Monday, October 7, 2013

What Might've Been: Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974)

What started with an unpublished novel led to a pair of ABC Movie of the Week entries and a short-lived series that became a cult classic and the inspiration for another cult favorite 20 years later.

Kolchak: The Night Stalker, though, almost didn't make it to series, as creator Jeff Rice had sued Universal over using his central character, reporter Carl Kolchak (Darrin McGavin), without his permission. After 20 of 26 scheduled episodes had aired, the series ended, as McGavin, who doubled as a producer, had cited burnout.

Night Stalker started with a 1972 TV-movie by that name, based on Rice's initial story in the heretofore unpublished Kolchak Papers, which would later be adapted into comic book form, more than 30 years later. The tone of the series was set, Kolchak in pursuit of a modern day vampire (Barry Atwater). A year later, Kolchak returned in "The Night Strangler", produced and directed by Dan Curtis of Dark Shadows fame. The series, initially entitled simply The Night Stalker after the first film, launched in September 1974, but quickly went on hiatus and returned with Kolchak's name added to the title. ABC went so far as to move it from its 10 pm (ET) berth on Fridays to an earlier time on the same night, but it didn't work.

X-Files creator Chris Carter cited Night Stalker as the inspiration for his seminal series, which launched 20 years after Night Stalker, and, of course, lasted far, far longer. However, Kolchak's story wasn't over yet. 30 years after the initial series' ended, ABC brought back Night Stalker, with Stuart Townsend as Kolchak, but its lifespan was even shorter than the original. Then again, it was on a different night (Thursday) and against stiffer competition (CSI: Crime Scene Investigation).

Let's take a walk down memory lane and learn about a crooked politico who struck a demonic deal in "The Devil's Platform":



Today, the series lives on in a series of comic books produced by Moonstone Press, retaining the spirit of the original series. Darrin McGavin has long since left us, but despite his lengthy body of work, Kolchak remains the one character viewers identify him with.

Rating: B.

2 comments:

magicdog said...

When I think of Darren McGavin - I'm more inclined to think of him as "The Old Man" from "A Christmas Story".

Occasionally I'll also think of him as Murphy Brown's dad, and every great while, as the cop who tries to keep Jerry Lewis on the straight and narrow in "The Delicate Delinquent".

I caught some eps on cableyears ago - maybe Nick, maybe the old, Skiffy channel. In many ways this show was a precursor to The X Files. In fact, I think McGavin did a guest appearance on that show - but in a different role - as Mulder's earlier counterpart who investigated X-Files cases decades earlier.

hobbyfan said...

Night Stalker's only cable home has been within the NBC-Universal family. McGavin did appear on X-Files--twice, in fact---as Arthur Dales. Chris Carter wanted him to play Kolchak, but no go......