Before The Sopranos, David Chase wrote mob stories on Kolchak: The Night Stalker

Did "Benny Sposato" inspire Tony Soprano?

When it comes to writing crime TV, few have a legacy that can outpace The Sopranos creator David Chase.

He won his first Emmy over 40 years ago for his work on the riveting drama The Rockford Files, and now he's known for The Sopranos, a series Chase later created that won him even more Emmys.

But while it's clear that the young writer benefited under the wing of Rockford Files creator Stephen J. Cannell (who knew a thing or two about how to write a compelling mystery and with whom Chase shared his first Emmy), there's an earlier show that beat The Rockford Files to shining a spotlight on this upcoming talent. That show was Kolchak: The Night Stalker.

Kolchak: The Night Stalker gave Chase his start in TV, hiring him as a story editor, but quickly saw his potential to contribute more. By the second episode of the series, "The Zombie," Chase was co-writing teleplays, and it will likely shock zero fans of The Sopranos to learn that this episode, Chase's very first teleplay, was all tied up in the mob.

Chase co-wrote "The Zombie" with Zekial Marko, who wrote the story upon which the episode was based. And while you can likely credit Marko for conceptualizing the story - which features grisly mob bosses, underground gangs, walking zombies and voodoo witch doctors — this episode undoubtedly left a mark on Chase as a writer, based on everything we know about his subsequent work.

"The Zombie" opens up with this line that seems almost prophetic in the context of Chase's career: “Popular folklore would have us believe that there exist in the underworld ruthless men who fear nothing. This story should debunk that myth.” And while Marko's story took us into a twisted world where voodoo curses were the proper villain, it seems almost like Chase read that line and decided some day he'd write a show that proved the opposite: that the ruthless men in the underworld we always feared are the only monsters that really do exist.

On The Sopranos, of course, the most ruthless of all men was Tony Soprano, and in "The Zombie," the mob boss is yet another intimidating "Mr. S." The main mob villain in "The Zombie" was called Benjamin Sposato (or Benny Sposato, if you will), and he's a fierce, easily-angered mob boss who could probably trade barbs with Tony Soprano. Although Kolchak used this premise to veer into the supernatural, Chase would later choose to steer his series into gritty and authentic territory, undoubtedly inspired by that side of the influential '70s show Kolchak, which notably went on to inspire The X-Files as well.

Cut to now, and it's Chase's job to write a movie that ties into what drew audiences to The Sopranos in the first place, and what's funny for fans of Kolchak to note is that Chase's first original screenplay for the '70s series put the now seasoned writer in essentially just the opposite predicament.

When Chase was tapped to write his next episode for Kolchak: The Night Stalker after "The Zombie," it was his job to cut down a Kolchak TV movie, "The Werewolf," written by Paul Playdon, one of the original producers on Kolchak. Playdon had left the show by then, and the task for Chase was to craft an intriguing single episode of Kolchak out of the source material Playdon had left him.

Chase got it done, and his skill at translating TV concepts to movies was perfected through the '90s as he supervised The Rockford Files TV movies.

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18 Comments

bradley 18 months ago
Darren mcgavin rest his soul wanted out of his contract is why the series went on because of the writing on episodes thanks to David chase sopranos ending figure that
RCChafin 20 months ago
I always liked Darren McGavin as the reporter on Night Stalker. I would like to read some of the scripts not produced, like as a short story. I once won a contest with Ellery Queen magazine, and had a short story published. I thought it was neat, my one-off claim to fame!
BenSobeleone RCChafin 20 months ago
excellent!
bre003 20 months ago
I'd like to see some unproduced episodes with maybe Bryan Cranston as the star.
DavyG 20 months ago
It's a shame the series only lasted 20 episodes but if you can find it, the original Night Stalker TV movie still holds its value and is one of the better vampire movies ever made.
Rick 20 months ago
This is one of Kolchak's best episodes. Unfortunately (and I really mean unfortunately, because I really think it's happenstance they haven't "aged well"), this one suffers from "trope" treatments of Caribbean zombies. Scatman Crothers comes across as a stereotype, but I think overall the climax justifies everything.

Similarly, I get a network has a problem with airing swastikas on a Sunday afternoon, but "Horror in the Heights" is the absolute best episode of KTNS, including the made for TV movies. Yes, the swastikas are only coincidentally the same shape as the Nazi's, but Americans can't handle that nuance.

And "The Energy Eater" maybe has a similar deficiency with Native American culture; I'm honestly ignorant. But if one can get past whatever racist elements there may be, it's one of the best hours of suspenseful TV every aired.
AgingDisgracefully 20 months ago
Don't ignore Simon Oakland's enthusiastic salute to Perry White.


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MarkSpeck 20 months ago
Chase's real name is David DeCesare, and he's originally from New Jersey, so he probably knew a thing or two about Jersey wise guys.
MarkSpeck MarkSpeck 20 months ago
I stand corrected...he's from Mount Vernon, New York.
StrayCat MarkSpeck 20 months ago
Chase was born in Mt Vernon, NY, but his parents moved to north jersey while he was a baby which is where he grew up. So, I wouldn't say you're incorrect when you said he was originally from New jersey. He grew up as a jersey boy.
Andybandit 20 months ago
I never seen an episode of KTNS. It looks like a good show.
BenSobeleone 20 months ago
The mob boss Benny Sposato was played by Joseph Sirola. He was in the Clint Eastwood movie Hang 'Em High. He played Reno, the guy with the eyepatch who was with the hanging party when they hanged Jed Cooper (Eastwood)
dantelikesit2 29 months ago
Kolchak - The Night Stalker was an awesome show and just sad it did not run longer and produce more shows!!!
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