Now, where was I . Ah, yes. What elements of The X-Files made it more appealing to the more modern viewer of the 1990s? Several things, actually.
1. A more subtly comedic leading man
While, through his actions, he was obviously the courageous hero type, Kolchak was occasionally quick to panic and likely was supposed to have thought of himself as a coward. In episode one (The Ripper), for example, there was a scene in which Kolchak was hiding in a closet while the Ripper reached in for clothes. Mulder, in such a situation, would probably either continue to hide quietly or attack the Ripper. Kolchak, being a more comedic character, screamed frantically and ran down the stairs – tripping over a dead woman.
2. A female side-kick.
Although many shows in the 1970s began including strong female characters in order to appeal to the modern “liberated” female audience, Kolchak largely stuck to the old standard of using females for flaky or motherly characters. While Mulder was clearly the leader of the team, Scully probably rescued Mulder at least as many times as he rescued her. By the end of the series, they were basically on equal footing. The trend continues today. Think how many man/woman teams appear in sci-fi and crime shows nowadays. Granted, the 1981 series Cagney & Lacey already did the two-woman cop show, but how many examples have appeared since then?
3. Higher production values and better special effects (sometimes).
Sure, the darkly-lit, cheezily costumed mis en scene of Kolchak added to the horror/noir feel of the show, but one has to admit that the (usually) less cheesy costumes and better-lit look of X-Files (in addition to the occasional use of fancy computer graphics) made for an overall more modern feel.
4. Less episodic, more serialized.
After the first two TV movies, in which Kolchak and a couple other characters were basically driven out of town at the end, each episode of the series was completely episodic. In other words, there was no overall story arc for the show – as if the writers hit a reset button at the end of each episode. This was a perfectly fine way to do a show, but by the time The X-Files came along it was becoming fashionable for many shows (especially dramas) to have at least a partially serialized feel. In The X-Files, this took the shape of Mulder’s ongoing tug-of-war with an intergovernmental/multi-space alien conspiracy which began with the search for his abducted sister. Nowadays, it’s almost impossible to find a sci-fi show without a protagonist desperately seeking some lost family member or forgotten past (or fighting a single giant organization of evil people).
Although there are currently some feeble attempts at recreating the basic story used in both of these shows today (e.g., Haven, Warehouse 13, etc.), the world of television has yet to come up with a truly comparable – and even more modernized – show. What would a current day Kolchak/X-Files look like?
Kolchak was in his early fifties and Mulder was in his early thirties, so if the pattern follows the next one would probably be about twenty. My early guess was also that the protagonist would be a female African American – or some other minority. What kind of job would she have? Well, that’s a tough one. Real journalists are disappearing faster than most Americans’ view of their feet; and it seems like there are more FBI shows on TV right now than there are channels to show them. It would have to be an occupation involving investigation that is currently looked upon as somehow adventurous or heroic, but involving contact with lots of different kinds of people and places. Hmm… how about this: She’s a college student/blogger who’s spending a couple years in the Peace Corps. If the show lasted longer than two years, she could join a semester abroad program or something similar. Actually, except for the inclusion of racial minorities, this iteration has practically been done, if not surpassed, already.
The highly serialized show Buffy The Vampire Slayer (1997-2003) featured twenty-year-old Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy Summers, a 16-year-old teenager who encounters paranormal phenomena (mostly vampires), researches them in the school library, and then deals with them. Extending this conjecture one additional iteration, the show So Weird (1999-2001) featured fifteen-year-old Cara Delizia (three years off of the pattern) as Fiona Phillips, a 13-year-old girl who travels the country with her rock-star mom and skeptical brother, and seeks out paranormal phenomena (to find her late father’s spirit), researches them on the internet, deals with them, and writes about it on her blog. The show was a little heavy on the melodrama sometimes, but otherwise not bad for a kids’ show.
Given that the pattern has extended about as far as it reasonably can in the areas of age and gender, the only place left to go is racial diversity. Will they start from the top again with a man in his 50s who happens to be of mixed/minority racial descent? Who knows.
Any ideas yourself?