When actor Darren McGavin was approached to play the lead role of Carl Kolchak in the 1972 movie The Night Stalker, the script called for Bermuda shorts, long socks and loud Hawaiian shirts.
McGavin apparently took one look at the script and said no way, that may be the way reporters dress in Las Vegas — but that wasn’t how he saw the role.
And so, one of the screen’s most endearing characters was born.
As a reporter for the Chicago branch of the Independent News Service (INS), Kolchak spends his time driving around Chicago in a tired yellow Ford Mustang convertible, dressed in trademark seersucker jacket, black knit tie, tennis shoes and a porkpie hat — a look reminiscent of the disheveled Peter Falk in the earlier Columbo TV series.
Kolchak is the police roundsman and chief ambulance chaser for the INS news service, armed with a police scanner, compact Rollei 16 camera and portable cassette recorder.
His stories always contain a supernatural element — whether its vampires, werewolves, or some other creation that threatens life and limb — his and others.
The main character came from an unpublished novel, The Kolchak Papers, written by former reporter Jeff Rice.
In it, a Las Vegas newspaper reporter named Carl Kolchak tracks down and defeats a serial killer who turns out to be a vampire named Janos Skorzeny.
The first movie, The Night Stalker, that screened in 1972, was a huge hit and its follow up, The Night Strangler, was also a big success.
A third movie was planned, but ABC decided instead to cash in on the success of the movies with the launch of an ongoing television series that went to air in 1974.
After some negotiation, McGavin agreed to return as Kolchak and also served as executive producer, though he was not credited as such.
Neither ABC nor Universal, however, had obtained Jeff Rice’s permission and so he sued the studio.
The suit was resolved shortly before the series went to air in the autumn 1974 season, replacing Toma on the network’s Friday night schedule.
Rice received an on-screen credit as series creator.
The first four episodes aired under the title of The Night Stalker.
Then, after a month-long hiatus, the series was renamed and returned as Kolchak: The Night Stalker.
Although the series lasted only a single season and ran for 20 episodes, it rapidly achieved cult status and has remained very popular in syndication.
X-Files creator Chris Carter cites the show as a “tremendous influence”.
in 2005, X-Files producer Frank Spotnitz resurrected the series with a new cast and characters, along with novels and comic books.
But the new series bombed and was quietly cancelled after only six of the 10 episodes produced were aired.
The Night Stalker provided the first professional gig for Robert Zemeckis and his writing partner Bob Gale, who wrote the script for the episode “Chopper”.