Synopsis by Hal Erickson
Debuting Friday, September 13, 1974 on ABC, the weekly, hour-long sci-fi/fantasy series Kolchak: The Night Stalker was spun off from two well-received feature length entries from the same network's Movie of the Week: The Night Stalker (1971) and The Night Strangler (1973). Starring in both these made-for-TV offerings was Darren McGavin as Carl Kolchak, a fly-by-night newspaper reporter who'd stumbled onto proof of actual paranormal and supernatural activity (a vampire terrorizing Las Vegas in Night Stalker, a werewolf decimating Seattle in Night Strangler), only to have his stories suppressed and himself bullied into silence by nervous police officials and politicians who didn't want to scare away tourists and merchants. By the time the Kolchak series proper began, the title character (still played by McGavin) had been effectively blacklisted by every major publisher in the US, and was forced to work for the Chicago-based Independent News Service, a seat-of-the-pants operation edited by Tony Vincenzo (another carryover from the movie versions). Having likewise been exiled from the higher journalistic circles thanks to Kolchak's "unbelievable" news scoops, Vincenzo harbored a grudge against our hero, but kept him on the payroll all the same. As for Kolchak, he was determined to regain his credibility by filing a story about the Supernatural that could be proven beyond doubt--and of course, he was always foiled when the evidence "mysteriously" vanished at the end of each episode. Making matters worse, Kolchak couldn't even post a "normal" news story, since bizarre and unexplainable things kept happening around him wherever he went. Other regulars included Jack Grinnage as Ron Updike, Independent News' fledgling society reporter who yearned to break into the "big time" and was willing to stab Kolchak in the back to get what he wanted; and Ruth McDevitt as the service's advice columnist Miss Emily Cowles, the only person whom Kolchak could rely upon when things got rough. As for the series' various ghosts, monsters, vampires, mummies and lycanthropes, they were seldom seen full-face but instead lurked in the shadows, in the tradition of the classic Val Lewton "psychological horror" epics of the 1940s (Trivia note: among the series' writers was a young Robert Zemeckis). Although the series enjoyed the built-in following of viewers who'd loved The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler, Kolchak: The Night Stalker languished in the ratings opposite such competition as Police Woman and The Rockford Files. Even if the series had been a hit, however, it would have been scuttled by a lawsuit instigated by Jeff Rice, author of the novel upon which the original Night Stalker was based, who insisted he had not given anyone permission to turn his property into a weekly series. Some thirty years after its cancellation on August 30, 1975, Kolchak: The Night Stalker was revived by the X-Files team under the simplified title Night Stalker, with Stuart Townsend as Carl Kolchak.