Kolchak: The Night Stalker: Wikis


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Kolchak: The Night Stalker
The Night Stalker01.jpg
Darren McGavin as Carl Kolchak
Format 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 pilot Movies
Running time 60 minutes per episode (approx)
Original channel ABC
Original run September 13, 1974 – March 28, 1975

Kolchak: The Night Stalker is an American television series that aired on ABC in 1974. It featured a newspaper reporter — Carl Kolchak, played by Darren McGavin — who investigates crimes with mysterious and unlikely causes that the proper authorities won't accept or pursue. Each week Kolchak investigated murders involving supernatural and science fictional creatures. The series was light-hearted black comedy and placed Kolchak in an office setting with quirky co-workers.

The series was preceded by two television movies, The Night Stalker (1972) and The Night Strangler (1973). It is often credited as the inspiration for The X-Files and was succeeded by a second television series with a new cast and characters in 2005, as well as several novels and comic books.

The entire series is now 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 TV.

The series is now available on DVD.




The original novel

The Kolchak character originated in an unpublished novel, The Kolchak Papers, written by Jeff Rice.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 is really a vampire named Janos Skorzeny. Although the character in the novel uses the name "Carl," it's revealed in the book that his birth name was "Karel."

The novel was finally 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. It and the novelization of the sequel movie were republished by Moonstone in 2007 as an omnibus edition called The Kolchak Papers.

The Night Stalker

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. 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 January 11, 1972 and garnered the highest ratings of any TV 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 Strangler

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. Kolchak recruits exotic dancer/pre-med student Louise Harper (Jo Ann Pflug) to assist him in tracking down the eponymous strangler. At the conclusion, Kolchak is once again out of a job, but this time he is accompanied by Vincenzo, who has been fired for attempting to print Kolchak's story. The pair are last seen driving to New York, with Harper in the back seat; all three are arguing.

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. 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 role as the newspaper editor, and the cast also included Richard Anderson (as the alchemist), 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.

Simon Oakland as Tony Vincenzo.


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

After some negotiation, McGavin agreed to return as Kolchak and functioned as the series' executive producer [3] (although Cy Chermak and then Paul Playdon were the producers appointed by Universal), in an ABC-commissioned weekly series; however, ABC failed to obtain the permission of Jeff Rice, and a lawsuit resulted.[4] 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 titled series, Kojak; both shows were produced by Universal Studios).

The show featured a wide range of guest stars, 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, and Dwayne Hickman. Other actors that would go on to subsequent popularity included 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 turned out to have been his last acting appearance. He since became a producer and a home builder. McGavin's wife and behind-the-scenes assistant, Kathie Browne, appeared in the final episode as Lt. Irene Lamont, who found herself forced to deal with Kolchak.

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

The series was canceled after one year and 20 episodes 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 composed of two previously screened episodes from the series. A voice-over provided by McGavin allowed for some continuity in the narrative. Due to this re-editing, the four actual episodes were removed from the syndication package and were unavailable in their original format until Columbia House released them on VHS. In addition, another two-parter was released on video called, The Night Stalker: Two Tales of Terror which was simply two separate episodes included on the same tape.


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


  • Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) - an investigative reporter who has a penchant for dealing with the bizarre and supernatural. Though a talented writer and investigator, his prospects as a journalist are limited by his habit of irritating those in authority and his taste for the unbelievable and unprovable. He is seldom seen without his trademark straw hat and seersucker suit (regardless of the time of year). Kolchak as a paranormal newspaperman mirrors the real-life reporter Charles Fort.
  • Tony Vincenzo (Simon Oakland) - Kolchak's cantankerous editor who, despite frequent arguments with him, seems to be the only editor willing to put up with his shenanigans.
  • Ron Updyke (Jack Grinnage) - Kolchak's supercilious rival at INS. In contrast to Kolchak, Updyke is always nattily 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 owned the INS. Because of her clumsiness and inexperience, many of her coworkers believe she only has her job because of nepotism.

Other recurring characters

  • Gordy "The Ghoul" Spangler (John Fiedler) - a helpful morgue attendant who ran lotteries based on corpse statistics
  • Captain "Mad Dog" Siska (Keenan Wynn) - a Chicago officer who found his efforts to rein in his temper through group therapy constantly thwarted by Kolchak's abrasive nature.


In the series' short run it managed to tackle most of the major monster myths. In the classic monster genre, it included stories on a vampire, a werewolf, a mummy and a zombie. In a related classification, 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.

Of the more esoteric were episodes about a headless motorcycle rider (the headless horseman myth), an animated knight's suit of armor possessed by a spirit out for revenge. A story about Jack the Ripper is one of the few based on an actual historical figure, and is given a supernatural explanation. An episode about Helen of Troy dealt with immortality and aging. [5]


Despite being short-lived, the impact of Kolchak in popular culture has been substantial.[6] 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 influenced him greatly in his own work. He paid tribute to Kolchak in a number of ways.[7] 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".

Nicolas Cage credits Kolchak: The Night Stalker for his inspiration in producing the new TV series, The Dresden Files, about a private detective/wizard who investigates crimes involving the supernatural.[8]

The 2005 television series

While Jeff Rice retains the rights to written Kolchak works, and Universal 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, the network and creator Frank Spotnitz announced the cancellation of the new series, due to low viewership. The 2005 series is available on DVD.

As a nod to the original series, the pilot episode has a brief (about three seconds) shot of Darren McGavin in the newsroom (taken from the original TV movie), 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 smiling a knowing smile while fondling his hat. In another shot, when fellow reporter Perri Reed (Gabrielle Union) is searching through Kolchak's room, the hat that Darren McGavin wore in the original series is hanging on a coat rack. Other character names from the TV movies are referenced in various episodes, and one episode ("Timeless") used 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 the new series' Kolchak drove a grabber orange 2005 Mustang.

Other projects

Carl Kolchak as seen in comics by Moonstone Books. Art by Gordon Purcell, Terry Paliot, Ken Wolsk.

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 author Jeff Rice and produced 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 (nicknamed the "Disgrace"). Most of the recurring characters from the TV movies and series also appeared. Kolchak becomes involved with a ghost-guardian killing those responsible for the destruction of its Ohio cemetery.

In 1996, Dawidziak's 1991 book was re-released as The Night Stalker Companion: A 25th Anniversary Tribute with additional material added to the 1991 book.

In 2003 Dawidziak worked with author Richard Matheson to produced Richard Matheson's 'Kolchak Scripts, containing the three original TV movie scripts: The Night Stalker, The Night Strangler and the un-produced 3rd movie The Night Killers.[9]

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 to this day. Moonstone also adapted Jeff Rice's original script of The Night Stalker 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 Releases

The 2 TV movies were released on DVD by MGM Home Video on August 24, 2004. (an earlier DVD release of the two films by Anchor Bay Entertainment is out of print). The subsequent TV series was released on DVD in Region 1 by Universal Studios Home Entertainment on October 4, 2005.

DVD Name Ep # Release Date
The Night Stalker / The Night Strangler
Double Feature
2 August 24, 2004
Kolchak: The Night Stalker - The Complete Series 20 October 4, 2005


Robert Cobert scored the music for the original Television movies. Gil Mellé was hired to write the music for the series, beginning with the distinctive theme whistled by Kolchak in the opening credits, which doubled as a haunting melody used throughout the series soundtrack. Mellé left the series after the fourth episode citing it was becoming too light-hearted.[10] Composer Jerry Fielding took over for the remaining series augmented by one score each from Greg McRitchie (best known for his collaborations with Fielding (who composed music for episodes of this show) and 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 as well.

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

The Gil Mellé Theme also notably appears on the TVT Records Television's Greatest Hits Volume 5. However, all licensed soundtrack recordings of the theme commercially available use an otherwise rare original recording alternate take of the well known theme. Initially identifiable by the altered opening whistle, an off-key electronic note is seemingly at random 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.

Mellé was hired and the theme was written in 20 minutes before the opening credits where Kolchak whistles it, were shot.[11]


  1. ^ Gauntlet Press Richard Matheson, "Richard Matheson's Kolchak Scripts", Gauntlet Press, 2003, 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. ^ Return of Carl Kolchak: Night Stalker & Paranormal Investigator
  5. ^ Kolchak Episode Guide
  6. ^ Night Stalker (2005) - The Complete Series
  7. ^ X-Files vs. The Night Stalker
  8. ^ TV Guide article
  9. ^ Richard Matheson's Kolchak Scripts
  10. ^ Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974-75 series)
  11. ^ Music à la Melle, Part 2 | Mania.com

External links


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