Darren McGavin and the ''monsters of the week'' formula that inspired other series

With a new monster every week, there was no telling who... or what Kolchak would run into next!

Image credit: The Everett Collection

Kolchak: The Night Stalker follows the unusually spooky story of Carl Kolchak, a dynamic and slightly wacky crime reporter who did more solving crime than reporting on it.

The Night Stalker was only Darren McGavin's fifth series, but by the time the show premiered in 1974, McGavin was already a common household name with a whole bunch of fame.

Kolchak: The Night Stalker was the result of two successful made-for-TV movies: The Night Stalker (1972) and The Night Strangler (1973). The Night Stalker (1972) was a vampire tale held together by production suspense techniques and McGavin's outrageous characterization.

The Night Stalker became the top-rated made-for-TV movie of its time with over 54% of television audiences watching it.

In a 1974 interview with The Pittsburgh Press, McGavin said Kolchak and his many other characters shared one common trait: A "colorful" personality. Even then, McGavin said "colorful" was a bit of an understatement for Kolchak. 

The Carl Kolchak we met onscreen in the '70s was an old-fashioned newspaper man from the era of Ben Hecht, and was someone who would go to great lengths in order to get a big story.

But according to McGavin, the original script concept of Kolchak: The Night Stalker was much different.

"When I first read the script for Night Stalker, he was a Las Vegas reporter wearing Bermuda shorts and a Hawaiian t-shirt," McGavin said. "He was sort of a swinger."

McGavin gave Kolchak an added dimension of warmth, understanding and love which could be seen onscreen. It seemed as though every time McGavin touched a new series, the ratings skyrocketed.

"My Kolchak is what I call a 'fumpher'... disheveled but not dirty; out of style but not dressed in bad taste," McGavin said. "He just hasn't bought any clothes since 1955, so he wears a seersucker suit, a straw hat, white bucks and a button-down shirt. He's a man of his time, and I love him."

Each episode of Kolchak: The Night Stalker started with an old newsroom format, but ends in Kolchak chasing down everything from zombies to vampires who have committed crimes.

This format was termed "Monster of the Week." This formula explored many different types of horror while using a relatively low budget, and was a great way to build suspense for future episodes.

The "Monster of the Week" formula was also important for creating future shows such as The X-Files (1993), Supernatural (2005), Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997) and The Dresden Files (2007).

"We can make it fun," McGavin said in a 1974 interview with The Sacramento Bee. "As for the horror side, we're not going to show much. You're not going to see much of the monster, but you'll see what he's done and the fear he creates in others."

Mrs. McGavin, Kathie Browne, appeared in various series and films throughout her career which included: Gunsmoke, The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits and Perry Mason. She also turned up in Kolchak: The Night Stalker a few times.

"Haven't you known a few vampires in Beverly Hills?" Browne asked. "Darren is John Wayne chasing a different monster each week."

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21 Comments

John 3 months ago
KOLCHAK barely got through one season.
McGavin is an excellent actor, but enough is enough.
You also showed Trilogy of Terror only several weeks ago, now you show it again.
Regular viewers like old TV but we don't want to gag on it.
You guys need more attention to programming decisions
George58 3 months ago
I thought The Night Stalker & The Night Strangler movies were great. But the series??? I thought they might have run out of ideas too quickly. MeTV, here is a request. BRING DARK SHADOWS to MeTV. It would be a great addition to the Saturday night line up. Right after Svengoolie.
WatchingMe 3 months ago
I have two questions regarding the photo accompanying this article.
"Image credit: The Everett Collection" Did you know that Carl Kolchak was not a smoker ? And why did you photoshop a cigarette in his mouth???
It gives me flashbacks of Moviegoer Magazine in the 1980's when they would superimpose cigarettes in the mouths and hands of popular movie stars.
At the time of the cigarette broadcast advertising ban, which took effect in 1971, cigarette manufacturers rapidly shifted advertising expenditures from the broadcast media to the print media. Moviegoer Magazine, given away in movie theaters from 1982 until 1986, was a single-advertiser publication created by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. It normally carried five full pages of advertising for either Camel or Salem cigarettes.

LoveMETV22 WatchingMe 3 months ago
" I have two questions regarding the photo accompanying this article."
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The image has been used by other websites as well (via a Google Image search). So MeTV did not Photoshop or super impose an image of a cigarette in his mouth. Regardless of whether
Darren McGavin smoked while off a set "it's acting." There are many actors that did not smoke as a habit, but if a role required it, it was just part of that role.
Wiseguy70005 4 months ago
"The Night Stalker was only Darren McGavin's fifth series..."

Only? Like every actor has more than five series to his credit?
Bullitt2019 4 months ago
I will always remember watching this show with my dad. We thought it was funny that he drove a really ugly old Dodge with a big dent in the fender, and there was never anything in his refrigerator whenever he looked.
DavyG 4 months ago
the original Night Stalker movie (which was the first actual real name of the series, before it was changed to Kolchak The night stalker)still holds its value to this day. Its one of the better Vampire movies made. Add the visuals of old Vegas, sprinkle in all those character actors with this superb story and you have a classic. Too bad the TV series didnt play more to this version of Carl
Null88 4 months ago
Darren was in a great 16 Oct 1955 first season episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, 'Triggers in Leash,' as a Western gunfighter against Gene Barry who stops at Ellen Corby's home with a Divine clock. When the clock strikes midnight, both are to shoot. Love it! Both stay tense as cats.
gfuller666 4 months ago
My kids & I loved the show & now the grandkids love it as well. In addition to Darren McGavin, Simon oak;land was terrific as his boisterous boss. The Kolchak-Tony scenes are priceless ! Hopefully, MeTV will also air the Night Strangler movie as well as the original Night Stalker film..
MichaelPowers 4 months ago
I enjoyed the show at first, however, the formula did grow wearisome as the weeks went on. The Night Stalker & The Night Strangler, two, 90-minute television movies were terrific. That is what the network should have stuck with for Kolchak: produce a couple 90-minute TV-movies a year as opposed to a weekly show. They could have kept the concept fresher that way and not run out of plots so quickly. Plus, they could have had more money in the budget for the monster make-up, along with a longer shooting schedule.
JohnGrant 4 months ago
How did actors like Darren remember all their lines??
Wiseguy70005 JohnGrant 4 months ago
That's what actors do.
MMitchellMarmel 4 months ago
"Monster of the Week" predates Kolchak. See later eps of "Voyage to the Bottom Of The Sea", not to mention all the Japanese kaiju shows of the 60s and 70s... ;D
Zip 4 months ago
"Bermuda shorts and Hawaiian shirts?"
Sounds like they wanted Tom Selleck to play Kolchak.
Zip 4 months ago
Another show which used that formula was PSI Factor, which used a lot of the same elements as The X-Files(it was pretty much a blatant rip-off), but I enjoyed watching it.
Bapa1 4 months ago
McGavin was great in it, but the show got tiresome.
Runeshaper 4 months ago
Darren McGavin was an EXCELLENT actor!
Tresix 4 months ago
The one episode where they absolutely SHOULDN’T have shown the monster was the one with the giant lizard. That costume and the monster’s movement were laughable!
Bapa1 Tresix 4 months ago
.....and it was a ripoff of The Star Trek episode 'The Devil In The Dark'
HpHoward 4 months ago
K:TNS was/is a classic that should evran longer. When CBS added it to their Late Movies schedule in 1979, it gained begin having the following it has now. After THE X-FILES became such a hit in the '90s, Kolchak fandom took off, too, with fan magazines, new novels, comics, even one or two model hobby kits. I believe some new novels with the character still appear at times today; not sure about the comic book.
BlitzMe 4 months ago
Who couldn’t love “Kolchak: The Night Stalker” series? It’s the best, mainly because of Darren McGavin. It wasn’t on nearly long enough, but while it lasted it came up with clever ideas for each Monster of the Week!
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