Cover Story

The X-Files Exposed

Strange-but-true tales lurk behind the scenes of TV's creepiest cult hit

''Since the show started, people have sought me out. I was warned about nutcases but these are regular folks. A banker will tell about his experience with aliens. Pilots and flight attendants come up to me and claim to have seen UFOs. One friend told me, 'You don't know how accurate you are.' He broke down, telling me about his visitations. I've known this person for two years. I have no reason not to believe him.'' -- Chris Carter, creator and executive producer, The X-Files

Standing in the middle of his living room, FBI special agent Fox Mulder is deep in conversation with a woman he believes is his long-lost sister Samantha, abducted years ago by aliens. Cut. Mulder turns away from her, striding past a Panavision camera into a hallway at a studio in Vancouver. He slumps in a canvas chair and grabs a reporter's notebook. He starts drawing something on the page. ''You won't admit that you're really going to be writing what amounts to fiction,'' he says. ''It's going to have your slant on it -- not the truth. You're just trying to get a handle on something, a handle on me.'' The notebook is retrieved. The drawing is of a bag with a handle on it. Next to the handle he has drawn an arrow pointing to his real name: David Duchovny.

So when it comes to investigating the most provocative series on TV, Fox's sleeper sci-fi hit, The X-Files, Duchovny seems to be echoing the show's credo: The truth is out there -- but it's not likely to be in here, in the pages of a magazine.

Or is it?

Since its first sighting in 1993, The X-Files has defied skeptics who refused to believe that a show about two deadpan FBI agents, played by Duchovny, 34, and Gillian Anderson, 26, investigating paranormal activities could succeed. But succeed it has. By skillfully blending post-Cold War, antigovernment paranoia; old-fashioned conspiracy theory; sly humor; and stories drawn from today's headlines (not to mention little green men and beast-women), The X-Files beat out favorites like NYPD Blue and ER for best drama series at the recent Golden Globes. Ratings have nearly doubled since its debut, culminating in its first-ever time-slot victory in households with the conclusion of a recent two-parter about the supposed return of Mulder's sister, a story suggested in part by Duchovny. ''I had no idea this could happen,'' says the Hollywood-handsome Carter, 38, a former surfing-magazine writer whose favorite show as a kid was Kolchak: The Night Stalker. ''I wrote this in my office in my surf trunks, playing with my dog. It never occurred to me that someday there'd be X-Files key chains.''

True, the show is beset by at least one Dark Force. Many X-Files episodes are left unresolved, making them a hard sell in syndication. So Carter too must battle strange life forms -- the kind who wear Armani suits and dine at Mortons. ''We have long, tedious arguments about the network's desire for 'closure,''' sighs Carter. ''But it's hard to put handcuffs on aliens every week and throw them in the slammer.''

Nevertheless, all signs point to a possible Star Trek-like franchise. The first X-Files convention will be held soon, probably in L.A.; a series of official X-Files novels is hitting bookstores; Topps Comics is putting out a monthly X-Files comic book; and Fox will release an X-Files CD later this year. The phenom has also infiltrated cyberspace. Thousands of fans -- they call themselves ''X-Philes''-have logged onto X-Files newsgroups on the Internet and online services; America Online even lets subscribers role-play in a game based on the series.

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