Carl Kolchak: Anybody important here today?
Receptionist: No, just a bunch of reporters.
—from “The Energy Eater” episode of Kolchak: The Night Stalker
A lot of things contributed to me ultimately being a writer, but one of the most crucial was a guy in a bad suit and straw hat, with a camera and tape recorder slung over his shoulder. Yep, I mean the night stalker himself, Carl Kolchak, played by Darren McGavin.
More particularly, I mean the guy from the TV series Kolchak: The Night Stalker. The series was preceded by two TV movies, The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler, both written by Richard Matheson. In these movies, Carl was a more...rounded character, we’ll say. He still bucked the system, sought truth at all costs, and faced down the monster. But he also had a serious eye for the ladies (he dated a Vegas showgirl in the first one, and a Seattle belly dancer in the second) and a taste for alcohol (he called a glass of gin “the reporter’s natural habitat”).
In the TV show, though, he was simplified. Not made simple, mind you. But the show never showed his home, or what he did when he was off duty, or that he had any interest in romance. His “home” was his office, he was never off duty, and women were a distraction (as in his reaction to Lt. Irene Lamont in the episode “The Sentry”; she charms all the other [male] reporters into simpering blobs, but not Kolchak). The only thing that mattered to Carl was The Truth, and yes, for him it had two capital T’s.
Like a lot of things that influence us, it hit me at the perfect age. In 1975 I was 12, hooked on Star Trek reruns, SF novels and Batman comic books. I already had vague notions of writing my own stories, but as a lonely geek in small-town Tennessee, being a writer seemed about as likely as getting a date.
But when I saw Kolchak, everything changed. So what if girls ignored me? I could ignore them just like Carl did. What did it matter if there was nothing in my small town to make me look forward to the future? The Truth, long before the X-Files, was out there somewhere, in a big city like Chicago where monsters could lurk with impunity. All I needed were a few pieces of gear, like a portable cassette recorder (these were cutting edge at the time), a 110 camera (utterly impractical for real news photography, but I didn’t know that until later), and that most glorious of inventions, the typewriter, featured in the show’s credits.
There were other great things about the show as well: its pervasive humor, its consistently downbeat endings (Carl often discovered the truth, but was never allowed to share it), its insistence on monsters being monsters. And those elements are among the things that keep me coming back to the show even now, almost 40 years later.
So without Kolchak: The Night Stalker I would not have become a reporter, which taught me to write. I wouldn’t have embraced horror and monsters, two of the things I write about the most. I might never have gotten out of that dying little town without Carl showing me that the pursuit of truth is always worth it, even when the world never knows. And I certainly wouldn’t be writing this blog post for Tor.com.
Alex Bledsoe is author of the Eddie LaCrosse novels (The Sword-Edged Blonde, Burn Me Deadly, Dark Jenny, Wake of the Bloody Angel, and He Drank, and Saw the Spider), the novels of the Memphis vampires (Blood Groove and The Girls with Games of Blood) and the Tufa novels (The Hum and the Shiver and Wisp of a Thing).