Trying to extract any secrets out of the creator of “The X-Files” is a fool’s game. But at the same time, it’s always a pleasure to hear Chris Carter reflect on the show that changed the game for network television in the 1990s.
Nominated for 21 Emmys over the course of its original run, the sci-fi drama made international stars out of Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny, and broke ground in how genre could mix comedy with drama over 22 episodes a season.
And when the show returned to Fox this spring for a six-episode limited run, Carter took pride in the fact that “We could’ve made this an exercise in nostalgia, and we didn’t.”
The production process of Season 10, as Carter revealed below, had its benefits — like the extra time necessary to work on the visual effects — but also its complications, including a late-stage decision to change the airdate order for episodes. There’s also the fact that despite no guarantee of a Season 11, Carter went ahead and ended the final episode on a massive cliffhanger… one, he says, he’s hoping to resolve someday.
But why’d he do it in the first place? Read on.
In your head, did you always have the idea of ending the season on a cliffhanger?
Yeah, we had done that traditionally on the show, and so in keeping with tradition, yes.
It’s a tradition that comes from a time when you definitely had new seasons locked in place — was there ever a part of your thinking that was like, “What if there isn’t another season?”
That’s just me being devious. What it does, for me, is provide the opportunity to promote more “X-Files” episodes, which I think everyone would like — including me, the studio, the network, and the fans.
Talk about how you had the whole thing pretty much produced before it ever hit the air.
That was a luxury, and it actually had an additional effect, which was that the special effects were able to be perfected before we ever aired, which was never the case when we were doing the original series, when we had to work as long and as hard as we could for the money that we had and give people our best efforts.
How did that change your experience with watching the audience react to the season?
I had an experience that I was never granted previously, which was because we were working on such a tight schedule previously, you always watched the episode basically — even though you’d seen it in editorial, you watched it with everyone else and you watched it on TV. In this case, we premiered the episode in Cannes [at MIPCOM], and we were able to premiere it in Los Angeles for a crowd on a big screen. So I had the experience of watching it with a theater audience, that I was never able to have when we were doing the show originally.
What did that mean to you?
It’s a funny thing, because I’m really talking about a big screen experience. And the images hold up, which was exciting. But I never have a pure viewing experience during those previews, because I’m really watching it through everyone else’s eyes. I’m wondering if the show is lagging a bit, if people are laughing where they’re supposed to, if they’re jumping where they’re supposed to, if we’ve got them hooked.
So you’ve never felt like you’ve had a pure viewing experience when it comes to the show?
No, I don’t. It’s an anxious experience for me, because I’m more aware of the audience than what’s onscreen, which I’ve seen so many times.
Where do things stand right now in terms of your thinking, about what comes next?
As I’ve always done, I continue to collect ideas — thinking about how I would get us off that cliff that we hung people on, including the characters. I think about when it would be done, I think about who I would like to do it with, I think about the prospects of it having any life beyond this rather unexpected life that it’s had. You know, I’ve been working on this show for almost 25 years. A year before anyone else worked on it. So, it’s kind of running through my veins.
I know things are still very much in the works for the next season. But if/when there is one — do you know if you would be bringing in new writers this time, or would you still go back to the people you worked with in the original series?
I would love to reassemble the team that we did on this series of six. That said, they may want more than six, which opens the door to bringing in additional writers. But I think the combined talents of the people who contributed to this six were people who had a deep knowledge of the show, which is very hard to replicate. And I would continue to draw on that cast of writers who had worked on the show before. That’s not to say there couldn’t be new writers, but these people aren’t just appearing quite so readily.
Looking back on the season, what are you most proud of?
The quality of the show, one of the hallmarks of the show is the dependable, good quality of the storytelling, of the acting, of the production values. All those things were exciting for me that we were able to bring them back, and that’s really a product of using people who had made the show before: production designers, cinematographers, we had the same casting people that we’ve had since nearly the beginning. Those were exciting things for me. Also that we could’ve made this an exercise in nostalgia, and we didn’t. We forged new ground, we told new daring stories, we didn’t just fall back on sequels, which would be quite easy to do. I think we made it a fresh experience, and that was exciting for me.
I know that the production order got mixed up in the actual airing. Can you talk about what happened there?
We decided that what was going to air as Episode 2, no matter episode aired there, was going to have a burden to bear, because we began with a mythology episode, which ended on a kind of cliffhanger. So the next one was always going to be stand-alone episode that was going to make people say, “What happened to the previous story?” which was only going to continue in Episode 6. So we felt that the episode that aired there actually had elements of the mythology incorporated into it that made the storytelling and the arc seem more natural and integrated.
That said, continuity-wise, you can tell from episode to episode that the office is in different conditions, that sort of thing. Is it awkward to look back at those elements?
You know, you deal a hand and you have the cards that you draw from the deck. And so I think that this is us shuffling our cards and playing our best hand.
What can we look forward to in Season 11?
I’m excited to see big shapes start to develop. I hope they give me a lot more time to try and write it, but it’s usually the case where you’re always in a rush. It’s a feature of series television.
Just over a year ago, this seemed impossible, and here we are watching it.
Yeah, I know, I feel the same way!