'The X-Files': Was the original show an early sign of the decline of the time slot?

The 1990s incarnation of 'X-Files' aired on Friday nights yet succeeded anyway. As DVRs maintain their popularity and viewers have multiple online options for catching up with a show later, viewers today are finding shows even if the programs air at an unusual time.

Ed Araquel/Fox/AP
'The X-Files' stars David Duchovny (l.) and Gillian Anderson (r.).

The hit Fox science fiction series “The X-Files” returns for six episodes beginning Jan. 24. 

“X-Files,” which stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, premiered in 1993 and became popular with viewers, spawning multiple movies.

The newest incarnation of the show is being billed as an “event series” by its network. 

The original version of the show centered on possible paranormal and alien happenings. FBI agent Mulder (Duchovny) was receptive to these happenings, while his comrade Scully (Anderson) was a bit more doubtful. 

The program is often credited with having succeeded despite its time slot. “X-Files” premiered on Friday nights and aired there for its first three seasons. Friday nights are now almost written off by broadcast networks, with Alan Sepinwall of HitFix recalling of "X-Files" debuting, “[Friday] was still not the place you schedule anything with high hopes for.” 

Gary Newman, former vice president of business affairs at Fox, agreed, recalling in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, “Friday was bigger back then, but it still wasn't a place where you put a show you really believed in.”

Yet “X-Files” became a hit, with ratings increasing in a way that suggested the show was getting popular through word-of-mouth. Despite the time at which it aired, fans found it. “The audience kept growing,” former Fox director of drama development Danielle Gelber told the Hollywood Reporter

“X-Files” is far from the first or the last show to succeed despite its initial timeslot. But the fact that an unpromising air time didn’t affect the fortunes of “X-Files” echoes the current lack of importance the time at which a TV show goes on the air can have. 

DVRs exist: enough said. The numbers of viewers who tune in later using that or a similar device are counted in ratings now as networks try to calculate exactly who was watching a certain program. 

And counting these numbers can make a major difference. The Starz show “Outlander,” which scored a nomination for the best drama TV series Golden Globe and concluded its first season this past May, airs on Saturday nights, a time that New York Times reporter Bill Carter wrote has “long been the loneliest night of the week in the television business.”

For its midseason premiere, the show drew more than 1.22 million viewers, but when those who watched it on Sunday were added, the network found that 1.16 million viewers tuned in the day after, effectively doubling the show’s ratings. 

Like "X-Files," this Starz show is succeeding despite airing during a time that would have been thought of as less than ideal in the old TV world.

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