Chris Carter, the executive producer and creator of The X-Files, has flown up from Los Angeles for a set visit, as he does every 10 days or so.
“I do some of my best writing up here,” Carter says of his Vancouver visits. “It takes me away from the post-production process, which takes most of my concentration away, and on the weekends the phone doesn’t ring here.”
Carter, 38, is at the stage in his career when many producers get lured away from such intense devotion to the show. Two years into a successful project such at The X-Files, producers are typically asked to start developing spinoffs, or possibly even feature films.
It’s also the point at which fans notice a distinct downward spiral in their favorite shows. It’s known as the second-season slump, a sagging of creative energy after the initial burst to get the show on the air.
Strangely, it hasn’t happened on The X-Files. And perhaps it won’t because Carter, despite other offers, intends to stick with his pet project.
“Even though I have big ideas for other shows, I think I better concentrate on something that is a big success. It’s something I give my full attention to now.”
For those out of the Friday night viewing loop, The X-Files is a one-hour drama starring David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson as FBI agents assigned to bizarre cases that may involve the paranormal. In the U.S., it is the top-watched show by adults 18-to-49. In Canada, it regularly makes the top 10. It won a nod of approval from Viewers of Quality Television. Of the many new sci-fi series this season, The X-Files is the only one set in present time.
Many episodes delve into popular North American folklore of the UFO experience. Other favorite plots dealt with DNA mutations, telekinesis, religious cults, spiritual healing, forest-devouring insects, killer worms and cattle injected with artificial growth hormones. The scariest segment was a two-parter starring a creature called Eugene Toombs, an apparently immortal, liver-eating mutant who proved capable of peculiar body transformations.
The highlights from last season read like headlines from The World Weekly News. But even some of the wildest stories are simply extrapolations of current scientific inquiry, or are based on research done at major universities into the paranormal .
X-events, says Carter, must take place within the realm of the possible. “It’s only as scary as it is real,” he adds.
Other elements add to the X-factor of credibility: muted performances by Duchovny and Anderson, even in the most hysterical circumstances; special effects that are effective but not over-ambitious; and open-ended stories that leave viewers to often make up their own minds.
Rarely is an X-File solved. How does one bust a UFO? Agents Mulder and Scully try to shine some light on the dark forces, yet they rarely end up standing in anything brighter than a grey Vancouver day. And they are subject to paranoid fears as they battle evil both outside and within their own government agency. On the season-ending cliffhanger last year, the show’s motto switched from “The truth is out there”, to “Trust no one”.
Carter, who grew up in Los Angeles watching The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, says his own sense of paranoia is heightened by nothing more eventful than a daily reading of the newspaper.
“There was something in the paper yesterday about drugs that were given to soldiers during the Gulf War, and they had no idea they had not been approved,” he recounts.
“And now those people are sick from the drugs the military was giving them to combat the effects of germ or biological warfare.”
From the Iran-Contra scandals to possible UFO cover-ups and unauthorized drug tests, Carter is shocked by what he reads in the news. And, in part because of the popularity of The X-Files, he knows he’s not alone.
” ‘Trust no one’ was one of my personal philosophies,” he says. “I believe that people as well as governments are self-motivated and self-interested and that things run that way. I’ve connected with an undercurrent of distrust and paranoia that seems to be pervasive right now with the public.”