Kolchak & TV Horror / Open Lines

Hosted byRichard Syrett

Kolchak & TV Horror / Open Lines

About the show

Before Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The X-Files, there was Carl Kolchak, a world-weary Chicago newspaper reporter with a cheap, seersucker suit and a penchant for uncovering monsters lurking in every corner. Kolchak first appeared on American television screens in the 1972 ABC movie of the week, The Night Stalker, which was at the time the most-watched TV movie in history. Kendall Phillips, a professor of communication and rhetorical studies at Syracuse University, joined guest host Richard Syrett (Twitter) to discuss the classic horror movie and subsequent series, Kolchak: The Night Stalker.

The movie was based on a then unpublished novel by Jeff Rice and adapted for TV by Richard Matheson, author of 1954 science fiction horror novel I Am Legend, Phillips explained. "The ratings actually improved as it went on which it suggests... that people watching the movie were getting on the phone and calling their friends," he revealed, noting how the movie set the stage for later televised adventures of Kolchak. The bookend device of Kolchak dictating into a tape recorder at the start and end of eachmshow is reminiscent of the epistolary style of Bram Stoker's Dracula and other gothic stories, he added.

According to Phillips, the most influential aspect of The Night Stalker is how it took the vampire character and grounded it in an authentic contemporary setting. "They really took that very old traditional monster that we've all seen... but put it in modern America where there's reality," he said, suggesting it seemed like something that could happen anywhere in the United States. The series did not have the rights to use all elements from the movie, so with the exception of the title and some of the characters there is no direct reference to the events in the film version, Phillips disclosed.

The series inspired Chris Carter to make The X-Files, which Phillips described as a re-envisioning of the Kolchak series, except instead of it being centered around a reporter at a newspaper X-Files followed agents in the FBI. "I would say everybody who made horror television, especially in that period of the late 80s and early 90s... all of those series were heavily influenced by The Night Stalker," he suggested. Phillips also identified what he considers a limitation of the series. There was no particular reason to watch the next episode because nothing was connected, developed, or followed through, he noted.


The remainder of the program featured Open Lines. Esteban from San Antonio shared his theory about Charles Bronson movie characters being the first film portrayal of a person with Asperger’s. "The generic Charles Bronson character had a lot of characteristics that those on the autism spectrum have, both good and bad," Esteban suggested, noting he was an intelligent loner who was focused on a singular goal. Robert in Los Angeles talked about what he believes is the scariest episode of Kolchak: The Night Stalker. According to Robert, the plot involved what he recalled was an Egyptian amulet and a cat that could release hell on earth.

Tim from Carson City, Nevada, asked Richard about images captured by the James Webb Space Telescope and whether he thought they cast doubt on the Big Bang theory. "The galaxies they're seeing are bigger than they should be and are more flat," Tim said. Richard pointed to Paul Delaney, Director of the York University Astronomical Observatory, who has commented that none of the images taken by the Webb Telescope disprove the Big Bang theory.

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