During an upfronts conference call with the press on Monday, FOX co-CEOs Dana Walden and Gary Newman teased that another season of The X-Files may be forthcoming, with Walden stating that “everyone is on board” for another go-round (by which I'm assuming she means the core trifecta of creator Chris Carter and stars Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny). But the larger and more important question should be: are viewers on board in numbers substantial enough to make the show a continued cash cow for the network?
Reaction to The X-Files Season 10 was poor-to-mixed, with HitFix's own Alan Sepinwall stating that “of the revival's six episodes, one was great ('Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster'), one was very good ('Home Again'), one was mediocre at best ('Founder's Mutation'), and three were awful.” The “awful” ones, as Alan points out, were all written and directed by Carter himself, who has, in the eyes of many, become by far the weakest link of a series he created.
Since Carter is unlikely to step aside, one can assume that future seasons will boast further episodes written and directed by the series' mastermind, and that said seasons will consequently suffer from more stinkers like season opener “My Struggle” and season closer “My Struggle II,” both of which were widely (if not universally) bemoaned by both critics and fans. Thusly, future seasons are likely doomed to the same fate as Season 10, whose bright spots — episodes three and four, Duchovny and Anderson's still-palpable onscreen chemistry — were ultimately overshadowed by its glaring deficiencies. No matter how you slice it, the consensus on S10 was far from encouraging.
The question then becomes: are X-Files fans willing to bear the near-certainty of more dogs like “Babylon” in order to get more crackling entries like “Were-Monster”? Are two good-to-great episodes in a six-episode season enough to keep audiences invested in this Golden Age of Television, where viewers now expect a much higher ratio of hits-to-misses and have far more shows to choose from if The X-Files continues to let them down?
Looking at the ratings for Season 10 is instructive. Episode 1 hit big with over 21 million viewers in Live+7 — not really a surprise given the marketing muscle and over a decade of pent-up demand behind it — but the show lost about a third of those viewers by the airing of episode 2 and nearly half by the finale. While pulling in over 11 million viewers in Live+7 and a 2.4/7 share in 18-49 is nothing to sneeze at in today's fractured TV landscape, the steep drop from opener-to-finale demonstrates that a sizable chunk of viewers who tuned in to the premiere weren't impressed enough to stick around. Had the season consisted of more episodes than just the six, you have to wonder just how low the ratings would have dropped over the duration, and how eager FOX would have been to greenlight further episodes at the end of it all.
If a Season 11 of the show does come to fruition, my guess is the ratings will continue to decline barring a creative rebirth — a scenario that will only be possible if, again, Carter takes a sabbatical from writing and directing and allows folks like Glen and Darrin Morgan to take the reins. While the series will always have a smaller base of hardcore fans to rally around it, putting out more lukewarm seasons will only serve to tarnish the legacy of an aging brand, and, worse, alienate prospective new fans.