The X-Files Episode With A Special Warning For No Good Reason

By Chris Snellgrove | Updated

If you go back and re-watch the X-Files pilot, you’ll notice a special warning that appears before the episode: “The following story is inspired by actual documented accounts.” The claim is pretty wild on the face of it, and it notably doesn’t appear before other episodes. While creator Chris Carter maintains that much about the episode really was based on documented accounts, the real reason the pilot had this message is that reality programming was doing so well on Fox that the network wanted Mulder and Scully’s first adventure to seem more real for audiences.

The Reality TV Connection

cops reality tv

From the very beginning, X-Files fans have reacted with both skepticism and laughter to the warning that appears before the first episode. This is a show that was about alien abductions and weird implants courtesy of little green men. Very few people were likely to think the warning was real, leaving fans to puzzle over why the new show bothered to include it in the first episode.

Interestingly, those X-Files fans didn’t have to wait long to get an explanation about the warning, but it came courtesy of a book rather than a later episode. The show premiered in 1993, and the 1995 book The Truth is Out There: The Official Guide to The X-Files revealed many fascinating facts about the early days of this spooky show.

One of those facts was that the reality programming on the Fox channel was doing so well (led by COPS, which had exploded in popularity since its 1989 premiere) that the network wanted this latest show to have a pseudo-reality connection.

Composite Storytelling Loosely Based On Fact

X Files Scully Typing On Computer

Despite the somewhat cynical motivation Fox had for giving this X-Files pilot a special warning, series creator Chris Carter maintains that much about the episode really did come from documented accounts. In the DVD special features for season 1, he revealed that the pilot isn’t based on any one person’s wild story. Instead, the onscreen adventure is “an amalgam of bits and pieces of stories and information that I gathered by reading about alien abduction.”

Fox Leaned Into The Lore

X-Files Nisei

Interestingly, while The X-Files had a warning before the first episode to draw in the reality TV crowd, the show later enjoyed poking fun at this kind of programming. In the season 3 episode “Nisei,” Scully criticizes the ostensible video proof of alien life and shadowy government interference Mulder had purchased by comparing it to the 1995 hoax alien autopsy video hosted by Star Trek star Jonathan Frakes. Never a network to miss a trick, Fox aired that fake alien autopsy video the very next night after “Nisei” premiered.

X-Files/Cops Crossover


Weirdly enough, when X-Files did decide to more definitively blur the line between reality and fiction, the story didn’t involve aliens. In the season 7 episode appropriately titled “X-Cops,” we get a weird crossover between The X-Files and COPS, and the whole thing is filmed like a COPS episode. However, this adventure is fully scripted, and it features a monster that can take the form of someone’s worst nightmares.

A Work Of Fiction, But We Want To Believe

david duchovny X-Files

As X-Files fans ourselves, it’s easy to look back at the warning appearing before the first episode with cynicism…after all, this was literally the product of a network hoping to get a bigger audience through everyone’s gullibility. However, in its own weird way, this episode perfectly prepared us for what to expect in future seasons. Mulder is a character who “wants to believe,” and the fandom would similarly have to suspend their disbelief in order to fully enjoy one of the most ambitious TV shows ever created.