When the X-Files was in its pomp in the mid to late 90’s, you couldn’t get away from it. At the time I was in sixth form, and had already had the luck of watching Kolchak – The Night Stalker repeats in my mid teens. I loved that, and loved the X-Files in a similar way. Likeable characters who you were interested in, and stories from the bizarre to the completely bonkers (a gigantic gryphon living in Chicago?)
When I found out that Fran had never seen The X-Files late last year, I put the first series on in January, and in two months we’ve worked our way through the first three series, sometimes watching two or three episodes a night.
I remember first time round that the fourth series is when it starts getting pretty heavily embroiled in the whole alien thing and goes slightly downhill, which was a shame at the time and will probably be a shame second time round.
Talking with our housemate James about the series, I raised the point that despite all the masses of attention and its huge popularity, you don’t hear anything at all about Foxy Mulder and D-Scull (Fran and my names for the FBI agents) now. Was it that much a product of its time? Fran doesn’t seem to think so, despite the dire 90’s hairstyles the programme hasn’t aged that badly at all – she’s loving it. So why hadn’t she seen it before? How is it that I’d seen Kolchak but she’d never seen X-Files?
Imagine this. It’s 1983 and you’re five years old. What’s on telly in the afternoon amongst the new kids’ TV? I’ll tell you what. Repeats of the best of the last 30 years of telly. Bod, Camberwick Green, Bagpuss, Thunderbirds. Some of these shows were on in the 60s, but it didn’t matter – they were good and we were a captive audience with only three (then four) channels to choose from.
What am I getting at? If you watch British terrestrial TV now, there are a lot of new shows or recent repeats. Stuff that’s popular with most people. Does Channel 4 have a ‘Creature Feature’ run, where they show all the Godzilla films over three months? No. Does BBC2 show all the old episodes of Twin Peaks or Open All Hours? Nope. Do they slip episodes of Stingray in the kids' schedule? No they don’t, I’ve checked.
Does this mean that those shows are outdated or irrelevant? I don’t think so. They were, and are, good TV. Just like bangers and mash has always been a good dinner, and I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue has always been funny. It’s not in or out of fashion, it’s just good.
At ten years old as part of a captive audience in the 80’s, after tea you might see Star Trek. On a Saturday morning you might see Adam West as Batman, or an old episode of The Lone Ranger. Sundays you’d see an old black & white film, an episode of Lost In Space or maybe a Superman film. In an evening you could bump into The Pit & The Pendulum. You might be shown Top Of The Pops and find some new music you liked. Not all massively popular, but all things which might get your attention and make you want to see more stuff like it.
These programmes have no place in the main channels’ listings now because they’re on the Sci-Fi channel or equivalent. There’s no chance of seeing it by accident because you can just flick through until you find something you already like or know. If you don’t have satellite or Freeview TV, you might not be able to see something different at all.
Hence I’d seen an old show from ten years before which got my interest, but Fran hadn’t seen the equivalent.
It’s interesting to think that more choice might actually be making it more difficult to discover something new which we grow to love.