THE X-FILES' 20th Anniversary: BONES Creator Hart Hanson Talks About Its Influence on His Work - Give Me My Remote : Give Me My Remote

THE X-FILES’ 20th Anniversary: BONES Creator Hart Hanson Talks About Its Influence on His Work

September 10, 2013 by  

On September 10, 1993, a little show called THE X-FILES debuted on Fox. It started off modestly enough on Friday nights…until suddenly it grew to be a massive pop culture force: winning Emmys, getting the post-Super Bowl slot in 1997, and making household names out of series stars David Duchovny (Mulder) and Gillian Anderson (Scully). The show ultimately ended up producing 202 episodes over nine seasons (not to mention two movies — one released during the show’s run, and one six years after the series ended), and is now living on in a “season 10” comic.

Personally, it massively influenced me as a television fan, arguably more so than any show I’ve watched since. And in the (many) years I’ve been doing this job, it’s been brought up to me more times than I can count as an influence of the shows I’m covering today.

So in honor of the 20th anniversary of the series, I decided to take a different approach in honoring the series: I spoke with some of the television writers who have repeatedly mentioned to me that they have been influenced by THE X-FILES to dig deeper into why this show resonated with them.

First up? BONES/THE FINDER creator Hart Hanson (whose Fox series is also currently filming on the same stages X-FILES filmed on when the show made the move from Vancouver to Los Angeles between seasons 5 and 6)…

When did you start watching X-FILES?
Hart Hanson: Right at the beginning. I saw the pilot. I think if you saw the pilot, you watched pretty regularly. I’m not going to say I watched every single episode, but I saw a minimum of 85%, and by now, I’d bet I’ve seen every episode.

What drew you to the series?
HH: I think that for one thing, I knew it was shooting in Vancouver, and I’m Canadian, and that was interesting. I don’t think that’s what drew me to it, though. I must have seen the promos or something. I remember [David] Duchovny from TWIN PEAKS, so I started watching it. And I think about 15 minutes in, I knew that I was going to be watching that show pretty regularly. And if I recall correctly — and I may not — I think you could maybe record a show on a videotape [at that point]. I think maybe you could do that then, I don’t know if I was actually doing that then by that point. But I do remember having to be there in time to see it.

What do you most remember about the show?
HH: I remember a couple of things: I remember if my young, young, young kids came in while I was watching it, I couldn’t watch it anymore because they would be terrified. I think by that time I had a three-year-old and a six-year-old, and that was too scary for both of them.

There’s a whole bunch of things about X-FILES that occur to me. When I first started watching it, I believe I was in grad school — I think that was about the second season — and I had no intention of being a TV writer. And then I did have an intention of being a TV writer, and there was a show I liked and started paying attention to. It was the first show I started paying attention to as a primer on how you might make a TV show. And at that point, it was just writing scripts, I wasn’t really thinking of creating my own shows, because that was crazy-ass crazy if you’re in Vancouver, if you’re in Canada. But the fact that it was in Canada, you recognized some of the places they were shooting, and then as time went on and I actually did start working in TV, you started recognizing actors or crew members.

It’s hard to explain if you’re in Vancouver, B.C., the chances of getting something on TV — it seemed crazy. It seemed like saying you wanted to be an astronaut. And X-FILES made it at least like they were in the same world. And then by a very strange sequence of events, I became very good friends with their line producer, JP Finn, who is Canadian. In fact, one of his kids is my godson. I met his wife first, and she was a story editor at CBC, and then I met JP Finn, so I got to hear about production. So, that was huge for me — to hear how a show was produced. I was working on a little Canadian show, deep into its run. And here he was, producing a huge American hit. So the differences in how production problems were dealt with and how scripts made their way to the screen — it was like going to film school. I was the luckiest guy in the world that that happened. It was amazing. It was absolutely amazing.

And then, when it came time and I was making BONES, I took a lot of what I learned from X-FILES — including the importance of a story engine. There’s two parts of a story engine for a series: one is the franchise, and they have this brilliant franchise. They could do anything, and it lent itself to an episodic story. And then they had an overarching mythos. And then there was the relationship between the two leads that also generated story and lots of conjecture in the audience. So when I was sitting down to work on BONES, those things were in my head. So I have to thank those guys and [X-FILES creator] Chris Carter. I actually got to meet him once.

Did you tell him he was too handsome to be a TV writer?
HH: I did. I did tell him that. And he said, “I did start off as a surfer.” [Laughs]

I figured you didn’t just tell him with your eyes.
HH: [Laughs] No, I actually said it.

In the BONES pilot, Booth actually does bring up Mulder and Scully to Brennan when he talks about their potential partnership. When you were pitching the show to Fox, was there any mention on your end that you wanted the Booth/Brennan relationship to mirror what Mulder/Scully had?
HH: No, I don’t think I mentioned it, now that you say that. I don’t think it was part of my pitch. I always placed Mulder and Scully in a pantheon or a line of characters that were polarized, but worked together. Holmes and Watson, Kirk and Spock, and I was actually, a huge, huge, huge fan of a series of books written by Patrick O’Brian about the Napoleonic wars about the captain and the ship’s doctor, Aubrey and Maturin. All of those relationships were really, really good at generating lots of [story]. Seeing the world in opposite ways, but having to work together and cooperate is a great story engine. You know, I don’t know if I mentioned Scully and Mulder in that pitch, but I might have in that lineup…if I did it was in a lineup of people.

Oh! I didn’t, and I’ll tell you why. See, you’re making me remember things. When I pitched the show, initially, Booth was not going to be in every episode. He was going to be the main guy, but he was going to be in two-thirds if I remember correctly. 15-18 episodes, somewhere in there. But in order to make the franchise work, we thought, oh, we can’t be FBI all the time. But he was going to be the Captain Kirk to her Spock. But then as soon as we saw them together, literally, before we started shooting, the network test was so good that I asked if we could look into the possibility if David Boreanaz (Booth) would be interested in being in every episode. And that was a very good decision. I’m glad he said yes.

Of course. Earlier on in the series, I used to make the joke that Booth/Brennan were following the Mulder/Scully relationship path, but sped up a lot…
HH: [Laughs] Yes!

When it came time to write in Emily Deschanel’s pregnancy and make Brennan pregnant, did you consciously mirror the way Scully ended up becoming pregnant on X-FILES?
HH: No! My horrible memory is a good thing and a terrible thing. I have never gone back to look at THE X-FILES again. If I ever saw an episode twice, it was because it was rerun. I don’t have it on tape anywhere. I’m sure I will go back one day and enjoy going through the whole thing again.

But I’m also equally sure THE X-FILES trajectory went into my subconscious and got stirred up in that soup and got regurgitated on our show. But I can’t say I did it on purpose.

Also, I was seeing fewer episodes of X-FILES by the time that happened. What year was that?

It was 2000.
HH: In 2000?! I had moved down here. I was not seeing every episode by any means. I was kind of out of X-FILES by accident, not because I decided to stop watching it, but by then I was working 16 hour days on JUDGING AMY or JOAN OF ARCADIA, so I was missing a lot of TV. As I am now.

Well, the way it was set up was quite similar, which amused me. So you should definitely go back at some point and make sure you’ve seen it.
HH: That’s something. That’s really something. I should go look. I have no doubt I’m ripping them off in some way, but it’s totally subconscious.

Fair! You guys ended up doing an X-FILES homage in season 5. Was that something Fox asked you to do, or did something else inspire it?
HH: It was in the initial list, the bin. The bin of ideas! X-FILES was on Fox, BONES was on Fox, we’re obviously in a genre…we’re in a tradition. And I thought, we have to tip our hat to that. I think it’s good to tip our hats to a few things for two reasons: one, they broke a lot of grounds there. They showed the way on how to do it on Fox, and they also opened up Fox to that kind of show. I can’t speak for Gail Berman who ordered the show, but she may have been going, “X-FILES worked, maybe this will work.” I can’t speak for her, but I betcha that was a factor.

And, also, an example of how you keep a show going year after year after year on a franchise of solving slightly procedural — slightly for them, more for us — and interesting relationship. Of course, what we did was to cheat was to having more recurring characters than they did. And of course, our tone falls, if anything near X-FILES, it falls towards the Darin Morgan[-written episodes]. We’re a goofier, funnier, show than X-FILES was. We seldom scare people as well as THE X-FILES scared people. But it was our predecessor there, so we wanted to say hello.

What do you think is X-FILES’ legacy now?
HH: Oh my God. That’s a great question. [Pause] It’s so seminal. You know what I think the legacy is? I think it started — or helped start — the geek revolution, where the geeks took over the world. It’s a genre. At that time, if my memory serves, there was STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, and then there was THE X-FILES as a speculative fiction on TV in the mainstream. So I would say that Chris Carter and those people started showing that speculative fiction could have a place on a network. Can you think of anything that was fantasy or science-fiction-y in the occult? There was KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER, but that was way, way, way before.

Right, and Chris Carter has spoken about KOLCHAK and its influence on his work.
HH: Yeah. So I’d say he was responsible now for GAME OF THRONES. [Laughs] It was a really good show. It was a really good show. It was moody, and scary, and funny, and it had compelling, charismatic leads. And it had a weird kind of realism to it, as crazy as that sounds. It had a great air of [familiarity] to it. When you were in that world, you really felt you were in that world. I think it started a whole revolution. I bet if you talked with the guys at THE WALKING DEAD or FALLING SKIES, boy, I’d bet with FALLING SKIES, which is also shooting in Vancouver, and I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it has very similar production values, which is partly cloudy skies and rain, and partly tone. I think Chris Carter is responsible for all of that.

Completely fair! Did you have a favorite character?
HH: [Very, very long pause] I’m trying not to say Fox Mulder! [Laughs]

You can say Mulder!
HH: I loved Fox Mulder. I loved him. I just thought he was a fantastic TV character. I worked on a show called NORTH OF 60…I know so many actors who were on that show that later came on to be on Canadian shows. Do you remember the little boy that had stigmata [in the episode “Revelations”]? Kevin Zegers came to be on a show I created in Toronto called TRADERS. And he was awesome. I just kept seeing people I knew on screen. But Fox Mulder was my [favorite]…who else was so cool and laid back, and also — who else could smirk in the face of aliens and scary, scary worm men? He was a great leading man; I thought he was just fantastic. So I’m going to be boring and say Fox Mulder.

Did you prefer myth or monster of the week episodes?
HH: I started out preferring mythology, but in the end, I preferred monster of the week. The mythology got really, really involved and my poor little brain…

Makes sense. Did you have a favorite monster?
HH: That worm guy. Remember the guy that got cut in half in the sewer?

Flukeman! That was Darin Morgan in that suit.
HH: Oh God, what about the carnival?

HH: Gah. The thing that detached at night? Agh! Okay, that one. I think I’ve said to you before, I don’t like being scared…but there were some really good X-FILES.

I have to ask….did you ‘ship Mulder and Scully?
HH: No! I did not. I watched with delight as things unfolded, but I was never someone going, “Come on, get together, kiss!” Not at all.

I wasn’t for it or against it, but I did not — oddly enough — tune in to see how the romance between Scully and Mulder went, though I was perfectly happy with watching it unfold. But I was a younger man then, I guess. I’m more romantic now.

Make sure to check back tomorrow for the next interview in the series!

(BONES airs Mondays at 8 PM on Fox.)

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Filed under #1 featured, Bones, The X-Files


4 Responses to “THE X-FILES’ 20th Anniversary: BONES Creator Hart Hanson Talks About Its Influence on His Work”

  1. Catherine Cabanela on September 10th, 2013 5:23 pm

    Exquisite article, Marisa!

  2. adrienne on September 10th, 2013 6:23 pm

    I watched an episode or two of the X-files. Wasn’t impressed and I would never compare it to Bones.

  3. shelly baldwin on September 10th, 2013 8:11 pm

    What an excellent concept for a series of interviews!!! Loved this first one and cannot wait to see the full series. It’s impossible that it has been 20 years since X-Files first aired on my screen. Wow.

  4. Bridget on September 11th, 2013 10:33 am

    What a great interview with Hart! I was a freshman in college when X-Files started, and my roommate and I started watching it because we had nothing else to do. Then eventually our next door neighbors would come over and watch it. Then the girls on the other side of us joined us. Eventually, it got to the point where we would have huge X-Files viewing parties on Friday nights before we would go out for the night, and we kept doing that every year until we graduated. So many good memories. It was the first show that I became truly engrossed in, and the first thing I ever looked up on the internet was information about David Duchovny! Can’t wait to read more of your interview series, Marisa!