Millennium: Looking Back At Chris Carter’s Cult Hit
Is the time now for a Millennium revival? We reflect on X-Files creator Chris Carter's cult series...
After the initial success of The X-Files from 1993 through 1996, Chris Carter proposed another idea to Fox: A freelance criminal profiler and the build up to apocalyptic events. The premise was at least in part inspired by an X-Files episode from season two, “Irresistible,” which dealt with a real world monster, a serial fetishist and murderer. Soon a new series was born out of the goodwill Carter had earned with exploding ratings and cultural impact of his first television hit.
Millennium debuted in 1996, with Lance Henriksen starring in the role that was written with him in mind. His character was Frank Black, a retired FBI profiler who joined a private criminal consulting outfit named The Millennium Group. While possessing some psychic abilities, Frank’s story is very much familial as he tried to insulate his family from outside dangers and horrors, much of them stemming from the fast-approaching new millennium.
In the age of revivals, Millennium may seem like a relic best left in the pre-9/11 days. Yet just as the worries of government intrusion came back around again to make The X-Files relevant, Carter seems to think the cult series has a place in this world.
“I have ideas how it might come back,” Carter told reporters after The X-Files revival premiered to strong viewership. “But, once again, it’s a Fox show. They own it. It’s really up to them whether or not they would ever want to go down that road.”
Could the commercial success of The X-Files revival prompt a decision to revive Millennium in a limited run? Carter was repeatedly questioned on whether there was a possibility of reviving his beloved cult series during press for The X-Files and maintained that interest is still there.
“I can tell you, there is a constant drumbeat to bring back Millennium and I’m just always so taken by that, also that hardcore group of fans out there who would like to see it back.”
Inspired by a real profiling consultant group, The Academy Group, The Millennium Group became involved with many of the same concerns shown within the reports of Dana Scully and Fox Mulder; government conspiracies, both federal and local, manipulation of the paranormal, abuses within corporate business. However, Frank Black and Co. went darker. The show dealt with psychotic people who were obsessed with the end times, the book of revelation, or Nostradamus’s predictions.
read more: Revisiting The Brilliant X-Files Pilot
The quality of the pilot was so strong that Carter did a crew screening at a movie theatre, and Fox was initially optimistic about the series’ potential success. With 17 million viewers tuning in for the pilot, Fox appeared to have another hit on its hands. The series never hit the huge viewership of the pilot again, but pulled in around 7 million viewers a week in the less-than-glamours Friday time slot during its first season (taking over the X-Files original slot). That was good enough to get picked up for season two. Millennium pressed ahead, but the weight of carrying two series and the forthcoming X-Files feature film proved to be too much for Carter.
Two alumni of 1013 Productions, celebrated X-Files writers Glen Morgan and James Wong, took over production for a second season that took bolder risks, also including bringing in the writer of some beloved X-Files entries, Darin Morgan, to helm two episodes. Under the new showrunners, the intent behind Frank’s abilities changed, and the intention behind The Millennium Group became something more sinister than a police resource.
Glen Morgan commented in an interview with The X-Files Lexicon about what motivated the changes in 2011:
“I was just, ‘Let’s do the group, what’s going on with them.’ Then we started researching, going ‘Hey, there’s a couple of these things.’ Of course there’s the Illuminati and the Masons and the Knight Templar. Now it’s all Dan Brown stuff. But, I also didn’t know the amount of apocalyptic literature in every religion that’s sort of steered us one way and I just didn’t care [for that direction].”
The ending of season two predates a similar ending for The X-Files season ten finale. Carter in an 1999 SFX magazine interview, which was reprinted at the This Is Who We Are site, talked about the changes for season three:
“Man, I’ve worked hard on Millennium this year. I’ve written and rewritten several shows. It’s not like it was in the first year, but I’ve certainly paid a lot more attention to it this year than last. There are some really good episodes coming up. Really scary episodes. I took the lessons from the things [Morgan and Wong] did but moved the show in a new direction.”
Those season three changes included taking Frank Black out of Seattle, and back to Washington D.C. and back to the FBI. Despite the series’ changes in direction, the series developed and maintained a small, but loyal fan base that remains to this day.
The Millennium site, This Is Who We Are has been a powerhouse within that fandom. Its webmaster, Graham Smith, has been around long enough to remember the early years of fan activity.
“There were only a few Millennium fan websites and one newsgroup in the early days that really stuck out,” he said. “Each of the main websites had their own distinctiveness and specific areas of interest, but they were all still great places to learn more about the show.”
His website and related social pages remain active 17 years after the short-lived series was canceled by Fox. “This Is Who We Are is all about the fans of the show, how it touched and inspired them,” Smith said. “I created TIWWA to provide a safe, friendly, and fun discussion platform where everyone’s opinion matters. Millennium was more than a fascinating TV series for me, it also inspired me to learn web design and later aspects of web development and gave me wonderful opportunities.”
Other sites are dormant but still live on the internet like portals to past eras of television fandom. The creator of The Millennial Abyss, Brian A. Dixon, moved into publishing when his site became less active, but holds the series in high regard.
“Along came Millennium, a television series like no other, one that lit a fire in my imagination and altered the way that I looked at art, storytelling, and the world around me,” Dixon says. “Here was a series worthy of tribute, I thought. Though Millennium was popular on online discussion boards, there were no websites dedicated to exploring its themes and mythology in detail. I set to work, and the Millennial Abyss became that website.”
Adam Chamberlain, the site’s co-creator, describes their current role as supporting the book Back To Frank Black: “Our main role within Millennium‘s fandom more recently has been to edit and publish the book Back to Frank Black. It was a joy to put together, and represents a manifesto for the return of Lance Henriksen’s legendary profiler.”
The breath of this activity during the internet fandom boom of the ‘90s has left quite an impression to those whom have paid attention. John Kenneth Muir, author and respected genre critic, notes the passion of The X-Files and Millennium fan base.
“They are not really fans in the traditional, old-fashioned, kind of clichéd sense you see perpetuated in the mass media, but writers, artists, actors, scholars, critics, and content generators of all types,” Muir said. “The X-Files and Millennium fandoms arose in a new era, not the letter-writing era of Star Trek. They came of age in the burgeoning Internet epoch, instead. That fact has given these fans a louder bull-horn — from blogs to vlogs, from Facebook to Twitter — and they have really run with it in dynamic and unconventional ways.”
Right now, it’s speculation to assume a Millennium revival is on the precipice. However, a number of themes the series explored never really left Carter. He touched on them in The X-Files season 10 finale, and his experiment with The After for Amazon Prime, but one can surmise that the time is getting ripe to explore the remaining threads of Millennium.
read more: The X-Files Binging Guide
Historically, there have always been men and women in the shadows doing unspeakable crimes. But the reasons why Millennium has become more relevant can be found in religious based crimes in Europe, or domestic terrorism in America, and the rise in massacres, from shootings in theatres, malls, offices, to sacred places like churches. During the more tranquil periods of the ‘90s, Millennium touched on the unease in America that remained hidden, and just barely bubbled to the surface, an unease that may have started with Y2K fears, but ran deeper than just the shifting social climates of change. But that unease that was implied by Millennium in the ‘90s has become more explicit now.
Think about the fragile business markets, the surveillance state, and the drone phenomenon both overseas and home side. There’s a mistrust of authority figures, including religious leaders that have been caught exploiting the weak and innocent, or government leaders who exploit the weak, or various industries that have exploited the weak and disadvantaged. This all seemed unthinkable decades ago. The Aztec predictions of 2012 might have come and passed, and Nostradamus quatrains might be open to interpretation, but many have a sense that the sands are shifting around them, and no one really knows what to expect. This is why Millennium is feeling so relevant at the moment.
As fans have faithfully stated, “The Time is Now.”
Editor’s note: This story originally ran in 2016. Read the previous entries on the X-Files fandom series about the revival episodes and history of the fandom.
Den of Geek’s X-Files correspondent Matt Allair is a writer, freelance filmmaker, musician, and the webmaster of The X-Files Lexicon. He lives in San Francisco, CA.