Darren McGavin hated TV before Kolchak: The Night Stalker

It wasn't always smooth sailing for the television star.

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In 1974, actors had four alternatives for how they spent their careers: The options included theater, film, television, or unemployment. Plenty of actors created a hierarchy out of those choices, with film at the top and unemployment, naturally, dead last. Among those actors was Darren McGavin, who was on record as stating television was, to him, only marginally better than not working at all.

 "Television has got worse and worse," McGavin told Vernon Scott of United Press International. "The medium is all boxed in. There's no freedom in it... no originality and few, if any, fresh ideas for anyone to work with."

McGavin would know. At the time of those comments, he'd just taken a year off after a string of soul-crushing television experiences. Four TV series in a row fizzled unceremoniously, offering very little creative fulfillment. The bad luck began with Casey, Crime Photographer, a CBS drama that aired from April 19, 1951, to June 5, 1952. The show's second season replaced lead Richard Carlyle with McGavin, giving him his television debut. McGavin, though, couldn't save Casey, Crime Photographer, and it was subsequently canceled after just a few episodes with McGavin as the lead.

Next up for McGavin was Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer, a syndicated detective series based on Spillane's hard-boiled crime novels. The show was met with mixed reviews; while McGavin said in the press that the show was an "instant success," TV Guide disagreed, calling it "the worst series on television." Even with the less-than-stellar reception, Mike Hammer had two full seasons, each with 39 half-hour episodes.

Following Hammer, McGavin was once again at the whims of television executives. This time, the powers-that-be at Universal Studios were amidst an infatuation with an old boat on the property's lake. Thus, Riverboat was born, and McGavin found himself starring in a series because some guy in a suit liked a boat. It's tough enough to stand out among the landscape of prime-time TV. It's even harder when your co-star is Burt Reynolds. 

McGavin sailed that boat up and down the fake lake at Universal Studios for 44 episodes. The experience pushed him out of television lead contention for six years. During that time, Darren McGavin had a few movie roles and guest-starred in some TV series, each of which he was more than happy to leave after a day.

His next stop came in The Outsider, another detective series in which he starred for part of 1968 and '69. Over its 26 episodes, The Outsider featured McGavin as David Ross, an ex-convict, fresh out of prison for a crime he did not commit. McGavin briefly enjoyed playing the role, his time as Ross started with a role in a TV movie, with a big budget, and great special effects. However, the love affair ended as the show progressed to a full series, losing much of what made the character interesting in his debut. The Outsider was canceled, and McGavin was once again left high-and-dry by television work.

Further bad luck was brought by a continued string of failed pilots. However, McGavin's fortunes were reversed with the premiere of Kolchak: The Night Stalker, an ABC made-for-TV movie, which aired on January 11, 1972, with an impressive 33.2 rating. This time, McGavin played a newspaper reporter who might be investigating a series of vampire murders. It was a surprise success and McGavin was given an offer to reprise the role in a full series. Kolchak aired twenty influential episodes and impacted forever the history of horror and science fiction television.

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24 Comments

Snickers 8 months ago
Wish we could get it up here. But then again there's always DVDs.
Jacki 11 months ago
Love Kolchak the Night Stalker. I watched it as a kid and still watch it on reruns!
obectionoverruled 11 months ago
Nobody cared about DMcG in his corny role as Kolchak. It had lousy ratings and he was not really into the show it seemed. D hit the big-time on TV, in my view, in his role as the authoritarian dad and perpetual malcontent in The Christmas Story. I’m guessing that holiday perennial film was produced in the early 70’s in a retro style to reflect a depression era, coal furnaced dump of a home in some rust belt hole in the ground of a town. The anecdotes he played out, especially the purchase of a Red Rider BB gun for Junior, the department store scare encounter with the God-like Santa Claus bellowing out his ho ho ho’s to a shy kid, the neighbor’s dog eating the Christmas turkey, and the school bully squashing Junior’s eyeglasses on a knockdown in the snow, were all authentic and typical childhood happenings we could relate to. Truly DMcG’s most memorable, if schlocky, role.
The kids name was Ralphie by the way, not junior.
LynCarrigan 11 months ago
I’ve never watched Night Stalker and it sounds like I should give it a try. METV and GBH are the only channels I watch except for when there is a major horse race.
Jimtypes 11 months ago
The original movie was a scream. The series made Kolchak sort of Hokey but the cast always seemed to be having fun. The story goes that XFiles grew from that series.
MichaelVegas 11 months ago
I LOVED the night stalker, and watched them when they came out, I try to find them even now when I can
Wolfie 11 months ago
Darren McGavin is an Icon!
MeTV please syndicate a broadcast of -

Kolchak's 3rd TV Movie ('The Demon and the Mummy' 1975)

Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer (perfect Fall Season rotation 1958)

The Outsider (I could watch this all Summer long 1968)

Casey, Crime Photographer
(Darren McGavin Fans will ♥️ this 1951)

SteveMcnary 11 months ago
I read somewhere that McGavin & the network had a falling out over KTNS due to the network getting cheap with the money being issued out. This same network also cancelled another great series(The Outer Limits) after trying to do it on the cheap after 1 1/2 seasons. McGavin was a great actor who could play many types of characters well. I remember he played a serial killer type character on a show(I think it might have been Mannix)& he was very intense.
I saw an interview with Burt Reynolds who said he got fired from Riverboat cuz he threw McGavin off the boat into the water after a disagreement or something. LOL
JohnnyBoyohBoy 11 months ago
When I was a kid, I thought he and Carl Betz, who played Alex Stone, the husband on The Donna Reed Show, were the same guy.
I would have enjoyed being, or playing, Donna Reed’s husband! A real corn fed Iowa girl. Truly a forties and fifties beauty beyond compare. You can have Marilyn Monroe - well, everyone else did, too.
Null88 obectionoverruled 7 months ago
She isn't being pretty for you.
LoveMETV22 11 months ago
Although as the article explained the lead up time to TNS/Kolchak maybe was less than celebratory. However afterwards from the look of his bio, he consistently had roles. An enjoyable actor.
Pacificsun 11 months ago
Not only has Kolchak: TNS, all glorious 20 episodes survived all these decades. And is faithfully re-watched endlessly. It was a beautifully produced, and photographed Series. Not easy to chase about some very improbable, fanciful monsters in the best sense of the word. The mystery and suspense is believably maintained throughout the 44 minutes! With a minimum of set decoration, except for the great defreeze episode.


So. Let's put the assumed point of the above article into perspective.

Wiseguy70005 Pacificsun 11 months ago
It ended in 1975 not 1955. Why wouldn't the episodes have survived? If you meant the episodes are still broadcast, that's a different thing. Also regardless of whether you watch edited episodes or not, the originals are about 50 minutes in length, common at that time.
Pacificsun Wiseguy70005 11 months ago
It must be a slow day reviewing all the Threads for finding cause to jump on this comment. But if so, let’s do it with much more precision. I’ll put on my writer’s hat for doing justice to do the editing process.

First, there’s such a thing as poetic license. Definition supplied at the bottom for convenience. It’s used to embellish literal fact to take advantage of dramatic effect. Sometimes it can make the copy more interesting. Nowhere in that comment was 1955 mentioned. However if the Series ended in 1975, the difference to now, would still count as a Series being enthusiastically re-watched for several decades.

Yes, the reference to Kolchak’s’ 44 minutes of running time wasn’t intended to be clocked by a stopwatch. But here’s the thing. Original running time was 50 minutes (for most series). Yet cut to as few as 44 minutes allowing for commercials. Maybe not compulsively precise in every case. But do know of a specific Series, as referenced to that fact.

What was entirely missed, and sadly so for the sake of impact, was the word defreeze. It is a real word. But makes no sense in the context of the comment. Which was intended to reference an episode (my favorite) using a deep freeze special effect. For convenience all the episodes are listed in the Wiki link provided. The fun will be in readers figuring out which one, but which ardent fans will know in a heartbeat.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kolchak:_The_Night_Stalker

The sad fact is the inability of a reader to respond/reply to the spirit of the comment’s analysis itself. In this case, the irony of DM struggling through his career, affected by many short term cancellations. Yet the Kolchak Series proven to be the one with the most potential (granted in hindsight) he walked away from.

Moral of the tale: misjudgment can be a “B.”

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Definition:

Runeshaper 11 months ago
I've watched both Mike Hammer and Kolchak: The Night Stalker with my folks and we've enjoyed them both. Darren McGavin was a cool dude.
LoveMETV22 11 months ago
Credit should be given to Darren McGavin for sticking with it. A lot of other individuals may have just given up. However the movie and series were both enjoyable watches.
harlow1313 11 months ago
Sven sometimes shows old TV movies, so the original Night Stalker movie seems a natural and welcome selection.
harlow1313 11 months ago
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harlow1313 11 months ago
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bagzombroskiandwallyfan 11 months ago
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bagzombroskiandwallyfan 11 months ago
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bagzombroskiandwallyfan 11 months ago
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bagzombroskiandwallyfan 11 months ago
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Andybandit 11 months ago
I am probably the only one that never saw K:TNS.
MrsPhilHarris 11 months ago
Casey, Crime Photographer is an old time radio show. Had no idea it was on tv. 🤔
lbwilmoth 11 months ago
I love the original NS movie! Atwater to me,is one of the creepiest vampire's ever!
I do like the series primarily because of McGavin. He's good in everything. The original movie scared the crap out of me as a 10-year-old.
BrittReid 11 months ago
Kolchak : The Night Stalker TV-Movie is a classic. Never missed the series also.
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