The X Files returns: but do television resurrections ever work?

Actor David Duchovny at NBC Universal's after party at the 72nd Golden Globe Awards. (Phil McCarten/Reuters).

Actor David Duchovny at NBC Universal's after party at the 72nd Golden Globe Awards. (Phil McCarten/Reuters).

There is nothing more vocal than the fans of a beloved show that has been cancelled, especially if they feel like it has been cancelled before its prime. Now that the number of television platforms is proliferating and those with established platforms are looking for sure-fire hits, chances for revival are greater than ever. But is it ever worth it?

We’ll get to assess this question yet again thanks to The X-Files.
On Tuesday, Fox announced that it has ordered six episodes of the alien investigation show from the 90s after a 13-year absence. If the truth has been out there all along, it seems like Fox is determined to find it. The X-Files new episodes will feature original stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson (currently killing it in the UK and on Netflix in The Fall) and will be written and directed by series creator Chris Carter. Production will take place this summer and the premiere date will be announced sometime in the near future.                                 

The X-Files is definitely a good candidate for resurrection. At its prime in 1997, it averaged almost 20 million viewers, which is more than almost anything on television now. However, its final season in 2001 only averaged about 9 million viewers. The franchise shows other signs of weakness. While an initial X-Files movie in 1998 made $83m, a 2008 sequel grossed a paltry $20m. 

So, is it worth bringing The X-Files back? It depends on how you look at what has happened with other zombie shows and how you interpret the data. Fox revived 24 for an “event series” last year. 24: Live Another Day’s finale scored only 6.5 million viewers compared to the 9 million who watched the series finale four years before. However, when you factor in streaming views and DVR playbacks, the Live Another Day finale actually ratcheted up to 10.7 million viewers, more than the original finale. That seems like good news, but The X-Files has been gone for a lot longer. That means its fan base is even more rabid for fresh material or, conversely, that its cultural moment has passed.    

There is also plenty of evidence that bringing back cancelled shows doesn’t always achieve the desired results. Arrested Development got another season on Netflix, and it was a critical disaster. Worst of all, it disappointed fans and if they can’t stand behind a series any longer, what does it have? The answer: nothing. Community was just rebooted on Yahoo and – other than the usual reviews – chatter has been basically nonexistent. Netflix also saved The Killing, which slid further into obscurity. The same can be said for TBS’s revival of Cougar Town, which will skid to a halt after this season.

It seems like this is a tactic that just doesn’t necessarily work all the time. However, maybe there’s something to be said for a show returning to its original venue with its original creative team. It’s certainly enough to lure in hard-core fans, something of which The X Files has plenty. It probably won’t draw 20 million viewers, but the curious will probably pop by for an episode or two (if Fox puts it after ratings juggernaut Empire, it could do blockbuster business).                                

But I’m still unconvinced that this trend should continue. There’s something about dipping back into the same well of creativity time and again that leads to diminishing returns. Also, having creators obsess over the same show for so many years leads to creative stagnation. As much as I would love Bryan Fuller to revive Pushing Daisies, that might have deprived us of the equally entertaining Hannibal. Choices need to be made and, in my mind, the gambit of finding a new, greater hit is almost always better than wallowing in the evaporating juices of former success. 

That said, I am as excited as anyone for the Twin Peaks revival, mostly because creator David Lynch presaged its return in the original series, and I think that Lynch and writer Mark Frost returning to the show they abandoned is going to create something absolutely genius. Whether or not The X-Files will succeed creatively or commercially has yet to be seen. I give it a better chance than most, but Fox has seen with Empire that creating something brand new almost always provides better results than bringing something back from the dead. – © Guardian News & Media, 2015

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