CTP Episode of the Day - 12.04.06 X-Cops

Today's Cherished Episode: X-Cops (7x12)
Original Air Date: February 20, 2000
Written By: Vince Gilligan
Directed By: Michael Watkins

A mysterious monster is terrorizing a crime-ridden Los Angeles community. For Mulder and Scully, it is an X-File. For the Cops TV crew following them, it's ratings in the making.

"Look, Mulder, you want to talk about werewolves to me you can knock yourself out. I may not agree with you, but at least I'm not going to hold it against you. But this ... Mulder, this could ruin your career."

"What career? Scully, I appreciate it. You don't want me looking foolish. I do. I appreciate that."

"I don't want *me* looking foolish, Mulder."

Hey, X-Files fans, break out the brewskies and polish up the Pinto, Chris Carter & Co. are working on a special episode that mimics the style of Fox's shaky-cam reality show, Cops. The brainchild of X-Files co-executive producer Vince Gilligan, the episode will follow a rookie cop on the streets of Los Angeles, where he bumps into Mulder and Scully. "X-Files, in my mind, is sort of a cool and different Cops," says Gilligan. Still under consideration is whether the February 20 show will open with the familiar Cops logo. "We don't want people tuning in, seeing Cops, and saying, 'What the heck? Our show was preempted this week.' We need to try to make clear that it's indeed an episode of The X-Files." Okay, but can we at least get to see Mulder in a grimy tank top?

That's the way "X-Cops" was previewed in an early 2000 issue of Entertainment Weekly.

Some "X-Cops" Tidbits & Musings:

-- "X-Cops" was the 150th episode of The X-Files.

-- The episode's title is self-explanatory, but the episode's original title was "Bad Boys."

-- We all have guilty pleasures, those lowest-common-denominator, unhip, and politically incorrect joys that fly in the face of conventional wisdom. For X-Files writer/co-executive producer Vince Gilligan, the vice was Cops. "Most people know I was a big fan of The X-Files before I started working on the series," he said, "and I had been a fan of Cops even longer, by virtue of the fact that it had been on the air longer. I couldn't tell you how many episodes of Cops I've seen over the years. It's a great slice of Americana. I love it."

-- And for the longest time, Gilligan would regularly regale The X-Files's brain trust at story meetings with his notion of an episode in which an X-File stumbled into the middle of the shooting of a Cops show. "I'd broach the subject now and then," Gilligan said. "Everyone was interested, but reluctant."

-- Frank Spotnitz recalled that Gilligan's suggestion inevitably brought a polite dismissal. "We were afraid to do it because Vince wanted to do it on videotape, which was the way the Cops show was shot," Spotnitz said. "And what we had discovered over the years was that a lot of the way we created effective scares was through the use of film. We also knew that to do a show Cops-style, which would essentially eliminate cuts and edits, would be a huge challenge."

-- But as they entered the seventh season, Chris Carter had a change of heart. "Vince had wanted to do a Cops show for the longest time," reflected Carter, "and at that point it was looking more and more like we had only eleven episodes left in the series and that time looked to be running out. So it looked like no time like the present." The series move from Vancouver to L.A. (i.e., Cops central, had also made Gilligan's idea more feasible. But ultimately, Carter said, "it was just a question of finding the story to tell."

-- Gilligan was soon hard at work on the script, in which Mulder and Scully were hot on the trail of a monster that appeared differently to each of its victims. Gilligan and The X-Files staff had a good time brainstorming the horror icons Freddy Krueger, a werewolf, and an insect monster that would be seen only on the pages of a police sketch artist's pad. But it soon became evidence that the key to the success of "X-Cops" was that the true identity of the monster would remain secret.

-- Spotnitz remembered, "What we realized was that because this was on videotape, we couldn't really show the monster because it would be on Cops and that would change the world. But we came up with the idea that videotape could not capture everything and that some things were totally in a person's head. It became the perfect monster for a show about shooting on video."

-- The producers of the real Cops show were thrilled with the idea of having their show X-Filed and offered their total cooperation. Gilligan was invited along on an actual Cops shoot in the wilds of Compton, California, so that he could get a sense of the rhythms of the show. "The big thing I did in preparation for writing the episode was to spend an 8 p.m. to 3 a.m. shift with the L.A. County Sheriff's Department," he said. "I rode along with a deputy who kept apologizing for how slow the 'action' was that night. Nonetheless, he wound up pulling his gun on no fewer than five occasions! It was very exciting -- better than Disneyland! I even got to wear a bulletproof vest."

-- Cops supplied some stock footage and readily agreed to license the rights to use their "Bad Boys" theme song. Cops cameramen and sound men were brought in to supervise the taping and, in a final bit of realism, Cops cameraman Daniel Emmett and sound man John Michael Vaughn were enlisted to play themselves in front of the camera in the episode's final act (they were the two who ended up in the closet).

-- "X-Cops" director Michael Watkins had long had a good relationship with the Los Angeles law enforcement community and was able to call in quite a few favors, including the use of real sheriff's deputies as extras. "The commitment -- frightening as it was -- was to be Cops no matter what," said Watkins. "We needed to strip away our show's exotic beats and go more with visceral instinct."

-- Casting director Rick Millikan got caught up in the reality-based approach of this episode. "This had to be played very realistically, as if it were the Cops show. We needed actors who could pull off the believability in just normal off-the-cuff conversation of cops out on the job. We needed actors who could play cops but who could also be believable as cops."

-- "X-Cops" ghetto locations were filmed in the Southern California cities of Venice and Long Beach. Director Watkins quickly picked up on the pulse and the rhythms of a typical Cops episode and incorporated an unorthodox approach to dealing with his actors and his video crew. When Watkins would rehearse the actors, he would deliberately keep the camera crew off the set. When it was time for the scene to unfold, he would bring the cameraman back to the set and call action. Trying to follow the actors resulted in the jerky, often unfocused quality typical of a Cops show.

-- Unlike other X-Files episodes, "X-Cops" was shot linearly and in real time, which was a boost for the show's budget. "Our show had gotten massively expensive since we moved to Los Angeles," explained Spotnitz. "So we thought, 'Here's a way we're going to save a lot of money.'"

-- Indeed, "X-Cops" moved at a lightning pace. Gillian Anderson remembered that "What was surprising to all of us was how little time it took to shoot. We basically did one or two takes of something and that was it. One night we shot three and a half pages of the script in two hours."

-- Shooting five to six script pages a day became the norm on the "X-Cops" set (usually three to four pages a day is the average). There were long takes and lots of dialogue, which would occasionally have the actors flubbing their lines, resulting in retakes. But that obstacle was more than balanced by the fact that no coverage shots (additional shots at different angles and close-ups) were required.

-- Not only was shooting time reduced, but Chris Carter estimated the changes lopped $500,000 off the reported $3 million-per-episode average. "I'm sure Fox would have loved it if we had done every episode on video," he said.

-- The stunt side of the production was active throughout filming. In the teaser sequence, a police car was tipped upside down with the aid of a device called a Gimble. The scenes of police cars whipping in and out of frame and screeching to a stop were accomplished with the assistance of stunt drivers and real police officers. For the sequence in which a crack house is taken down, real SWAT members clashed with stunt players playing crack-heads, throwing the profanity-bleeping hoods against walls and over furniture, and ultimately handcuffing them and dragging them roughly out of the house.

-- Despite the fact that her face is constantly obscured behind a Cops blur effect, quite a bit of work went into detailing streetwalker Chantara's twisted neck death. An appliance, supplied by effects house Optic Nerve, gave actress Maria Celedonio the appearance of her face on the side of her head. A wig slanted sideways on the actress's head completed the effect.

-- Chantara Gomez was named for Vince Gilligan's literary agent, Ronda Gomez.

-- Postproduction soon commenced on the episode, with the inevitable difference of opinion, artistic versus commercial, following shortly. Paul Rabwin related that "Vince Gilligan's original intent was not to see The X-Files's logo or anything X-Files on the screen. He wanted it to be an episode of Cops that happened to involve Mulder and Scully. The network was afraid people would turn on the show and not know it was X-Files. A compromise of sorts was reached when we took the red-and-blue Cops logo and rebuilt it into The X-Files logo."

-- "X-Cops" was a crisp episode that played fast and loose with the concept of "extreme possibility" that had long been the backbone of the show. Staff writer Jeff Bell delighted in the irony of the "X-Cops" premise. "We had the videotape capability to finally document an X-File and the X-File turns out to be something nobody could see."

-- An early choice to direct this episode was David Duchovny. Time constraints and plans for Duchovny to direct the second episode he wrote ("Hollywood A.D.") made it necessary to select another director.

-- The average number of edits in an X-Files episode was 800 to 1,200. The total number of edits in the first cut of "X-Cops" was 45.

-- A real Cops editor was hired to insert the trademark blur over the faces of innocent bystanders.

-- When a shot of a morgue was not available in the production company's stock footage file, producer Rabwin called up a friend at the Los Angeles Fox News bureau and asked if one of their roving film crews could swing by the morgue on their regular rounds and film some footage.

-- In addition to Cops, this episode also appeared to be an allusion to The Blair Witch Project, not only for being filmed with a hand held camera, but also for the scene with the camera falling to the floor, the handprints on the wall, and the fact that the "monster" was never seen.

-- Sergeant Paula Guthrie was named for Vince Gilligan's sixth grade teacher.

-- The characters Steve and Edy were named for Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, a husband and wife singing duo popular in the 60's and 70's.

-- As always, Vince found a way to get his girlfriend's name (Holly) into his episodes. In this case, the police first find Mulder and Scully on Holly Street.

-- In addition to the Cops theme song "Bad Boys" (by Inner Circle), Edy sings some of the tune "If I Didn't Care," originally recorded by The Ink Spotsl

-- Judson Mills (Deputy Keith Wetzel) had a recurring role on Walker, Texas Ranger, playing Francis Gage.

-- Michael Watkins directed six X-Files episodes and "X-Cops" was the last. He left the show before the end of Season 7. But "X-Cops" was a highlight for him. "I watched many episodes of Cops and met with the creators, and I think 'X-Cops' was a delightful episode. It was a huge change from our usual look -- all those close-ups and everything. We turned our show into that sort of TV show. We do these special types of shows every now and then. Chris did one a couple of years before in black and white, and we did one as a sort of homage to Hitchcock's Rope, trying not to have edits. So every so often, one of these 'special' episodes popped up. I think the fans of both shows liked it. Everyone had to go the other direction to do it. But in the end, it was a lot of fun to do and it took a lot of courage."

-- Although the cast didn't stray far from Gilligan's script, shooting the episode had a definite improvisational feel for all involved. "After you rehearsed a couple of times, you started remembering what it was like to do live theater," said Gillian Anderson, "and it got very fun and creative." And, she added, you couldn't beat the results. "When you watched a scene on playback, it looked like Cops."

-- Perhaps too much so. "I said to my mom, 'Do you want to watch some [footage]?'" confided Gilligan. "And there was this great scene with all the cops running up the street, sirens going. She left the room to go wash dishes. I said, 'Aren't you interested in this?' And she's like, 'Well, turn off Cops and show me some X-Files.'"

-- "X-Cops" was the second most-watched X-Files episode of Season 7 (only the seventh season premiere "The Sixth Extinction" had more viewers).

(Thanks to chrisnu for today's pics.)

Please share your first impressions, favorite (or cringe-worthy) moments, classic lines, favorite fanfic, nagging questions, repeated viewing observations, etc., as today we celebrate "X-Cops."