Week 4 of Inktober 2023 sort of picks up where last week’s feature left off. After the demise of Dark Shadows, producer Dan Curtis soldiered on in his mission of bringing the horror genre to television. Working closely with writer Richard Matheson, Dan Curtis purchased the rights to an unpublished novel about a vampiric serial killer loose in Las Vegas. The story featured an investigative reporter named Carl Kolchak. The made-for-television movie — The Night Stalker — aired as the January 18, 1972 installment of ABC’s Tuesday Night at the Movies. The atmospheric creeper, with character actor Darren McGavin in the role of Kolchak, became the highest rated original TV movie on US television, earning a 33.2 rating. The film prompted a sequel — The Night Strangler — the following year and eventually a television series with McGavin reprising his role as Kolchak.
Running for just a single season, the renamed Kolchak: The Night Stalker was popular among viewers, despite its deadly timeslot on Friday evenings, replacing the ill-fated police drama Toma. During its 20 episode run, the intrepid and inquisitive Carl Kolchak faced an onslaught of vampires, werewolves, mummies, witches and even Satan himself. Kolchak constantly butt heads with his always skeptical and overly-belligerent editor, played by overly-belligerent actor Simon Oakland. (Coincidently, Oakland played the overly-belligerent boss on Toma, the show that The Night Stalker replaced.)
After 20 episodes, McGavin, who also served as uncredited executive producer, asked to be let out of his contract. He cited sub-par scripts and the tiresome “monster of the week” premise into which the series had fallen. Two full-length TV movies were cobbled together from unused episodes and previously-shot footage and The Night Stalker was first-run history by early 1975.
But The Night Stalker wasn’t ready to die. In the 80s, CBS reran episodes of The Night Stalker as part of its late-night programming where it was wildly popular. The fledgling SciFi Channel showed The Night Stalker in the 1990s and the entire series received a DVD release in 2005.
During its original production, budding writers and producers used the show as a springboard to celebrated careers. The prolific writing team of Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale received their first professional writing credit for the fifteenth episode of the series. Sopranos creator David Chase worked as a story editor. A young Chris Carter, a devoted viewer of the series, was inspired to create The X-Files, as a result.
A 2005 attempted revival of The Night Stalker, with a new cast, only lasted six episodes.