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''X-Files'' moves to Sunday at 9

Ratings hit hopes to win more viewers with strange storylines

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Another day on the X-Files set, and Gillian Anderson is bracing for a lobotomy. Seems that a troubled young man has been killing women by operating on their frontal lobes with an ice pick. When FBI agents Dana Scully (Anderson) and Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) investigate, Scully falls into his clutches. Can Mulder rescue her in time?

Talk about your no-brainers. As Fox’s paranormal mystery series enters its fourth season, it is the network’s highest-rated show among 18-to-49 year-olds. This year it received nine Emmy nominations, including Outstanding Drama Series and, for Anderson, Lead Actress in a Drama. There’s even an X-Files movie in the works, which could start shooting late next spring. So relax, Scully.

But wait! There is one abduction that could pose a threat beyond the powers of these special agents. After spending three weeks in its old Fridays-at-9 slot (beginning Oct. 4), The X-Files will make a daring shift to Sundays at 9. ”I wish it would’ve stayed where it is,” creator-executive producer Chris Carter laments. ”Friday is a good night to be scared.”

He has only himself to blame. Carter made the move possible by delivering Millennium, this fall’s most talked-about new drama. ”We would never have moved X-Files if we didn’t have a worthy successor,” says Fox Entertainment president John Matoian of Carter’s new psycho-killer thriller, debuting on Oct. 25. ”We noticed that the three Sunday-night movies [on the other networks] had seen such a decline in the last five years that X-Files was a viable alternative.” And with ”viewing levels higher on Sunday night than Friday,” adds Matoian, there’s a whole new world of viewers ripe for an X-Files conversion.

Fox will help the seduction along with one of the most expensive marketing campaigns it has ever thrown behind two series (including trailers for both shows to run in United Artists movie theaters, as well as an upcoming Millennium sneak preview on the big screen). Carter hopes the effort isn’t as relentless as NBC’s promos for its new Saturday lineup of Dark Skies, The Pretender, and Profiler — three dramas seemingly plucked right from an X-File. He hasn’t seen the shows but found the NBC commercials inescapable. ”It was promotional overkill,” he says. ”I don’t appreciate a hard sell.”

In that case, don’t expect him to trumpet his show’s Emmy nominations — and, considering the lack of one for Duchovny, this year’s nods were a mixed blessing. ”I felt bad for David,” says Carter. ”I think the tendency is to see [Gillian and him] in competition with each other. You can’t look at it that way, or you’ll drive yourself crazy.”

Duchovny, typically succinct, considers his Emmy snub ”a confusing omission.” As for Anderson’s nomination, the actress doubts she’ll take home a statuette, betting instead on Murder, She Wrote‘s beloved star for the last season of the show. ”I have a feeling that this is the Angela Lansbury award,” she says. ”But I will put something down on paper and place it under my left cheek and hopefully get to use it.”