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The X-Files and the steamroller of pop-culture
By Bert Ehrmann
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Fort Wayne Reader
It’s surprising just how fast the TV series The X-Files went from one of the cornerstones of pop-culture to being crushed to gravel on the entertainment super highway in just a few short years. Literally The X-Files went from tens of millions of people watching each new episode in the late 1990s to releasing a failed feature film not many would see within a decade.
How does this happen? There was a time that The X-Files was everywhere; on the covers of magazines, on all the big TV news shows, parodied on The Simpsons, being talked about online when that was a rarity and even fans being hurt in a crush when too many showed up for signing events to meet the starts of the show.
All this in just a few short years to the series not even running in wide syndication is astonishing.
To be sure, The X-Files didn’t start as a popular show. In its first season the series aired in the dead-zone of Friday nights and it didn’t get great ratings for that time. What started as a series watched by about 8 million people would dip to a little over 5 million before eeking back up to 8. Its second season would start off a bit better but about the same. Then something amazing would happen — by the end of the second season 10 million people were watching the show. By the start of the third a whopping 20 million were tuning in.
The X-Files wasn’t a show anymore, it was a phenomena.
And these ratings would grow to the high of the nearly 30 million who watched the ’97 post Super-Bowl episode. And it’s not like today when ratings take into account people watching shows days later on their DVRs or on-demand. Those 30 million people were watching the same show on the same night.
All of which makes me wonder; why was The X-Files forgotten and discarded so quickly?
Well, I suppose the fate of being forgotten is what awaits all TV series, even the successful ones. And it’s only because I was a huge fan of The X-Files that I noticed that it was slowly turning from “phenomena” to “footnote.”
The X-Files didn’t spring from the earth fully formed. Series creator Chris Carter was building a foundation on series that had come before The X-Files. Shows like Twin Peaks and Kolchak: The Night Stalker are all in the DNA of The X-Files in one way or another. Twin Peaks was another phenomena where 20 million people were watching each new episode and the original Kolchak TV movie that came before its series was the most watched TV movie in history.
But this kind of popularity can’t last. Twin Peaks lasted two seasons before being cancelled for low ratings while Kolchak was all but forgotten by anyone but the most ardent fans after the series that came after the TV movies was cancelled after just one season. Like The X-Files, those series went from the highest of highs to mostly forgotten in the span of a few short years.
Thinking about it now, being mostly forgotten is actually probably a normal thing for popular shows like Twin Peaks and Kolchak and, yes, The X-Files. We’re always on the lookout for new and different series. If we weren’t we’d never checkout new and different shows like The X-Files since we’d still be watching The Honeymooners and I Love Lucy.
I guess what’s different about shows like The X-Files is that why they may seem to be mostly forgotten, their DNA lives on in other TV series today. Without The X-Files we’d never have shows like the CSI franchise or Lost or Sherlock or The Walking Dead and on and on and on.
Now comes a renewed and updated The X-Files with the original creator, writers and cast in place for a limited six episode run starting Sunday, January 24 on Fox then moving to Monday nights. Will this new The X-Files be as good and as influential as the original? Only time will tell.