A loner charged with investigating cases of the strange and supernatural, working for and within a system that will never let the truths that are out there ever see the light of day. And though he fights against creatures raging from demons and werewolves to vampires and aliens, his biggest struggle comes in convincing those around him of everything he’s seen. Because he realizes that every investiga-
Okay-by now, I think you get that I’m trying to make it seem like I’m talking about The X-Files when in reality I’m not. That’s because way before Chris Carter gave us Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), he was at home being righteously creeped out (just like I was) by the exploits of investigative reporter Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin)…The Night Stalker.
Coming off of the heels of two very successful television movies (1972’s The Night Stalker and 1973’s The Night Strangler), Kolchak: The Night Stalker (simply The Night Stalker for its first four episodes) ran for one season of 20 episodes from 1974-1975; with an additional three episodes and a rejected third television movie scripted but never produced.
McGavin’s Kolchak was a living, breathing stereotype of how investigative reporter were viewed at the time: chasing around Chicago in a yellow Ford Mustang convertible, grabbing at headlines with his trusty camera and portable cassette recorder in his seersucker suit and press-tagged hat. Yet there was something about Kolchak that attracted him to cases that tended to lean more on the horrific and supernatural side.
One of the best aspects of McGavin’s portrayal was the almost Columbo-like quality be instilled in Kolchak. Similar to the trenchcoated detective, Kolchak was often underestimated by those invovled in the cases he was investigating. It would be easy to say that some of the cases were cracked based on nothing more than a hunch or sheer luck, but that belittles Kolchak’s unique ability to get people to take him for granted and let their guard around him.
Unfortunately, Kolchak’s investigations usually resulted in one of two things: either his evidence getting lost or destroyed, either on purpose on by “freak accident;” or some lowly middle-management scapegoat gets demoted or terminated. It’s where the comparisons between Kolchak and Columbo diverge; because at the end of the day, even though Kolchak may have “gotten his man,” the people were none-the-wiser for it.
● For a show that lasted only one season, it had an impressively diverse line-up of monsters. In no specific order, we had: vampires; werewolves; mummies; zombies; doppelgangers; witches; a succubus; and a pact with Satan. If that wasn’t enough, there were monsters and spirits based in Native American, Hindu and Creole native folklore; and science fiction (killer androids, extraterrestrials, a prehistoric man and a lizard-creature). Throw a headless motorcycle rider; a possessed suit of armor; Jack the Ripper; and Helen of Troy, and you could see that the show had something for everyone.
● Kolchak was first introduced in the unpublished novel, The Kolchak Papers, by author Jeff Rice. In the story, Las Vegas newspaper reporter Carl Kolchak investigates a serial killer who turns out to be a vampire named Janos Skorzeny. The book would finally be published in 1973 after the success of the two television movies.
● Kolchak: The Night Stalker replaced The Brady Bunch on ABC’s Friday night schedule.
● The series featured a number of celebrity guest stars from the era, including: Scatman Crothers, Dick Van Patten, Tom Skerritt, Erik Estrada, William Daniels and Jamie Farr.
● Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future) and his writing partner Bob Gale would receive their very first writing credit for the show’s fifteenth episode, “Chopper.”
● The Sopranos‘ David Chase worked as a story editor on 8 episodes; and helped rewrite the remaining twelve.
● The X-Files creator Carter would pay tribute to Kolchak: The Night Stalker several times throughout the show’s run; including casting McGavin as retired FBI agent Arthur Dales, described as the “father of the X-Files”.
● Though twenty episodes aired, there were an additional three episodes that had scripts commissioned for them but were never produced: “Eve of Terror”, by Stephen Lloyd; “The Get of Belial”, by Donn Mullally; and “The Executioners”, by Max Hodge.
● The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen‘s Stuart Townsend was cast as Kolchak in ABC’s 2005 series remake…but the less we talk about that, the better.
● McGavin played the leg lamp-loving “The Old Man” Mr. Parker in the holiday favorite A Christmas Story, which should be more than enough reason to give Kolchak: The Night Stalker a try.
A BC October: Tales From Terror-Vision! is Bleeding Cool’s month-long look back at some lost or forgotten scary moments from the history of television.