History of "The Night Stalker" on TV

Herbie J Pilato

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The Night Stalker television franchise began with a series TV-movies in the early 1970s.

First, there was The Night Stalker, which premiered on ABC in the January of 1972.

This initial television film starred Darren McGavin as Carl Kolchak, a crumpled-looking (in a Columbo-esque way) newspaper reporter who stumbles upon supernatural "stories."

In The Night Stalker, which is arguably one of the scariest small-screen flicks ever made, Kolchak encounters his first other-worldly case: a vampire.

The first movie was a hit and spawned the second TV-movie, titled, The Night Strangler, which aired the following January in 1973. And that film was a hit, as well.

Consequently, the following fall, The Night Stalker, as a series made its debut. But there were lots of freaky, confusing things that kinda hexed its chances for hit-dom (thus, automatically classifying it in "cult status" on a whole other level).

To start with, in the first movie, the vampire was the "Night Stalker" and Kolchak was just the reporter. Then, in the second movie, Kolchak was still the reporter, but he was confronted by a "Night Strangler" (played by Richard Anderson, best known as Oscar Goldman of Six Million Dollar Man/Bionic Woman fame).

When the actual TV series began, the title changed to Kolchak: The Night Stalker, and then later reverted back to just The Night Stalker.

Either way, people were baffled. Kolchak, apparently, was now himself the night-stalking reporter trailing after creepy people, instead of the reporter seeking out night-stalking creepy people and events.

Adding to the confusion was the fact that ABC debuted another "K"-titled show at the time, called, Kodiak (starring Clint Walker on a ski-doo in Alaska), which viewers also confused with the film manufacturing giant Kodak. Meanwhile, too, CBS had a little number called Kojak, starring Telly Savalas as a tough lollipop-loving New York police detective. So, it was all just a big K-mess.

As a result, The Night Stalker, as a series, only lasted one season. Great stories. Confounding title. So-so ratings.

Flashforward to the fall of 1993 - and Fox TV and The X-Files, created by Chris Carter, with several episodes written by Frank Spotnitz; both gentlemen being huge fans of the original Night Stalker productions.

As such, many compared The X-Files to The Night Stalker (Darren McGavin, in fact, made a guest appearance on Files, as the original "mystery" detective).

Flashforward to the fall of 2005 on ABC. Spotnitz is hired to reimagine Night Stalker, without the "The" in the title, as a new series.

Right off the bat (no pun intended), the show is not welcomed by viewers. The new Carl Kolchak, played by Stuart Townsend, doesn't look crumpled enough. He's also not in his mid-40s, like McGavin's original reporter.

In the credits, original Night Stalker producer Dan Curtis (of TV's daytime gothic-soap Dark Shadows fame) is credited in the new show as only a "Consulting Producer."

But all things considered, the new Stalker was watchable television, despite a few glitches. Townsend pulls-off the journalistic-ness of CK's multi-dimensional new backstory, with Gabrielle Union as his sidekick.

The reason the remake failed may have been because it was too much of a remake, and disregarded a good portion of the original show's mythology. The new TNS seems to be a mixture of the original series, Lois & Clark, The Incredible Hulk, The Fugitive, and Veronic Mars.

The opening episode was scary, but the "beasts" in that segment were never clearly shown, with their origin never clearly defined.

There never happened in the original series. Every weekly creature was ultimately seen and explained by the hour's end. But that was then, in the pre-arc days of series television. And due to certain literal series bench "marks" on the actual physical body of the new CK character (in the form of tiny wiggly wrist tattoos), it's evident that the producers have later plans for explanations.

And though the new dude who plays Vicenzo breaths a more conservative spin on the character (played so spastically well by the late Simon Oakland in the original TNS 1972 and 1973 movies, and the 1974 TV series), he's not any more likable (not that conservative always means likable). The passion of the original Vicenzo was missing. For that matter, so was the passion of the original CK.

This new CK was just a little too cool.

However, it was cool to see a "snowy" image of Darren McGavin as Kolchak superimposed into one of the office scenes in the new series. And he was wearing his famous white suit, if not his straw hat.

The new guy doesn't don either in the new show (for fear by the producers, presumably, that he would be compared to John Travolta's character from Saturday Night Fever or, worse, Matlock?).

Though CK's hat was in full view, hanging on a coat rack in his home.

So, at least that was honorable.

And truly? The only thing that was intensely disconcerting about the new NS, is what was bothersome about the original TNS.

Again:

Is Kolchak the "Night Stalker"? Or are the creatures he is seeking out the "Night Stalkers"?

And why did they take the "The" outta the title?

If they're gonna muck around so much with the original concept and title, then why not call it "Knight Stalker" or "The Knight Stalker"? Or maybe "The Knight Stalks Her"?

Though in that case, then they would have had to transform the lead character into a female, or fire Townsend, and place Gabrielle Union in the lead.

Ok, let's just keep it simple with the possibilities of "Knight Stalker."

Would everyone then think this show would be a "reimagining" of "Knight Rider"?

A talking car never showed up as one of the new NS "creatures," so, we'll know the answer.

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Herbie J Pilato is the author of several books about pop culture including THE 12 BEST SECRETS OF CHRISTMAS: A TREASURE HOUSE OF DECEMBER MEMORIES REVEALED, MARY: THE MARY TYLER MOORE STORY, TWITCH UPON A STAR, GLAMOUR, GIDGETS AND THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, DASHING, DARING AND DEBONAIR, and NBC & ME: MY LIFE AS A PAGE IN A BOOK, among others. He's also a TV writer/producer, writes for the Television Academy and Emmys.com, and is the host of THEN AGAIN WITH HERBIE J PILATO, the hit classic TV talk show (which premiered on Amazon Prime in 2019).

Los Angeles, CA
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