talk about what you remember from that first season and how challenging was it for you and your writing team to have to focus on creating great immediate and overarching stories and still wonder if you’d be coming back for another season?
Chris Carter: It felt like and it still feels like we were just trying so hard at the beginning to make the show good; luckily it was a competitive environment where everyone was kind of trying to “one-up” each other. I think that helped make the show better. I have to say that the people that are as important to the show as anyone were the people who were there for the first season, who really helped to lay the foundation for all that would come after.
But I didn’t really know until we got the official pick-up for the second season that we were a hit; even though our ratings weren’t hit ratings at the beginning- they were good for Fox, they were good for a Friday night and they were good for a nine o’clock time slot. Not until we were actually put on Sunday night did I know that the show had finally gone from a cult hit to a big cult hit.
Dread Central: Because you had so many great writers and writing teams on “The X-Files” throughout its run, what was the collaborative process like when you all worked on the various storylines over the years?
Chris Carter: Well, there was Jim Wong, Glen Morgan, Howard Gordon, Alex Gansa and a few others, but that was really the core group, along with myself, who handled the 24 episodes we did on that first season. They were all important in making the show into what it would become.
Dread Central: I know you probably get asked about this episode in particular a lot but I’d be mad at myself as a fan if I didn’t ask about “Home.” Do you feel like the way that you guys used humor juxtaposed against extreme moments of violence is why the censors reacted so much to that episode in particular?
Chris Carter: Probably; I still don’t know if we could get away with putting that episode on network television now even. Everything is so sanitized compared to cable television so you still really can’t show viewers that kind of extreme violence, although I have noticed that they seem to be pushing boundaries with shows like “The Following” or “Hannibal.” What I actually think is happening is that network TV is reacting to the big numbers of cable TV, with shows like “The Walking Dead,” and now realize they have to be able to compete with them on those levels.
Dread Central: I know there’s been a lot of speculation but is there still a chance for a third “X-Files” movie? Or will the new comic series be the only way we’ll see Mulder and Scully and these characters live on?
Chris Carter: Well there’s certainly still a possibility for a third movie and the comics will be sort of their own universe; I have to say that they’re a genre within our genre. So while they’re calling it “Season Ten,” it’s really exists as its own comic book mythology. So while I always want to be honest to these characters, to our mythology, to our nine seasons, we’ve given writer Joe Harris free rein to run with the stories however he wants to. It’s really his own take on the show; I’m involved but I’m also conscientious of it being a comic book so there is a need to tell these stories in a certain way.
Dread Central: When you were working on “The X-Files” and then several other shows at the same time like “Millennium” or “The Lone Gunmen,” I always enjoyed the fact that the ‘Chris Carter’ brand was certainly well-represented for a good chunk of time; and now that we’ve lost you and someone else like Joss Whedon from television, I just don’t know if there are many other show creators out there who leave that kind of a distinctive mark on television anymore. Have you considered returning to television recently at all?
Chris Carter: First of all, I’m flattered; the thing I really tried to do with all the different series I created was to do something different. Something that was original, something that didn’t feel formulaic- I just always wanted to be working on something imaginative. Sometimes we succeeded like we did with “The X-Files” and sometimes we didn’t like in the case of “Harsh Realm.”
Right now I’m close to coming back to television but it’s to cable television. The scripts I’ve written for it, you could not do on network television.
Dread Central: Even though you guys did get to tell so many amazing stories throughout the nine seasons of “The X-Files,” were there ever any stories that you had wanted to tell but never got the chance to?
Chris Carter: The truth is, pretty much everything we had wanted to do, we did. You know, I felt like we never had the chance to tell a good Frankenstein story; we tried to do that with the second movie. And there were a few small things here and there that we would start working on but would get sidelined, and who knows, maybe they’ll come to life in other places in the future.
Dread Central: Mulder and Scully were definitely the core of what made “The X-Files” so great but the series also had so many incredible supporting characters throughout the years. Many of them became almost as iconic even so I was just curious if you had ever thought about which of them were your favorites?
Chris Carter: Of course the “Cigarette Smoking Man”- and what he became and how he became it. Even though he was my character, Morgan and Wong came in and developed him in a very interesting way. Everyone got to write him and sort of add a little something to that character and that’s really what a successful TV show is all about; it’s about an amalgamation of everyone’s input and everyone adds something to it. That’s really what “The X-Files” was- it started as one thing and it became much more.
Dread Central: The relationship between Mulder and Scully has always been so complicated, even through the second movie. How hard was it balancing out their relationship and keeping true to what’s best for the characters versus what would make the fans happy most (seeing them happy together)?
Chris Carter: You know, we spent so much time and energy keeping them apart; I think that constantly fluctuating dynamic was something the fans really responded to. But then it felt dishonest after all those years that if they were going to still be together that they wouldn’t be together romantically. That’s why we ended up putting them together. And even though we’ve seen them together in bed on the big screen, we really haven’t seen that relationship explored or developed yet so I think there’s room to do that. I do think that we were rewarding expectation by putting Mulder and Scully together though; it would have been ridiculous to keep them apart.
Dread Central: For my last question, I wanted to ask about which episodes really felt like pinnacle moments for you or which episodes had your favorite moments?
Chris Carter: Wow, that’s always hard because you really have about 202 hours’ worth of scenes to pick through so trying to figure out which are your favorites is nearly impossible. But there are scenes that I do think are important to the series; one that I think of is the funeral scene in “Humbug” because it’s from that moment the show was transformed into something completely different.
It was then a show that could have comedic episodes interspersed with the horror/thriller episodes and then there were the conspiracy/mythology episodes that we would do too. So that scene for me was a watershed moment in the series from Season Two. I always talk about the final scene from “Post-Modern Prometheus” where Mulder and Scully are dancing; that’s the black and white episode. For me, I still get emotional when I think about that moment because it was so much what I imagined that Mulder and Scully’s relationship would be like. That warmth, that side of their relationship wasn’t one we got to show very often.
But really, there are so many scenes that I could point out, like the David and Michael McKean scene in “Greenland” and how that moment showed just how much range we had as a series and how lucky we were that we could write an episode with scenes like that. And you can connect that dot directly right back to “Humbug.”
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