|Michael C. Hall & Archie Panjabi - the modern, alternative Mulder & Scully?|
Imagine if Chris Carter never had the idea that became The X Files back in 1993, but someone else dreamed up the same concept today. What would the show be like if it was born two decades late into the current TV landscape? The X Files changed so much about television that it's impossible to know for sure, as it influenced so much that's currently airing, but let's play a fun game of 'alternate universe speculation' anyway...
Would it air on a network or cable?
A show like The X Files suits both outlets just fine, but it's fun to imagine what a cable version would be like. The original show was past its best when HBO started to get a toehold on the medium with The Sopranos in 1999. Being on cable would most obviously enable more gruesome, violent, and sexual content, although the Fox series wasn't exactly a shrinking violet. It would certainly be edgier on cable, but there's an argument to be had that showing too much would work against how the show built it scares within the confines of network television.
Would it be more or less serialised?
The X Files famously managed to juggle standalone 'monster-of-the-week' episodes and its alien conspiracy 'mythology' at the same time, so there's no reason to suggest new producers would pick one over the other in today's marketplace. Serialised storytelling has become more prolific and respected as tastes and an audience's ability to keep up has changed (thanks to DVRs and streaming), but a show like X Files would burn out if it was 80% about aliens. If a theoretical modern version aired on cable (as surmised above), the fact it would only be airing a dozen episodes each year would naturally impact matters. My guess is that 40% would be part of the 'mytharc' (clustered at a season's beginning, middle and end) and the remainder would be standalone adventures, rather like how Doctor Who works.
Would viewers be interested in the same stuff?
Of course they are! Aliens, monsters, mad science, and human freaks never go out of fashion for long. But this is a post-9/11 world, where government conspiracies have taken a decidedly more earthly turn. It's all about global terrorism and control through media, not little green men and extra-terrestrial viruses. A modern-day X Files would probably need to tie the alien mytharc closer to the real-world things people are suspicious of. I'm imagining Homeland-meets-Fringe.
Who would play Mulder & Scully?
That's the $64,000 question! David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson may never have become famous without the show becoming a hit, so I doubt their names would come up today given their ages. Who would you replace them with from today's cream of the crop? How about Dexter's Michael C. Hall as a broader-shouldered Mulder, with Amanda Peet as his winsome Scully (ironic given she starred in the second X Files feature)? Or how about Archie Panjabi from The Good Wife as Dana (to mix up the racial element), with Mad Men's Jon Hamm as a hunkier Fox? Or Don Cheadle as Mulder? Oh, hang on: I think Damien Lewis and Clare Danes would make the perfect---oh, wait...
What about the supporting characters?
Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston adding another Walter to his resume as A.D Skinner? True Blood's Stephen Moyer as Alex Krycek? Community's Danny Pudi, The Big Bang Theory's Jim Parsons, and Orphan Black's Tatiana Maslany as The Lone Gunmen? Fringe's John Noble as Cigarette Smoking Man?
What else would need to change?
The big villain would now be the E-Cigarette Smoking Man, The X Files would all be held on a single USB flash drive, and it would be impossible for Scully to remain sceptical if Mulder's going to be Instagramming Bigfoot and posting Vines of flying saucers. I'm also not sure if viewers would believe a government could keep a lid on first contact with aliens, in the age of Wikileaks. But a show like X Files thrives on the idea some things are buried so deep even Julian Assange's team can't get to them. Mulder also has a 60% chance of having alien DNA. Oh, Mulder and Scully would sleep together by episode 8.
What couldn't change?
Mark Snow's music. Of course.