When Mulder and Scully fled from their enemies on the last episode of The X-Files TV show, a thousand and one fan laments went howling after them. No one could really believe that Mulder and Scully were done, no matter how choppy the last couple years of the show had been.
It’s insanely hard to love a show, to lift the characters from the confines of TV and into the space inside your head that thrives on interplay between thought and pleasure, then watch it get yanked before you've ever really had enough. Just ask Firefly fans. Even worse to watch a show go down in flames after a phenomenal debut when writers flounder by dragging out seasons with unnecessary fillers or overly complex plot twists. Twin Peaks, Heroes, I’m looking right at you.
Since then fans have been begging for more X-Files. Fan’s grumbled and complained, from one Comic con to the next, it was a recurring moan of discontent. It was a dream that no one thought in a million years would ever come true. Mulder and Scully seemed destined to languish forever in the graveyard of shows that died before their time.
But a funny thing happened just across the pond and it changed everything. You could say it was the proverbial last drop in the bucket. Or you could just say that luck and fate got together and made one hell of a tweet.
That tweet was about a certain show called Sherlock. BBC One’s latest reincarnation of the deerstalker wearing, pipe smoking, violin playing genius detective. Except this time around they gave him a penchant for modern tech, a certain degree of Aspergers, some whip crack sarcastic comments and a decided ghoulish desire to hone his skill for forensics at the local morgue. The show landed with a loud and brazen splash, and in just three episodes a hit was born.
But then as quickly and audaciously as it had made it’s appearance, it departed.
For two years.
Two years in TV land is like two minutes in a zombie outbreak wearing shorts and a t-shirt. In short, instant death for a TV show. A quick double tap to the head of ratings and revenue.
It could have ended everything before it began. Fans might have capriciously migrated on to the latest trendy show or internet YouTube star before the deerstalker hit the floor. It wouldn’t have made a difference that Benedict Cumberbatch is incredible at playing a man who is as fantastically intelligent as he is socially catastrophic, or that Martin Freeman created a Watson infinitely more appealing than the bumbling sidekick of earlier renditions. Even the fact that one hell of creative team, Moffat and Gatniss, (they of Dr. Who fame) were at the helm.
None of that would have been enough, not in today’s world of fast moving attention spans and increasingly fickle audiences.
What did make a difference then? What kept fan’s intensely invested and increasingly excited for Season Two?
It can be summed up in two words. Say them with me. Social Media.
That’s right. Fan’s tweeted, texted, Facebooked, you name it, they kept the word alive about this show. They coined a phrase to explain their obsessive love.
They were locked on and nothing, short of a naked video of Benedict Cumberbatch himself, was going to take their eyes off the prize.
Word of mouth is, and always will be, the most salient way to sell anything. Do you trust your close friend or a over hypedTV ad to sell you anything? Need I say more? I didn’t think so.
Word of mouth sent people to Netflix, and the DVR and then, the website of BBC One to see episodes. Fans made sure that everyone knew who Sherlock was and where to find him by the time Season Two came out.
Now, how does this relate to X-Files and it’s return from beyond the grave of the TV shows that once were? In a most significant way. Because social media gave fans something they never had in the nineties or even the early dawn of this century. It gave them a voice. A voice that can grow to a mighty roar, a certified way to let the networks know just how much they want something. People in the know were amazed at Sherlock’s ability to hold on, and increase, it’s fan base.
We’ve all seen how emails and twitter campaign’s can blow up a show faster than a sex scandal can tear it down. No mail campaign was ever going to bring a show back in this day and age like the Internet. The Internet is the shrieking voice of public opinion that can’t be silenced or ignored.
When Sherlock came back, it’s fan base had exploded in size. Season Three went on to become the most watched show in the BBC’s history since 2001. The wait in between Seasons has never been less than two years, and we are going on four before the next one arrives. None of that has deterred Sherlock’s fans in the slightest. They will loyally, if impatiently, wait and they will be there when that next one arrives.
That dedication, that fervent passion, kept alive by social media threads of contact and support, is what has changed the rules forever. Because networks have finally realized that you can have a successful show without having to pad a twenty-two episode season with fluff. Story arcs can sprint towards an explosive conclusion, not once, but even twice during a season without dire consequences’ for audience share. The story content could be the real draw, not the amount of time it took to tell it. Cable had been playing in this experimental arena for several years with it’s scripted series, but it took Sherlocks colossal success to get the mainstream networks to climb in the ring.
So the long lingering lament for Mulder and Scully went from being a hopeless sigh to an rising cacophony of urgent need. A demand for satisfaction that got Fox’s attention, and finally, it’s commitment.
Next January, a six episode X-Files mini-series will premiere. Why only six episodes? Practical reasons aside, such as the crowded scheduling for the three major players, Duchovny, Anderson and Carter, there’s a prudent craftiness to the cautious tone here.
Six means a short, intense run. No fluff and stuff. No padding. No fooling around. This is a second shot at the big leagues and I’m sure Chris Carter knows it. He’s got almost an overload of material to work with, and two stars that have spent the last ten years honing their craft to a fine art. We’ve had a strong shift in the wind of public attitude since the Mulder last hunted the truth. Between the amount of shows dedicated to ghost seeking, the paranormal, Bigfoot and Alien government conspiracies, it’s almost criminal the amount he can put into the show.
I’m sure that ever fan is hoping that six episodes leads to eight next time or even ten. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility; networks are struggling to combat the pull of Cable’s scripted payload that’s been sucking their numbers dry for the last five years.
It's ironic really, that a show about a brilliant, slightly pathologically loner with a compassionate, morally grounded companion, could lend a hand to another show about the same. Sherlock has his Watson, and Mulder has his Scully.
And we the fans are getting another alien hunting, conspiracy cracking, and paranormal seeking adventure.
I don’t know how I’m going to make it till next January. If you’ve got any bright ideas let me know.
Until then I’ll be watching the X-Files with no lights on, and wondering how they plan on killing off the Smoking Man in this one.