The Return of The X-Files: Will it Work?

Curator's Note

The X-Files is coming back, and the circumstances surrounding its return are pretty much exactly what you’d expect. Nerdist claims, with a shoutout to Kumail Nanjiani’s “The X-Files Files,” that their #XFiles2015 hashtag movement helped demonstrate the continued popularity of the show (though apparently revival talks had already been going on for over a year). Fox is still searching for their post-American Idol identity, after showing some definite signs of life last year with the success of Gotham and Empire. Gillian Anderson is on top of her game, with strong recurring roles on The Fall and Hannibal. David Duchovny, after a long run on Californication, seems to be milking this publicity for all it’s worth, plugging his new show Aquarius, his debut rock album Hell or Highwater, and even his novel Holy Cow: A Modern-Day Dairy Tale -- all to humorous effect, considering that all anybody actually wants to talk about is The X-Files. The HD remaster of the first nine seasons is streaming on Netflix; Chris Carter has been retrieved from relative obscurity to run the show; the logistics of working around Anderson and Duchovny’s previous engagements have been finalized; and Fox, emboldened by the success of another “event miniseries” continuation, 24: Live Another Day, has ordered an extremely slim six episode run, with the pilot set to air on January 24th, 2016. That all being said, how much of the original magic can really be captured? Anderson and Duchovny have moved on from their roles as Agents Scully and Mulder, and their popularity is much less tied to the show than it was five years ago; Chris Carter has been utterly unsuccessful in his post-X-Files endeavors (The After, anybody?); and how much interweaving of mythology and “Monster of the Week” can you really manage in six episodes? (The answer, apparently, is three episodes of each.) In an interview with the New York Times, Duchovny is pretty blunt about the fact that, as tantalizing as the suggestion might be that recent shifts in pop culture make this the perfect time to resurrect the series, “The time is right because we got our [act] together to do it.” Is this one of those things that simply looks too good on paper to actually deliver?


Thanks for kicking off the week with this illuminating post. One of the interesting questions you seem to raise is the extent to which the timing for this X-Files reboot is perfect for the creator and cast, for Fox, or for both. It does seem that Duchovny and especially Anderson, whose work on Hannibal has been well received, are only recently starting to get away from being closely and primarily associated with The X-Files. On the one hand, this revival is coming late enough after the 2008 film to feel fresh and new, but on the other hand it seems like it could effectively put the actors (as well as Chris Carter) back into the box, so to speak. From the broader industrial perspective, however, the X-Files revival is only one of a number of high profile reboots, re-imaginings, and remakes that are currently in the works, including the much-publicized Twin Peaks revival. Is Fox simply trying to avoid getting left out in the cold here? I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on the extent to which the revival stands to benefit the network versus, or in addition to, the creative talent.

John, there was an article in Variety yesterday about exactly the wave of revivals you mention, including The X-Files, Fuller House, Heroes Reborn, Coach, Girl Meets World, DuckTales, Arrested Development, 24: Live Another Day, Prison Break, Roots, Twin Peaks, and The Muppets. The X-Files sticks out for me, though, with its extremely short run; the Variety article mentions the allure of short-order revivals to both actors and execs: less time and resources spent, less risk, less commitment, but also (potentially) more creative leeway and a loosening of the expectations that can come along with bringing back a show that already has its narrative foundation and target demographic in place -- as hard as it is to get things started up again, it would conceivably be even harder to keep them going for an entire season. Fox, like the rest of the broadcast networks, is trying to pivot toward creating and releasing content under a more flexible model that might stand a chance of competing in the crowded landscape of cable networks and streaming providers. The trick is to find the right blend, and I'm just not convinced that such a short run coming from a network like Fox actually stands a chance. Who is going to watch this? Will six episodes be enough to capture a new audience? Or will the people who already love the show just stream it online later? And if everybody watches it later, will a network like Fox know how to accept the potentially lackluster broadcast ratings and monetize different revenue streams later on? I'm sure they have a plan, but I'm interested to see if it works.

Great post & commentary so far! Jesse's posts pretty much sum up all of my own questions about the upcoming X-Files revival, and quite obviously, I don't have any good answers or predictions about how it'll all turn out either. We'll probably just have to wait and see. That being said, it seems to me that the revival's chances of commercial success--i.e. its ability to garner acceptable Nielsen ratings in a period in which the size of the audience for live television broadcasts is still in decline, and its chances of having a successful afterlife on Netflix, itunes, etc--hinge on the volume & amount of media buzz that the show manages to generate before it returns early next year. In this respect, The X-Files already seems to have a head start on any other new network show that will premiere during the upcoming months, since the amount of media coverage and public attention that the revival has received so far--six months before it will actually air, while the filming of the new episodes has barely started--is already doing the much-needed work of increasing the show's cultural visibility. In this respect, Nerdist, Nanjiani's X-Files Files, and even this theme week (as well as the various other, more widely read entertainment news outlets that have covered the show's return) contribute to the X-Files chances of success as they already build its brand and promote its return. In another sense, we could also claim that the X-Files never really went away, as it is still easily available--over here in Germany, for example, the complete series is included in Amazon Prime's Instant Video library, and I am probably not the only one who has gone back to rewatch favorite episodes (or catch up on the few I haven't seen yet) since the announcement of the show's revival. Which is to say that the media coverage of the X-Files revival has already increased the interest in the show, and already been translated into profits for the corporate actors who own it. It's an entirely different question, however, if the show can live up to the hype when it returns... (sorry for being late to the theme week, btw!)

Felix, I completely agree that the revival's chances of success have everything to do with the media buzz it generates. Some of my skepticism comes as a result of how stubborn any signs of large-scale response to this news have been. Sure, fans are happy, and everybody has loved having Anderson and Duchovny back on the talk show circuit, but Google search results have stayed pretty consistent over the past 12 months outside of news cycle spikes whenever a story comes out about the production. As much as we'd all like to think that this fire will build in a slow burn up until the show's premier -- and the big movement will surely come with the advertising blitz we'll be treated to in the weeks leading up to January 24th -- this spark could also fizzle out before it even catches. Again, I don't want to be overly pessimistic, but I wonder if anybody has any evidence (demographic studies, focus groups, twitter hashtags) that this revival will reawaken the sleeping giant of X-Files fandom that drove the show's original run, or alternatively that the masses have moved on to bigger and better things and won't be coming back, particularly with the disappointment of I Want to Believe still in the back their minds. That Fox has greenlit this project at least shows that the network's willing to take the chance, though I doubt we have any access to anything that might have helped to convince the powers-that-be of that fact.

Add new comment

Log in or register to add a comment.