Interview with Frank Spotnitz

Fan Alert: Tuesday, May 30, from 7-9 p.m., Night Stalker executive producer Frank Spotnitz and series stars Stuart Townsend and Gabrielle Union will be signing copies of the Night Stalker DVD at the Best Buy, 1015 N. La Brea Ave, West Hollywood.

Frank Spotnitz has been behind some of the coolest shows of recent TV memory, helping to create and writing 40 episodes of the seminal X-Files series. He also cocreated the short-lived Millenium and the wild Harsh Realm, as well as created the X-Files spinoff The Lone Gunmen.

This past season, he drove the ABC remake of the 1970s cult hit Night Stalker. Sadly, both the remake and the original suffered similar fates--they were both canceled during their first seasons.

With the DVD release of the Night Stalker, TV.com had a chance to chat with Mr. Spotnitz about why he wanted to remake a cult classic.

TV.com: Why Night Stalker? Why did you remake that TV series?

Frank Spotnitz Well, I loved Night Stalker, especially those TV movies, the first two movies. I just sort of said yes right away, but then I realized what I'd gotten into because I watched the original movies, and the original series, and to my mind, anyway, those movies really hold up, they're great. But the series wasn't great. Darren McGavin was great, but the series really didn't live up to the promise of those first two TV movies. So I started thinking long and hard as to why it didn't work.

There are some basic sort of "reality" tests that the series doesn't pass. Like "Why does Carl Kolchack find the supernatural stories every week?" and "Why don't the stories get into the newspaper," and "Why don't the police investigate these thngs?" And when you start asking those questions, it starts driving you in a very different direction than your traditional series. So I really had to, at least to my mind, reinvent the original series and go in a compleltey different direction. But I ended finding something that I thought was really cool and that I felt very passionately about.

TV.com: What parts were you the most passionate about?

FS: The whole series, both in who Kolchak was, in that he is a guy who is accused of murdering his wife. And it's a TV show, so of course he didn't murder his wife. But then as the series goes on, you say, "Well, wait a minute, he's not a good guy," which was interesting to me. And then also the way the show looked, shooting in high-definition all around LA, and location stuff, I thought it was really a cool thing to do.

TV.com: The show had a really creepy feel to it, reminiscent of Millenium.

FS: Yeah, well right after I did Millenium I did a show with Micahel Mann called Robbery Homicide, and he worked with hi-def cameras and was big on location filming. It really made a big impact on me. So with Night Stalker, I thought about these hi-def cameras, they're beautiful, they shoot things gorgeuosuly, but what they really do better than anything is they photograph the night. So it was obvious, if you're going to do a show about darkness, these cameras would really shine.

I thought shooting on location as we did was important, even our newsroom setting was in an old office building downtown. It would make everything seem like it was really happening in the real world. And that was something I couldn't do so much on the X-Files because we shot everything in Vancouver, the first five years of the show, and in LA the last four years, and we were always pretending to be somewhere else. Mulder and Scully were always on the road, so this was the first time I could look up and show the city.

TV.com: Part of the charm of the original Night Stalker was Darren McGavin--he really made the show. Why did you go with a younger cast? Was that the network's decision, or did you want to do that yourself?

FS: I originally was going to go with an older guy, I was thinking Ted Danson maybe or John C. Reilly, but then I came to think that that would be a mistake, that nobody was going to do this role better than Darren McGavin. So I decided to go in a completley different direction, not make a remake that's sort of competing with the original, but try to make one that stands alongside the original.

TV.com: Did ABC contact you, or did you have to pitch it to them?

FS: The studio came to me--they own the title--but then I had to turn around and pitch it to the network.

TV.com: Was that difficult, or were they pretty much on board?

FS: They were on board, although once the series got picked up they didn't really want to do shows about monsters. That was tough, because, as you know, the whole show is about monsters. So that was a challenge, to figure out how to do the show without monsters.

TV.com: Monsters weren't trendy at that point?

FS: I still don't know why they didn't want to do monsters.

TV.com: Why do you think the new show had a hard time connecting with audiences?

FS: You just never know why things don't succeeed. I would like to think it was more about circumstances instead of about the show itself. We didn't have any paid advertising at all; they put all their dollars behind two other shows. We had a terrible time slot, it was arguably the worst time slot on TV. And our lead in, Alias, not only didn't deliver the numbers it used to, but it also wasn't our audience. All we had was a good show, and I hoped that would be enough, but it just wasn't to be.

TV.com: Is there any chance of the characters returning in TV movies?

FS: There is always a chance... I think it is pretty remote. I know the actors would love to do it, and I would love to do it. Let's hope the DVD does well... Stranger things have happened.

TV.com: Do you think it was cursed because the original show only ran for a similar amount of episodes?

FS: I think it's tough to do this kind of show on network television; I don't think many people will take a chance on this kind of show. If you look at X-Files, it was not an immediate hit, it took a while. I was really hoping ABC was going to give us that time to find our audience.

TV.com: TV is in such a transitional stage right now, the networks are spooked.

FS: It's tough, it's a really tough landscape right now.

TV.com: So the DVD has four extra episodes. Are there many more stories you were dying to tell but didn't get the chance to?

FS: Oh yeah, so many! That's why I lobbied them to include two scripts on the DVD that you can download. One of them is very funny, it's by Darren Morgan, who used to write for the X-Files. And I talk a lot about where the mythology was going and things I was going to reveal about Kolchak that aren't revealed in the show.

TV.com: Do you have a favorite episode or story on the DVD?

FS:As it happens, two of my favorite episodes are ones that weren't aired but that we included on the DVD. [One was] the second part of "The Sea," and the other one was the very last episode we shot, called "What's the Frequency, Kolchak?" And one of the great things about getting to see them on DVD is that you get to see them in widescreen, and the image and sound quality is much better than you'd ever get on broadcast TV.

TV.com: And no commercials.

FS: Yes, no commmercials!

TV.com: You are going to do a series called Amped. What is that about?

FS: That's for Spike, it's one of their first series. It takes place in a police precinct, and the world outside has changed, a certain percentage of the population has mutated into monsters. So these cops have to go out every day and they never know who or what they [will] encounter.

TV.com: It's funny, because I was just thinking to myself, "Why hasn't anyone remade The Star Chamber?"

FS: [laughs] Really?

TV.com: It's one of my favorite movies from the '80s.

FS: Wow. Well, I'm producing that, we're working on the script right now, but I am not sure when that will be done.

TV.com: Do you have any idea who will play the Michael Douglas role?

FS: [laughs] No, I really don't know yet.

TV.com: Best of luck with everything, and thanks again for talking to TV.com.

FS: My pleasure!

Comments (4)
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I know it is more than a year, but I still miss Night Stalker. I wanted to see if there was a connection to the original Kolchak. And the explanation on the unusual birthmark. I am disappointed to this day that Night Stalker is off the air. I am glad that at least Sci-fi shows the program episodes once in a while. I hope a network will continue the series. I enjoyed it and hope to see it make a comeback. It was something worth watching.
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The fact that an episode by Darren Morgan was not allowed to air is a serious injustice against humanity. Regardless of what i thought of the show, which wasnt much, i would think that a Morgan script would be worth seeing. His stuff on the X Files and Millennium was genius.

But that's besides the point. I watch the X Files and Millennium regularly on loop. TV today just cant compare, especially when dealing with these high concept ideas like alien conspiracies and supernatural occurrences. Those shows brilliantly combined amazing character work, the best direction around for tv, film production qualities, mark snows music, and of course amazing writing.

X Files received its deserved praise and spot among the greatest created, unfortunately every time i watch Millennium it saddens me more attention wasnt paid to this amazing show.
I am really anticipating the next X Files movie and hope it gets made.
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Millenium was good the first season, but the season finale seemed to be leading to one thing (a mini-apocalypse starting for the main characters with the death of Black's wife) but second season didn't deliver.

Harsh Realm ... we'll never know as I don't think it even made it to a second season.

Lone Gunmen was doomed from the beginning because nobody respected the characters as heroes. Instead, they turned the Gunmen into the butt of jokes, a trio of fools who got less respect than the 3 Stooges. And that's not what the audience wanted. Obviously, since the show didn't last.

And then there's the remake of Kolchak, so disrespectful to the original that it had to blend in the A plot of the Fugitive (minus one-armed man) before FS could get into it. Kolchak really needed someone who understood the true cheesey goodness of the original and who was able to either reimagine it respectfully or buy into the original. I'd always hoped a new series would follow a neice or nephew of Carl, investigating the mysterious tapes of his old reports found in an attic. Something like that would've been tons more accessible and interesting than "gosh something killed his wife and now he's searching while the police suspect him" which was a total yawn.
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It is too bad this show got canceled. ABC didn't really advertise much for it and they put it up against ratings powerhouse CSI. I thought it was a beautifully shot series that didn't go too over the top in the supernatural aspects of the show. Plus it reminded me so much of The X-Files with Kolchak being the believer and Perri Reed being the skeptic much like Mulder and Scully.
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