Friends, when The Night Stalker was aired as the ABC Movie of the Week on the evening of January 11th of 1972, it was a massive success to say the very least. It managed to earn a 33.2 rating and a 54 share of the television viewers that night, the highest rating for an original television movie for that time. The lion’s share of credit for the popularity of that made-for-TV movie goes to the late and great Darren McGavin as Carl Kolchak, a former Chicago newspaper reporter who has been sacked from the major papers and finds himself working in Las Vegas. Which is how the hapless Kolchak finds himself stumbling onto the biggest case of his career, a serial killer that is in fact… a vampire.
Of course it didn’t hurt The Night Stalker that it featured a slew of solid character actors like Simon Oakland, Ralph Meeker, Claude Akins, Elisha Cook Jr., Carol Lynley, and Barry Atwater to name just a few. Not to mention the fact that it was based off an excellent and at that point unpublished novel by Jeff Rice, with none other than Richard Matheson (I Am Legend, The Twilight Zone) adapting the story into an incredible screenplay.
The popularity of that 1972 TV movie led to 1973’s The Night Strangler, in this made-for-TV film Carl Kolchak finds himself running afoul of a serial killer in Seattle, Washington – one that is using his victims to prolong his own life and has been doing so for over a century.
It would have been an amazing bit of trivia to share on the Saturday Frights podcast, when the Projectionist and I tackled The Night Stalker on an early episode. But there was in fact a third TV movie written by William F. Nolan (Logan’s Run), based on a story idea by Matheson. Entitled The Night Killers, it would have taken place in Hawaii with Kolchak stumbling upon a UFO, people being replaced by androids, and a plot for aliens to take over the Earth. ABC decided that the popularity of the character however was better suited for a television series, with the first episode of Kolchak: The Night Stalker airing on September 13th of 1974.
It was in 1974 when this interview between David Moore of KBAK-TV in Bakersfield, California and the legendary Darren McGavin took place. It sounds like it was just before the first episode aired and it sure seems to me that McGavin is excited about returning to the role of Carl Kolchak. My only complaint is that I wish this interview would have run for at least half an hour, as it is an absolute pleasure to witness the charm and wit of McGavin.