The X-Files X-Posed

Television is a powerful medium. For example, a single word – "Flukeman" – can send a chill down the collective spines of an entire generation. If you just shivered, you must be one of the millions who followed the paranoid adventures of Agents Mulder and Scully as they investigated everything from mutant monsters to psychic killers to a global government conspiracy concealing the existence of extraterrestrials. Come along – if you dare – as we delve deeper into the mysteries behind The X-Files, one of the most beloved shows in television history.

The Inspiration

The X-Files was the brainchild of surfer dude turned television producer Chris Carter, who began working for the fledgling Fox Network in 1992 after developing shows for NBC and The Disney Channel in the 1980s. At the time, Fox was primarily known for half-hour comedies like Married...With Children and was looking to expand its line-up with hour-long dramas. So Carter approached them with a show in the same creepy vein as The Twilight Zone and the Kolchak: The Night Stalker made-for-TV movies and spin-off series. Influenced by The Silence of the Lambs' Clarice Starling, Carter made his lead characters FBI agents who investigated cases considered unsolvable because witnesses said they saw a UFO, Bigfoot, or some other unexplained phenomenon. The network greenlighted a pilot episode (above), but they were not expecting it to be picked up for the Fall season.

Pam Anderson as Scully?

When casting for the pilot began, Carter wanted to ensure the stars were fairly unknown to help the audience accept them in the roles. Carter quickly decided the part of UFO-believer Agent Fox Mulder should go to David Duchovny, who had done some television, most notably as the host/narrator of Showtime's Red Shoe Diaries. However, the casting of Gillian Anderson as the level-headed scientist Agent Dana Scully became a point of contention between Carter and the Fox execs. The network thought they needed an ultra-sexy bombshell to draw in male viewers, so they wanted buxom Baywatch beauty Pamela Anderson for the role. Carter and his casting director immediately felt that Gillian Anderson had the right intensity to be Scully, so they fought for her to get the part instead. Though the network relented, throughout the first season they repeatedly complained that Anderson was too cold and not likable enough. Thankfully, by the second season, they agreed with Carter's decision.

The Ratings

The X-Files debuted on Friday, September 10, 1993, after The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., which Fox execs saw as their #1 prospect for the Fall 1993 season. Brisco's two-hour premiere was a hit, but the ratings slipped after that, until it came in almost dead last in primetime by the end of its first and only season. The X-Files, however, ended its first season with an 8.8 Nielsen rating, almost a full point stronger than its premiere, which earned a 7.9 rating. The show grew thanks to "X-Philes," dedicated fans who discussed the show in online forums and brought in new, curious viewers. In fact, as the show went into summer reruns, the ratings were often higher than when the same episode premiered because people wanted to catch up thanks to all the online buzz. The season two debut received a 10.3 rating, and continued to grow to a 14.6 average rating while also earning a Golden Globe Award and an Emmy Nomination, the first for the Fox Network.

The show continued for nine seasons, with a peak rating of 17.1 for season five, before it started to drop off in popularity. After a difficult contract negotiation between seasons seven and eight, Duchovny ultimately decided to leave half-way through the eighth season so he could pursue film roles, only appearing again in the series finale. On the show, Mulder was abducted by aliens to explain Duchovny's absence, and Agent John Doggett, played by Terminator 2's Robert Patrick (at left), was assigned as Scully's partner. Many fans felt this is when the show "jumped the shark," and the ratings took a nosedive, bottoming out at 9.1 by the series finale on May 19, 2002. In all, The X-Files received 141 awards nominations with 61 wins, including 3 Emmys and 5 Golden Globes, and is considered by many to be the show that made Fox a serious force in network television.

The Writers

Aside from famous guest writers like Stephen King and cyberpunk pioneer William Gibson, some of the cast tried their hand at penning episodes of The X-Files. Gillian Anderson wrote "All Things;" William B. Davis, better known as The Cigarette Smoking Man, wrote "En Ami;" and David Duchovny scripted a total of eight episodes, three of which he also directed. One of the regular writers, Vince Gilligan, who also served as a producer, went on to write and produce the short-lived X-Files spin-off, The Lone Gunmen. But Gilligan is best-known today as the creator of AMC's Breaking Bad. Another writer, David Greenwalt, later teamed up with Joss Whedon to produce Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spin-off, Angel.

Famous Guest Stars...

While the regular cast was made up of unknowns, there were plenty of well-known guest stars throughout the nine season run. Just some of the big names include Brisco County, Jr. himself, Bruce Campbell, Peter Boyle, Burt Reynolds, Michael McKean, Charles Nelson Reilly, Ed Asner, Lily Tomlin, Gary Shandling, Jodie Foster (she voiced a living tattoo), and, most memorably, Jesse "The Body" Ventura and Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek as the legendary "Men in Black" (at left). Unfortunately, there are two names missing from this list: the unlikely duo of Roseanne Barr and Cher. The divas were asked to appear in the multi-Emmy nominated episode "The Post-Modern Prometheus" but, due to scheduling conflicts, couldn't be on the show.

...and those who became famous

The X-Files was also fertile ground for actors who would later go on to make a name for themselves in Hollywood. Some of these future stars include Seth Green, Jack Black, Giovanni Ribisi, Ryan Reynolds, Lucy Liu, Luke Wilson, Shia LaBeouf, Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston, Machete's Danny Trejoo, and Monk's Tony Shalhoub (at left). It also seems that a few future acclaimed series found most of their cast from The X-Files' stable: The Shield had three alumni (Catherine Dent, Benito Martinez, CCH Pounder), Lost counted six (M.C. Gainey, Alan Dale, Terry O'Quinn, Michael Emerson, Mark Pellegrino, Titus Welliver), and HBO's Deadwood had no less than nine (Brad Dourif, William Sanderson, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Garret Dillahunt, John Hawkes, Jim Beaver, W. Earl Brown, Ray McKinnon, Titus Welliver).

The Alien Factor

One of the defining aspects of The X-Files – and easily its biggest influence on television today – was its over-arching mythology regarding the colonization of Earth by alien invaders. This was not originally supposed to be part of the show, but when Gillian Anderson got pregnant during the second season, Carter had to find a way for her to be absent from a few episodes. His solution: Scully was abducted by aliens. Mulder's search for the truth about Scully's abduction turned out to be a huge success, so Carter kept the idea going, sprinkling in unrelated "Monster of the Week" episodes to keep the tension high and help expand the boundaries of The X-Files universe.

I Want to Believe

The famous "I Want to Believe" poster that hung in Mulder's office was slightly different in the first season than in the rest of the series. As the show became popular, fans wanted their own copy of the poster, but the first season version was not easily reproducible by the prop team. So a new poster was made for Mulder's wall and, shortly after, copies were hanging on dorm room walls all over the world. The revised poster appears to use a UFO from a series of photos taken in the 1970s by controversial UFOlogist Bill Meier. The actual prop poster was donated to the Smithsonian in 2008, along with other memorabilia, such as a copy of the script for the pilot episode, Mulder and Scully's FBI badges, and a model of an alien from Fight the Future.

The Romance That Never Was [Update: OK. It was.]

Although Mulder and Scully could have easily become a romantic couple, Carter refused to let it happen. He specifically didn't want the show to end up like Moonlighting, the 1980s sitcom whose ratings rapidly declined once the characters became involved after a few seasons of "Will they or won't they?" tension. Mulder and Scully did lock lips a few times during the show, though. In the episode "Millennium," the two puckered up at midnight on New Year's Eve in accordance with the long-standing tradition. Another kiss happened in "Triangle;" however, in a twist that could only be on The X-Files, the Scully that Mulder kissed was from an alternate timeline, whom he met on a ship that disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle in 1939.

Too Disturbing for Reruns

While every X-Phile has their own favorite episode, there's one that didn't go over so well with the general public. The episode "Home," about a violent family of inbred mutants, featured such horrifying moments as a newborn baby getting buried alive, the brutal bludgeoning of a sheriff and his wife, a decapitation, and an image burned into most X-Philes' memories: a deformed, limbless woman, who has been stratpped to a rolling cart and is kept under the bed. After the show aired, Fox received numerous complaints from concerned parents that such a disturbing episode appeared on network TV during primetime. The network apologized and banned the episode from future reruns on Fox, though it has been seen in syndication and on DVD.


The official X-Files website was launched on June 12, 1995. Before then, the online service Delphi was the official internet home of the show, attracting around 25,000 X-Philes every month. Many fans on Delphi were women, who formed an online club called The David Duchovny Estrogen Brigade. Not to be outdone, male fans formed The Gillian Anderson Testosterone Brigade, though their numbers paled in comparison.

The Soundtrack

Almost all of the music for The X-Files, including the iconic theme song, was composed and performed by Mark Snow. The music was extremely popular with fans, especially in Europe, who helped push the 1996 CD single to the #2 spot on the UK Charts and to #1 in France. Just this year, Snow released a limited edition, 4-CD box set of some of the musical score highlights.

On the Big Screen

There have been two feature films – 1998's X-Files: Fight the Future and 2008's X-Files: I Want to Believe. Fight the Future was a hit, making nearly $190 million at the worldwide box office, while I Want to Believe only made about $70 million. There has been talk of a third film in the series, but nothing solid has been announced.

Okay, X-Philes: What was your favorite episode? Is there a moment that still keeps you up at night? Is there a fun fact you'd like to add to the list? Tell us all about it in the comments below!

Matthew Simmons/Getty Images
How Accurate are Hollywood Medical Dramas? A Doctor Breaks It Down
Matthew Simmons/Getty Images
Matthew Simmons/Getty Images

Medical dramas like Grey's Anatomy get a lot of things wrong when it comes to the procedures shown on the screen, but unless you're a doctor, you'd probably never notice.

For its latest installment, WIRED's Technique Critique video series—which previously blessed us with a dialect coach's critique of actors' onscreen accents—tackled the accuracy of medical scenes in movies and TV, bringing in Annie Onishi, a general surgery resident at Columbia University, to comment on emergency room and operating scenes from Pulp Fiction, House, Scrubs, and more.

While Onishi breaks down just how inaccurate these shows and movies can be, she makes it clear that Hollywood doesn't always get it wrong. Some shows, including Showtime's historical drama The Knick, garner praise from Onishi for being true-to-life with their medical jargon and operations. And when doctors discuss what music to play during surgery on Scrubs? That's "a tale as old as time in the O.R.," according to Onishi.

Other tropes are very obviously ridiculous, like slapping a patient during CPR and telling them to fight, which we see in a scene from The Abyss. "Rule number one of CPR is: never stop effective chest compressions in order to slap or yell words of encouragement at the patient," Onishi says. "Yelling at a patient or cheering them on has never brought them back to life." And obviously, taking selfies in the operating room in the middle of a grisly operation like the doctors on Grey's Anatomy do would get you fired in real life.

There are plenty of cliché words and phrases we hear over and over on doctor shows, and some are more accurate than others. Asking about a patient's vitals is authentic, according to Onishi, who says it's something doctors are always concerned with. However, yelling "We're losing him!" is simply for added TV drama. "I have never once heard that in my real life," Onishi says.

[h/t WIRED]

When The Day After Terrorized 100 Million Viewers With a Vision of Nuclear War

Before Nicholas Meyer's made-for-television film The Day After had its official airing on November 20, 1983, then-President Ronald Reagan and his Joint Chiefs of Staff were given screening copies. In his diary, Reagan recorded his reaction to seeing Meyer's graphic depiction of a nuclear holocaust that devastates a small Kansas town, writing:

"It's very effective and left me greatly depressed. So far they [ABC] haven't sold any of the 25 spot ads scheduled and I can see why. Whether it will be of help to the 'anti-nukes' or not, I can't say. My own reaction was one of our having to do all we can to have a deterrent and to see there is never a nuclear war."

Just a few days later, the rest of America would see what had shaken their president. Preempting Hardcastle and McCormick on ABC, the 8 p.m. telefilm drew a staggering 100 million viewers, an audience that at the time was second only in non-sports programming to the series finale of M*A*S*H. According to Nielsen, 62 percent of all televisions in use that night were tuned in.

What they watched didn't really qualify as entertainment; Meyer stated he had no desire to make a "good" movie with stirring performances or rousing music, but a deeply affecting public service announcement on the horrors of a nuclear fallout. He succeeded … perhaps a little too well.


The idea for The Day After came from ABC executive Brandon Stoddard, who had helped popularize the miniseries format with Roots. After seeing The China Syndrome, a film about a nuclear accident starring Jane Fonda, Stoddard began pursuing an "event" series about what would happen to a small town in middle America if tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States escalated to catastrophic levels. Films like Dr. Strangelove had depicted moments between politicians debating whether to use powerful weapons of mass destruction, but few had examined what the consequences would be for the everyday population.


Reagan had dubbed the Soviet Union "the evil empire" in 1982, so the time seemed right to bring such a project to TV viewers. Stoddard hired Barnaby Jones writer Edward Hume to craft a script: Hume drew from research conducted into the effects of nuclear war and radiation fallout, including a 1978 government report, The Effects of Nuclear War, that contained a fictionalized examination of how a strike would play out in a densely populated area. Stoddard also enlisted Meyer, who had proven his directorial chops with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, but considered the assignment a "civic responsibility" more than a creative endeavor.

Meyer and the film's producers selected Lawrence, Kansas (pop. 50,000) as the setting for the movie and got permission from city officials to turn their town into a post-apocalyptic landscape. Throughout the summer of 1982, tons of ash, dirt, and rubble were trucked in and spread over the ground; food coloring blackened farming crops. Thousands of locals were enlisted to portray victims of a nuclear attack, agreeing to roll in dirt and have their hair shaved off to simulate a miserable death via radiation poisoning.

Meyer believed that setting the film in a small town would make it more impactful and relatable to audiences. "Other movies that had attempted to deal with the subject of nuclear holocaust had always been set in big cities," he recalled in 2003. "But a great number of people in the United States do not live in big cities, so they were witnessing an event that seemed to bear scant relation to them."

That pursuit of realism wasn't always to the network's benefit. ABC originally planned a four-hour film to run on two consecutive nights, but filling up that much commercial time proved to be a challenge. Fearing a graphic and partisan display of anti-nuclear propaganda, many loyal advertisers refused to let their spots air during The Day After. (Meyer later joked that all the "generals" pulled out, including General Mills and General Foods.) They were ultimately able to sell a little over 10 minutes of commercial time, which prompted executives to condense the movie to a two-hour presentation. Meyer, who thought the script was padded to begin with, agreed with the decision.

ABC sensed that the film would be provocative and took unprecedented steps to handle the inevitable viewer response. A 1-800 number was set up to field calls from people concerned about an actual nuclear disaster; the network also issued pamphlets that acted as viewing guides, with fact sheets on nuclear weapons. Psychologists warned audiences would experience "feelings of depression and helplessness." Meyer was, in effect, making a disaster movie with the characters being offered no help of rescue. The film had been openly endorsed by anti-nuclear organizations as being a $7 million advertisement for their stance, and some TV industry observers wondered whether ABC would even air it at all.


Prior to The Day After's November 20 debut, actor John Cullum appeared onscreen and delivered a warning. Calling the film "unusually disturbing," he advised young children to be led away from the television and for parents to be prepared to field questions older kids might have.

A still from 'The Day After' (1983)

With that, The Day After commenced. It was every bit as terrifying as viewers had been told it would be. For the first 50 minutes or so, actors like Jason Robards, John Lithgow, and Steve Guttenberg established their characters in Lawrence, largely oblivious to an incident on the border of East Germany that triggered an armed response from both Russia and the U.S. As missiles fell, a mushroom cloud vaporized the community; those who survived were doomed to brief and miserable lives as radiation destroyed their bodies.

Dramatizing what had previously been a sterile discussion about nuclear defenses had its intended effect. Viewers shuffled away from their televisions in a daze, struck by the bleak consequences of an attack. The people of Lawrence, who had a private screening, were particularly affected—it was their town that appeared destroyed. Residents exited the theater crying.

What ABC lacked in ad revenue it more than made up for in ratings. The mammoth audience was comparable to Super Bowl viewership; the network even presented a post-"game" show of sorts, with Ted Koppel hosting a roundtable discussion of the nuclear threat featuring Carl Sagan and William F. Buckley. Sagan is believed to have coined the term "nuclear winter" on the program, while Secretary of State George Shultz argued the necessity of harboring nuclear weapons to make sure the nation could protect itself.

The experience stuck with Reagan, who signed a nuclear arms treaty—the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces, or INF, Treaty—with Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987, leading to longstanding speculation that The Day After may have helped sober political attitudes toward mutually assured destruction.


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