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Night Stalker – What’s the Frequency, Kolchak? (Review)

This January, to prepare for the release of the new six-part season of The X-Files, we’re wrapping up our coverage of the show, particularly handling the various odds and ends between the show’s last episode and the launch of the revival.

What’s The Frequency, Kolchak? is the episode written by Vince Gilligan.

Gilligan remained one of Frank Spotnitz’s most keen collaborators in the years following the end of The X-Files. Gilligan had worked with Spotnitz as part of the writing staff on the short-lived Robbery Homicide Division before the pair moved on to Night Stalker. After ABC cancelled Night Stalker, the pair would collaborate on the television series A.M.P.E.D. for Spike, writing a pilot that would eventually air as a television movie when the network declined to pick it up for series.

"Wow, ABC really is a tough network to play with..."

“Wow, ABC really is a tough network to play with…”

Sadly, Night Stalker only lasted long enough for Gilligan to script a single episode of the show. Still, he fared better than fellow staffer Darin Morgan; Morgan’s script for The M-Word did not make it into production before the axe fell on the show. This is a shame; the materials available on the DVD that never made it to air on ABC suggest a show more comfortable with itself than the first six episodes would suggest. More than any other episode of the first season of Night Stalker, What’s the Frequency, Kolchak? speaks to the series’ potential.

It is just a shame that it arrives too late.

The monster at the end of the hall...

The monster at the end of the hall…

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Night Stalker – Into Night (Review)

This January, to prepare for the release of the new six-part season of The X-Files, we’re wrapping up our coverage of the show, particularly handling the various odds and ends between the show’s last episode and the launch of the revival.

Night Stalker was cancelled after only six episodes had aired.

The Source was the last episode broadcast during its initial run, closing the show on a cliffhanger. There were four additional episodes produced, but not aired on ABC. There were also two more scripts written, but not produced. While the six episodes of Harsh Realm that had been produced but not aired felt reasonably coherent and finished, there is something very different about the final stretch of Night Stalker. Harsh Realm was not finished, but it felt oddly complete.

Oh, it's a crime scene alright...

Oh, it’s a crime scene alright…

The final stretch of Night Stalker after The Source has a decidedly rough and unpolished quality to. Everything after The Source takes on the feeling of a rough draft, occasionally intriguing but undoubtedly incomplete. As packaged on the DVD, it all feels like bonus content: Frank Spotnitz elaborating on his plans for the show, the .pdf of Darin Morgan’s script, even the final four episodes. It has become a cliché to compare modern television to a novel, but perhaps the best comparison for Night Stalker is a comparison to a studio album.

If that comparison holds, everything after The Source has the feel of a second disc or a reissue. Linear notes, rough cuts of tracks that did not make the original release, snippets of demos that informed the work. The DVD of Night Stalker is not as interested in concluding or wrapping up the show as it is elaborating or expanding upon it; offering a glimpse into its production and context for its decisions.

Nothing to report...

Nothing to report…

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Night Stalker – The Sea (Review)

This January, to prepare for the release of the new six-part season of The X-Files, we’re wrapping up our coverage of the show, particularly handling the various odds and ends between the show’s last episode and the launch of the revival.

One of the interesting aspects of doing a long-running pop culture project is the subtle shifts that you can see taking place over time.

The realities of media consumption change over extended periods; in response, the methods of media production also change. It is not too hard to imagine a world where Night Stalker would have been cancelled by ABC six episodes into its run, ending on a cliffhanger with the remaining four episodes buried for all eternity. Television would have moved on to its next reboot, its next new launch, and the cycle would have continued. Night Stalker would have been dead and buried, even more of a genre curiosity than it is now.

Fenced off...

Fenced off…

There was a time when Night Stalker would have been consigned to history. At best, it might have been a footnote in Frank Spotnitz’s filmography, a point of reference in interviews and conversations about how mainstream American television treats science-fiction history. Had Night Stalker appeared (and been so promptly cancelled) even ten years earlier, it would probably be a curiosity on the IMDb pages of its cast and crew. The name would resonate with genre fans, and t would casually be dropped in career overviews. But it would largely be lost.

However, the reality of television had changed by the twenty-first century, the explosion in home media ensuring that even a six-episode failure like Night Stalker could receive a neatly-packaged DVD release and remain easily accessible to the generations that followed. In some respects, this feels like the worst thing that could have happened. The biggest obstacle between Night Stalker and the status of “cult classic” is ease of access to the show itself; the readiness with which the nostalgic refrain of “cancelled before its time” might be rebutted by simply buying the DVD.

A blast from the past...

A blast from the past…

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Night Stalker – The Source (Review)

This January, to prepare for the release of the new six-part season of The X-Files, we’re wrapping up our coverage of the show, particularly handling the various odds and ends between the show’s last episode and the launch of the revival.

The Source was the last episode of Night Stalker to air on ABC.

Night Stalker died an ignominious death, especially considering that ABC had actively sought out producer Frank Spotnitz specifically to reboot the classic series. After six episodes, aired over seven weeks, Night Stalker was quietly retired from the schedule. The series did not survive its first Sweeps period, dying a quiet death before it could even reach the Christmas hiatus. Although ten episodes had been produced, ABC opted not to broadcast the four remaining stories; instead, they filled the slot with an episode of Primetime Live focusing on Anna Nicole Smith.

Night falls on the Night Stalker...

Night falls on the Night Stalker…

To be fair, the odds were heavily stacked against Night Stalker from the beginning. The realities of twenty-first century television have made it increasingly difficult to launch a new show. Audiences seem more fickle than ever, and networks can no longer afford to grow audiences over time. With more sources of media competing for the attention of eager young audiences, there is seldom time to fix something that does not work out of the gate. It has become increasingly common to just ditch a dysfunctional show at the first sign of trouble.

At the same time, it is hard to mourn Night Stalker as a forgotten classic that was cut down in its prime. The series’ limited ten episode run suffered from a host of identity anxieties and uncertainties. The series had trouble finding an audience, but it also seemed to have trouble finding itself. While The Source and The Sea might represent a step in the right direction, they are perhaps too little too late.

Zombie bikers from hell!

Zombie bikers from hell!

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