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Writing for TV: The X Files Pilot

Entering the world of TV writing poses considerable challenges, perhaps even more daunting than breaking into the film industry. It demands the creation of stories adhering to various act structures, rapid writing under tight deadlines, and commitment to specific guidelines rather than the freedom to explore personal creative ideas. Thankfully, there are plenty of great television series to analyze, with The X Files being one of the best.


The X-Files is incredible at stimulating viewers' critical thinking and encouraging the exploration of novel ideas. The show's incorporation of science, mythology, and philosophy propels viewers to examine their beliefs and dive into uncharted possibilities. It transcends being merely a television series, evolving into a cultural phenomenon, spawning numerous books, documentaries, and academic courses. So, what can we learn from the show? Let’s discuss it!


Still from 'The X FIles'. Photo credit: TV Insider


Introducing the Characters


The most vital portion of a pilot is introducing your main characters. In this case, The X Files pilot introduces us to Dana Skully and Fox Mulder. In the pilot, Dana Scully joins forces to collaborate with Fox Mulder, an FBI agent intrigued by the paranormal.


Skully is a Special Agent with the FBI and a medical doctor grounded in hard science. Skilly was assigned to the X-Files unit to oversee and discredit Mulder's investigations, leveraging her scientific expertise and viewpoint. Her responsibility was to provide Division Chief Scott Blevins with her findings and analyses.


Conversely, you have Mulder, a proficient but unorthodox FBI Agent who excels in paranormal investigation, heading the X-Files unit. Motivated by his sister's mysterious disappearance, which he attributes to an alien abduction and government conspiracy, Mulder is determined to uncover the truth regarding the presence of extraterrestrial life on Earth.


Their journey takes them to Oregon, where Mulder suspects that aliens may have abducted several teenagers. In crafting the characters of Mulder and Scully, creator       Chris Carter opted to subvert conventional stereotypes. He chose to portray the male character as a believer and the female character as a skeptic, challenging the traditional portrayal of skepticism as a male role on television.


Both characters are a great example of trying something different to separate your characters. Generally, thoughtfully crafted characters enhance the audience's immersion in a film's narrative universe. Regardless of the film's plot or genre, viewers connect with the characters, underscoring the essential role of robust character development in compelling storytelling.


Having a Great Opening


The X Files Pilot starts with a young woman desperately navigating a dimly lit forest at night. She eventually arrives in a small clearing, where an enormous light intensifies over a nearby hill. As the leaves in the vicinity start to swirl around her in a vortex, a mysterious figure emerges from the light. Standing over her, the figure becomes shrouded in the engulfing light.


While the show eventually introduces us to the characters, it understands the need for a grand opening to hook us in. We have countless questions about what happened to the woman, who the mysterious figure is, and, more importantly, if Aliens are behind the abduction.


These questions pair well with Skully and Mulder since both characters will have differing conclusions based on their internal beliefs. The pilot's opening scene deals with the viewer, a commitment outlining what they can expect from the drama.


It promises to captivate, offer a glimpse of what lies ahead, evoke excitement, and instill a compelling desire to delve deeper into the unfolding narrative. The X Files does so brilliantly; in return, it’s set the show up.


Setting The Show Up


Though the X Files doesn’t have a clear connection from episode to episode—similar to shows like Seinfeld or It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia—the pilot entices the audience enough to sink them in and set the show up. With two iconic characters, an enticing setting and genre, and differing storylines, there’s a reason the show is as iconic as it is.


Generally, think of the pilot as a trial run for a TV series concept, serving as a preliminary exploration and, in many cases, as the official series premiere if the show is successfully aired. However, there are instances where a greenlit pilot requires further refinement and redevelopment even after initial approval.


Setting the show up is done by introducing the universe and conducting a trial for the series. Unveiling the world, primary characters, setting, and overarching themes to the audience are crucial to the pilot’s success. It serves as a blueprint for the series, posing questions and establishing situations that will evolve as the show unfolds.


The pilot episode allows the network to gauge the show's financial viability and typically serves as the inaugural episode of the entire series. Keep in mind that the success of a pilot demonstrates to the network that the supporting characters have the potential to carry a standalone television series apart from the original show.

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