The X-Files is one of the biggest cult hits ever made. The show peaked with 27.34 million viewers in 1997 and the season 10 premiere drew 16.19 million viewers in 2016. When the show debuted in 1993, no one could have predicted that now, 25 years after its original debut, it would get a second run. The show now has a total of 11 seasons and two feature-length films.
However, not everything about the making of The X-Files has gone smoothly. The show was a notoriously difficult idea to sell and had to be pitched to multiple networks (sometimes multiple times) before it was finally picked up. Even after finding a network, rumors of disagreements and production difficulties plagued the show.
Throughout its 11 seasons, The X-Files has picked up more than its fair share of dark secrets and strange behind-the-scenes stories. With the recent news that lead actress Gillian Anderson will not be returning for a 12th season, the show may be ending for good. This makes it the perfect time to look back on some of the hidden stories behind the making of the hit series.
Here are the 15 Dark Behind-The-Scenes Secrets From The X-Files.
15 EW Said The Show Would Get Canceled In Its First Season
For those of us who have been recommending The X-Files to our friends for years, at times, it can be a rough sell. It’s a niche show with a loyal cult following and some unsettling elements that keep the show from having the mass appeal of other hit network shows.
In Entertainment Weekly’s 1993 fall preview, the magazine referred to Mulder and Scully as “goners.” They cited the show’s niche appeal and Friday night timeslot as reasons it wouldn’t make it through its first season. Even David Duchovny expressed his doubts about the show, telling EW, “I’m not home on Friday to watch TV myself usually.”
Ultimately, The X-Files became a cult success and propelled its two leads into stardom, changing the future of television forever in the process.
14 The CIA Released Real X-Files For The Show's Return
Government documents containing details of over 12,000 UFO sightings, primarily between the 1940s and 1950s, were declassified in 1978. More recently, these documents were released to the public through a Freedom of Information Act request and put online.
The collection, known as Project Bluebook, lasted from 1952-1969 and was unable to find any connection between reported UFO sightings and extraterrestrial life. In anticipation of the 11th season, the CIA compiled a collection of ten UFO sightings. This collection consisted of five cases for Mulder and five for Scully.
Scully’s list included titles such as, “Scientific Advisory Panel on Unidentified Flying Objects” and “Memorandum to the CIA Director on Flying Saucers.” Mulder’s list includes the less dry “Flying Saucers Reported Over East Germany” and “Flying Saucers Reported Over Spain and North Africa.”
13 It Was The First Show To Get A TV-MA Rating
A major appeals of The X-Files is its ability to make an audience feel uneasy. There’s a certain sinister undertone that is present in almost every episode, but there’s one in particular that stands out from the rest.
"Home", the second episode of season four, was the only episode in the series that featured a "viewer discretion advised" warning. The episode was also the first on broadcast television to receive a TV-MA rating. It was also banned from network television for three years and has only aired one more time since then.
The episode starts with a deformed baby being buried alive in an open field and only gets stranger from there. It’s by far the most gruesome episode in the series and one producer reportedly said that the episode was, “awful, even for us.”
12 Cigarette Smoking Man Was Originally Supposed To Be An Extra
When William B. Davis was cast as Cigarette Smoking Man in the pilot episode of The X-Files, he wasn’t supposed to be a recurring character. He was solely hired to smoke a cigarette and look menacing.
This was something that he was so good at that he worked his way into an additional 48 episodes of the series.
“There was a time when I wasn’t in any episodes,” Davis told The Palm Beach Post in 2016. “Then all of a sudden I had a line or two and I thought, `That was interesting,’ and that just gradually increased. Then, finally, I had a big scene where Mulder comes after me with a gun. That was the turning point where the producers decided this character is really interesting and I guess they felt I was OK to handle it.”
11 Scully Was Almost Played By Pamela Anderson
When casting began for The X-Files, network executives had no idea what would make the show a success. In an effort to draw in viewers, Pamela Anderson, of Baywatch fame, was proposed to play Scully.
“They were looking for someone, bustier, taller, leggier than me,” Gillian Anderson told Metro in 2008. “[Pamela Anderson] was somebody who was more familiar to them in terms of what was on TV at the time. They couldn’t fathom how David and me could equal success”.
Thankfully, showrunner Chris Carter ultimately got Gillian Anderson the part. “Chris stuck to his guns,” said Anderson. “Really, though, at the beginning, nobody trusted that I could do anything. I had no body of work behind me at all and certainly, Fox felt very strongly that I wasn’t the right person for the job.”
10 David Duchovny sued Fox and Chris Carter
After the success of the series, Fox, and showrunner Chris Carter, were set to make a lot of money. Prior to the show’s seventh season, David Duchovny filed a lawsuit against 20th Century Fox, claiming that the network had cheated him out of over $25 million.
The lawsuit alleged that Fox sold the rights of The X-Files to its own affiliated companies at much lower prices than it should have. In addition, the lawsuit alleged that Chris Carter conspired with the network to cheat the actor out of money he deserved.
The lawsuit was eventually settled out of court and resulted in Duchovny being paid $20 million. This wasn’t even the only pay dispute to come out of the show. Gillian Anderson was reportedly only offered half the pay of David Duchovny when the show first began.
9 Duchovny and Anderson Are Polar Opposites Of Their Characters
Fans of The X-Files can define themselves as either a Mulder or a Scully based on their willingness to believe. Instead, perhaps they should define themselves as either a Duchovny or an Anderson since, in real life, the show’s actors are polar opposites of their characters.
“I remember I used to try to answer my fan mail because there wasn’t much of it, and they would bring it to me,” Duchovny told James Corden in 2015. “There were stories that people would tell me about being abducted. They would just make me sad. I thought that these people had issues that they had to deal with.”
Anderson, on the other hand, is more of a believer. “Psychokinesis appeals to me,” she told Entertainment Weekly in 1994. ”ESP, telling the future, I love that stuff.”
8 Gillian Anderson Was Too Short To Film Normally
There is a huge difference in height between lead actors Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny. Duchovny is 6’ tall while Anderson is under 5’ 3”. This height discrepancy led to multiple filming complications.
In order to get both actor's heads in frame, crew members often used a prop they aptly-named “The Scully Box.” This gave Anderson enough of a boost to have a normal on-screen conversation with Duchovny.
“Sometimes when we're in a situation walking side by side, like up to a door to pull out our badges and say we're from the FBI, I have to step up onto something so that we're on the same level,” Anderson told US Magazine in 1997. “It's funny: Sometimes I forget I'm on the box. Like, I'll have this very serious moment in a very serious scene and I'll turn to the camera and fall right off the box.”
7 Originally, Scully had a boyfriend
The on-screen will-they won’t-they between Mulder and Scully is one of the things that fans love most about the show. However, things almost turned out very differently. Studio executives at Fox originally wanted to create a love triangle by giving Scully a boyfriend.
“I was adamant from the beginning that Mulder and Scully should not be romantically involved,” Chris Carter said in a feature called The X-Files: The Truth About Season 1. “The addition of Scully’s boyfriend named Ethan in the pilot was an attempt by the executives to create the love interest that they felt wasn’t there between Mulder and Scully.”
The scenes with Ethan were shot for the pilot, but were eventually cut out. “As it turns out the scenes with Ethan were easy to cut out,” said Carter. “They would just slow down the scenes where you would see Mulder and Scully together.”
6 Scully Was Basedon On Clarice Starling (Silence of the Lambs)
It’s not a secret that The X-Files creator Chris Carter had a wide variety of inspirations for the show.
When asked about his inspiration by Smithsonian Magazine in 2008, Carter said, “all the shows from my childhood. All the scary shows: Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Night Gallery, Outer Limits. There was a particularly good show on when I was in my early teens called Kolchak: The Night Stalker starring Darren McGavin. They were fantastic. Scary. Those things were my inspiration in terms of entertainment.”
In particular, one iconic literary and cinematic character gave Carter the idea for Scully. “It’s not a mistake that Dana Scully has red hair like Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs” said Carter.
5 Gillian Anderson Put A Live Cricket In Her Mouth
During the episode "Humbug" in season two, there is a scene in which Scully is supposed to act like she is eating a cricket. The original plan was for Anderson to put a prop cricket in her mouth, but she insisted on using the real thing.
“They spent thousands of dollars making a fake one,” Anderson told People Magazine in 1995. “But I’d seen this guy named Enigma who was in the show eat 200 right in front of us, so it seemed silly not to try one.”
For anyone who is concerned about the safety of the bug, Anderson said she did not actually eat the cricket. During a Reddit AMA in 2014, she was asked if she actually ate the cricket or used a magic trick. Anderson replied, “It was a magic trick called spitting when cut.”
4 The Lone Gunmen predicted 9/11
The Lone Gunmen, the conspiracy bent spin-off series of The X-Files, isn’t remembered by many people. The show ran for a single 13-episode season in 2001 before being canceled.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the show is that its pilot episode has some striking resemblances to real-life events. In the episode, members of the government conspire to hijack an airliner and they almost hit the World Trade Center.
“I woke up on September 11 and saw it on TV and the first thing I thought of was The Lone Gunmen,” Executive Producer Frank Spotnitz told TV Guide. “But then in the weeks and months that followed, almost no one noticed the connection. What’s disturbing about it to me is, you think as a fiction writer that if you can imagine this scenario, then the people in power in the government can imagine it too.”
3 The Idea For The Show Came From A Public Survey
As previously mentioned, Chris Carter had multiple sources of inspiration when he was creating The X-Files, but he did not know how to properly channel his inspiration. He knew he wanted to make something scary and unsettling, but he didn’t have a specific idea until he was shown the results of a public survey.
In 1991, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and psychiatrist John E. Mack published an analysis of a 1991 Roper Poll survey. The document stated that at least 3.7 million Americans may have been abducted by aliens. This survey peaked Carter’s interest and was where he got the idea for the show.
“Everybody wants to hear that story,” Carter told Entertainment Weekly in 1994. “[Abduction] is tantamount to a religious experience.”
2 David Duchovny Wanted Jennifer Beals To Play Scully
Duchovny graduated from Princeton University in 1982 before earning his Master of Arts in English Literature from Yale. Perhaps it was his alma mater that made Duchovny want fellow Yale graduate, Jennifer Beals, to play the role of Scully.
“I used to see David on the street - he tried to pick me up on several occasions,” Beals said on The Talk in 2015. “And I said, 'Um, I'm living with somebody.'"And then I ended up taking this acting class in New York and who walks in the door but David Duchovny. And he's like, 'I swear I am not stalking you!' And we became really good friends. He's a real sweetheart."
When the topic of The X-Files came up in the same interview, Beals said “When he was doing The X-Files he had talked to me about doing that, but I think Gillian was much better suited for that part than me."
1 The Show Hired Science Consultants To Make Sure They Got Everything Right
While it’s fairly common for shows to hire scientific consultants nowadays, when The X-Files first premiered in the early '90s, it was practically unheard of.
Anne Simon, a microbiologist at the University of Maryland, has been a science advisor for The X-Files since 1994. In 2001, Simon published a book titled The Real Science Behind the X-Files: Microbes, Meteorites and Mutants.
“It’s important to get accurate science in the shows because people don’t know the difference between good science and inaccurate science,” Simon told Smithsonian Magazine in 2016. “Cryogenically preserved heads communicating with each other, that’s just absurd. Nobody sees that and thinks it is real science. What I would have a problem with would be if they depicted GMO food making people sick.”
Did we miss any behind-the-scenes secrets from The X-Files? Let us know in the comments!