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JohnHopper

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Item: KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER (ABC/1974-1975)
[voice-over] “This is the story behind the most incredible series of the Seventies to ever occur at Universal studio. Now, here are the true facts. Friday night, November 12, 11 P.M., name: Kolchak, profession: reporter… almost six decades later, he reappears on a Blu-Ray edition to get by all means necessary. Take my advice, don’t wait for it, run.”

KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER • (1974-1975) (20 episodes • 50 mins • color)
The ABC series is the sequel to the two seminal telefilms created by Jeff Rice and produced by Dan Curtis. Early episodes make veiled references to the 1972 The Night Stalker (see “The Ripper”, “The Vampire”) and the 1973 The Night Strangler (see “The Ripper”). The concept of the show is based on the classical detective story framework combined with a monster of the week formula spiced with irony, social satire, wit: in other words, the main character has a dual job, part trivial newspaper reporter to pay the bills as a front and part private investigator to look for supernatural cases and therefore calls into questions the authorities, the institutions and the corporations. Unlike the previous telefilms, the character of Carl Kolchak works for the INS (Independent News Service) in Chicago and interacts with his office colleagues.

What makes this series interesting is five elements: the eccentric and anachronistic leading man wearing his personalized outfit (a seersucker suit, a straw hat aka the bird feeder, a pair of Stan Smith sneakers by Adidas) and displaying his casual and insolent Jack Lemmonesque behavior, the performances of the actors playing the leading guests or small picturesque parts, the guest police heads, the odd tone and the inspired and ambitious music scores. The added fun of the series is the art of narration (intro, outro, in between certain scenes) and to watch Carl Kolchak driving his yellow Ford Mustang (aka the Yellow Submarine) at night while the audience hears his voice-over in the tradition of the great private eyes (Cf. Mike Hammer, Philip Marlowe) and actor Darren McGavin is no stranger to this specific realm: see his previous series Mike Hammer (1958) and The Outsider (1968). Moreover, Kolchak is obviously a man from the past that is stuck in the present time (the subversive Seventies) which creates a contrast and the amusement of the audience. The folklore intrudes the urban, industrial, rationalistic and hedonistic America.

The bulk of the composers consists of two leading craftsmen: Gil Mellé and Jerry Fielding. For the record, Universal television household composer, known for Rod Serling’s Night Gallery and Columbo, and jazz musician/electronic pioneer/music concrète artist Gil Mellé is the music originator of the theme music—derived from a secondary theme of the unsold pilot The Questor Tapes—and writes the first four scores and leaves the series after a shift of the dramatical leaning and is replaced by Jerry Fielding, a major film composer involved with notorious directors (Sam Peckinpah, Michael Winner, Clint Eastwood) and also involved at Universal’s highly popular series McMillan&Wife. According to expert Jon Burlingame, Fielding writes music that is spread in seven episodes. Some of the onscreen music credits are doubtful because Universal television music supervisor Hal Mooney tracks cues from both composers and you even find double credits. Two one-shot composers also participate: Luchi de Jesus (“The Energy Eater”) and Greig McRitchie (“Horror in the Heights”)—the orchestrator of Jerry Fielding.

The majority of the stories are adaptations from third parties and two leading writers manage the body of work: Rudolph Borchert and David Chase. Only three writers participate more than once: Bill S. Ballinger (Cf. Mike Hammer), L. Ford Neale & John Huff, Arthur Rowe. One particular writer needs a special attention: British-born Jimmy Sangster who used to be one of the creative forces behind the Hammer Studios.

A troika of prolific directors (Allen Baron, Alex Grasshoff, Don Weis) set the style and dominate the season and some interesting ones pop-up once like Michael Caffey (Cf. Combat!), horror expert Gordon Hessler, Vincent McEveety (Cf. Gunsmoke). At the very end of the season, Don McDougall (Cf. Trackdown/Wanted: Dead or Alive) participates twice.

Graphic design-wise, artist Jack Cole only titles the first four episodes of the series with The Night Stalker logo.

PRODUCTION TEAM
producers: Paul Playdon, Cy Chermak
executive producer: Darren McGavin (uncredited)
story consultant: David Chase
story editors: David Chase and Rudolph Borchert (uncredited)
directors of photography: Ronald W. Browne, Alric Edens, Donald Peterman, Eduardo Ricci

After finishing his multiple task on The Magician with actor Bill Bixby, British-born producer Paul Playdon hired David Chase, managed the first two episodes (“The Ripper”, “The Zombie”), wrote one script (“The Werewolf”) and left because of Darren McGavin’s idiosyncrasy and strong commitment. He was known as a gifted writer and was also the famous script consultant on the third and fourth season of Mission: Impossible and most people remembered him for “The Mind of Stefan Miklos”. You could link the departure of Paul Playdon with the one of composer Gil Mellé but after the first four episodes.

Producer Cy Chermak was the replacement of Paul Playdon and was associated to the cop series Ironside as producer and executive producer. During his regime, composer Jerry Fielding blossomed as well as actress Ruth McDevitt.

Executive producer Darren McGavin unofficially supervised four episodes (“The Werewolf”, “Bad Medecine”, “The Energy Eater”, “Horror in the Heights”), directed composer Gil Mellé to fashion the whistling tune of the main titles sequence and was the headman on the set and the casting director in the shadow who united actors.

Story consultant David Chase was a former writer, worked on The Magician with Paul Playdon and was later connected to the private detective series The Rockford Files as a producer. Chase adapted a lot of stories from other writers on Kolchak.

Director of photography Ronald W. Browne just ending his assignment on The Magician, was very popular for Mission: Impossible from season 5 to season 7 because he altered the look of the spy series and was the main cinematographer on Kolchak but other craftsmen worked as Alric Edens (“The Zombie”), Donald Peterman (“The Ripper”), Eduardo Ricci (“They Have Been, They Are, They Will Be…”).

CAST OF CHARACTERS
regular cast: Darren McGavin (INS reporter Carl Kolchak), Simon Oakland (INS editor Tony Vincenzo).

supporting cast: Jack Grinnage (INS reporter Ron ‘uptight’ Updyke), Ruth McDevitt (INS columnist Emily Cowles alias Miss Emily), John Fiedler (coroner Gordon Spangler alias Gordy the Ghoul), Carol Ann Susi (intern and secretary Monique Marmelstein).

guest actors as police heads: Charles Aidman, Ramon Bieri, Kathie Browne—the wife of Darren McGavin—, Philip Carey, William Daniels, John Dehner, Bert Freed, James Gregory, Dwayne Hickman, Robert Karnes, Larry Linville, Ken Lynch, John Marley, William Mims, Paul Sorensen, Keenan Wynn, Robert Yuro.

Two guest actors appear twice as police heads: Ramon Bieri and Keenan Wynn in the recurring role of Captain Joe ‘Mad Dog’ Siska. Two episodes (“The Werewolf”, “The Trevi Collection”) have no guest police heads.

The strength of the show is also the colorful guest actors that add weight to the story and the majority first appears in The Outsider (1968): see Julie Adams, Fred Beir, Henry Beckman, Sorrell Booke, Tom Bosley, Eric Braeden, Henry Brandon, Frank Campanella, Corinne Camacho, Cathy Lee Crosby, Severn Darden, David Doyle, Lieux Dressler, Robert Emhardt, Erik Estrada, Sharon Farrell, Antonio Fargas, Nina Foch, Ned Glass, Julie Gregg, John Hoyt, Carolyn Jones, Henry Jones, Victor Jory, Richard Kiel, Frank Marth, Murray Matheson, Priscilla Morrill, Kathleen Nolan, J. Pat O’Malley, Lara Parker, Albert Paulsen, Andrew Prine, Barbara Rhoades, Madlyn Rhue, Pippa Scott, Joseph Sirola, Tom Skerritt, William Smith, Abraham Sofaer, Larry Storch, Michael Strong, Nita Talbot, Dick Van Patten, Katherine Woodville.

THE BLU-RAY SET
The prints are restored and look wonderful and the picture quality highlights the cinematography. It features an interview with story consultant David Chase, an interview with Dana Gould, a booklet essay by Mark Dawidziak (author of The Night Stalker Companion), twenty one audio commentaries by various experts (Mark Dawidziak, David J. Schow, Kim Newman/Barry Forshaw, Tim Lucas, Constantine Nasr, Rodney Barnes, Gary Gerani, Steve Haberman, Steve Mitchell/Cyrus Voris, Mike White/Chris Stachiw, Amanda Reyes, Michael Schlesinger), fourteen original TV spots, optional English subtitles.
 

JohnHopper

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Pictures of Kolchak: The Night Stalker main titles sequence.

kolchak_main.jpg
 

JohnHopper

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The bulk of the composers consists of two leading craftsmen: Gil Mellé and Jerry Fielding. For the record, Universal television household composer, known for Rod Serling’s Night Gallery and Columbo, and jazz musician/electronic pioneer/music concrète artist Gil Mellé is the music originator of the theme music—derived from a secondary theme of the unsold pilot The Questor Tapes—and writes the first four scores and leaves the series after a shift of the dramatical leaning and is replaced by Jerry Fielding, a major film composer involved with notorious directors (Sam Peckinpah, Michael Winner, Clint Eastwood) and also involved at Universal’s highly popular series McMillan&Wife. According to expert Jon Burlingame, Fielding writes music that is spread in seven episodes. Some of the onscreen music credits are doubtful because Universal television music supervisor Hal Mooney tracks cues from both composers and you even find double credits. Two one-shot composers also participate: Luchi de Jesus (“The Energy Eater”) and Greig McRitchie (“Horror in the Heights”)—the orchestrator of Jerry Fielding.


Pictures of Kolchak: The Night Stalker composers onscreen credits.

1_melle.jpg
2_fielding.jpg
3_dejesus.jpg
4_mcritchie.jpg
 

John_Simpson

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Loved the series. I still haven't figured out star Darren McGavin's complaints that he didn't care for the show’s "monster-of-the-week formula", that led to the cancellation. The record's just never been very clear what he would have replaced it with.

I can figure that nowadays we would have a story arc that covers an entire season (24, Murder One and Law & Order: Organized Crime come to mind immediately) but in the 1970's where, if you missed an episode, you'd have to wait for summer reruns?
 

John_Simpson

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In an article in Fangoria #25 that "Monster of the Season" format is exactly what McGavin suggested. He did a call out to The Fugitive where David Janssen is looking for the One Armed Man, avoiding Lt Gerard and helping out the usual damsel in distress or occasional child in danger.

I don't see Kolchak tracking a vampire across the States,working menial jobs to make ends meet with a glimpse of the vampire (or whatever) for 5 or 10 minutes out of a one-hour episode.

fangoria #3 kolchak 1979.png fangoria #25 kolchak 1983.png fangoria #25 page 52 nightstalker.jpg
 

Matt Hough

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A better plan might have been two or three episode arcs thus not blowing through their entire catalog of ghouls in a single season. But at the time, that kind of serialized storytelling was not the norm. It was case-of-the-week whether it be a doctor, lawyer, police, education, or journalism show.
 

JohnHopper

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Item: “Next on the desk of my editor… the reviews of the first disc and its side A… starting: November 15, 8 AM… Load your camera, check-out your tape recorder and be ready!”


kolchak_dvd01.jpg
 

bmasters9

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A better plan might have been two or three episode arcs thus not blowing through their entire catalog of ghouls in a single season. But at the time, that kind of serialized storytelling was not the norm. It was case-of-the-week whether it be a doctor, lawyer, police, education, or journalism show.

Wasn't it around the time of Hill Street Blues in '81 when police series started to have ongoing cases and storylines (some cases never to be solved)?
 

John_Simpson

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Wasn't it around the time of Hill Street Blues in '81 when police series started to have ongoing cases and storylines (some cases never to be solved)?
Pretty much as I recall. Hill Street had multiple story lines for the ensemble cast as well as something that would begin and end in a particular episode. To help matters along, starting in Season 3 is when they began the "Previously on Hill Street Blues" montage with clips from like a half a dozen episodes. Also, the intertwined story lines would often fade into the background and then come to the fore.
Far as I've been able to find out is that Hill Street was the very first ongoing TV series to do that.
 

bmasters9

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Pretty much as I recall. Hill Street had multiple story lines for the ensemble cast as well as something that would begin and end in a particular episode. To help matters along, starting in Season 3 is when they began the "Previously on Hill Street Blues" montage with clips from like a half a dozen episodes. Also, the intertwined story lines would often fade into the background and then come to the fore.
Far as I've been able to find out is that Hill Street was the very first ongoing TV series to do that.

And gave way to Homicide: Life on the Street starting in 1993 on NBC, and The Wire on HBO.
 

John_Simpson

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And gave way to Homicide: Life on the Street starting in 1993 on NBC, and The Wire on HBO.
But don't forget 1982's St. Elsewhere which was probably the first series influenced by Hill Street. And not to mention 1995's Murder One (also by Bochco) that covered a single murder case (with some background story lines)
 

bmasters9

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But don't forget 1982's St. Elsewhere which was probably the first series influenced by Hill Street.
Indeed-- it wasn't just crime dramas that were influenced in the Hill Street mold; legal series like L.A. Law also were influenced after that fashion.
 

JohnHopper

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Episode #1
“The Ripper”
written by Rudolph Borchert
directed by Allen Baron
produced by Paul Playdon
cinematography by Donald Peterman
music by Gil Mellé
guests: Beatrice Colen, Ken Lynch, Mews Small, Don Mantooth, Robert Bryan Berger, Roberta Collins, Clint Young, Mickey Gilbert

The Mail Boy: “Good morning, Miss Emily.”
Carl Kolchak: “Go play with your pimples.”


Item: It’s an excellent taut and dynamic opener faithful to the original concept of producer Dan Curtis that is more or less a rework of the second telefilm The Night Strangler and Kolchak explores the underworld of the go-go dancers and massage parlors in the Loop—the sleazy section of Chicago like Times Square and one anecdote with a double entendre remains memorable: Kolchak is cornered and booked as a pervert by an undercover female cop named Officer Cortazzo posing as exotic masseuse Susan and on his way to go to the police car, the officer is amazed that Kolchak doesn’t like watching girls and Kolchak replies: “No, I don’t—No, and I’m not that way either”. The ripper displays his extraordinary strength thrice against his opponents (see the customers at the strip club Werners’ Boom-Boom Room in Milwaukee, the police chasing him in the rooftops and in the streets of Chicago, the undercover cop and the TAC squad inside and outside of the massage parlor entitled Sultan’s Palace in Chicago) but he is eventually neutralized by electricity twice (the police and Kolchak). As Dr. Richard Malcolm in The Night Strangler, the foe targets a specific type of female victims: strip dancer Michele Shifman at Werners’ Boom-Boom Room, Debbie Fielder, masseuse Laura Maresco, the masseuse at Sultan’s Palace, reporter Jane Plumm. Sultan’s Palace is the Chicago equivalent of Omar’s Tent in Seattle. This is the only episode that depicts Kolchak taking the subway in Windy City.

Ron Updyke: “Hang in there... Hee Hee. Miss Emily. Hee Hee.”
Carl Kolchak: “Let it all hang out, Uptight.”
Ron Updyke: [Wheeling furiously] “Updyke!”
Carl Kolchak: “Certainly.”


Item: The outcome in the abandoned dark house is fabulous and reminds the gothic atmosphere of the first telefilm The Night Stalker and Kolchak is scared thrice in there: the impossible waiting in the closet, the accidental discovery of Jane Plumm’s body, the sudden look in the mirror. Despite the fact that the character of Miss Emily doesn’t exist at this stage, Kolchak is obliged to do a dreary task and is commissioned to answer letters under the pen name of Miss Emily and then replace the poor shocked Updyke in the sordid murder cases and exclaims with his usual ironic tone: “Hoooorrible”. First episode in which the two leads are annoyed by the noise and the vibrations of the passing subway, showing Kolchak in the dark room with a young assistant—here, the mail boy—, showing the opening cast and crew credits displayed in front of a high angle shot with lens’ vignetting of the city followed by a high angle zoom shot of the aerial subway. For the record, Kolchak whistles the series theme tune while scouting around the house of the ripper and at the very end of the episode while leaving the INS office.

police head: Captain Warren (actor Ken Lynch).
monster: Jack The Ripper (a superhuman killer) carrying a sword-cane with a devil-carved knob.
Tony’s tidbit: Tony is furious to discover that Kolchak lies and hides his Miss Emily letters in the drawers of his desk.
featuring: the INS mail boy (actor Robert Bryan Berger) and informer reporter Jane Plumm (actress Beatrice Colen).
 

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