Screenwriter Rodney Barnes on ‘Kolchak: The Night Stalker’

Award-winning screenwriter and producer Rodney Barnes (“Everybody Hates Chris,” “Winning Time”) got hooked on genre-defying TV and film early in his life when he encountered made-for-TV films “The Night Stalker,” and “The Night Strangler” — both of which deftly combined mystery, horror, and comedy.  


Strong ratings for these early 1970s movies prompted ABC to order a 20-episode series called “Kolchak: The Night Stalker,” which ran from 1974-1975. Both the films and the show starred actor Darren McGavin as news reporter Carl Kolchak, whose tenacious personality and hard-driving investigations of supernatural crimes often got him in trouble at work. The series is said to be an inspiration for “The X-Files.” 


Barnes recently wrote the graphic novel “Blacula” and says “Kolchak: The Night Stalker”  set him on his path to write professionally.


More: Writer Rodney Barnes on reimagining ‘Blacula’ as a graphic novel


This segment has been edited for length and clarity. 


A television show that affected me deeply when I was a kid, that started me on my journey of loving genre, was called “Kolchak: The Night Stalker.” 


“The Night Stalker” and “The Night Strangler” were actually two movies of the week [by Richard Matheson]. They were so well written, and it was this crime noir, paranormal-journalist investigator who would find vampires and various stories of the supernatural and macabre. 




It went from a movie of the week and ultimately became a weekly series. It was also the inspiration for The-X Files from what I hear. But for me, it sparked my imagination that this was possible in some way, to have a monster of the week and have all of these different elements converge together. [It] really inspired my work to be able to have multiple voices and not just necessarily adhere to one. 


Everybody else said [Kolchak] was crazy to the cops. His editor, everybody would [say], “Kolchak, you’re nuts!” He would go out on the streets and be determined to find out whatever it was. And even though he was able to solve the supernatural problem, he never really benefited from it. He would get fired; he had to move on to another city. But we loved him because he was doing good work.


Tonally, he was able to parse that here with comedy, because it came from him as a character. The way he approached the problem was in a whimsical way, but when danger happened he was in that place of acknowledging the danger. It wasn’t something that was funny at the moment. I think tonally, it was spot on. 


Just love, love, love that show. It was the perfect thing to set me on a path to wanting to be a part of this community.