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Creator Decides to Close the Book on 'The X-Files'

Television* Chris Carter says the series, in its ninth year, will end this season. The Fox show had declined in the ratings.

January 18, 2002|GREG BRAXTON and PAUL BROWNFIELD | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

His show had been on the brink before, but Chris Carter, creator of Fox's atmospheric "The X-Files," was up almost all night before the series broke for its recent holiday hiatus. Carter says he was in an upbeat mood, though heavier thoughts weighed on him during the break.

Carter finally gave voice to those concerns Wednesday, deciding that this season, the show's ninth, would mark the final chapter for one of Fox's most significant, influential and--until recent ratings declines--profitable series.

The moody drama has been struggling in the ratings, its viewership having steadily declined since star David Duchovny reduced his presence two seasons ago before exiting the series entirely this year. Gillian Anderson, Duchovny's co-lead, was scheduled to leave at the end of this season.

"I thought about this a lot over the holiday, and I wanted the show to go out on a strong, positive note," Carter said late Wednesday, not long after informing the cast and crew of his decision. "We've done such good work this season, and I wanted to honor that."

"The X-Files," in its heyday a major hit for Fox among the 18-to-49-year-old age bracket that advertisers target, is down 41% in that key demographic from this time a year ago. Overall, the show has been averaging 8.7 million viewers this year, down dramatically from its peak season (1996-97), when the weekly audience was 18.3 million.

Speculation has been brewing, in fact, that Fox might be forced to cancel the show because of the ratings decline. Network officials were noncommittal about its future--as well as that of "Ally McBeal," which is also struggling--during a recent news conference.

Carter disagreed with those who have attributed the diminished ratings to the increased profile of Robert Patrick and Annabeth Gish, who play FBI agents who have taken over the principal task of investigating the mysterious "X files"--so-called because they involved unexplained phenomena--from Agents Fox Mulder (Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Anderson).

"It's just unfair for them to be blamed, because they are so terrific," Carter said. "The series was being judged by what it was rather than by what it has become."

Also, the series faced formidable competition on Sunday nights this season from two new dramas, ABC's "Alias" and NBC's "Law & Order: Criminal Intent."

The series finale, which will be the show's 201st episode, will "wrap up many threads that we have developed through the years," Carter said, adding it would be "a celebration of the series."

"I spoke to David, Gillian, Robert and Annabeth, and it was very difficult," Carter said, citing others associated with the show--including executive producers Frank Spotnitz and Vince Gilligan--who have been with him from almost the beginning of the series. However, Carter promised that "The X-Files" would continue as a feature film franchise, building on the "The X-Files" movie, which 20th Century Fox released in 1998.

"A movie is a done deal," he said, adding that Duchovny and Anderson have agreed to star.

As for Carter, he said he has several other projects in the works, including TV shows and a movie for Dimension Films. Since "The X-Files," Carter has created three failed TV series for Fox: "Millennium," "Harsh Realm" and "X-Files" spinoff "The Lone Gunmen."

"The X-Files" debuted on Fox in September 1993 and quickly gained the cultish devotion of viewers held rapt by its moody look and back story. Duchovny and Anderson proved a winning team of TV stars, although the show, for the most part, didn't exploit any romantic involvement between the two.

Viewers instead feasted on the show's intricate conspiracy scenarios and shadowy supporting characters, who came with names such as Cigarette Smoking Man, Deep Throat and Mr. X.

Such mythology helped stoke Internet chat and build awareness of the show. After shooting in Vancouver, Canada, for its first five seasons, "The X-Files" moved to Los Angeles in 1998. The move to L.A. helped inflate the show's production cost, which was estimated to be in the neighborhood of $3 million an episode.

Later, Duchovny filed suit against 20th Century Fox, the studio that produces "The X-Files," alleging breach of contract regarding his profit participation in the show. That dispute was eventually settled, but Duchovny opted to reduce his commitment to the series to just half the episodes.

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