It’s got all the makings of a great X-Files episode. Conspiracy-minded FBI agent Fox Mulder takes on a shadowy corporation, gets betrayed by the one man he thought he could trust, and finds himself alone searching for the truth.
Unfortunately for David Duchovny, this isn’t TV. In a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp. (a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., which produces The X-Files for corporate sibling the Fox Network), the actor claims the company cheated him out of millions in X-Files-related profits. On top of that, Duchovny’s suit alleges that X-Files creator Chris Carter (who is not a defendant) conspired with Fox to keep silent about the depleted profit sharing.
”I’m not looking to win the lottery,” Duchovny tells EW in his first interview since he filed the suit on Aug. 12. ”I’ve fulfilled my contract and I want them to fulfill theirs.”
In a nutshell, Duchovny says he’s a victim of synergy. He contends Fox intentionally undersold X-Files‘ rights to its own affiliates (such as reruns to its cable network FX and its local TV stations, as well as book rights to HarperCollins) in an effort to fatten the corporate bottom line at the expense of all those with a percentage in the series.
Of course, proving Duchovny’s charges could be harder than verifying an alien-autopsy video. Yes, Fox did sell reruns of The X-Files to FX in 1996, but at the time it was for a cable-record price of close to $600,000 per episode. However, Peter Martin Nelson, one of Duchovny’s lawyers, claims that Fox never seriously shopped the show to other bidders. Indeed, a former USA net exec says the company was willing to pay more for The X-Files but was shut out of the bidding.
Duchovny’s suit is the latest example of the contentious relationship between the creative and corporate sides of the business. In 1998, M*A*S*H star Alan Alda brought a similar suit against Fox, accusing the studio of selling reruns of his hit sitcom at below-market rates (the case was recently settled in Alda’s favor for an undisclosed sum). And it’s not just Murdoch’s company that’s coming under scrutiny. Earlier this year, the Walt Disney Company also settled a suit with Home Improvement‘s Wind Dancer Production Group, which charged the studio with cutting its sister network ABC a sweetheart deal on the show’s last two seasons. And get this: It’s probably no coincidence that the same litigator — Stanton L. Stein of the L.A. firm Alschuler Grossman Stein & Kahan — is the man behind all three of these suits. ”It’s a growth industry,” cracks Stein.
He’s got a point: As the entertainment industry continues to consolidate, actors, pro- ducers, writers, and others with a piece of a show’s profits are going to have to keep a sharp eye on this kind of in-house dealing. ”This stuff goes on every single day,” says Derek Baine, a senior analyst for Paul Kagan Associates. ”But there are very few people who have the money and wherewithal to file suit.”
In Duchovny’s case, the thing that surprised him most about Fox’s fancy financial footwork was Carter’s apparent role as a willing dance partner: Duchovny’s legal team believes Carter has received a new-series commitment and in excess of $30 million in “advances”—all at the expense of the actor’s own cut.
“I was dismayed and disappointed,” Duchovny says of Carter’s alleged involvement. He hasn’t talked with Carter since filing the suit but did give the exec producer a heads-up that it was coming. And although he’s showing up at work every day and says his legal battle has nothing to do with his feelings for the show, the suit has left a sour taste in his mouth. “We’re talking about something I’ve devoted the last seven years of my life to. All my time, all my energy. And that turns me off about the whole affair,” says Duchovny. As for his relationship with Carter, Duchovny says he hopes “Chris will be my friend personally and professionally when this is all over.”
Carter declined to comment, and all a Fox spokesperson would say is “We have nothing but respect and appreciation for David and his talents and his contributions to the success of The X-Files. To see that he’s apparently being led by his own advisers into believing that Fox acted inappropriately in its exploitation of the show is saddening.”
Regardless of what happens, this is Duchovny’s last season on The X-Files. Although he was wavering a few weeks ago, he now says: “As much as I love the show, I think for me this will be the end. I always thought five years was enough. Seven years is definitely enough.”
As for costar Gillian Anderson, it’s unclear whether she too has a piece of the show (the actress’ business manager declined to comment)—though her contract calls for an eighth year if Carter and Fox decide to carry on without Agent Mulder.
Duchovny says he hasn’t discussed his suit with Anderson, reiterating the point that although the two are on-screen partners, off screen they aren’t particularly close.
“The kind of illusion that everybody is best buddies and has no other cares in the world is an illusion,” he says. “We are separate individuals with separate agendas, and we’re all taking care of ourselves.” Ain’t that the truth.