×

After 25 Years, the Truth Is Still Out There for ‘The X-Files’

When “The X-Files” debuted Sept. 10, 1993, it broke a lot of rules about television series. So at a press gathering, the creative group was asked what the show was aiming for. David Duchovny deadpanned, “Syndication.”

The series has surpassed even his expectations, running nine seasons (with an added two-season revival) and is still airing worldwide after 25 years.

On the day that the show debuted, Variety reviewer Tony Scott raved about the “ingenious script” by creator-exec producer Chris Carter. Scott continued, “The artful presentation gives TV sci-fi a boost … the series kicks off with drive and imagination.”

The show earned respectable ratings for Fox Broadcasting, in its first year of seven-nights-a-week programming. Soon there was a growing community of “X-Philes,” who used the new internet (aka “information superhighway”) to exchange ideas with other fans about the actions of FBI agents Mulder and Scully. The show quickly progressed from modest TV success to internet cult fave, then to global hit.

Fox Mulder (Duchovny) is a firm believer in the paranormal, while medical doctor Scully (Gillian Anderson) is always searching for rational answers. The male-female pairing was unusual, and Carter made sure they always respected each other as equals.

“I never want anything to be familiar on this show,” Carter told Brian Lowry for the 1995 book “The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to ‘The X-Files.’”

Carter did not want to give the audience easy answers. Every episode ended on a note of doubt as to whether the events had a supernatural or scientific explanation. The show was also innovative: The series was hard to define. Was it a crime show or sci-fi or horror — or what? The first few episodes featured UFOs, a Bigfoot-style killer, deadly organisms and a sinister computer. Conventional wisdom says that TV audiences want to know what to expect, but audiences liked the fact they were kept guessing about the direction in which each episode was headed.

The series’ slogan was “The truth is out there,” and there were frequent indications that the U.S. government was trying to conceal that truth, even from the two FBI investigators.

One-hour TV dramas often feature an ensemble of characters, because it offers greater flexibility for the writing staff, reduces pressure on the stars during production and, as a bonus, reduces their bargaining power for negotiations. But “X-Files” relied week after week on just Duchovny, Anderson and Mitch Pileggi, plus several recurring characters.

It made stars of them, and proved a great showcase for such writers as Vince Gilligan (who went on to “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul”), Howard Gordon & Alex Gansa (“Homeland”), Frank Spotnitz (who holds the record for scripting 48 episodes) and actor-writer Darin Morgan, plus directors including Rob Bowman and Kim Manners.

In its original run, the show aired 202 episodes over nine seasons. A two-season revival began in 2016, with 16 more episodes, plus two big-screen editions over the years.

When the 1995 book came out from Lowry (a Variety alum who’s now CNN’s media critic), the series was only two years old. But Lowry wrote that Fox Broadcasting executives felt the series had “the potential for syndication for the next 30 years.” It still has five years to go, but it’s looking like a safe bet that it’s going to exceed that number.

The truth is still out there, and audiences are still eating it up.

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro attends a

    Bolsonaro LGBTQI Outburst, Subsidy Freeze, Stirs Outrage

    Ramping up the drive into censorship in Brazil, its Minister of Citizenship, Omar Terra, has suspended a call for applications for governmental TV funding – until new criteria are established for its application. The country’s secretary for culture, Henrique Pires, who reports to Terra, has resigned in protest of the incentive freeze. The suspension, for [...]

  • Shanta Fripp Claudia Milne Jon Tower

    'CBS This Morning' Names New Director, Managing Editor and Senior Producer

    “CBS This Morning” has made three key staff appointments as the show’s new leadership team settles in. Shanta Fripp, an 18-year CBS News veteran, has been named director of the weekday broadcast. Claudia Milne has joined CBS News from ProPublica as managing editor while Jon Tower has been upped to senior broadcast producer. “I’m thrilled [...]

  • Sean Spicer DWTS

    Sean Spicer Will Make Six Figures for 'Dancing With the Stars'

    Sean Spicer could waltz away with a nice payday if he wins “Dancing With the Stars.” According to multiple sources, contestants on the ABC competition series make $125,000 for the show’s rehearsal period and their first two weeks on the air. If they make it to week three and beyond, they begin to earn additional [...]

  • Sean Spicer Dancing With the Stars

    Sean Spicer's 'Dancing With the Stars' Casting Is a Terrible, Cynical Ratings Grab (Column)

    ABC’s announcement that its newest “Dancing With the Stars” cast will feature Sean Spicer, former press secretary for Donald Trump and frequent punchline, got immediate heat. The show’s tweet sharing the news was immediately flooded with derision and calls for reconsideration given the fact that Spicer gained his modicum of fame from defending some of [...]

  • Channel 4's Dorothy Byrne Calls on

    Channel 4's Dorothy Byrne Calls on Broadcasters to 'Get Serious'

    Broadcasters can arrest their fall in ratings by making “really clever and difficult programs,” according to Dorothy Byrne, Channel 4’s head of news and current affairs, who delivered the keynote MacTaggart lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival on Wednesday night. Speaking to an Edinburgh auditorium packed with many of the U.K.’s most senior executives, Byrne said [...]

  • 50 Cent Power S6 Premiere

    50 Cent, Snoop Dogg & Trey Songz 'Power' Up New York City for Massive Season 6 Premiere

    “Power” is entering its final season, but you would never know if you walked by Madison Square Garden in Manhattan on Tuesday night. Starz pulled out all the stops for its ratings powerhouse “Power,” throwing a massive premiere event, complete with a full-length concert at Madison Square Garden from Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson and a [...]

  • AT&T TV

    AT&T TV: An Unskinny Streaming Bundle That Looks a Lot Like Traditional Pay TV

    AT&T this week launched AT&T TV, a new subscription streaming television service that uses an Android-based internet set-top, in 10 markets. But the way it’s priced and packaged looks very similar to cable and satellite TV services — in other words, AT&T TV isn’t targeted at the cord-cutter crowd. It’s basically designed as a way [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content