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Critic's Notes
'X-Files' legacy of great writing led to 'Homeland,' 'Breaking Bad'
By Gail Pennington, St. Louis Post-Dispatch's 'Tube Talk' Blog

TV series don’t last 202 episodes without good writing. But for “The X-Files,” which ran from 1993 to 2002 on Fox, creator Chris Carter assembled a legendary writing room, one whose legacy is still shaping television today.

As Carter prepares to return to the air with “The After,” a post-apocalyptic thriller due early next year on Amazon, the “X-Files” writers — many of whom became well-known during the show’s run — continue to make noise on many channels.

Vince Gilligan created AMC’s acclaimed “Breaking Bad.” Howard Gordon developed Showtime’s “Homeland” with Alex Gansa, another “X-Files” veteran. James Wong writes FX’s “American Horror Story.” And on and on.

Carter, whose surfer-dude attitude masks an intense drive, tries to dismiss the idea that he is due credit.

“I was just really lucky,” he said when asked about the “X-Files” writing legacy after a panel on “The After” last month in Los Angeles.

“It actually says more about them than it does about me, that I hired good writers,” he added. “I had the good fortune to have met those people, and they actually all made what I did better.”

Pressed, Carter suggested that “the freedom we had at the beginning worked for us. We were able to do things without the scrutiny you get today.”

Fox, launched in 1986, was still a young network in 1993, having expanded to programming six nights a week just the year before. “The X-Files,” with FBI agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) investigating odd occurrences, brought Fox some of the best reviews and most enthusiastic viewer response of the network’s short life.

But Glen Morgan, whose new series “Intruders” arrives next Saturday on BBC America, doesn’t remember anything like total freedom.

Morgan, credited as a producer or writer on 51 episodes of “The X-Files,” said, “That first year, (Fox) wanted the show to be like, ‘Oh, who do Mulder and Scully help today?’” he recalled. “Chris didn’t want to do that show, and he stood his ground. You can get a difficult reputation, but I think that’s what I learned the most.”

Plus, Morgan said, “All of us, Howard (Gordon) and Jim Wong and Alex (Gansa), all of us together kind of taught each other how to tell a mystery like that on TV, and to serialize it.”

That made Morgan, who also wrote for Carter’s “Millennium”(1996-98), an ideal candidate to turn Michael Marshall’s creepy 2007 novel “The Intruders” to television.

In the story, strange and horrific things begin happening to people after a mystery man (James Frain) delivers a card and asks them if they can keep a secret. The first episode is as heavy on scares as it is light on answers. Trying to puzzle things out is ex-cop Jack Whalen (John Simm), whose wife, Amy (Mira Sorvino), disappears.

No matter how extreme the happenings became, including a little girl (Millie Brown) who isn’t at all what she seems, the BBC bosses encouraged Morgan to “keep going, go further,” he said, quoting them as saying, “Let’s explore this more.”

That was music to the ears of Morgan, who (with Wong) crafted the wildly disturbing “X-Files” Season 4 episode “Home,” about an inbred family, deformed babies and other stuff of nightmares.

But the “X-Files” connections to “Intruders” don’t stop with Glen Morgan. He’s joined by his brother, Darin, who tops many lists as the writer of the best “X-Files” episodes ever. Those include Season 3’s ick-making “War of the Coprophages,” about an infestation of killer cockroaches.

Darin is the younger Morgan brother, but Glen jokes that he has felt in his shadow since childhood, recalling Darin’s every idea as being met with “Oh, you’re a genius.”

Glen Morgan might also feel jealous of other “X-Files” writers who have had great success, he said. “I look at Vince Gilligan and think, where’s my ‘Breaking Bad’?” he said, mostly joking. “But I can’t mind, because Vince is honestly the nicest guy around.”

Here’s what some other “X-Files” writers have been up to:

Chris Carter

Carter created the series and wrote or co-wrote many episodes, including the pilot that set up Mulder as the believer and Scully as the skeptic. After the second “X-Files” movie, the poorly received “I Want To Believe” in 2007, Carter took a break from TV. Returning, he chose Amazon for “The After,” a thriller about an event that leaves the world in disarray, and how people respond to it. Stars include Sharon Lawrence. “The After” debuts on Amazon Prime in early 2015.

Vince Gilligan

Gilligan wrote 29 episodes of “The X-Files,” including “Paper Hearts,” in which Mulder discovers what happened to his sister all those years before. He also co-created the ill-fated spin-off “Lone Gunmen.” With “Breaking Bad” done, Gilligan is working on “Better Call Saul,” which flashes back to earlier in the life of lawyer Saul Goodman, played by Bob Odenkirk. Gilligan will also check in on “Battle Creek,” which he developed years ago for CBS but which wasn’t picked up until post “Breaking Bad.” “Battle Creek,” an FBI dramedy, will be run by David Shore (“House”).

Howard Gordon

After writing 17 episodes of “The X-Files,” including Season 4’s “Unrequited,” about a military veteran who plots an assassination, Gordon moved on to the Fox hit “24” and then co-created Showtime’s acclaimed “Homeland,” whose plot echoes that “X-Files” episode.

Tim Minear

Minear is best know as a Joss Whedon guy, having worked on “Angel,” “Firefly” and “Dollhouse.” But before that, he wrote for “The X-Files,” including Season 5’s “Mind’s Eye,” in which a blind woman can see her father’s murderous acts in her mind. Minear was executive producer of the under-appreciated “Terriers” and currently produces FX’s “American Horror Story.”

Frank Spotnitz

With Gilligan and John Shiban, Spotnitz made up the real-life “lone gunmen” of “The X-Files,” often writing as a threesome. His episodes include Season 2’s “Our Town,” involving horrors at an Arkansas chicken plant. Spotnitz produced “Hunted” and “Strike Back” for Cinemax and is currently involved with “Transporter: The Series.”

John Shiban

Shiban worked with Gilligan on “Breaking Bad” and is the new show runner for “Da Vinci’s Demons” on Starz. The music for that series is done by Bear McCreary who also provides the spooky tunes for Glen Morgan’s “Intruders.”

David Duchovny

In addition to starring, Duchovny has writing credits on eight episodes of “The X-Files” including Season 6’s “The Unnatural,” in which Mulder suspects a Negro League baseball player of having been an alien. Duchovny has since played Hank Moody on Showtime’s “Californication” for six seasons.

Gillian Anderson

Anderson wrote one “X-Files” episode, “All Things,” in which Scully re-examines her life after an old lover resurfaces. Since the series ended, she has made eclectic career choices, from playing Miss Havisham in PBS’ “Great Expectations” to playing a cop in the British-Irish series “The Fall” to starring in “A Streetcar Named Desire” on stage in London. (The current production will be shown in movie theaters on Sept. 16.)
Gail Pennington is the TV critic for the Post-Dispatch. Follow her at stltoday
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TV Notes
Seeking to Escape From His Image
Adrien Brody Prepares 'Houdini' Mini-Series
By Brooks Barnes, The New York Times - Aug. 22, 2013

WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — It’s not because the guy needs an acting coach. He can be mesmerizing on screen and has an Oscar to prove it. His work ethic is most definitely not the reason. He starved himself for one part, gained 25 pounds for another and has gone to other extremes — wetting his pants, for instance — when a role has required it.

He has a reputation in Hollywood as loyal and affable. Women seem to find him sexy, at least judging by the knockouts he dates.

So why has Adrien Brody’s studio career been in such a lull? Despite appearing in smaller films like Wes Anderson’s “Grand Budapest Hotel” and landing the title role in the History Channel’s coming “Houdini” mini-series, Mr. Brody, 41, has only been in one major studio film in the last nine years: “Predators,” a science-fiction movie from 20th Century Fox.

“I think that perhaps I have confused people with my approach to work,” Mr. Brody said. “There are people who make a career in Hollywood by being a type. They earn more money. They have more opportunities. But I don’t think actors should restrict themselves that way.”

In an alternate universe — one where Hollywood lets men with character-actor faces play romantic leads, and studios make casting decisions based on talent and not foreign box-office algorithms — Mr. Brody would most likely be able to play any part he wanted. But this is reality, darn it, and instead of wallowing in frustration, Mr. Brody seems to have decided to roll with the punches.

“I’d love to be doing movies with scope and scale, but as much as I do think studios appreciate me as an actor, they are not coming directly to me,” he said, speaking from a nook at the Sunset Marquis Hotel here. “I can’t wait for the tide. I have to swim.”

He sure is working a lot. Mr. Brody has six independent films in various states of completion, including “The Septembers of Shiraz,” a movie about an affluent Jewish family caught in Iran’s Islamic Revolution that has “awards run” written all over it. (Producers hope to introduce it at either the Cannes or Berlin film festival next year.) A few months ago, Mr. Brody formed his own production company, which has $50 million in funding from a Nigerian energy magnate, Kola Aluko, and an anonymous Chinese investor; it aims to make movies with significant box-office prospects, sometimes in partnership with studios.

“The goal is to develop the material that I crave that doesn’t necessarily come to me,” Mr. Brody said of his new company, Fable House. “The projects will all have me in a pivotal role, whether directing, producing or being a protagonist in the film. China is a particular focus. I’m big in China for some reason. It’s kind of weird.”

And he is taking a calculated risk with “Houdini,” which the History Channel will run for two nights starting Sept. 1. The mini-series tells the entire Harry Houdini tale, from his unsuccessful start as a carnival magician to global celebrity as an escape artist to his later years wrestling with the spiritualism movement. Kristen Connolly, known for playing a congressional staffer on “House of Cards,” appears as Houdini’s wife, Bess.

“Adrien is definitely somebody who fully immerses himself in a role,” said Dirk Hoogstra, the History Channel’s general manager. “We had to make sure that he didn’t immerse himself too far, like locking himself up under water.”

When Mr. Brody pushed his agents to bring him a big role that would be widely seen, television was not exactly what he had in mind. He had worked continuously in film since his teenage years, winning best actor at 29 for his Nazi-tormented musician in “The Pianist.” But his representatives argued that TV was a valuable opportunity. In success, “Houdini” could put Mr. Brody’s acting talents in front of more than 15 million viewers and tap Hollywood on the shoulder: This guy can anchor a major project.

Other Oscar-caliber performers were also doing television, Mr. Brody’s agents noted. Glenn Close, a six-time Oscar nominee, did it with “Damages.” Kevin Costner, a two-time Oscar winner for “Dances With Wolves,” starred in the History Channel’s successful “Hatfields & McCoys.” And Halle Berry, with whom Mr. Brody will always be linked, given the surprise lip lock he planted on her when he claimed his trophy at the 2003 Academy Awards, had just signed up to do the CBS mini-series “Extant.”

Lackluster ratings could hurt, of course. (Just ask Ms. Berry, whose “Extant” ended up flopping.) Poor reviews were also a worry, albeit a more minor one.

In the end, Mr. Brody — true to form — could not resist the chance to dig into a complex, tormented character. Harry Houdini had long been one of Mr. Brody’s favorite figures, dating back to his boyhood in New York City, when he put on magic shows in Queens as “the Amazing Adrien.” He went to magic camp, performed at children’s birthday parties and practiced on editors at The Village Voice, where his mother, Sylvia Plachy, was a photographer.

“I idolized Houdini as a kid,” Mr. Brody said, breaking into a crooked grin. “He was the original action hero.” (Obscure fact: Mr. Brody played a kidnapper named Harry Houdini in “Oxygen,” a little-seen crime thriller from 1999.)

When Mr. Brody rolled up to the Sunset Marquis with hat hair and an oh-so-healthy green juice drink, I did not know what to expect. A new member of his professional coterie, a smart young Rogers & Cowan publicist, had said he was eager to talk candidly about his career. But celebrities tend to have a different definition of candid than reporters. Some older interviews and profiles were also troubling, painting Mr. Brody as a bit of a crank. Then there was the castle.

In 2007, as a birthday surprise to a Spanish actress named Elsa Pataky, then his girlfriend, Mr. Brody bought a castle-esque house in central New York. They then made the regrettable decision to show it off in a tacky 35-page Hello! magazine spread.

And what about the hip-hop? Mr. Brody also likes to work on hip-hop beats in his spare time. He is a friend of RZA, the rap impresario behind the Wu-Tang Clan. “You an ill cat,” P. Diddy once told Mr. Brody after listening to his music.

It was all a bit hard to square. Until Mr. Brody arrived.

The man who strode into the Sunset Marquis this month was funny, warm, sensitive and a bit manic, which he said was a symptom of jet lag. He had just flown in from the Gobi Desert, where he had been filming fight scenes for “Dragon Blade,” a $65 million movie that co-stars Jackie Chan. (“Jackie gave me bruises,” Mr. Brody said, rolling up the sleeve of his shirt to offer evidence. “It was kind of awesome.”)

Three days before arriving in China, he had been in Bulgaria filming an especially harrowing “Septembers of Shiraz” scene; the script called for his character to lose control of his bladder while facing a firing squad. (“They gave me an apparatus to fake it, but I said, ‘No, I will do it.’ ”)

Mr. Brody was certainly ready to talk. And talk. At one point, I wondered if I had stumbled upon That Guy You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation With at a Party. But no. Mr. Brody, it became clear, simply has more emotion than he knows what to do with. While a lot of actors are rather one dimensional off screen, he is refreshingly the opposite. His broad interests (he also likes fast cars, sometimes participating in celebrity races) make it hard to squeeze his personality into a prefabricated narrative, a specialty of the celebrity news media. Suddenly, the career frustration is entirely understandable: Hollywood wants to keep Mr. Brody in the serious box, but he keeps banging on the walls and insisting he is more than that — and he is right.

“Many people have commented or criticized or been curious or confused about some of my movie choice,” he said. “I don’t understand that. The concept of something being an odd choice is odd to me.”

Mr. Brody was definitely candid. Did it mess with his head to win an Oscar at 29? “It was beautiful but also frightening,” he said. “It made me really afraid, on a lot of levels. I even stayed in a relationship that clearly didn’t work, because I was afraid that nobody would ever again love me for me.”

He has long wanted to act in commercial movies. After “The Pianist,” his former agents helped him land films that seemed like awfully good bets on paper, including “King Kong,” directed by Peter Jackson, who had just completed the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. But Mr. Brody was unlucky. The over-budget and overlong “King Kong” took in $672 million worldwide in 2005, after adjusting for inflation, but Hollywood deemed it a bloated misfire.

In the last five years, Mr. Brody has appeared in 12 movies. Two went straight to DVD. Five took in less than $1 million each at the global box office, including “High School,” a stoner comedy in which he played a drug dealer named Psycho Ed. One was downright terrible: “InAPPropriate Comedy,” which found him cavorting in pink hot pants as a giant gay stereotype; the movie got a zero on the review scale.

“That was an experiment that was never supposed to be released,” he said. “I’m embarrassed by it.” One recent highlight was Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris.” Most of the other bright spots have come in Wes Anderson films — “The Darjeeling Limited,” “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” (Mr. Brody voiced the field mouse) and “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” which took in more than $171 million worldwide. Mr. Anderson said in an email that he first noticed Mr. Brody in Steven Soderbergh’s 1993 drama “The King of the Hill.”

“He made an immediate impression,” Mr. Anderson said. “He was great in this role, gentle and heroic. And there was this wonderful face we had never seen before, and one of the great voices, too.” Mr. Anderson said he considers Mr. Brody “family.”

Regardless of whether “Houdini” is a hit, Mr. Brody said he is proud of the work he did in the mini-series. He does have one quibble, though. The History Channel decided to disclose the secret methods Houdini used to escape. “I acquiesced because it’s all available online,” he said. “But a magician never reveals his tricks.”

With that, Mr. Brody put on his sunglasses and said his goodbyes, walking out of the hotel and down the street. To where, it wasn’t quite clear.
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TV/Emmy Notes
Evolving TV Landscape Creates Category Confusion at the Emmys
Is 'True Detective' a miniseries or a drama? Is 'Shameless' a comedy?
By John Jurgensen, Wall Street Journal - Aug. 22, 2014

For the television industry, the 66th Emmy Awards on Monday night is the culmination of an extreme game of musical chairs. More shows than ever competed for the limited number of nomination slots, the result of a ballyhooed boom in original programming. The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences says 108 drama series were submitted for competition this year, up from 77 five years ago. There were 86 comedy series submitted, up from 52 five years ago.

That has led some networks to get more inventive with their submission strategies, both to secure a nomination and boost their chances of a win. That jockeying, combined with the Academy's often Byzantine eligibility rules, has resulted in some matchups that could mystify Emmy viewers.

And speaking of head-scratchers, why is the Emmys telecast on a Monday after 38 years of airing on Sundays? NBC needed to avoid scheduling conflicts with its Sunday preseason football games.

Below, some of the categories that have caused confusion among Emmy observers.

Drama series

In a field of established competitors, including "Mad Men," "Breaking Bad," "Downton Abbey," "Game of Thrones," and "House of Cards," HBO's new "True Detective" is a different animal. The crime saga features big movie stars whose roles, and the show's story line, ended with the last episode of the season. But that description also fits FX's "Fargo," which happens to be nominated as a miniseries (with 10 episodes, two more than "True Detective").

That's led to some grumbling in the industry that "True Detective" landed in the wrong category, and that HBO is leveraging the show's star power to boost its odds of winning a more prestigious prize.

The TV Academy has said its criteria hinge on accepted industry standards, including who has the credit for creating the show. But that still leaves some strategic wiggle room for submitters. HBO declined to comment, but at a media event last month President of Programming Michael Lombardo defended "True Detective" as a drama series: "This is a continuing show…we're going to sell it to consumers every year. Same title, same creative auspices."

Defining the series as a drama brings some risks, namely fierce competition. Though "Breaking Bad" already won last year, many Emmy observers expect voters to reward the show with a final victory for its triumphant five-season run.


This category is a microcosm of the evolving TV landscape. Once it was the domain of grand TV epics such as "Roots" (winner, 1977) and "War and Remembrance" (1989). After that bubble burst, the Academy lumped the category with made-for-TV movies. This year, with the miniseries back in fashion, its category was restored to stand-alone status.

Nominees include "Fargo," and sister FX series "American Horror Story: Coven." Both shows are part of a genre that didn't exist a few years ago: the "anthology series." Though united by title, style and theme, each season of an anthology series begins with a new cast and plot. Theoretically, that keeps things fresh for the audience. On a more practical level, the one-and-done model helps producers cast movie stars who don't want to get locked into multi-season contracts.

The other nominees are "Bonnie & Clyde," (Lifetime) "Luther" (BBC America), "The White Queen" (Starz), and—further muddying the waters—"Treme" (HBO). That New Orleans narrative spanned four seasons, but the last one only consisted of five episodes, not enough to qualify as a drama series.

Comedy series

With genres bleeding into each other everywhere, even the half-hour comedy isn't sacrosanct. An Emmy category long synonymous with sitcoms has been infiltrated by an hour-long show on Netflix, "Orange Is the New Black," set in a women's prison. In one of the episodes submitted, from season one, there are as many poignant moments (a transgender inmate struggling to procure estrogen shots) as outright laughs (inmates hunting a mythical chicken on the prison grounds).

Netflix fielded the series as a drama for some previous awards, such as the Golden Globes, without much luck. After much internal debate, the company changed tactics, though series creator Jenji Kohan had mixed feelings about the comedy category (where her last show, "Weeds," languished), says someone familiar with the matter.

The show's big ensemble cast allowed Netflix to flood the zone, submitting 10 actors for consideration, compared with seven actors from its drama "House of Cards." The gambit paid off with 12 nominations for "Orange," more than any other comedy.

The show is competing against "The Big Bang Theory" (CBS), "Louie" (FX), "Modern Family," (ABC)"Silicon Valley" (HBO) and "Veep," (HBO), in the only major category recently dominated by broadcast networks. "Modern Family" has won the last four years in a row.

Lead actor in a comedy series

In the season-four finale of "Shameless," the character played by William H. Macy goes to the edge of frozen Lake Michigan to hit a bottle—his recent liver transplant be damned—and scream defiantly at his creator. The episode earned Mr. Macy a nomination in a category that also includes sitcom star Jim Parsons ("The Big Bang Theory") and "Friends" alumnus Matt LeBlanc, ("Episodes").

"Shameless," about a dysfunctional and resilient Chicago family, was submitted as a comedy after three years of coming up short in the drama races. Executive producer John Wells never fully embraced Showtime's decision to field the show as a drama. He says he sent a "lengthy essay" to the Academy making the case for the switch, arguing that most "Shameless" writers come from sitcom backgrounds, and that the show defaults to black humor despite its many sobering moments. As Frank Gallagher, Mr. Macy is an exuberant substance abuser. "His performance exists on this edge where if you played it a few degrees to the other side, Frank would be a tragic and pathetic figure. But this is a guy who believes he's having a great time in life," Mr. Wells says.
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TV Review
‘Intruders,’ eerie at a measured pace
BBC America drama eases into its story, tying threads as it goes
By Brooks Barnes, The New York Times - Aug. 22, 2013

Occasionally, when watching a drama, we find ourselves wondering if we would have any idea what was supposed to be going on if we hadn’t read about it or seen promos for it beforehand. Readers who are interested in seeing if that’s the case with BBC America’s new eight-part series “Intruders” should stop reading now.

Premiering this Saturday, Aug. 23, at 10 p.m., the series initially appears to be about people in the Pacific Northwest who begin behaving oddly while a hit man goes around trying to kill people. According to the press materials — so this is not technically a spoiler — it’s about a secret society that pursues immortality by taking over other people’s bodies.

But even if viewers are a little mystified for the first couple of episodes, they should still enjoy the show for its spooky atmosphere and odd flashes of humor. The creators seem to enjoying themselves doling out the mystery slowly and not simply withholding details because the big reveal is going to be anticlimactic.

The series centers on two missing persons. The first, Amy Whelan (Mira Sorvino), a Seattle lawyer, first shows signs that something is wrong when she suddenly develops a taste for old-fashioned jazz and wakes up one morning speaking a foreign language.

Then she disappears while supposedly on business in the city. Her husband, Jack (John Simm), an ex-cop, uncovers some fishy activity while looking for her, but for some reason he doesn’t call the authorities.

Meanwhile, 9-year-old Maddie O’Donnell (Millie Brown) runs away from home after a stranger (James Frain) shows her a sand dollar. The stranger, whose name we later learn is Richard Shepherd, has already murdered the wife and son of Bill Anderson, a professor of acoustics.

A conspiracy-minded podcaster named Oz Turner says that those murders were intended to cover up the activities of a secret group called Qui Reverti. Coincidentally — or is it a coincidence? — an old friend of Jack’s, Gary Fischer (Tory Kittles), has told Jack that he’s working on a case involving Anderson.

By the end of the three episodes provided for review, we’re pretty sure these varied plot strands are heading somewhere. It seems that the conspirators may be the sort who don’t conspire very well with others. But we’re also enjoying ourselves in the meantime.

Maddie, who may or may not be possessed by a much older spirit, is often funny as she has to deal with the obtuse adults she encounters. For once, typical child-actor precociousness works for the part.

The director of the first three episodes, Eduardo Sanchez, one of the writer-directors of “The Blair Witch Project,” delights in setting up eerie tableaus and ominous close-ups of eyeballs or blown-out birthday candles. The Pacific Northwest has never looked gloomier.

Sanchez gets good performances from most of his actors, although James Frian, perhaps trying to sound naturalistic, often sounds as if he were trying to remember his lines or were making them up on the spot. This is particularly deadening in a long, elliptical scene in which Amy tries to tell Jack that she has to leave him, even though she’s not really leaving him.

But the script, adapted by Glen Morgan from the novel “The Intruders,” by Michael Marshall Smith, otherwise proceeds at a good clip.

Too many recent supernatural thrillers on TV have tried to give the impression that either the world or the viewer’s worldview is in the balance. “Intruders” just wants to creep us out entertainingly, and it is likely to succeed.
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