Monday, July 22, 2013

COMIC-CON: How We Pulled Off The X-Files 20th Anniversary Panel


Last year Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan and his girlfriend Holly were talking with my TV Guide Magazine bosses, and the topic of The X-Files came up. Vince reminded them that The X-Files was about to hit its 20th anniversary, and Holly suggested a panel -- perhaps at Comic-Con.

The truth is out there. And here's the backstory on how we wound up putting together what I believe, not so humbly, was one of the highlights of this year's Comic-Con.

My editor Debra Birnbaum emailed me last fall: Did I think we could pull off a panel devoted to the all-star writers and producers of The X-Files? The show's creative minds had gone on to some amazing things, including Gilligan and Howard Gordon (24, Homeland). I knew some of those folks would be game, but also knew we couldn't do anything unless the creator and driving force behind the show, Chris Carter, signed on. I quickly contacted Chris' agents, who in turn sent me to Chris' office.

I interviewed Chris Carter several times during the life of The X-Files, Millennium and Harsh Realm. At Electronic Media, we named him one of our "12 to Watch" in 1997 and I spent an afternoon with him in his 20th Century Fox bungalow. And the very first story I ever wrote for Daily Variety in 1999 was this piece, in which Chris is less than pleased about the cancellation of Harsh Realm. But Chris has been quiet in recent years, and I knew he wouldn't remember me. TV Guide Magazine, however, had been very good to him - even once putting him on the cover with David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson (see it here). Much to my excitement, Chris quickly signed on. Gabe Rotter, who works with Chris, sent out feelers to some of the show's key writers, and the reaction was very positive. We were on.

Carter's chief The X-Files partner, Frank Spotnitz, had already scheduled a trip overseas and sent his regrets via a really nice email. Alex Gansa was busy (I assume shooting Homeland at the moment). That led us to this roster: Chris Carter, Vince Gilligan, Howard Gordon, Glen Morgan, Jim Wong, Darin Morgan, John Shiban and David Amann. Not bad, huh?

Over the last seven months, Gabe and I stayed in close contact as the panel took shape. In April, he told me that Gillian was interested -- and then we heard that David was interested as well. Oh, it was definitely on! One problem: Gillian would be in London. David would be shooting Californication. It took some tricky maneuvering, and the help of the folks at 20th Century Fox and Showtime, which is why we initially only announced Carter and the writer/producers. But heaven and earth were moved, and we were eventually able to confirm David and Gillian. From there, what would have been a pretty good panel promised to be a really good panel.

By May, we were ready for the formal invite. Here's what I wrote:

I wanted to formally invite you to join the panel for the big X-FILES 20TH ANNIVERSARY event (it's so exciting, I had to write it in all-caps!) at Comic-Con on Thursday, July 18, from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. It's going to take place in one of the biggest Comic-Con venues -- Ballroom 20.

TV Guide Magazine, which of course covered The X-Files extensively through the years and put the show on its cover countless times, is sponsoring the panel, which is why you're hearing from me.

The X-Files, of course, helped usher in the modern age of hit genre shows on TV, but never truly got its due at Comic-Con (since back then, Comic-Con was still, well, about comics). This is a chance to celebrate the show and also marvel at the fact that everyone involved with the show has gone on to do even more amazing things.

I've moderated plenty of panels at Comic-Con, including Community, Chuck and Breaking Bad, and the fan reaction is exhilarating. They're going to go absolutely nuts over this. I know there have been a few reunion gatherings here and there so far this year, but it makes sense that the big one take place at Comic-Con. I hope you can take part!

Here's a tentative list of the panelists; we're still working out logistics on David and Gillian, but it's looking good!

Chris Carter
Vince Gilligan
Howard Gordon
Glen Morgan
Jim Wong
Darin Morgan
John Shiban
David Amann
David Duchovny
Gillian Anderson

I just wanted to make sure you cleared that afternoon in order to help celebrate THE X-FILES on stage in San Diego! Thanks!

X-Files 20th Anniversary, Thursday, 7/18/13, 3:30p.m. - 4:30p.m., Room: Ballroom 20

Meanwhile, my moderator prep had also started. Thanks to Netflix, it was easy to watch countless episodes, and watch them anywhere and on any device -- my TV, my computer, my iPad, no matter where I was. I re-watched mythology episodes and monster-of-the-week episodes. I read articles online and in X-Files books. I checked out the fan sites like X-Files News. I eventually created a Twitter account, @xfiles20sdcc, to follow several X-Files-centric Twitter feeds and also start compiling fan fave episodes, baddies, Mulder/Scully moments, etc.

By the time last week came around, I was excited -- but also filled with anxiety. Thankfully, our PR folks, Chet Mehta and Alyssa Some (in coordination with TV Guide Magazine's marketing chief Janice Dehn) were on the ball and in constant contact with everyone (particularly David's and Gillian's people) to make sure any snafus were ironed out. It was also time to put some finishing touches on the panel. I asked the folks at 20th Century Fox for some clips, but then narrowed it down to just the opening credits. That sent me on a chase to a production facility near Universal City, where late Tuesday evening I brought along a flash drive and had it downloaded.

Wednesday night, my TV Guide Magazine colleague Rich Sands -- who hands all things Con for us -- and I had a tech rehearsal in Ballroom 20. We saw the TV Guide Magazine sizzle reel and the X-Files opening credits play on the big screen in the empty hall. I got goosebumps. We started hearing (and seeing on Twitter) evidence that people were camping out for the panel. It was going to be good.

On Thursday morning, I walked over to CVS and found a big lantern flashlight. But they had only one, a yellow torch. I ran across the street to Rite Aid. They also had just one, a blue torch. So I bought both of them. I then turned around and bought Hershey's chocolate syrup. Yes, to double as black oil. Apparently I'm the Carrot Top of Comic-Con moderators, I brought props.


When I arrived at the Ballroom 20 green room, Chris Carter was already there. I gave him a copy of that 1997 "12 to Watch" feature I wrote about him. Vince and Howard were also both there -- it was a good day for both of them, as their shows were once again nominated for the Outstanding Drama Series Emmy. I met some of the other writers for the first time. It was like a high school reunion, as everyone milled about and caught up.

Then in walked David and Gillian, together. (I believe they had come from a signing on the floor.) Mulder and Scully were in the house! Inside the green room pics:

Comic Con

Comic Con

David and Gillian weren't quite sure what to make of my flashlights, but I assured them that the audience would eat it up. My plan: Introduce the writers and Chris. Then throw to that opening credits clip. Keep the lights off. David and Gillian walk out, carrying those flashlights just like they did in countless episodes of the show.

It worked. The crowd ate it up. And almost every story I read about the panel mentioned the flashlights.

As for the panel itself, I knew Chris Carter wouldn't have any new news, but I also knew the fans wanted to know something, anything, about a third movie (or even a miniseries). Chris kept mum. But surprisingly, Gillian quickly shot down the idea of a miniseries reunion like the one 24 is doing next year.

Here are two three different videos of the same panel (thanks to SDCC Blog for just posting the third one) that I found on YouTube:

Afterward, the whole panel and their guests headed behind the Convention Center to the TV Guide Magazine Comic-Con yacht, where they took photos and toasted the reunion. (Small world: Howard Gordon even ran into Navid Negahban, the actor who played Abu Nazir on Homeland.

Comic Con
Above, Vince Gilligan, Howard Gordon and Glen Morgan chat.

Comic con
Above, David and Gillian on the yacht.

Thanks to Gabe, Debra, Janice, Rich, Chet, Alyssa, as well as Shari Rosenblum, Chris Kaspers, Conor Sellers, Kottie Kreischer, Rebecca Smith, Lindsay Flinn, Melanie Greene and so many other folks who helped make the panel happen. And thanks to the X-Files producers and stars, as well as the fans for coming out in droves to honor the show!


Anonymous said...

One small comment, Gillian had been in LA for weeks. She doesn't spend as much time in London as she says;)

Anonymous said...

David Duchovney seems like he just woke up in this interview...

Mike said...

Hi 8:39 am, originally when we were planning the panel, Gillian wasn't going to be in town; at some point I assume her plans changed.

Anonymous said...

Gillian finished filming in Northern Ireland a couple of weeks ago and went to Los Angeles to spend time with her family as she has for parts of the past five or six summers.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure some months ago she didn't know where she was going to be but I can definitely tell you she arrived in LA at least two weeks before the con:)

Norma said...

THANK YOU so much for making this happen!!! Not only was I there for the panel but I got to take a photo with David and Gillian!!! I was so nervous but it was a dream come true to meet Mulder and Scully!!!!!

Francisco said...

I hope we see a Buffy reunion panel @ Comic-Con one day!

Mulderbulge said...

What I want to know is why the heck Vince hasn't married Holly yet!!

Anonymous said...

Stop with the snogger nonsense and turn a good thing into something stupid. GA was see at Heathrow (yes the one in London) the Wednesday before SDCC started on Thursday. She was also doing photo shoots in London on 7/15 and 7/11, and was seen around town 7/12.

Love this behind-the-scene report.

Anonymous said...

Do you a pic of Gillian at Heathrow? If not, then shut up.

Anonymous said...

I meant, do you HAVE a pic. Gillian was in LA, like it or not. My own eyes don't decive me. Period.

Anonymous said...

Oh my, can the mod remove some of these delusional comments.

Thanks for putting this fantastic panel together.

Anonymous said...

Totally worth camping out!!

Anonymous said...

to the first "anonymous' poster, Gillian was at an event at Kensington palace on july 5th (which would fall in your 2 weeks prior to comicon window) AND her family doesn't live in LA. and yes she was seen by several ppl at heathrow airport on wednesday the 17th.

Miss Pat said...

Dear Mike
Thanks so much for a memorable event with the XF20 panel. You did a fantastic job with the entire event...visuals, the participants and your questions. I loved the flashlights and black oil. Those were nice touches. As a member of the X-Files News team on the ground at Comic Con, thanks for making this happen. Let's don't wait another 20 years to recognize the talent involved in one of the greatest TV shows of all time.

Anonymous said...

OMG, you should learn to add. If she was at the event on the 5th and left after that, how many days/weeks does it make it before the con?

Anonymous said...

Omg thank you from soo nice to see the whole group together! it brought nice memories! especially Gillian and Davids

silentlau said...

IT WAS GREAT!!! It´s awesome to see them back. I wish they make another movie.

Clare said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Thank you for your report. Don't pay attentionto snoggers (they are crazy xf fans. They ship DD and GA in real life so they want to make you say GA was in LA more days which we know it's not true because she was spotted in London just one day before the event. Snoggers try to imply GA was in LA all this time LOL)
Snoggers give a bad name to this fandom you might think they are kidding but they are not. They are really crazy in a Justing BelieBer way.