In Depth

X Files reboot: is it a cynical marketing exercise?

Cult sci-fi show to return after 13 years, but Fox is accused of using fans to score a streaming deal

150325-xfiles.jpg

The truth is out. After months of rumours, Fox has confirmed that cult sci-fi show The X-Files will return to TV screens after a 13-year break. In the new show, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson will reprise their roles as FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully for a limited six-part season.

The original series creator Chris Carter will take charge of the new production, which will start this summer, with a premiere date to be announced later this year, says the Hollywood Reporter.

"I think of it as a 13-year commercial break," says Carter. "The good news is the world has only gotten that much stranger, a perfect time to tell these six stories."

The X Files, which follows two FBI detectives investigating unsolved mysteries and paranormal phenomena, ran for nine seasons between 1993-2002. It developed an obsessive fan base and at its highest point, snared nearly 20 million viewers a week, becoming the highest-rated show on Fox at the time. Two commercially successful, if forgettable, feature films were also made in 1998 and 2008.

Fans took to Twitter to express their joy at the return of the series, with many commentators joining in. "It's excellent news indeed," says Angela Watercutter on Wired. But what should you do until we get these smoking new episodes? Binge-watch the original show, obviously!

Watercutter urges fans to fire up their Netflix accounts (or dust off their VHS box sets) and start catching up on all the unexplained phenomena and sexual tension now. "You are not alone."

But why is Fox reviving the series?

You can thank Jack Bower for the new X-Files, says The Verge. Fox brought back 24 last season, with huge success. This is a major reason why Fox and other companies are going through the back catalogue, looking for nostalgia-laden series.

"There's a huge thirst for reviving old properties right now," adds The Verge. "It doesn't matter to Fox if it's good X-Files or bad X-Files, people are going to watch it because there's a built in fan base."

Yes, but "this revival has nothing to do with making those fans happy", says Merrill Barr in Forbes. "It also has nothing to do with bringing closure to the show's loose plot threads." It's not even about ratings really, says Barr. The X-Files reboot is about a deal for the show's exclusive streaming rights.

A revival of the series means all the show's previous work is valuable again, explains Barr. Old fans are going to start re-watching it, and newcomers are going to start seeking it out in order to get up to speed with the story before the new premiere.

Fox can now use that leverage to strike yet another highly valuable streaming deal with one of the big three (Netflix, Amazon and Hulu) and "make some serious money off the currently dead series".

"Don't kid yourself into thinking Fox cares about your desire to see Mulder and Scully's journey come to a proper conclusion," says Barr. "To them, you're nothing more than leverage for the likes of Amazon, Netflix and anyone else who would pay for the right to stream exclusively."

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