As I was working on the show this past week, I could already imagine the message boards lighting up after its broadcast. "Malum" is just the kind of episode that gives Internet pundits plenty to love, hate and argue over.
Writing this blog every week, I'm struck anew at how amazing it is that the Internet gives us the chance to make direct contact with viewers of Night Stalker and that, through this site and dozens of others where the show is dissected and debated every week, viewers are able to make direct contact with us.
In the Internet age, it's easy to take a conversation like this one for granted. But for better or worse in my opinion, mostly for better this virtual back-and-forth between producers and viewers has changed the way television works.
If you work in Hollywood, you still meet TV producers who claim they don't ever check message boards about their show. Maybe they don't, but don't bet on it. When you're a storyteller, the urge to see how your story is received is pretty much irresistible.
Which is not to suggest that message boards are a perfect, or even somewhat accurate, mirror of the larger viewing audience. The people who post messages are driven to share their opinions in a way that the vast majority of viewers never will be. But they do reflect a certain passionate segment of that audience.
Of course, passionate opinions are not always positive ones, and the message boards can be a pretty rough place. For every raving or gushing post, there's a critic only too eager to let you know what they think you're doing wrong.
Early in my years on The X-Files, I vividly recall becoming aware of "newsgroups" springing up on the Internet. With some effort, I could use my dial-up modem to go online and read viewers' opinions of the most recent episode. It was a lot harder to get online in those days, and there were a lot fewer people doing it. As a result, there tended to be fewer verbal darts thrown. Posts were generally longer, more literate and thoughtful, and less personal and ad hominem.
For me, they were also more thought-provoking. In a way TV critics never could, the Internet created a public forum for creative discussion. Many times while I was writing The X-Files, viewer concerns and insights I read online helped influence my thinking about the direction of the series and its mythology. I was particularly interested in which plot twists viewers could see coming and which ones took them by surprise.
The Internet's a much more democratic and lively place now. But increased traffic to the message boards has not necessarily made them more interesting. To paraphrase the Veils song we used in Night Stalker, there's a lot "more heat than light."
The light does shine through sometimes. Occasionally, I'll read something online that provokes and inspires me to think differently about the show. In that way, the Internet is indeed helping to make television better.
After "Malum" airs, you can be sure I'll be checking the message boards. I'll be interested to see which viewers were surprised by the plot twists and which ones weren't.
As befits any good Halloween episode, "Malum" has a nasty treat waiting at the end one I'm guessing not even the most savvy Internet pundit will anticipate. If I'm wrong, I can be sure of this: Somebody on the Internet is going to let me know.
Until next time