Kolchak: The Night Stalker
Kolchak: The Night Stalker is a television series that
aired on ABC in 1974, about a newspaper reporter -- Carl Kolchak,
played by Darren McGavin -- who investigates crimes with mysterious and
unlikely causes that the proper authorities won't accept.
The series was preceded by two television movies, The Night
Stalker and The Night Strangler, in which McGavin as
Kolchak tracked down serial killers who turned out to be respectively a
vampire and a centuries-old alchemist.
The series has been described as a predecessor of The X-Files, and
X-Files creator Chris Carter has acknowedged that the show influenced him
greatly in own work. One character on The X-Files was named Richard
Matheson after author Richard Matheson because of his involvement in the
TV movies, and Darren McGavin, although unwilling to reprise his Kolchak
character, played an FBI agent who was described as the "father of
Kolchak: The Night Stalker started as a novel, The Kolchak
Papers, written by Jeffrey Grant Rice. In the novel a Las Vegas
newspaper reporter, Carl Kolchak, tracks down and defeats a serial killer
who is really a vampire named Janos Skorzeny. Rice was approached by ABC
who optioned the property, which was then adapted by Richard Matheson into
a TV movie produced by Dan Curtis and directed by John Llewellyn Moxey.
Darren McGavin played the role of Carl Kolchak. Also included in the
cast were Carol Lynley, Simon Oakland, Ralph Meeker, Claude Akins, Charles
McGraw, Kent Smith, Stanley Adams, Elisha Cook Jr., Larry Linville, Jordan
Rhodes and Barry Atwater as the vampire. The Night Stalker aired on
the ABC network on January 11, 1972 and garnered the highest ratings of
any TV movie until that time (33.2 rating - 54 share).
Impressed by its success, ABC commissioned Richard Matheson to write a
second movie, The Night Strangler (1973), which featured another
serial killer in Seattle who strangled his victims and used their blood to
keep himself alive for over a century through the use of alchemy. The
Seattle Underground City was used as a setting for much of the action, and
provided the killer with his hiding place. Dan Curtis both produced and
directed the second movie, which also did well in the ratings. Simon
Oakland reprised his role as the newspaper editor, and the cast also
included Jo Ann Pflug, Richard Anderson, Scott Brady, Wally Cox, Margaret
Hamilton, John Carradine, Nina Wayne and Al Lewis. Several scenes were
filmed with George Tobias playing a reporter who recalled a series of
murders that he had investigated during the 1930s. These scenes were cut
from the version first played to air because of time constraints, however
Tobias' character and his scenes were restored prior to the film's DVD
In late 1973 a script for an intended third television movie entitled The
Night Killers was written. Kolchak, along with Simon Oakland's
Vincenzo, would be in Hawaii, where they would investigate a series of
murders in which prominent citizens were replaced with androids. McGavin,
who had frequently clashed with Dan Curtis, said that he did not like the
script and refused to proceed.
After some negotiation, McGavin agreed to return as Kolchak in the
ABC-commissioned series, however ABC failed to obtain the permission of
Jeff Rice and a lawsuit resulted. It was resolved shortly before the
series aired in the Fall 1974 season and Rice received an on-screen credit
as series creator. The series, now named Kolchak: The Night Stalker,
was set in Chicago and featured Kolchak as a reporter for the Independent
News Service. Each week he investigated murders involving supernatural and
science fiction creatures. The series took a light-hearted tone using
black comedy and placed Kolchak in an office setting with quirky
co-workers. The series was cancelled after one year due to low ratings.
McGavin himself had been unhappy with the direction the program took and
reportedly did not like the descent into comedy. He requested a release
from his contract with two episodes left to be filmed. In light of the
dwindling ratings, he was released promptly from his contract.
Two television movies The Demon and the Mummy and Crackle of
Death were cobbled together in 1976 with each new movie being
comprised of two previously screened episodes from the series. A voice
over provided by McGavin allowed for some continuity in the narrative.
A comic book based on the property was published in 2003 by Moonstone
Books, and has resulted in some commercial success. Moonstone continues to
publish both a bi-monthly serial magazine and a series of original graphic
novels featuring the characters to this day.
Great news! Kolchak is coming
to DVD on October 4, 2005!