TV series don’t last 202 episodes without good writing. But for “The X-Files,” which ran from 1993 to 2002 on Fox, creator Chris Carter assembled a legendary writing room, one whose legacy is still shaping television today.
As Carter prepares to return to the air with “The After,” a post-apocalyptic thriller due early next year on Amazon, the “X-Files” writers — many of whom became well-known during the show’s run — continue to make noise on many channels. (Note: "The After" was dropped by Amazon before beginning production.)
Vince Gilligan created AMC’s acclaimed “Breaking Bad.” Howard Gordon developed Showtime’s “Homeland” with Alex Gansa, another “X-Files” veteran. James Wong writes FX’s “American Horror Story.” And on and on.
Carter, whose surfer-dude attitude masks an intense drive, tries to dismiss the idea that he is due credit.
“I was just really lucky,” he said when asked about the “X-Files” writing legacy after a panel on “The After” in Los Angeles.
“It actually says more about them than it does about me, that I hired good writers,” he added. “I had the good fortune to have met those people, and they actually all made what I did better.”
Pressed, Carter suggested that “the freedom we had at the beginning worked for us. We were able to do things without the scrutiny you get today.”
Fox, launched in 1986, was still a young network in 1993, having expanded to programming six nights a week just the year before. “The X-Files,” with FBI agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) investigating odd occurrences, brought Fox some of the best reviews and most enthusiastic viewer response of the network’s short life.
But Glen Morgan, whose new series “Intruders” arrives next Saturday on BBC America, doesn’t remember anything like total freedom.
Morgan, credited as a producer or writer on 51 episodes of “The X-Files,” said, “That first year, (Fox) wanted the show to be like, ‘Oh, who do Mulder and Scully help today?’” he recalled. “Chris didn’t want to do that show, and he stood his ground. You can get a difficult reputation, but I think that’s what I learned the most.”
Plus, Morgan said, “All of us, Howard (Gordon) and Jim Wong and Alex (Gansa), all of us together kind of taught each other how to tell a mystery like that on TV, and to serialize it.”
That made Morgan, who also wrote for Carter’s “Millennium”(1996-98), an ideal candidate to turn Michael Marshall’s creepy 2007 novel “The Intruders” to television.
In the story, strange and horrific things begin happening to people after a mystery man (James Frain) delivers a card and asks them if they can keep a secret. The first episode is as heavy on scares as it is light on answers. Trying to puzzle things out is ex-cop Jack Whalen (John Simm), whose wife, Amy (Mira Sorvino), disappears.
No matter how extreme the happenings became, including a little girl (Millie Brown) who isn’t at all what she seems, the BBC bosses encouraged Morgan to “keep going, go further,” he said, quoting them as saying, “Let’s explore this more.”
That was music to the ears of Morgan, who (with Wong) crafted the wildly disturbing “X-Files” Season 4 episode “Home,” about an inbred family, deformed babies and other stuff of nightmares.
But the “X-Files” connections to “Intruders” don’t stop with Glen Morgan. He’s joined by his brother, Darin, who tops many lists as the writer of the best “X-Files” episodes ever. Those include Season 3’s ick-making “War of the Coprophages,” about an infestation of killer cockroaches.
Darin is the younger Morgan brother, but Glen jokes that he has felt in his shadow since childhood, recalling Darin’s every idea as being met with “Oh, you’re a genius.”
Glen Morgan might also feel jealous of other “X-Files” writers who have had great success, he said. “I look at Vince Gilligan and think, where’s my ‘Breaking Bad’?” he said, mostly joking. “But I can’t mind, because Vince is honestly the nicest guy around.”
Here’s what some other “X-Files” writers have been up to:
Carter created the series and wrote or co-wrote many episodes, including the pilot that set up Mulder as the believer and Scully as the skeptic. After the second “X-Files” movie, the poorly received “I Want To Believe” in 2007, Carter took a break from TV. Returning, he chose Amazon for “The After,” a thriller about an event that leaves the world in disarray, and how people respond to it. Stars include Sharon Lawrence. “The After” debuts on Amazon Prime in early 2015.
Gilligan wrote 29 episodes of “The X-Files,” including “Paper Hearts,” in which Mulder discovers what happened to his sister all those years before. He also co-created the ill-fated spin-off “Lone Gunmen.” With “Breaking Bad” done, Gilligan is working on “Better Call Saul,” which flashes back to earlier in the life of lawyer Saul Goodman, played by Bob Odenkirk. Gilligan will also check in on “Battle Creek,” which he developed years ago for CBS but which wasn’t picked up until post “Breaking Bad.” “Battle Creek,” an FBI dramedy, will be run by David Shore (“House”).
After writing 17 episodes of “The X-Files,” including Season 4’s “Unrequited,” about a military veteran who plots an assassination, Gordon moved on to the Fox hit “24” and then co-created Showtime’s acclaimed “Homeland,” whose plot echoes that “X-Files” episode.
Minear is best know as a Joss Whedon guy, having worked on “Angel,” “Firefly” and “Dollhouse.” But before that, he wrote for “The X-Files,” including Season 5’s “Mind’s Eye,” in which a blind woman can see her father’s murderous acts in her mind. Minear was executive producer of the under-appreciated “Terriers” and currently produces FX’s “American Horror Story.”
With Gilligan and John Shiban, Spotnitz made up the real-life “lone gunmen” of “The X-Files,” often writing as a threesome. His episodes include Season 2’s “Our Town,” involving horrors at an Arkansas chicken plant. Spotnitz produced “Hunted” and “Strike Back” for Cinemax and is currently involved with “Transporter: The Series.”
Shiban worked with Gilligan on “Breaking Bad” and is the new show runner for “Da Vinci’s Demons” on Starz. The music for that series is done by Bear McCreary who also provides the spooky tunes for Glen Morgan’s “Intruders.”
In addition to starring, Duchovny has writing credits on eight episodes of “The X-Files” including Season 6’s “The Unnatural,” in which Mulder suspects a Negro League baseball player of having been an alien. Duchovny has since played Hank Moody on Showtime’s “Californication” for six seasons.
Anderson wrote one “X-Files” episode, “All Things,” in which Scully re-examines her life after an old lover resurfaces. Since the series ended, she has made eclectic career choices, from playing Miss Havisham in PBS’ “Great Expectations” to playing a cop in the British-Irish series “The Fall” to starring in “A Streetcar Named Desire” on stage in London. (The current production will be shown in movie theaters on Sept. 16.)