The creator of “The X-Files” and “Millennium” discusses his future plans.
Before Chris Carter makes any more X-Files movies, he’s going to make certain that his two television series are in good hands. There was speculation back in 1996, when 20th Century Fox formally announced that an X-Files feature film would be theatrically released two years later, that Carter, who wrote the screenplay in addition to overseeing both the X-Files and Millennium television series, was taking on more than any one man could handle.
“I am dedicating myself to putting (‘Millennium’) back to a place where I think it can be.”
It now appears that the naysayers were right. While The X-Files enjoyed its highest ratings ever during the 1997-98 TV season, and the X- feature became one of the top grossing films of the summer, Millennium didn’t fare as well, suffering both creatively and in the weekly Nielsen ratings race. Last spring, rumors began to circulate in Hollywood and New York that Millennium would not be on Fox’ 1998-99 schedule. But Millennium was given a reprieve of sorts and returns for a third season this month.
As soon as Carter began making plans to revitalize Millennium, however, the X-Files movie franchise once again threatened to distract him from the show. In late July, weeks after the X- feature had opened and days before production of the third season of Millennium was to begin, Carter had his first official call from Fox asking about the possibility of doing a sequel,” he recalls.
Could Carter take on another X- feature? “I have no idea,” he replies, keeping his plans close to the vest. “It’s just something to think about. I don’t want to let anything suffer for any new projects.” Asked if he envisions a day when the X-Files movie franchise might begin to resemble the Star Trek movie series, with Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully moving over to the big screen and two or more new agents taking center stage on The X-Files, Carter says, “To be honest, I don’t even want to think about it until the time comes to think about it.”
“(“Millennium” is) scarier than X-Files in a way.”
For now, Carter is focused on the sixth season of The X-Files, which has recently moved from its long time production center in Vancouver to Los Angeles, and the third season of the troubled Millennium, with the latter undergoing a thorough creative overhaul. Indeed, Carter is making the care and nurturing of Millennium a priority. “I am dedicating myself to putting this project back to a place where I think it can be,” Carter says. “I am going to be traveling back and forth to Vancouver to prep the shows and to work on getting the crew to a place where we get everything running like a top again.”
Carter and new executive producers Chip Johannessen (who has been with the series from the beginning as a consulting producer) and Michael Duggan are determined to steer the show away from the supernatural storylines it had begun to flirt with last season. Narratively, the show will also move away from stories about the Millennium Group itself. “That’s not really where the looming war between good and evil, as we move from here to the future, is going to play out,” says Johannessen. “We want to take the storytelling away from the Millennium Group itself and have them be a piece of this puzzle that we’re going to start to articulate. [Last season] there was a lot of carrying relics around and that sort of thing. While we continue the idea that the Millennium Group has a history, we’re going to start looking to the future.” Step one will involve a dramatic midlife upheaval for Frank Black (Lance Henriksen): The death of his wife, Catherine (Megan Gallagher), and his return to Washington, D.C., where he becomes a consultant for the FBI.
Although Carter and his crew deny it, any resulting resemblance to the thriving X-Files franchise is undeniable. In his new capacity, Black will become mentor to a pretty young FBI agent named Emma Hollis (Klea Scott). She’s “someone who is slightly left of center from the mainstream thinking of the FBI,” Duggan explains. “[She's] attracted to [Black] as a heavyweight consultant who comes back to the FBI; who views things quite differently than the standard proceduralists at the FBI. She feels a need to attach herself to his belt loop or under his wing and learn about the way he sees the world.” The two-part season opener will deal in part with the enormous emotional pain Black suffers following his personal tragedy, as well as his new status as a single parent and his involvement with Catherine’s parents. Duggan also notes that Frank’s relationship with the Millennium Group “changes quite a bit. There’s a lot of geography to explore there.”
“What we learned [last season] is that [the Group's] agenda is not necessarily what it was stated as,” Carter adds, explaining that Frank will now be forced to look at the group “in a different light. There are things that have come out of the last two years that are going to play out now in a new, dramatic way with these new revelations.”
Carter also says that after two seasons of working on the show and talking to people about it, he has learned that “people really aren’t afraid of the Millennium. That was never the idea of the show, that people are dreading this date coming up.” Rather, Carter notes, people are uncomfortable with “the idea that we are heading into some unknowable kind of future, that we’re moving too fast technologically.” Still, Carter sees the approaching Millennium as significant on many fronts, and his observations will power the show.
“(Emma Hollis) is someone who is slightly left of center from the FBI.”
“We want to find meaning in the world,” he says. “This date is going to be a reckoning. It’s going to be a time of accounting, and that’s kind of a scary thing for us. It’s been an important date, the turn of the century, forever-or for as long as we can remember.”
With the stage reset, the focus of the series will return to “stories that are about real human emotion,” Carter continues. “It’s about what happens when bad things happen to good people. Those are the kind of stories we will explore. I would like to see if they have some relevance in relation to the world we live in. I’ll just say that the reason Millennium is even a show is because there were human monsters that [we] couldn’t do on X-Files that really were interesting to me as a storyteller. And I think that’s really what it will continue to be. That’s what makes the show scary. Scarier than X-Files in a way because the monsters are all too real.”
So what went wrong along the way, ultimately necessitating such sweeping changes to the show’s format? Carter says he thinks everyone involved with the series reacted to what he calls “serial-killer-of-the-week criticism” from the press during the series’ first season, when they were simply trying to “tell stories about human tragedy.” The result was a move toward sporadically exploring supernatural themes and the mythology of the Millennium Group in year two, which lead to Millennium losing “some of what I felt worked about the show in the first season,” Carter explains.
But Carter also admits that the original narrative structure of the series is partially to blame for its relative weakness. “When I approached Lance with this pilot script, I really had given him a story that, by design, had no franchise,” he says. “It was about a man who was an overidealized hero-overidealized by me. [He had] an idealized home life with a wife he loved and a daughter he loved, and he wanted to keep the darkness that he saw, because of his experiences, away from them.
I liked that idea a lot, Carter continues. “What we learned in the course of the storytelling [was] that when you try to protect something that is perfect to begin with or you imagine as perfect, it creates a non-dramatic situation. So, there was a sameness in that relationship, and we realized through the telling of stories that there were more opportunities to be had telling good stories, letting Lance be the character he was, by removing him from that home.
How close did Millennium come to being cancelled? “The way I understand it is that there was a slim chance that it would be, Carter recalls. “I think we benefitted from some things that happened in the development season, but I think the show deserved to be back. It’s actually got a very good hardcore audience. It really is, in a way, the cult show that X-Files used to be, and I’d like to see if this year we might not expand on that and build a bigger audience for it. I said this about X-Files originally: Fridays at 9 p.m. is a [time when] you cannot steal an audience. You’ve got to create an audience. You’ve got to change television habits. You’ve got to make people stay home to watch those shows. That’s what we have to do this year.
“Some people may have tuned in early on and tuned away,” Carter confesses. “I’d really like to get people to come back because I think that we know now, having had the last two years to go by, what we do best and what works best. If people come back this year, they’re going to see better and a little bit different kind of storytelling.”
It seems certain that one way to accomplish that goal is to cross-pollinate Carter’s creations. Indeed, talk of crossovers between Millennium and The X-Files this season has been at full boil since last May, when Fox Entertainment president Peter Roth announced that Millennium would return for a third season with Black relocating to Washington, D.C., and becoming a consultant to the FBI. “This would be a good year for a crossover,” Carter admits, but he says his first concern is to preserve the integrity of both shows. “I wouldn’t want to ask the actors to do it as a stunt,” he says. “If it made sense in a storytelling way to do a crossover, that might be a fun thing to do. It may not happen, but if there was a good reason to make it happen, we wouldn’t turn it down.”
Carter is also determined to keep his two shows separate and distinct from each other, especially now that they will both be centered in and around Washington and focus on FBI operations. “We’re all conscious of the similarities,” he says. “We are going to make them quite different. That’s something that we’re being conscious of, as I was conscious of not trying to recreate X-Files with Millennium. But they both do share an FBI franchise, if you will, and now that franchise is coming into more active use in Millennium. We’re trying to steer away from the obvious comparisons.”