Podcasts reviving classic TV shows like 'The X-Files' and 'Twin Peaks'

TORONTO - "The X-Files" died an unceremonious death.

When the moody sci-fi series hobbled to a close in 2002, it had basically lost one of its stars, David Duchovny, and suffered from three critically panned seasons. A 2008 movie, "The X-Files: I Want to Believe," did little to counter the bad taste left in the mouths of many fans.

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Fast-forward to 2014, and "The X-Files" has re-emerged in popular discussion. Creator Chris Carter revealed this summer that he was in talks with Fox for a possible reboot, Gillian Anderson hinted on Reddit that another movie could be on its way and Buzzfeed lists about the show abound.

"I think it's just the right time for 'X-Files' to be back in the conversation," said Kumail Nanjiani, comedian and star of HBO’s "Silicon Valley." "The stuff of not being able to trust the government, it really, really works with the NSA and phone tapping that’s such a big deal these days. It's still very relevant — the idea of these covert things going on."

Nanjiani won't take credit for playing a part in resuscitating the show, but his podcast, "The X-Files Files," is offering fans a new avenue for discussion. Starting with the pilot, he is lovingly dissecting two episodes a week with a guest, reviving the intense debate that surrounded the show at its height.

The availability of shows including "The X-Files," "Twin Peaks" and "Gilmore Girls" on Netflix is prompting episode-by-episode podcasts that allow fans to engage with old shows in a very modern way. These podcasts are attracting new viewers to long-defunct series and reviving week-by-week viewing in the binge-watching era.

Nanjiani grew up watching "The X-Files" in Karachi, Pakistan and has long been vocal about his obsession with the dark, Vancouver-shot series. When he started his podcast in June, he hoped to hook new viewers and get them talking — slowly.

"I think we're sort of in this binge culture now where people for the most part — there's some exceptions like 'Game of Thrones' and 'Walking Dead' — but for the most part, especially these Netflix shows, people watch them so quickly, that conversation sort of falls away, that: 'Hey, did you see last night's episode?'" he said.

"I like doing this podcast because I want people to watch this show slowly and be able to talk about the episodes at the same time."

Listeners have taken to Reddit to discuss the podcast, creating a dedicated forum called a subreddit about "The X-Files Files." Nanjiani thinks his listeners are a mix of diehard fans and people who are watching the show for the first time.

He's also been able to attract original cast and crew members to appear on the podcast, including actor Dean Haglund, writer Glen Morgan and theme song composer Mark Snow. Both Carter and Anderson have said they’re aware of "The X-Files Files."

"If you have Gillian Anderson's e-mail, just ask her to do the show. Thank you,'" Nanjiani joked at the end of a telephone interview.

Another show that is seeing a renaissance is "Twin Peaks," David Lynch and Mark Frost's surreal crime drama that first set audiences ablaze in 1990 with the question, "Who killed Laura Palmer?" This fall, the creators announced that a new season would air on Showtime in 2016.

The hosts of "Fire Talk with Me," Allison Goertz and Jeremy Smith, are cautiously excited. Goertz said "Twin Peaks" has a timeless quality because it is so original.

"Something we've talked about on the show is how 'Twin Peaks' is in its own period of time. It is '90s but it feels like its own thing," said Goertz. "Those feelings, those colours, that fashion, these types of dramas are kind of coming back again — and obviously literally coming back again with season three coming up. So it's in the air."

Goertz is 23 and had never seen the series before launching the podcast, while Smith is 41 and watched "Twin Peaks" when it first aired. He recalled the frenzied discussion around the show in 1990 felt "unusual" for the time.

"'Entertainment Weekly,' for example, had a weekly run down of what happened on 'Twin Peaks' and who are the suspects," he said. "Everyone was really into the show right at the beginning. It had a kind of 'Dallas' popularity... I can't think of any other time that that really happened."

Both "Twin Peaks" and "The X-Files" paved the way for the kind of online debate that happens around TV shows today, said Aubrey Anable, an instructor at the University of Toronto's Department of Visual Studies who has studied digital culture.

"They are shows that withhold a lot of information. They are mysterious. That's their entire point. They actually invite a sort of audience interaction that has become very commonplace now in the television shows that have become huge hits in the past few years," she said.

Because people are turning more to PVRs and online streaming, instead of watching TV when it airs, new media is stepping in to replace water cooler conversation, she said.

"The idea that one can show up to work and expect that all of their coworkers watched 'Dynasty' the night before just doesn't exist anymore. So things like podcasts and online fan communities, it provides that water cooler effect that we used to have around traditional broadcast television," she said. "You need to now seek out the people who are fans of this show and talk to them if you want that engagement with it."

Comedian April Richardson grew up watching "Saved by the Bell" and decided to put her obsession to use in "Go Bayside!," a podcast about Zack, Screech and the gang. She recently surpassed 1.1 million downloads and said she's been floored by the amount of feedback she's received.

Richardson, 35, said the kitschy comedy appears to be making a comeback because people in show business are roughly her age and waxing nostalgic. Even so, she said about half of her listeners are people who are watching the show on Netflix for the first time.

"There is no one more loyal or passionate than a podcast listener. I think it's just such an intimate medium that it really does get people more psyched. It feels so personal. It feels like you are listening to a person talk to you," she said.

Demi Adejuyigbe said his podcast "Gilmore Guys" is tapping into an existing fan community around "Gilmore Girls" — one that appears to be equally populated by men as by women. About 20,000 people download the podcast every week.

"I think the community exists already. Despite being a big show, it's also a cult show," he said. "I think our show gives something new for people to experience rather than creating the community around it."

He had never seen the show before, but when his friend Kevin Porter — a superfan — heard "Gilmore Girls" was coming to Netflix, they decided to launch the podcast together. He said the fast-talking, pop culture-packed dramedy about Lorelai and Rory Gilmore is a great fit for the medium.

Matt Williams and Vinnie Freda were longtime podcast fans before launching "Seincast," their in-depth tribute to the beloved show about nothing. Freda said the medium is appealing because it's unfiltered and "raw."

"You're getting an actual conversation between two or more people and you're getting their real organic responses. There's no other medium that allows the host to do that," he said. "It's as if you're in the room with these other people."

The duo are such hardcore fans that they drop "Seinfeld" references constantly, including joking that their phone interview is taking place in a "fastidious bachelor pad" where they "bicker over the cleanliness of a piece of fruit like an old married couple."

"One of the main reasons that we decided to do this podcast and thought about it for years was that I was kind of sad to think of 'Seinfeld' going away," said Williams. "Even though it was popular and it's in syndication, at some point you're going to have a generation not familiar with 'Seinfeld.'

"I think (podcasts are) a way to keep the fandom alive and at least keep some audience out there talking about this show."

— Follow @ellekane on Twitter.

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