The truth may be out there, but for a lucky subset of "The X-Files" fans attending New York Comic Con in October, it’s closer than ever.
Fox’s blockbuster sci-fi series, starring David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson as paranormal investigators Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, has been scheduled to make its long-awaited return to television in January, 13 years after the show went off the year.
But in an unusual move, Fox announced Thursday that it would screen the first installment of its six-episode "X-Files" revival event at New York Comic Con’s main stage on Oct. 10. That’s more than three months before the revival is scheduled to debut on television in a two-night event that begins on Jan. 24, immediately following the NFC championship game. The second episode will air on Fox the following night.
For some fans, the network’s decision to screen the full premiere episode at a convention so far in advance of the air date has turned into an X-File-style mystery itself.
“I was surprised, because it’s so early to be doing it,” said Michael Ausiello, editor-in-chief of TVLine.com and a self-described "X-Files" fanatic. “But it tells me that Fox is happy with the finished product and confident that a discerning audience [at Comic Con] will have a positive reaction. And if those diehard fans like what they see, they’ll tweet, Facebook and Instagram it. That’s marketing you can’t buy.”
Fox declined to comment on the Comic Con screening, which will be followed by a question-and-answer session with series creator and executive producer Chris Carter and star David Duchovny and moderated by "Silicon Valley" star and "X-Files" superfan Kumail Nanjiani, who also has a guest role in one of the six revival episodes.
Not everyone is thrilled about the move. Many "X-Files" fans lamented on social media that they were missing out -- especially because tickets to New York Comic Con sold out when they went on sale in the spring.
“It will create two classes of 'X-Files' fans: the haves and the have-nots,” said film and TV writer Will McKinley, who added that the network could have achieved the desired buzz with an extended trailer to preview at Comic Con.
McKinley, who hasn’t decided whether he will attend the screening in New York, also said that the premiere will ruin the experience of watching it live on television. Plot and story leaks are inevitable.
“We’ll be inundated with spoilers. I wanted to be excited and share the experience with millions of people watching it together when it airs. And those spoilers will be impossible to avoid,” said McKinley.
There's also a chance that a stealthy attendee could record the screening on a smartphone and leak it online, which is what happened at San Diego Comic-Con in July with trailers of films like “Suicide Squad” and “Deadpool.” But analysts agree that recording a 42-minute episode will be tougher. There will be likely be strict security in place in New York, as studios have been clamping down on such video piracy. Preventing story leaks, however, isn’t a priority.
“They don’t care about spoilers because they just want people to talk about it. And I doubt the first episode is going to end on some kind of unbelievable cliffhanger,” said Marc Berman, editor of TV Media Insights.
The strategy is akin to what some studios do when they promote independent movies.
“They’ll screen a film, which won’t be released for months, at a festival like Telluride or Tribeca. It puts a seed in the minds of viewers,” said Brad Adgate, senior vice president of research at Horizon Media. “There are so many original scripted shows out there, any type of innovative marketing strategy can help in this landscape.”
And while the premiere will air after an incredibly coveted lead-in -- the NFC championship game can draw up to 50 million viewers -- Fox wants to do everything it can to ensure ratings, said Adgate.
“If it doesn’t meet the expectations of Fox and its advertisers, then Fox has to essentially give back free advertising,” he said. “They want big ratings -- especially on the second night. That’s what will determine whether it’s a success.”
If the series -- which generated 20 million viewers an episode during its peak in the 1990s -- does well, both Adgate and McKinley agree that it could set up the network with leverage to renegotiate exclusive rights with one of the three major streaming services. Right now, "The X-Files" is an undervalued property given that the series is available on Amazon, Hulu and Netflix.
“Netflix, for example, will pay a premium for exclusivity. If this becomes a hit, and there’s a bigger desire to see it in streaming, Netflix will pay a premium for that,” said Adgate. “The success of the mini-series could make it a more valuable property.”
It’s possible, of course, that enough financial success could encourage Fox to turn "X-Files" into an annual event. “If it does really well and they can get the same people involved, I can see this turning into something they do every year,” said Adgate.
To that, many fans echo one of the show’s beloved mantras: I want to believe.