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Kolchak: The Night Stalker
The Night Stalker01
Darren McGavin as Carl Kolchak
Format Supernatural
Science fiction
Thriller
Horror
Created by Jeff Rice
Starring Darren McGavin
Simon Oakland
Jack Grinnage
Ruth McDevitt
Theme music composer Gil Mellé
Composer(s) Robert Cobert
Gil Mellé
Jerry Fielding
Greg McRitchie
Luchi De Jesus
Country of origin United States
No. of episodes 20 & 2 pilots
Production
Running time 50-51 minutes
Broadcast
Original channel ABC
Audio format Mono
Original run September 13, 1974 (1974-09-13) – March 28, 1975 (1975-03-28)

Kolchak: The Night Stalker is an American television series that aired on ABC during the 1974-1975 season. It featured a fictional Chicago newspaper reporter — Carl Kolchak, played by Darren McGavin — who investigates mysterious crimes with unlikely causes, particularly ones law enforcement authorities won't pursue. Often these crimes involve some element of the supernatural or science fiction, such as fantastical creatures.

The series was preceded by two television movies, The Night Stalker (1972) and The Night Strangler (1973). While the series only lasted for one season, it remained popular in syndication, and is often credited as the inspiration for the popular television series The X-Files. Following The X-Files' success, the franchise was resurrected in 2005 in the form of a second television series with a new cast and characters, as well as subsequent novels and comic books.

The entire series is available in syndication and is occasionally rerun on the Sci-Fi Channel under its original expanded title, Kolchak: The Night Stalker. In 2008, it began running on Chiller. It is also available on DVD.

PredecessorsEdit

OriginsEdit

The Kolchak character originated in a novel, The Kolchak Papers, written by Jeff Rice. In the novel, Las Vegas newspaper reporter Carl Kolchak tracks down and defeats a serial killer who turns out to be a vampire named Janos Skorzeny. Although the main protagonist in the novel uses the name "Carl", the book reveals that his birth name is "Karel". At the time it was optioned for the screen, the novel was unpublished. Once the TV movie and its sequel TV movie aired, the original novel was published by Pocket Books as a mass-market paperback original under the title The Night Stalker with a Darren McGavin photo cover to tie in with the movie. The book, as well as the novelization of the second television movie (also written by Jeff Rice but based this time on Richard Matheson's original script), was republished by Moonstone in 2007 as an omnibus edition called The Kolchak Papers. Moonstone Books has continued to produce Kolchak comic stories.

The Night StalkerEdit

Main article: The Night Stalker (film)

ABC approached Rice with an offer to option The Kolchak Papers, which eventually was adapted by Richard Matheson into a television movie called The Night Stalker. It was produced by Dan Curtis and directed by John Llewellyn Moxey. Darren McGavin played the role of Carl. The cast also included 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 Janos Skorzeny.

The Night Stalker first aired January 11, 1972, and garnered the highest ratings of any television movie at that time (33.2 rating – 54 share). Matheson received a 1973 Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best TV Feature or Miniseries Teleplay.

The Night StranglerEdit

Main article: The Night Strangler (film)

Impressed by the success of the first television movie, 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. Kolchak recruits exotic dancer and psychology student Louise Harper (Jo Ann Pflug) to assist him in tracking down the eponymous strangler.

A fictitious version of the Seattle Underground City was used as a setting for much of the movie's 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. Rice then wrote a novelization based on Matheson's screenplay, a reverse of the situation for the first movie. The novel was published by Pocket Books as a mass-market paperback original under the title The Night Strangler with a close-up of the monster's eye to tie in with the movie.

Simon Oakland reprised his earlier role as Kolchak's editor, Tony Vincenzo. The cast also included 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 he had investigated during the 1930s. These scenes were cut from the version aired because of time constraints.


The Night Stalker02

Simon Oakland as Tony Vincenzo.

ProductionEdit

In late 1973, Matheson and William F. Nolan completed the script for an intended third television movie entitled The Night Killers,[1] a story about android replicas. However, ABC decided it wanted a weekly series instead.[2]

After some negotiation, McGavin agreed to return as Kolchak and also served as the series' executive producer.[3] However, ABC did not obtain Jeff Rice's permission, and he sued the studio.[4] The suit was resolved shortly before the series aired in the fall 1974 season; Rice received an on-screen credit as series creator. The first four episodes aired under the title of The Night Stalker. After a month-long hiatus, the series was renamed and returned as Kolchak: The Night Stalker.[5]

The show featured a wide range of guest stars and many Hollywood veterans, including: Ken Lynch, Charles Aidman, Randy Boone, Scatman Crothers, Dick Van Patten, Jan Murray, Larry Storch, Jeanne Cooper, Alice Ghostley, Victor Jory, Murray Matheson, Julie Adams, John Dehner, Phil Silvers, Bernie Kopell, Marvin Miller, Jesse White, James Gregory, Hans Conried, Mary Wickes, Henry Jones, Carolyn Jones, Jackie Mason, Stella Stevens, Abraham Sofaer, David Doyle, Jim Backus, Kathleen Freeman, John Hoyt, Dwayne Hickman, Eric Braeden, Tom Skerritt, Erik Estrada, William Daniels, Jamie Farr, Pat Harrington, Jr., Larry Linville and Richard Kiel. Jimmy Hawkins appeared on the series as a Catholic priest on November 1, 1974, in what was his last acting appearance. McGavin's wife and assistant, Kathie Browne, appeared in the final episode as Lt. Irene Lamont. According to IMDB.COM, the singing duo "The Gang" filmed a scene for "The Sentry" episode, but the scene never aired. This scene has never been restored for home video and is the only "lost" footage from the series.

In addition, the series provided the first professional writing credit for Bob Gale, who wrote the script for the episode called "Chopper". David Chase, creator of The Sopranos, also worked on the series as a story editor, his first regular crew position in Hollywood. Gale is credited for eight episodes but as story editor also helped rewrite the remaining 12, and McGavin and others attribute much of the show's quirky humor to his creative input.

The series' ratings were mediocre and its star was growing dissatisfied, resulting in its cancellation after one year. McGavin had been unhappy with what he felt was the show's "monster of the week" direction, and an exhausting filming schedule. He asked to be released from his contract with two episodes remaining to be filmed, which the network granted in light of the show's dwindling ratings.

Two television movies, The Demon and the Mummy and Crackle of Death, were cobbled together in 1976. Each was based on previously-screened episodes from the series. McGavin provided a voice-over for both, which allowed the narrative to maintain some continuity. Because of this re-purposing, four episodes were removed from the syndication package and remained unavailable in their original format until Columbia House released them on VHS. In addition, another two previously-aired episodes were released on video called The Night Stalker: Two Tales of Terror.

CharactersEdit

The series features Kolchak as a reporter for the Chicago branch of the Independent News Service (INS), a small wire service.

INS charactersEdit

  • Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) Kolchak is a talented investigative reporter with an affinity for bizarre and supernatural occurrences, obtaining information driving around Chicago in his yellow Ford Mustang convertible and always snatching exclusives armed with his camera and portable cassette recorder.
Using only limited information, Kolchak has relentlessly cracked several cases relying on gut instinct and often prevailing through sheer dumb luck. But more often than not, Kolchak's prospects are hampered by the utter destruction of any or all evidence to prove his claims, thus advancing the sheer implausibility of his stories where his peers, particularly his editor, are concerned. On other occasions his investigations have led to demotion or relocation of varying authority figures, though reasons for these actions are never truthfully disclosed.
  • Tony Vincenzo (Simon Oakland) – Kolchak's cantankerous editor who seems to be one of the only people willing to tolerate Kolchak's antics, despite their arguments.
  • Ron Updyke (Jack Grinnage) – Kolchak's supercilious rival at INS whom Kolchak repeatedly refers to as "Uptight". Updyke is the complete opposite of Kolchak, always smartly dressed and hobnobs with Chicago's elite.
  • Emily Cowles (Ruth McDevitt) – an elderly puzzles and advice columnist. The only character who is sympathetic toward Kolchak.
  • Monique Marmelstein (Carol Ann Susi) – an intern whose father owns INS. Because of her clumsiness, many of her coworkers believe she got her job due to nepotism.

Other recurring charactersEdit

  • Gordy "The Ghoul" Spangler (John Fiedler) – a helpful morgue attendant.
  • Captain "Mad Dog" Siska (Keenan Wynn) – a Chicago police officer whose efforts to rein in his temper were constantly thwarted by Kolchak's abrasiveness.

MonstersEdit

In the series' short run it managed to tackle most of the major monster myths, including classics such as vampires, werewolves, mummies and zombies. It also included stories about a doppelganger, witches, a succubus and a pact with Satan. Four episodes focused on monsters and spirits based in native folklore (two involving Native American legends, one Hindu and one Creole).

The series also dealt with creatures from science fiction, including a killer android, an invisible extra-terrestrial, a prehistoric man thawed back to life and a lizard-creature protecting its eggs.

The series also featured some more esoteric antagonists, including a headless motorcycle rider that hinted at the headless horseman myth, and an animated knight's suit of armor possessed by a spirit. A story about Jack the Ripper was one of the few based on an actual historical figure, though the series provided a supernatural explanation. An episode about Helen of Troy dealt with immortality and aging.

MusicEdit

Robert Cobert scored the music for the original television movies. Gil Mellé wrote the music for the TV series, beginning with the theme that begins with Kolchak whistling in the opening credits. Mellé was hired and the theme was written in 20 minutes, just before the opening credits were shot.[6]

Mellé left the series after the fourth episode, saying it was becoming too light-hearted.[7] Composer Jerry Fielding took over scoring music for the remaining series, augmented by one score each from Greg McRitchie (best known for his collaborations with Fielding, James Horner) and Luchi De Jesus). Music Supervisor Hal Mooney re-used much of Mellé's score in various later episodes (most notably The Spanish Moss Murders which has no credited score composer) along with material from the other composers.

Two soundtrack albums have been produced. One released in 2000 by Varèse Sarabande features two suites of Cobert's music from the TV movies. The other, a Universal Television soundtrack released in 2002, features Mellé's theme and scores written for the first three episodes (The Ripper, U.F.O. and Vampire).

The Mellé theme also appears on the TVT Records' Television's Greatest Hits Volume 5. However, all licensed soundtrack recordings of the theme use an otherwise rare original recording alternate take of the theme. Initially identifiable by the altered opening whistle, an off-key electronic note is seemingly randomly introduced towards the end, but when synchronized with picture it corresponds to a specific visual. Mellé was known for his innovative use of electronic orchestration (which was used throughout the series), however the producers chose not to include this stylistic element in his main title for broadcast, instead opting for a more conventional all-orchestral sound.

LegacyEdit

Though Kolchak was short-lived as a series, its impact on popular culture has been substantial.[8] In particular the series has been described as a predecessor to The X-Files (1993–2002). The X-Files creator, Chris Carter, has acknowledged that the show had influenced him greatly in his own work. In a once conducted interview when mentioned that the majority of the viewing public considered the success of The X-Files series as being inspired by other such past shows such as The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits, Carter mentions that while those shows were indeed an influence on Files, it was only about ten-percent, with another thirty-percent coming from the Kolchak series, with the rest derived as being based upon original 'pure inspiration'. Carter paid tribute to Kolchak in a number of ways in the show.[9] A character named "Richard Matheson", named for the screenwriter of the pilot films, appeared in several episodes. Carter also wanted McGavin to appear as Kolchak in one or more episodes of The X-Files, but McGavin was unwilling to reprise the character for the show. He did eventually appear in several episodes as Arthur Dales, a retired FBI agent described as the "father of the X-Files".

The 2005 television seriesEdit

Main article: Night Stalker (TV series)

Though Rice retains the rights to written Kolchak works, and Universal Studios owns the rights to the TV series, ABC maintained ownership of the two TV movies and began airing a new Night Stalker series on September 29, 2005, with the character Carl Kolchak portrayed by Stuart Townsend. On November 14, 2005, ABC and creator Frank Spotnitz announced that the new series was being cancelled due to low ratings. The 2005 series is available on DVD.

In a nod to the original series, the pilot episode has a brief shot from the original TV series of Darren McGavin in the INS newsroom, as the new Kolchak (Townsend) is walking through it. Inserted digitally, McGavin is dressed in the same frumpy clothes he wore as Kolchak in the original series and smiles knowingly while touching his hat. Observant viewers will note the satchel in which Kolchak carried wooden stakes and a cross to battle Skorzeny. In another shot, when fellow reporter Perri Reed (Gabrielle Union) is searching through Kolchak's room, the hat McGavin wore in the original series is seen hanging on a coat rack. Other character names from the TV movies are referenced in various episodes, and one episode ("Timeless") recycled much of the plot of the TV movie The Night Strangler. In the 1970s, the Kolchak character was often seen in his yellow 1965 Ford Mustang convertible while in the new series' Kolchak drives an orange Mustang from 2005.

Other projectsEdit

In 1991, author Mark Dawidziak wrote Night Stalking: A 20th Anniversary "Night Stalker" Companion detailing the production of the movies and TV series. In 1994, Dawidziak worked with Rice to produce the first official "Kolchak" material since the end of the TV series. The novel, Grave Secrets, moved Kolchak from Chicago to Los Angeles where he obtained a job at the Hollywood Dispatch newspaper (nicknamed the "Disgrace"). Most of the recurring characters from the TV movies and series also appear. Kolchak investigates a ghost who is killing those responsible for the destruction of the cemetery where its body is buried.

A comic book based on the property was published in 2003 by Moonstone Books with some commercial success. Moonstone continues to publish both a bimonthly serial magazine and a series of original graphic novels featuring the characters. Moonstone also adapted Rice's original The Night Stalker script as well as two unfilmed scripts for the TV series: "The Get of Belial" and "Eve of Terror".

In 2006, Moonstone published a short fiction anthology, The Night Stalker Chronicles, with short stories contributed by writers such as Peter David, Mike W. Barr, Stuart Kaminsky, Richard Dean Starr and Max Allan Collins. A second volume, Kolchak: The Night Stalker Casebook, was published in January 2007 featuring new short fiction by authors including P. N. Elrod, Christopher Golden, Richard Dean Starr and Elaine Bergstrom.

DVD ReleasesEdit

MGM Home Video released the two TV movies on DVD on August 24, 2004.[10] Universal Studios Home Entertainment released Kolchak: The Night Stalker – The Complete Series on DVD a year later. Madman Entertainment released the complete series on DVD in Australia and New Zealand on July 15, 2009.[11]

DVD Name Ep # Release dates
Region 1 Region 2 Region 4
Kolchak: The Night Stalker - The Complete Series 20 October 4, 2005 August 21, 2006 July 15, 2009

ReferencesEdit

  1. Matheson, Richard (2003). Richard Matheson's Kolchak Scripts. Gauntlet Press. ISBN 1887368647. 
  2. Martin, Bob and David Hirsch, "'Kolchak: The Night Stalker'", Starlog Photo Guidebook: TV Episode Guides, Vol. 2, Starlog Press, Inc., January 1982, p. 84.
  3. Martin, Bob, op. cit.
  4. Vanessa Cortez (September 12, 2003). "Return of Carl Kolchak: Night Stalker & Paranormal Investigator". Weekly Universe. http://www.weeklyuniverse.com/2003/kolchak.htm. Retrieved June 28, 2010. 
  5. "The Night Stalker Companion: A 25th Anniversary Tribute", Mark Dawidziak
  6. Music à la Melle, Part 2 | Mania.com
  7. Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974-75 series)
  8. Night Stalker (2005) - The Complete Series
  9. X-Files vs. The Night Stalker
  10. http://www.tvshowsondvd.com/news/Kolchak-Night-Stalker/1445
  11. http://www.ezydvd.com.au/item.zml/806585

External linksEdit

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