Yes, they're dead -- or at least as dead as anyone in "X-Files" creator Chris Carter's universe -- but the conspiracy-hunting, computer-geek trio known as the Lone Gunmen is back on America's TV screens, for the price of a DVD box set, that is.
On Tuesday, March 29, 2005, a little more than four years after it premiered on FOX, "The Lone Gunmen," the short-lived "X-Files" spin-off, comes out in a three-disc (using double-sided discs) DVD box set from Fox Home Entertainment.
Along with all 13 original episodes -- plus "Jump the Shark," a season-nine "X-Files" episode that concludes the Gunmen's plotline -- the set features commentaries, a "Making Of" documentary and TV spots.
Created by the writing team of Glen Morgan and James Wong for a first-season "X" episode called "E.B.E," the Gunmen are Richard "Ringo" Langly (Dean Haglund), Melvin Frohike (Tom Braidwood) and John Fitzgerald Byers (Bruce Harwood).
According to "X" lore, they were inspired by the sort of technically savvy but socially inept conspiracy theorists that sometimes frequent UFO conventions, and were introduced as the go-to info buddies of FBI Agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny).
On March 4, 2001, during season eight of "The X-Files," the three spun off in a seriocomic series of their own, created by "X" producers Chris Carter, Frank Spotnitz, Vince Gilligan and John Shiban, and co-starring Zuleikha Robinson ("Hidalgo") and Stephen Snedden ("Coyote Ugly").
Despite the concern of some fans, the pilot of "The Lone Gunmen" is indeed part of the boxed set. This would seem like a no-brainer, until you realize that the central conspiracy in the episode involved the high-tech electronic hijacking of a commercial airliner with the intent of crashing it into the World Trade Center.
Although the episode was conceived and shot in 2000, and aired six months before the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, the eerie coincidence sent shock waves through cast and producers.
"I'll never forget that," says Spotnitz, calling in from the set of the pilot for his remake of "Kolchak: The Night Stalker." "That was such a disturbing thing. It was very upsetting. As I say in the DVD featurette, you write something like that, and you assume that if you can think of it, being a Hollywood writer, then somebody in the government has thought about it already.
"Obviously, that wasn't the case. Just the idea that a plane could fly into a building, and the building would be unprotected was just ... anyway, it was upsetting."
Although their scenario involved using sophisticated electronics to remotely control the plane and had nothing to do with suicidal terrorists, Spotnitz had some long moments on the fateful September morning.
"I was directing an episode of 'The X-Files' when that happened," he recalls, "so I woke up a little late because we'd been shooting the night before. It was the first thing I saw on TV, one of the Trade Towers burning. The first thing that went through my head was, 'Oh my God, I hope this doesn't have anything to do with what we did, that it wasn't somehow inspired by anything we did.'
"Nobody knew who had done it or that had happened, but we knew it was an airplane. It became obvious that it didn't have any connection to what we did."
Haglund, a frequent guest at sci-fi conventions, had noted a brisk business in "Gunmen" bootlegs over the years. He attributes some of that to the pilot.
"Once the pilot and the 9/11 thing came together," Haglund says, "all the conspiracy theorists started passing around that pilot at conventions and UFO conventions and started propelling that forward. These guys are all asking questions about, 'How much did we know?', 'Who wrote the script?', that kind of thing.
"Other than small, middling details, what's odd about that 'Gunmen' pilot is the larger details they got right. I assume somebody will look through the rest of the episodes and see what other details may be right. I can assure you, I don't think there is a legion of super-smart military chimps out there."
While it's unlikely "The Lone Gunmen" series will return -- and the characters would have to somehow be resurrected to be in any future "X" movie -- Spotnitz hopes that DVD sales, if brisk, could have a positive impact in the future.
"It could have a very healthy effect on the whole thing," he says, "because network executives might have to think twice before they rush to cancel something. We didn't know until the very end whether or not they were going to cancel the show, because the numbers were actually OK. What they ultimately said is they wanted to try something else and see if they could do better."
Asked what eventually replaced "The Lone Gunmen" on Friday at 9 p.m. ET on FOX, Spotnitz says, "I believe it was 'Pasadena.'"
For the record, FOX axed that show even faster than "The Lone Gunmen."
"It's heartbreaking," Spotnitz says, "when you're the guy that got canceled. They rolled the dice, and sometimes it works, most times it doesn't."
For those who want the straight skinny on the fate of the "Gunmen," Haglund says, "I'm actually drawing a comic book, autobiographical, about why 'The Lone Gunmen' was canceled."