U.S. television series have been steadily trending towards shorter seasons for several years now, with cable TV in particular focusing on shows that run for around 13 episodes per season rather than the 22-episode network model. Critics, actors and writers alike have criticized shows with overly-long seasons, claiming that stretching stories out over a greater number of episodes leads to production fatigue and thinner plots – and makes it more difficult for actors to commit to a show while still working on other projects during the year.
A short season was one of the conditions that actor David Duchovny had for returning to long-running sci-fi series The X-Files, which contained up to 25 episodes per season in its initial run – and is now coming back for six episode limited series, starring Duchovny and co-lead Gillian Anderson. Shortly before the X-Files revival was officially green lit, Duchovny joked that, “We’re all old, we don’t have the energy for a full season.”
Speaking to Variety at NBC’s Summer Press Day, Duchovny reiterated that anything more than a limited series of The X-Files would have been more than he was willing to handle – adding that the growing trend towards shorter seasons is how network TV will continue to compete with cable and on-demand services.
“Television started to change in that now there are limited runs. I think it’s the way the networks have to survive in the future. I think you can attract the talent you want by having a shorter season and you can tell more interesting stories… I would never have gone and done another 22 episodes of ‘X-Files,’ but we’re going to do six — well, that’s like doing a movie. That’s like continuing the show in a way that we all can do at this point in our lives so that’s it all came about.”
Shorter seasons can mean the difference between trying to get actors to commit to three months of work, and trying to get them to commit to 9 months of work – the latter of which can be difficult with actors who on the whole prefer making movies. Would True Detective, for example, have been able to land Matthew McConnaughey as its lead if the first season had been three times longer than it was? Would Kevin Spacey have committed to House of Cards – marking the first time in his entire career that he’s played the lead in a TV series – if he’d been asked to do 22 episodes per season?
During the interview Duchovny also back-pedalled a little on his recent claim that Mitch Pileggi and William B. Davis will be returning for the X-Files revival, saying that it was more of an assumption than a certainty: “I’m not even sure they’re signed up yet. I guess I spoke out of turn. But I assume they will. I assume we’ll have as many people as we can.”
As for whether or not the revived series will continue beyond this initial limited run, Duchovny said “I would hope we could continue,” but was otherwise fairly non-committal, adding, “Right now, I’m just looking at it, as these six, and then we’ll see what happens.”
The X-Files limited series is expected to air on Fox in 2016.