THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT Copyright (c) 1994, Landmark Communications, Inc. DATE: Thursday, December 15, 1994 TAG: 9412150051 SECTION: DAILY BREAK PAGE: E1 EDITION: FINAL SOURCE: BY LARRY BONKO, TELEVISION COLUMNIST LENGTH: Long : 188 lines
WHEN A SERIES is among network television's ratings bottom-feeders - No. 57 and attracting only 16 percent of the prime time audience - you'd expect it to dry up and blow away.
Not ``The X-Files.'' Fox beams out a spooky new episode Friday night at 9.
The show survives, says Linda Kaiser of the Hampton Roads Science Fiction Association, because it has an intensely loyal following. Viewership is comparatively small, but devoted.
Not only that. It's suddenly hip to watch ``The X-Files.''
This is the 1990s' cult favorite, just as ``Quantum Leap'' was in the 1980s; ``Kolchak: The Night Stalker'' in the 1970s, and ``Star Trek'' in the 1960s.
``X-Files'' executive producer Chris Carter told TV writers in Los Angeles not long ago that ``Kolchak,'' starring Darren McGavin as a wire-service reporter forever running into zombies, werewolves and vampires, was the inspiration for the Fox program. He hopes it will be around longer, though. ABC dropped ``Kolchak'' after a year.
``I doubt if `The X-Files' will ever have ratings as high as `Star Trek: The Next Generation' had in syndication, but its audience will grow,'' said Kaiser, who lives in Hampton. `` `The X-Files' is the best thing on network television, an unpredictable, imaginative series with all kinds of twists and turns in the plot.
``The relationship between Scully and Mulder is as honest as it is complex.''
Ah, yes. FBI Special Agents Dana Scully and Fox Mulder.
Have any of you X-Philers out there wondered if the actors who play those great stone faces ever had a creepy experience similar to those they investigate on the series?
Gillian Anderson, who plays Scully, hasn't had a close encounter of the third, second or even first kind.
But her partner, Yale grad David Duchovny, said he's been in the general area of a curious event - an airplane that came and went awfully fast.
``I saw it and then it was gone.''
Could it have been the 12:30 shuttle to Venus?
Not likely, said Duchovny.
He doesn't buy into the UFO thing.
But Anderson does.
``I believe that anything is possible,'' she told the TV writers. ``Isn't it egotistical to think in this vast universe we are the only intelligent beings?''
Duchovny, the skeptic, said, ``Ask me if I believe that the events we deal with on the show can actually happen, and I'll say no. I'm the kind of a person who needs to be shown something before I believe in it.''
There's a switch.
In the series, Mulder is the one preoccupied with the paranormal, the agent who doesn't believe it's Air Force weather balloons or swamp gas frightening the cattle. Scully is the skeptical scientist, the medical doctor who won't be convinced unless she can see, hear, taste or smell whatever the agents are after.
Don't look now, Scully, but standing behind you is a genetically mutated serial killer who emerges from hibernation every 30 years with a craving for human livers.
NOW DO YOU BELIEVE?
Terry Gray of Newport News, another member of the Hampton Roads Science Fiction Association and an ``X-Files'' devotee, also believes the series will continue to appeal to a select audience.
``To viewers with intellect,'' he said. ``It takes a commitment to watch what is a dark, complex series.'' When the episodes end on Friday nights, Gray settles down with his home computer to talk ``X-Files'' with other hackers.
Over at Trilogy Comics in Virginia Beach, where the first ``The X-Files'' novel sold out recently and anticipation is high for ``The X-Files'' comic book, William King sees the audience growing steadily.
Perhaps it will evolve from cult favorite to cult classic a la ``Twilight Zone.''
Fox Broadcasting has been loyal to the series, even when it slipped to No. 78 in the ratings. Fox has showcased the show on nights other than Friday.
Research tells Fox that ``The X-Files'' appeals to the X-Generation, the young viewers who advertisers love. That is why Fox sticks with it.
When Carter was writing the pilot for ``The X-Files,'' he had only one thing in mind - to scare the viewers out of their socks.
``Something creepy and mysterious,'' he said.
He never forgot ``Kolchak.''
``Remembering that show, which I loved, I said to the Fox executives, `There's nothing scary on network television anymore. Let's do a scary show.' ''
With its smoky interiors, flashlights poking holes in the inky night, all manner of space invaders and what Carter calls ``special, special effects,'' the series is the spookiest hour on network TV.
And it's a rare drama for TV because there are only two principals in the cast, Scully and Mulder. Carter has no plans to expand the cast of regulars.
That's a lot of camera time for Duchovny and Anderson.
``A grueling schedule,'' she said.
Just after talking with the press, the 25-year-old actress went into labor. Two weeks after gave birth by Caesarean section, she was back at work in Vancouver, where the series is filmed.
During the last stages of her pregnancy, the writers moved Anderson out of camera range by having her kidnapped and dumped in a coma. Then there was that particularly upsetting episode when the FBI shut down the X-Files unit.
First to be cast in the series was Duchovny. Then came Anderson, who originally made a name for herself off Broadway.
``When they went into a room together, and acted together for the first time, I saw the chemistry immediately,'' said Carter. ``I said to myself, `These are the two people I want.' ''
There has been sexual tension between the two. Their relationship is not likely to go beyond that bit of spark and crackle, Carter said.
``A viewer wrote to us to say that she'd throw her TV set out the window if Mulder and Scully ever kissed. Relax, everybody. The show will never be `Moonlighting.' ''
The FBI has not endorsed the series and the bureau forbids its official shield to be shown on Fox. But there was an unofficial salute to ``The X-Files'' when Anderson and Duchovny were invited to FBI headquarters in Washington and later to the training facility in Quantico, Va.
According to TV Guide, real FBI special agents advised the make-believe FBI special agents to use government-issue firearms and learn how to track the bad guys without being ambushed. Inside stuff like that.
``The FBI has given us information about protocol and procedure,'' Carter said. ``That's been the extent of the bureau's cooperation. We've gone to great lengths not to paint the FBI as bad guys but as tools of some higher level of government that orders Scully and Mulder off sensitive cases for whatever reasons.''
By doing that - frustrating Scully and Mulder - the FBI brass at times also frustrates viewers.
The agents hardly ever get the chance to tie up episodes in a neat bundle. They are not hero and heroine in the traditional sense. They do not always nail the bad guys, corral visitors from outer space or put government researchers away for injecting humans with alien DNA.
Carter said he will not change or adjust the series to widen its appeal. ``Our approach to viewers is to say, `Either choose to believe what we put on the screen or choose not to believe.' ''
One more thing. Carter prefers that fans of the series refer to themselves as File-o-Philes.
``They're the ones who are so devoted that they catalog `X-Files' trivia,'' he said. Such as? Such as the fact Duchovny is working on a doctorate in English literature. MEMO: Related story also on page E1.
Fans of ``The X-Files'' have created newsgroups and World Wide Web sites
to discuss and dissect their favorite show. Computer users can find some
of the best on the Local News page of the Pilot Online. See page A2 for
OTHER CULT FAVES
When you're a cult show, you don't attract the ratings of
``Seinfeld.'' But as in case of ``The X-Files,'' you do have a audience
that is so loyal that it often keeps the show on the air by sheer force
of will (and letters to network bosses). ``Star Trek'' and ``Kolchak''
weren't the only shows that attracted a cult following. Here are 10
other cult shows you may remember:
``Alien Nation.'' Fox ran it for two seasons starting in 1989 and
recently brought it back in a Tuesday-night movie. Slags from the planet
Tencton mixing with Earth folks and even, gulp, attempting to mate with
``Quantum Leap.'' NBC started the series in 1989 and now it's running
on cable. Scott Bakula as Sam Beckett bouncing around time and space.
``The Planet of the Apes.'' After a Hollywood smash by the same name,
and several sequels, the brilliant simians came to TV and CBS in 1973
with movie holdover Roddy McDowall in the cast. It was gone in four
``The Magician.'' Following a hit in ``The Courtship of Eddie's
Father,'' Bill Bixby could manage only two seasons out of this NBC
series. It was a slick shot about a magician with a social conscience.
``Man From Atlantis.'' Patrick Duffy shaved off all his body hair and
learned to swim with his eyes open for this series, which ran two
seasons on NBC starting in 1978. Then he got ``Dallas.''
``Logan's Run.'' CBS in 1977 launched a series based on the hit movie
with Gregory Harrison and friends trying to escape certain death when
their youth runs out. It's hell to turn 30.
``Lost in Space.'' While ``Star Trek'' was struggling for an audience
in the 1960s, this CBS series was humming along for four seasons on CBS
in the mid-1960s. June Lockhart and kin do the Swiss Family Robinson
thing as their spaceship rattles around the Alpha Centauri star system.
``Harry and the Hendersons.'' The series based on a fairly successful
film crashed and burned in syndication in 1991. Sasquatch meets
``Dracula, The Series.'' Another bomb in syndication from 1990 that
lasted for 26 episodes. This Dracula was a tycoon who was able to
operate OK in the sunlight. But his powers didn't emerge full-blown
``The Time Tunnel.'' Lasted two seasons on ABC. James Darren and
Robert Colbert hurtle back in time, tempted to change history. Suppose
the Titanic crew was warned about that iceberg.
KEYWORDS: SCIENCE FICTION TELEVISION PROGRAMS