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One of a Kind
X-Files scribe and producer Frank Spotnitz discusses bringing X-spin-off The Lone Gunmen into the light, while also talking about the future of Mulder, Scully and Doggett.

Spinning-off characters from a popular show is never an easy task, and TV has been littered with less than successful attempts for decades (remember Crusade anyone?). For The X-Files producer/writer Frank Spotnitz, just the idea of coming up with a proper X-character to spin-off was a Herculean task. The Fox network began asking for spin-off ideas after the show became a cultural phenomenon during its third season.

"There weren't many characters you could even start to discuss a spin-off with," says Spotnitz. "As great an actor as Mitch Pileggi is, [Assistant Director] Skinner is always the man in the middle and you would have a very hard time making his character the lead of his own series. Beyond that most of the other recurring characters in The X-Files have been antagonists. That is until seasons five and six when recurring characters The Lone Gunmen - who have aided Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) occasionally since season one - survived two stand-alone episodes: Three of a Kind and The Unusual Suspects. This episode found the conspiracy reporters in a comedic caper through Las Vegas and was the moment Spotnitz and fellow writer-producers John Shiban and Vince Gilligan realized that the notion of giving the characters their own series was quite viable, after all.

And would the show continue without Duchovny?

"I think that would most likely be the case," says Spotnitz. "All of us hope he would come back or come back in a limited way because we love the character of Mulder and like working with him."

Spotnitz on Duchovny.
"People had talked about doing a spin-off show of The X-Files before but we always said 'why', and 'how'. To do it with these three guys was an interesting idea," says Spotnitz. "Mulder and Scully are the right characters for The X-Files and to drive those types of stories. Three of a Kind was a caper and they didn't just do computer stuff, they did Mission: Impossible type stuff. It was funny, charming and sweet."

When Harsh Realm (the other show developed by X-Files creator Chris Carter's Ten Thirteen Productions) came to an abrupt end on Fox, The Lone Gunmen idea once again resurfaced.

"When we thought we would be doing Harsh Realm, we thought we wouldn't have the opportunity to do The Lone Gunmen spin-off, but when Harsh Realm has an early death we immediately went back to discussing The Lone Gunmen," says Spotnitz.

The Lone Gunmen are, of course, a trio of conspiracy-minded misfits who have come together to publish an underground newspaper (called "The Lone Gunmen") that uncovers the injustices and cover-ups behind the government and the media.

The trio consists of suit-wearing Byers (Bruce Harwood), clumsy Frohike (Tom Braidwood) and computer guru Langly (Dean Haglund). Once the notion of avoiding any of the supernatural elements that make up The X-Files were laid to rest, Spotnitz ended up co-creating The Lone Gunmen TV show (with Chris Carter, John Shiban and Vince Gillian) to be a sort of Mission: Impossible show spearheaded by our well-meaning but bumbling trio.

With the show on the fast track, Fox initially wanted Ten Thirteen to have the show ready for the Autumn season. However, Spotnitz was relieved when they convinced Fox it would be better to make The Lone Gunmen a mid-season replacement series so the order would be smaller and the risk of getting lost amongst all the new Autumn shows much less.

"We also said it would kill us, since it's the same guys doing both this show and The X-Files," says Spotnitz.

While The X-Files fans have come to love that series' dark outlook, Spotnitz decided to develop The Lone Gunmen's characters and tone before they start to complicate matters with any significant story arc.

"The seeds of a mythology have been laid in from the first episode but you won't see it full bore until the final episode of the season," says Spotnitz. "It will really center around Yves - who she really is, why she is living anonymously, what her agenda is and is she a good or bad guy. When you start to answer those questions, you start to answer and explore the larger mythology which will be completely separate from The X-Files mythology. It's a 'real world' idea that speaks to the way the world operates now. Our thinking was let people get to know these characters and care about them first and then ask them to come along with you as you start to create a larger, fictional world for them. The X-Files didn't get into the mythology until the end of the first season in earnest."

One aspect of The Lone Gunmen that is apparent from the outset is that the show's three lead actors, Harwood, Braidwood and Haglund, are not the pretty faces you usually see populating big prime-time series. Spotnitz says that's also part of the show's charm. The actors are also more willing to make fools of themselves, as was evidenced by Braidwood's' fall in the mud during the show's pilot episode.

"Tom was totally committed to that fall in a big way and he did it very well," laughs Spotnitz. "I think that we're so used to doing dramatic television that you're always conscious of making your heroes look heroic, but here we can relax and, yes, he can fall down or stick his hand up a cow's butt. We don't worry about it but he will still be a hero doing these things. That was our greatest obstacle though, wrapping our minds around it and then having actors who have been game for anything. These three guys to me have risen to the challenge and more than carry the show. Think about how many actors out there - character actors in particular - that no-one would think of as leads for television. If the popular mindset were different, they could be doing great work."

In fact, Spotnitz notes that although The Lone Gunmen did get many favorable views on the outset in major markets, he found that some reporters didn't like the show by having "a knee-jerk reaction and confirming the worst thing about television."

The reaction annoyed Spotnitz. "We read things where they said 'Oh, they're not good-looking enough' or 'they shouldn't be TV stars.' We were thinking 'Is that what you want people to be - that people have to buy into one type of person looking a certain way?'" questions Spotnitz. "I don't think it is, but I don't think it's giving people enough credit. There are all kinds of great actors to connect with and they don't have to be all good-looking people."

While The Lone Gunmen series has its fill of recurring characters with the addition of both Jimmy Bond and Eve, Spotnitz reveals that a few X-Files characters will be popping up on to the Gunmen show including Mitch Pileggi as Skinner and Michael McKean reprising his role of Area 51 agent Morris Fletcher from the popular X-Files two-parter Dreamland.

"Plotting the ending this year was much less difficult than last year, because no matter what happens, whether this is the end of the series or whether the series goes on with some character and not others or there's a movie franchise after this - this will be the end of eight years of the TV show and we're writing it as such,"
Frank Spotnitz on the end of the X-Files this year.
Don't get too worried about the Lone Gunmen disappearing from the X-landscape anytime soon either. "They will still pop up on The X-Files," affirms Spotnitz. "It makes it all a lot harder to do because we have to someone get them out of their day job in Vancouver and get them down here. We managed to do it this season and I think we can continue to do it. They serve a very good function on The X-Files."

It also works out well since the other-worldly nature of The X-Files won't be dealt with on the Gunmen's show as much, for obvious reasons," says Spotnitz. "You see a little of it in the season finale, but in my mind there's no point in doing another TV series about it. The X-Files has done it exhaustibly for eight years, and now we've got this whole new canvas to explore with Gunmen and there's no reason to go back to The X-Files territory."

Speaking of The X-Files, as the show winds down its eighth season (with 21 episodes instead of the 20 done for prior seasons), Spotnitz is finally stepping into the director's chair for the currently untitled Episode 19 [NOTE: titled 'Alone' since the magazine went to print], which will serve as Mulder and Scully's last stand-alone investigation story of the season.

"It's not a mythology show - it's a monster show," hints Spotnitz. "Agent Doggett is paired with a new partner. When they go out on an X-File that becomes life-threatening, Mulder and Scully are pressed into service even though it's not their assignment anymore."

Though Spotnitz says there's a lot of dread about directing, he's looking forward to the opportunity. "The truth is my day job as writer-producer is 70 to 80 hours a week and I didn't know if I could step out of that to direct," says Spotnitz. "The only reason I could consider it is that it was the end of the year and I might be able to get away with it. It's proven very difficult to escape my other obligations though. I've never directed before - not a thing, so it's been very surprising and a little frightening. I've spent a lot of time in the editing room and have a good understanding of how film cuts together. It's not the same thing as going in and executing it, so we'll see if I know what I'm doing."

With the major "search for Mulder" plotline being resolved in the coming months, Spotnitz also reveals that the best is yet to come. "Wait until you see those episodes," says Spotnitz. "It's interesting, TV viewership drops off from February sweeps until the end of the season, but I think our best episodes from April until the end of the season are the best part of this year. Robert Patrick [who plays new agent Doggett who has aided in the search for Mulder] has had great chemistry with Gillian and now Robert has great chemistry with David as well. The show for us has been as interesting as it ever has been."

The show definitely had a lot going against it at the beginning of the season with Duchovny's contract having him only appearing in half of the episode's this year, yet Spotnitz feels they've lucked out with the presence of Patrick who has stepped into the show quite well. In fact, it's given Fox a renewed hope that the series can continue Mulder-less.

"Gillian has another year on her contract and I believe they have a hold on Robert Patrick's services as well," says Spotnitz. "I don't think they have Chris Carter or David Duchovny under contract - that's the tricky part."

Of course there's a lot of waiting at this point, as Spotnitz notes. "We're waiting to see how it all works out, seeing who comes back and who the players will be," says Spotnitz. "I think this is a show whose idea is practically inexhaustible. It's a great idea for a television series and the fact we've maintained it and improved in our ratings since last year despite the loss of David Duchovny for half the episodes is a testament to that. It really is about what resources do we have to tell stories and who is coming back to tell them?"

And would the show continue without Duchovny? "I think that would most likely be the case," says Spotnitz. "All of us hope he would come back or come back in a limited way because we love the character of Mulder and like working with him. The show is always better with Mulder in it, but I think it can work without him too."

Unlike at the end of season seven, when the question of The X-Files future was awaiting a final decision on Duchovny's return up until days before the season finale aired, this time there will be a more concrete resolution.

"Plotting the ending this year was much less difficult than last year, because no matter what happens, whether this is the end of the series or whether the series goes on with some character and not others or there's a movie franchise after this - this will be the end of eight years of the TV show and we're writing it as such," explains Spotnitz. "Something is definitely coming to an end. We have a clear idea what to do. Last year, writing it not knowing whether we were coming back or going to movies was a difficult thing and we had to write and shoot that episode still not knowing the answers to any of those questions."

If producing both The X-Files and The Lone Gunmen might be twice as exhausting, it's nothing new to the team.

"It's very hard for us to do two show's at the same time," notes Spotnitz. "I just think these are relatively ambitious as far as TV shows go. They're not one storyline or A-B-C plots. There's a lot of action and visual effects. It's a high class problem to deal with two full orders of a TV show!"
Article by Anthony C. Ferrante from Dreamwatch # 81 (June 2001). Transcribed by tinnypriv and originally posted to

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This story is © Dreamwatch

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