An X-Files Mystery: Gender Pay Inequity or BATNA?

business_ethics_highlights_2Few would deny the intuitive appeal of the concept of ‘equal pay for equal work’, but is acting in a television series the sort of work for which the concept makes sense? Here, Gillian Anderson claims to be fighting the good fight for gender pay equity, having held out for and gotten pay terms equal to those of her X-Files reboot co-star, David Duchovny. She expresses dismay that Fox’s initial offer to her was half the offer made to Duchovny. However, it’s at least an open question whether Fox’s differing initial negotiating positions with Anderson and with Duchovny evidence gender pay inequity. Like professional athletes, actors are paid less for what they do than for how their presence improves the prospects of selling advertising. Professional basketball salaries, for example, aren’t scaled neatly to minutes played or points scored or rebounds secured, but to the outcome of a negotiation in which the player and a team’s management hash out their differing conceptions of how the player contributes to the financial bottom line. Looming large in these (and all) negotiations is each party’s BATNA—Best Alternative To (a) Negotiated Agreement: if an agreement isn’t reached, how good is each party’s next-best alternative? Negotiation theory suggests that if party A’s BATNA is more attractive to party A than is party B’s BATNA to party B, then party A has negotiating power: party A can secure more of the cooperative surplus in an agreement with party B because it is easier for A to walk away from a deal than for B to walk away. Why might actual or perceived BATNA explain the lower initial offer made to Anderson? Two things: (1) Although both Duchovny and Anderson have been successful actors since the initial X-Files run, Anderson has done more (lower-paying) television work and Duchovny has done more (higher-paying) film work. Comparing their track records, it is easy to form the hypothesis that Duchovny’s best alternative to acting in an X-Files reboot is more remunerative than is Anderson’s best alternative to acting in an X-Files reboot. (2) The peculiar X-Files storyline makes it possible (though undesirable) to recreate the show without Anderson-as-Dana-Scully, but virtually impossible to recreate it without Duchovny-as-Fox-Mulder. Put differently, Fox’s best alternative to hiring Anderson is better (or less bad) than Fox’s best alternative to hiring Duchovny. Putting those two things together, it’s easy to see why BATNA – and not gender – likely explains the different opening offers to Anderson and to Duchovny. The more interesting question, then, is why Fox ended up agreeing to pay Anderson equivalently to Duchovny. Was it because Fox executives saw the light on gender pay equity? Or was it instead that Fox’s best alternative to hiring Anderson got worse relative to Anderson’s best alternative to portraying Dana Scully once Duchovny signed on to the X-Files reboot?  >>>

LINK: Gillian Anderson: I was offered less pay for ‘X-Files’ reboot (by Emanuella Grinberg for CNN)

“X-Files” costar Gillian Anderson, who plays agent Dana Scully, has been drawing attention to the gender gap in pay in interviews leading up to the Sunday premiere of the series’ revival on Fox.

Sources told The Hollywood Reporter that Anderson and Duchovny ultimately received equal pay. Still, Anderson said, it was galling given that she had fought this battle before during the series’ first run.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, she said she was offered “half of what they wanted to offer” costar David Duchovny, who plays agent Fox Mulder, to participate in the reboot.

It took three years for her to close the gap between what she and Duchovny were making in the 1990s after becoming fed up with accepting less than “equal pay for equal work,” she told the Daily Beast.

What do you think?

Brought to you by:


  1. Gender, of course, enters the equation again when we consider why it is that restarting the X-Files without Duchovny is “more unthinkable” than restarting it without Anderson. And that likely has something to do with Hollywood’s nearly-universal insistence on featuring male stars, with female stars playing 2nd fiddle. (That is, the choice today depends very much on the choice the producers made 20 years ago.)

  2. Alexei Marcoux

    Whether that’s because of gender or storyline is open to question. Recall that in the original series, Mulder is open to the paranormal and Scully is skeptical of paranormal explanations. You need Mulder to create the narrative. Gender may enter insofar as the male character was made the initiator of the narrative—but then again, making the woman the skeptical, logical, scientific one was a contrary-to-gender-roles decision, circa 1990s.

  3. Nice point. To the extent that it’s an arbitrary decision, it’s debatable whether the choice to make Scully’s (secondary) character female was a feminist win or loss.

  4. Joss Davis

    Personally, I think that BATNA should have as little effect on salary as gender – salary should be based on the work you’re being hired to do, not on other work you might hypothetically be hired to do instead (and, of course, not on the gender of the person being hired to do that work). I don’t know which stupidity was the primary rationale behind Fox’s initially low salary offer to Gillian Anderson. I’m not in a position to know, anymore than I’m a position to know whether or not Anderson was paid what she deserved for all that comparatively low-paying work that she’s done outside of X-Files. Most things in life are a combination of factors and this probably was too.

    But history shows that Gillian Anderson’s importance to the X-Files has been frequently but mistakenly undervalued since the beginning.

    Sure, the character of Scully was initially intended to be pretty much just Mulder’s sidekick. She was also intended to be “taller, leggier, blonder and breastier” ( Then along came Gillian Anderson. Her portrayal made Scully a main character, every bit as essential as Mulder – despite the initial intentions and the absurdly persistent insistence that of the two main characters, Mulder is somehow more main.

    Mulder himself in last night’s episode, “Founder’s Mutation,” said: “You’re never just anything to me, Scully.”

    Yes, theoretically, the show could have been written sans Scully. It could have been a one-man show in which Mulder the Believer chases the paranormal, but that’s not the narrative that was written. The pilot episode didn’t give us Mulder the Believer alone; it gave us Scully the Skeptic, sent to spy on Mulder. Of course, Scully didn’t really act as a spy any more than Anderson acted as a sidekick, thus Season 2, in which a storyline was crafted around the determination not to write the then pregnant Anderson out of the show.

    Theoretically, they could have carried on without her; they could have replaced her or given us Mulder chasing the paranormal alone. Yet in the entire original X-Files series, there are very few episodes of Mulder without Scully. There’s about a season and a half of Scully without Mulder (Seasons 8 and 9). Was Mulder missed? Yes. Was his absence conspicuous? Yes. But the show went on without him.

    Which makes it is just as easy, if not easier, to argue that the new X-Files episodes could have been made without Duchovny as without Scully. Whatever Fox’s thinking was when it offered Anderson a lower salary than Duchovny, that thinking was wrong. Kudos to Gillian for setting them straight.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: