Darren McGavin as Kolchak in The Night Stalker
Kolchak: The Night Stalker is a television series that aired on ABC in 1974, about a newpaper 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 decribed as the "father of the X-Files".
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 release.
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 Publishing.
- The Night Stalker (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0067490/) at the Internet Movie Database
- The Night Strangler (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0069002/) at the Internet Movie Database
- Kolchak: The Night Stalker (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0071003/) at the Internet Movie Database
- Kolchak: The Night Stalker (http://www.tvtome.com/tvtome/servlet/ShowMainServlet/showid-2694/) at TV Tome