Chris Carter’s Millennium, a spin-off of the wildly successful series The X-Files, had a relatively short run on FOX in the late 90’s, but it has built a loyal following in the decades since its cancellation. This year has seen the release of the book Back to Frank Black, a collection of interviews and essays paying tribute to the series. Gabriel Ricard spoke with Adam Chamberlain and Brian A. Dixon, the men behind the project, about the legacy of the series and the enduring appeal of its central character.
Drunk Monkeys: Back to Frank Black took a few years to see through. It seems like it had to overcome quite a few obstacles to get to publication. Would you guys say that’s accurate? Did either you ever doubt for a second that it would all come together?
Adam Chamberlain: There were no obstacles as such in terms of publishing the book. It took a little over a year from the time the idea was first floated—by James McLean and Troy Foreman, the guiding lights who run the Back to Frank Black campaign—to publication, and the only real challenge came from the sheer amount of work we had to get through in that time. The interviews took longer to transcribe than I’d reckoned upon, and then there was the work of our rewriting those alongside pulling all the other content together. I’m not complaining, though—the whole process was a complete labor of love, and the end result the ultimate reward. I don’t think we ever doubted that it would come together—we were committed to getting the book out there.
Brian A. Dixon: Yes, the greatest obstacle was the release date! As Adam suggested, there was a great deal of writing and editing to be done in a relatively short period of time, but our schedule for the book was realized in part because everyone who contributed to it was so eager and cooperative. This was a book that had to be written.
DM: How did both of you come to discover Millennium?
AC: I was a huge fan of The X-Files from the very start, and had an existing interest in crime fiction of its ilk, so I was sold on Millennium even before I saw the first episode, which promptly blew me away in spite of my high expectations! As a UK viewer, though, it wasn’t always the easiest series to keep track of in the schedules. I saw Season One via the VHS releases or via ITV, Season Two on Sky One, and then had to wait for the DVD release to see most of Season Three!
BAD: Here in the States, Millennium’s premiere was a major television event for Fox, of course. The promotional campaign launched for the show was unprecedented and, as a result, it was impossible to miss. In part because of Fox’s push, I was skeptical of Millennium at first, even though I was a great fan of The X-Files. It didn’t take long for me to realize that Millennium was a series unlike anything else I had ever seen on television.
DM: Does it bother you guys that Millennium doesn’t have a larger following?
AC: Of course it would be great if Millennium had a bigger following that saw it as a more established and continuing franchise, and I honestly believe it deserves such acclaim. But then again, I wouldn’t ever have wanted to see it comprise its integrity just to earn itself a mass following. Plus it’s also worth remembering that the actual audience numbers that Millennium drew in its day would still make the series a big hit in today’s television landscape, as Frank Spotnitz himself highlights in the book.
BAD: Millennium isn’t at all what we would call mainstream, but I think that its themes address significant social issues and cultural concerns. I agree with what Adam has said regarding the artistic integrity of the series but I feel as if the message of Millennium was meant to spread, that it was meant to speak to a larger audience. It’s a shame that its audience didn’t grow from that record-breaking premiere.
DM: I don’t mean to say that the show has a small following, but it’s certainly not what it deserves, in my mind. But anyone who does consider themselves a fan of the series can name a wide variety of reasons for why the show continues to be one of their favorites, if not their absolute favorite. If you had to pare down your own reasons to just one, one reason why the show continues to speak to you, what would that reason be? I’ll certainly understand if you just can’t do it. I don’t know if I can myself.
AC: For me, I think it is how deeply and broadly the series considers the nature of evil in the modern world through the singular perspective of Frank Black. It stands alone in that regard to me, an utterly unique and incredibly powerful body of work.
BAD: For me, the answer to that question is simple: Frank Black. Lance Henriksen as Frank Black is a hero utterly unlike any other, in any medium or genre. He is brilliant, dedicated, driven but also quiet, dignified, and respectful. He combines justice and empathy. Before or since, there has never been a hero like Frank Black. The character stands apart.
DM: Adam, I was really touched by your bio in the book, the part that mentions Millennium inspired you to pursue degrees in psychology and criminology. You run into stories like that with fandoms that resonate in a particularly strong way with the people who comprise it. Kind of like Star Trek fans who were inspired to become scientists, doctors and engineers. Did you have any interest in psychology or criminology at all before you saw Millennium? What was it about that aspect of the show, that aspect of Frank Black’s character, a career choice that speaks volumes of him as a character, that grabbed your attention so strongly?
AC: I think it is mainly the notion of Frank Black being a character who, living in dark times, steps up and takes a responsibility through his work to make the world a better, more hopeful place. He is a powerfully heroic figure to me, imbued with so much integrity. I already had an interest in those subjects before Millennium, but it was that series without a doubt that inspired me to study the disciplines further. In fact, I have not yet gone on to a career in the same field. Whilst under no illusions that a first step in a career as a forensic psychologist would be more mundane than a typical day for Frank Black, if anything I have learned through my study—images I have seen and accounts I have read—that I’m not sure I would be resilient enough to be able to perform that kind of work. For me, that personal realization just reinforced the qualities that Frank Black has and that make him truly heroic.
DM: Very few shows have seasons as distinct from one another as Millennium did, which is something I always saw as both a good and bad thing. Do you have a favorite season? Favorite episodes?
AC: I think there’s a certain purity of concept and consistency of approach in Season One that really defines the series in many ways, but then I also very much enjoyed the shift in creative direction and the arc offered by Season Two. I used to favor Season Two outright, but of late—and especially having reappraised the series whilst putting Back to Frank Black together—I have veered back towards Season One. In terms of individual episodes, this is also prone to changing a little, but I usually cite “Luminary” as my absolute favorite, whilst I would also pick out “Lamentation”, “Jose Chung’s ‘Doomsday Defense’”, “Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me”, “The Fourth Horseman”/”The Time Is Now” two-parter, and “The Sound of Snow”. I could go on, but I’ll leave it there!
BAD: My favorite season is the second, and I don’t mind saying that outright! The complex mythology introduced by Glen Morgan and James Wong opened up the series in some remarkable ways, and their unique approach to television drama resulted in some epic and stunning stories. My favorite episode of the series has always been “The Curse of Frank Black.”
DM: Frank’s gift, the ability to actually see into the minds of monstrous evil forces, is one of the most important parts of the series. It influences and informs every aspect of Frank’s life and work. He also happens to have extraordinary talents and insight in criminology and psychology. Your essay, “Second Sight”, brilliantly examines this part of Frank’s character. What is it about this subject that fascinates you so much?
BAD: I’m a great fan of detective fiction and, of course, of crime dramas on television. Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, Columbo, Monk… I love them all. Frank Black trumps each and every one of them, of course, but I love them all. There are consistent elements that link all detective stories and the greatest of these is deductive reasoning, the triumph of genius over crime. Though it is certainly darker than anything that preceded it, the traditional trappings of the detective story resonate at the very heart of Millennium. He’s not a cop and he’s not a private eye but, as far as I’m concerned, Frank Black is the greatest detective hero ever conceived. I refer to Frank’s visions as one ofMillennium’s trademark hooks, and it is. Those strobe light visions we see on the screen are grotesque and frightening and they’re utterly fascinating. They realize deductive reasoning in an instant on-screen, and they represent the qualities that set Frank Black apart. “Second Sight” tries to examine this in some detail.
DM: One of the great things about the show, and indeed, about this book, is how much there is to interpret. This could be anything from the theology the show utilizes, to character behaviors and motivations, to the heavy use of symbolism throughout, to just about anything that goes with the series. One of the reasons why Back to Frank Black succeeds so well as a companion book to the show is that it brings together so many different voices to break down and understand so many different components of the show. I guess what I’m asking is if either of you could imagine putting together another one of these books. Is there any possibility that even more about the show could be said?
AC: There certainly is such a density to Millennium that there are a myriad of topics that could be legitimately explored in some detail, and more that could be said about the series. For our part, though, I think it is fair to say we poured everything we could into this volume. We certainly have no plans for a second volume at present, although I would never say never. Ask us again if and when the Millennium movie gets greenlit and we’d probably give you a different answer!
BAD: That’s right. For Millennium, there has never been a book like this before and there may well never be a book like this again. As you say, Millennium is so complex a series that it inspires endless conversation and endless analysis—and we hope that the book itself inspires further conversation and further analysis—but Adam is right to say that everything we could have possibly put into Back to Frank Black is in the book.
DM: There are numerous passages in the book, the one that comes to mind is something Lance Henriksen writes in his introduction, about the horrors that the world has experienced since Millennium left the air. I’m not saying the world was a wonderful place before, say, 9/11, but it does seem like we live in darker times than we did when the show was on the air. Does this possibility give the show an added sense of relevancy? Would a show like Millennium fare better in 2012 than it did in the late 90’s?
AC: I really think it would. Frank Spotnitz and Chris Carter make reference to this, too, and I also think that audiences are more eager for material that is as dark as Millennium today, an appetite perhaps not unrelated to such turns of world events. Carter denies that Millennium was ahead of its time, but I think it would find an even more fitting home in cable television’s schedules today than it did on Fox in the final days of the last millennium.
BAD: Absolutely. The only reason that Chris Carter denies that Millennium was ahead of its time is because he knows that he created the show at the precise moment in which it needed to be created. The series is representative of its cultural moment, as Chris explains in the book, and it was a vanguard of what was to come in the twenty-first century. Thematically and, as Adam says, culturally, Millennium is more relevant than it has ever been.
DM: Why do you think the show ultimately failed to find a large enough audience to keep it on the air past three seasons?
AC: I’m actually not sure that it did, in retrospect. Frank Spotnitz references the fall in ratings that was starting to affect all network television at the time that Millennium got canceled. Also, Chris Carter speaks to how the short-lived Harsh Realm was at least in part responsible for Millennium not returning for a fourth year. I think it is also notable that every series that inherited its timeslot earned fewer and fewer viewers than Millennium achieved. Ultimately, I think it was the victim of an attempt to take a chance on something new that might fare better in the schedules, but ultimately didn’t do so.
BAD: The fact that Millennium was replaced with Harsh Realm—which was another brilliant series from Chris Carter, cancelled after only three episodes—is particularly tragic, I think. The X-Files was such a hit for Fox, it became a benchmark. They apparently regarded every Ten Thirteen series that tried to follow it as a failure. That they chose to cancel Millennium in favor of Harsh Realm tells us that the network was banking on the fact that there was something wrong with Millennium. We know that nothing could be farther from the truth. And, as Adam points out, Frank Spotnitz goes into some detail in Back to Frank Black regarding how hindsight has changed our understanding of that decade’s television landscape. The audience wasn’t there because the entertainment industry itself was evolving. To this day there remains an audience dedicated to Millennium, and that tells us something, too.
DM: I have to admit that I’m pretty cynical about the likelihood of a Millennium film, even one that would perhaps run on television. What are your thoughts on this? If such a thing were to ever happen, what would you want to see out of it?
AC: It is certainly not an easy sell, at least superficially, although the final chapter in the book hopefully sets out the manifesto in the words of Carter, Spotnitz, and Henriksen that there is both a creative and commercial case to be made for a film. I think Carter is right that it would need to be on a grander scale than the series, and that it would have to be accessible to both those familiar withMillennium and newcomers alike. For that reason I think it should probably avoid getting too bogged down by the series’ mythology, although a return for Lucy Butler is pretty irresistible. Recent world events offer up a number of possibilities as far as plot is concerned. For me, though, it would really need to center upon the relationship between Frank and his daughter, Jordan—not by having Jordan playing an investigative role, but rather by focusing upon their relationship and everything they have endured together, and offering some kind of closure in that regard. A TV movie feels the most likely format, although I think every fan would love to see Frank Black on the big screen!
BAD: That’s what I want. I want to see Lance Henriksen as Frank Black, back on screen. I don’t care if it’s a television screen or a movie screen, to be honest. Millennium ended on one of those strange, bittersweet pseudo-cliffhangers we sometimes see in television. We saw Frank and Jordan run away. The character must be resurrected because we need closure. Lance Henriksen fights for this character because he needs closure. I want to know that the character lives on. I want to see him back in the world, in the modern world, facing evil and making a difference.
DM: What’s next for you guys?
AC: We have a few ideas up our sleeves, not least of which is completing the fourth and final volume of Revelation, a literary magazine preoccupied with the apocalypse and Fourth Horseman Press’s founding publication. Personally, I have one or two other creative projects at which I am slowly chipping away. Probably most significant are a couple of screenplays, and whilst their genesis predates our work on the book, I wouldn’t discount the creative shot in the arm that working onBack to Frank Black has given me in that regard. A couple of reviewers have commented on how the volume offers sound advice and considerable insight into the creative process of screenwriting, and some of that has certainly rubbed off on me!
BAD: It’s wonderful to be able to say that each book released by Fourth Horseman Press has been bigger and better recognized than the one before it. We have plans for future releases, grand plans, but it’s still far too early to announce anything. I can only say that our next book, like Back to Frank Black, will be well worth the wait.