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 19th century alchemist.
The series has been described as a predecessor of The X-Files, and X-Files creator Chris Carter has acknowledged that the show influenced him greatly in his 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 the X-Files".
The Kolchak character originated in 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 Janos Skorzeny. The Night Stalker aired on the ABC network on 1972-01-11 and garnered the highest ratings of any TV movie at 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, both as Kolchak and as the series de-facto producer (for which he was never officially given on-screen credit), in an ABC-commissioned weekly 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 was now named The Night Stalker (originally called Kolchak: The Night Stalker, but its title shortened to avoid confusion with a similarly spelled series, Kojak, and ironically both shows produced by Universal Studios). The series version was set in Chicago and featured Kolchak as a reporter for the Independent News Service. The series also featured Simon Oakland, again appearing as Kolchak's editor, and Ruth McDevitt as an elderly advice columnist who also wrote for the newspaper. 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 mediocre ratings and at the behest of McGavin himself, as he had been unhappy with the "monster of the week" direction the program took as well as with the exhausting filming schedule. McGavin has been quoted numerous times stating that he did, however, like and encourage the series' emphasis on comedy and its quirky family of office characters. Ultimately, however, McGavin asked for a release from his contract with two episodes left to be filmed, a request that 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 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.
The series is now being rerun on cable's Sci-Fi Channel with its original expanded title, Kolchak: The Night Stalker.
- From Wikipedia