Night Stalker

Season 1 Episode 6

The Source (1)

Aired Thursday 9:00 PM Nov 10, 2005 on ABC
out of 10
User Rating
74 votes

By Users

Episode Summary

Kolchak refuses to disclose a source in a story about a drug lord's death at the hands of a biker gang and the disappearance of a DEA agent who could shed light on the identity of Irene's killer, causing Agent Fain to return and investigate.

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  • And so...that's it.

    So What’s It All Mean

    So it’s a bit after November 10, and word has come down that ABC is canceling Kolchak after six episodes. Since ABC has bought and paid for the show, there’s a slight chance that the remaining three episodes that are “in the can” might see the light of day if the network needs some filler.

    So out of the six episodes we did get, and what did it all add up to?


    The Concept

    The most controversial part of the new series was that…it wasn’t the old series. Kolchak was no longer the lone protagonist, and his relationship with Vincenzo was a bit different, and he had a backstory for why he was hunting monsters rather then simply being a “weirdness magnet.” Also, the producers went with a less blatant “monster of the week” angle – the horror would be (mostly) supernatural, but gone were the cheesy monster outfits and some big white dude playing a swamp monster and a Native American. So how did that work out?

    Due to the cut off, the backstory didn’t really amount to much. It’s unlikely we would have got much explanation in The Sea, given the story arc had to continue for the foreseeable future. Really, from what little we saw it didn’t seem to add up to anything. Why was Irene killed? Why was Linda Caleca apparently grabbed but not killed? What were the weredogs and what was their connection to the Red Mark Conspiracy? Who was the shadow man watching the house in the Pilot? Why did Kolchak have the mark? Who was Carl’s mysterious contact in The Source and how could he and/or the bad guys play with telephones?

    Folks can have fun coming up with a theory that covers all this, but at the end of the day it seems there are too few pieces to make anything coherent out of it.

    What the backstory did was show Carl Kolchak in a different angle, and arguably give him a more human face. In the small run of episodes it seems like Carl is drawn to people similar to himself, and who haven’t handled it well. Did this make the new Kolchak a “better” character? See “The Characters” below.

    Kolchak seemed to do reporter-type things, and slowly a network of his contacts like the morgue attendant and Edhead were introduced. The reason for his wealth and fancy house were explained.

    With the chance in motive came a change in approach. Rather then keep trying to publish stories his editor wouldn’t run, the new Kolchak waits until he has enough evidence to make a publishable story. This seemed a bit more believable but was in opposition to the Don Quixote-like approach of the old Kolchak.

    However, clearly the new concept was intended to take the focus off of Kolchak a bit. Jain McManus became more of the old Kolchak “action guy,” the Darren McGavin eccentric guy who saves the day (like in “Five People”).

    If Jain and Kolchak split the old Kolchak role, then Peri and the new Vincenzo split the old Vincenzo role. Peri was more the skeptic, although never to the absurd levels of Scully on X-Files. It seemed more that she was skeptical of Kolchak rather then his stories. Given he was believed to kill his wife, that isn’t too surprising.

    Vincenzo ended up more of the supportive boss, and given the age difference an occasional paternal/mentor relationship was hinted at. While the two clearly had an occasionally antagonistic relationship going, it didn’t fall into the repetitive formula of most of the old Kolchak/Vincenzo interactions.

    Clearly the focus was on more relatable, psychological horror, rather than a monster for Carl to defeat every week. This is supposedly in line with more modern sensibilities, but it had the effect of sometime rendering Kolchak an observer rather than an active protagonist. Kolchak doesn’t really _do_ anything in “Malum” or “Burning Man,” and his burning down the house at the end of “Three” seems superfluous. Nor does he save anyone in “Five People” and in fact Jain has to “save” Kolchak. Even in “The Source,” Kolchak sits in jail while Jain gets shot at. The new Carl comes across as an oddly passive protagonist.

    On the other hand, the change in concept also makes the “new” Kolchak someone regularly trying to save lives, not just a reporter trying to get a story. Again, this might be the more “people person” Kolchak, but throughout the series Carl tries to save people who are still alive: the girl in “Pilot,” Peri in “Five People,” and the college student in “Three.” He doesn’t get all angsty over the deaths he sees, but there’s also more involved then just reporting a story and investigating the Conspiracy.


    The Characters

    As noted above, Kolchak undergoes the most revision from the original series. The main problem is in that the few episodes we get he doesn’t really do much, so there’s not much to see. He hits all the right reporter-type notes – he protects his sources, he investigates things, he has a lot of contacts. Stuart Townsend does what he can with the character but all he really gets across is “Good but cocky reporter” and “Troubled widower.”

    They did make Kolchak more of a people person, and in the few occasions where this comes to the front (like with the girl in “Pilot”), Townsend shines. Unfortunately this eliminates some conflict and some episodes lack the conflict of a hate/hate relationship between Kolchak and some cop.

    As far as his looks and all…he never struck me as being overly a pretty boy in the role, and in fact I’d have difficulty telling you what he looked like. Kolchak was definitely a departure for Townsend. He definitely conveyed “rumpled” without looking old-fashioned or outdated.

    Despite being supposedly billed as a partner, Gabrielle Union gets the short end of the stick for what should have been the second lead character. She doesn’t really _do_ anything. Her relationship with Carl isn’t overly antagonistic, but it’s not really friendly either. One gets the impression this was a result of mixed messages to writer – some seemed to write it as if her and Kolchak were friends, some as rivals. Sometimes they were presented as on friendly terms with each other, but there was really no basis for that.

    Again, she may have suffered at the hands of a series cut short and there could have been a nice juicy Peri-centric episode down the road, but Ms. Union just didn’t impress here. I could (just) buy her as a feisty reporter, but she didn’t really get a chance to do anything other than that. She just didn’t do much or have much to do.

    Veteran actor Cotter Smith falls into much the same predicament with Tony Vincenzo. However, he managed to convey a few different things going on in his relationship with Kolchak. By turns concerned, skeptical, friendly, and paternal, it was nice to see him bring a different but similar take to the role…and be given the chance to bring a different take to the role. Unlike Union’s character, Vincenzo was pretty much freed from any plot considerations so they had almost nothing else to do with him except characterization.

    Eric Jungmann was of the cast the breakout star of the series. Given the Jimmy Olsen role of Jain McManus, he clearly was having some fun, got to do a bit more actual acting, added most of the humor the show had, and play the hero a bit. Good performance of a good character.


    The Stories

    Now we get to the meat of the matter – did the stories work?

    “Pilot” Most pilots filmed as actual pilots to sell a series – as opposed to simply the first episode of a series contracted up front – have an awkward feel to them, and this one was no exception. There’s a lot of set-up and exposition and to explain the death of Irene Kolchak, the threat behind it, how Carl is working at the Beacon, who Peri and Jain are, etc. There are a few nice moments like Carl with the girl, and a fairly suspenseful denouement. Problem is that the monsters aren’t particularly compelling and how they fit into the Red Mark Conspiracy isn’t at all clear. Unavoidably, it’s the weakest of the lot because it’s a pilot.

    “Five People You Meet in Hell” Despite the rather inexplicable title, this is probably the best of the series since it throws a couple of twists at you and has some creepy moments. Thanks to Townsend’s “Extraordinary Gentleman” costar Tony Curran cast in his first American TV work, the “monster” gets to play to the camera quite a bit. If there’s a flaw it’s in the denouement when Carl is the victim, Jain saves the day, and someone we’ve never seen before kills Caylor.

    “Three” A good old-fashioned “killed by your worst fears” horror story. Each of the deaths is chillingly played and Peri gets a (very) little characterization with her secret society background and then her banter with Carl. The flashback murder, enhanced by Townsend’s narration, is also creepy, even if it rather brings the episode to a halt. Again, the plot takes a few twists by building up expectations of making you think the Three are responsible for the girl’s death, but in fact making them the victims. The main problem is that since almost all the guest stars are red herrings it’s hard to care for any of them. Also, again Kolchak doesn’t really do much to resolve the conflict except set the house on fire at the end. On the other hand, between the Kolchak/Peri banter and the introduction of the morgue attendant guy, this episode is probably the closest they got to the original’s quirky humor.

    “Burning Man” The show’s one foray into a non-supernatural story, something many folks involved with Kolchak said they wanted to try but weren’t allowed the choice. The parallels between the killer and Kolchak are interesting and touch on Carl’s back story without involving the Red Mark Conspiracy. Still, it’s a pretty predictable outing lacking the twist of the previous episodes. Its best feature is that it actually dwells a bit on the Beacon’s internal politics, and hopefully the underrated William Lucking could have made a return if the show had continued. Other than his character Gorn, the Beacon seemed to lack a supporting cast or anything in the way of even recognizable background faces.

    “Malum” Switched with “Burning Man” to air near Halloween, this episode is a creepy little tale that experiments a bit with the narration and brings in Tony Todd. Todd is another character who might have made a neat recurring policeman/detective. Pretender’s Paul Dillon provides a suitably creepy red herring but in this case he isn’t enough of a distraction and it’s soon clear both that the producers are trying to distract us from something, and what that something is.

    “The Source” To start with, maybe it would have made more sense in part 2, but...what the heck was up with the narration? It sounded like the kind of opening you got out of the worst Outer Limit episodes. Anyhoo, that out of the way, I’m torn on this one. The Koreatown subplot seems pointless and Peri and Fain seem to meet one time too many, dragging the episode’s flow down. The “I won’t reveal my source” subplot is been-there/done-that, and it’s hard to believe any newspaper owner or corporation would stop protecting their reporters so readily. On the other hand, the bikers are suitably creepy as is the whole subplot with the telephones and Kolchak’s mystery contact. We find out a bit more about the relationship between Fain (John Pyper-Ferguson in a thankless role) and Kolchak, and are left to wonder whose idea it was to have two recurring characters on the show named Fain and Jain. And it ends with Jain making a classic Kolchak blunder and the now-traditional “Let’s cancel it on a cliffhanger” ending. Which brings us to...


    What Went Wrong?

    As in real estate, network programming is “location, location, location.” No matter how much Spotnitz et al tried to spin it, Thursday at 9/8 central was not a good location. While Stalker purportedly get excellent ratings compared to any other ABC show in that slot, that wasn’t enough to save it. Alias also proved a poor lead-in compatibility-wise, lacking the dynamic of the Lost/Invasion combo on Wednesdays.

    That combo also suggests another problem – Stalker is an hour too early. Moving Alias to 9/8 central and Stalker to 10/9 would have given Alias a boost and Stalker some residual pick-up. But that would have involved ABC tampering with their Primetime cash cow, so forget that.

    The Primetime situation also demonstrates there probably wasn’t a better slot available. What was needed was a slot without major competition, with a decent lead in, and on a night where fans were likely to tune in. None of those seemed available given ABC’s commitments.

    So Stalker was to some degree doomed from the start - it’s hard to imagine any genre show (such as Invasion) doing well in that time slot. Switching Invasion and Stalker would have proven an interesting experiment and might have worked. However, despite their ownership of Stalker, ABC clearly had other priorities despite giving it some decent advertising time.

    Second, there’s the whole legal mess and ABC’s desire to exercise its rights to do “a” Kolchak with the bits they owned (the TV movies) without doing “the” Kolchak. “Reimaging” has a nasty taste but on the other hand I cringe every time I hear the “Son of Kolchak” suggestions. Given ABC’s initial decision it was damned if you do, damned if you don’t – no one could capture the magic of Darren McGavin and Simon Oakland, and any reasonable attempt to succeed would have been met with the same howls of derision that greeted the attempt we got to reimage the character while discarding the past.

    Third, the production was a bit of a stew. I lost count of the number of producers, co-producers, executive producers, associate producers, and creative consultants involved. What the heck did Dan Curtis and Darin Morgan _do_ on the show? Could anyone pick out anything but some vague maybe-coincidental hints of their own styles? There seemed to be very little cohesive vision or style to the show and this seemed to be reflected on the screen. I didn’t want or expect one big storyline, but it seemed like I was watching a different show almost every week.

    Townsend didn’t help the situation – his “pretty boy” image didn’t hurt him here but he didn’t bring anything distinct to the character, either. The decision to make him a rather passive protagonist didn’t give him much to do, further giving the impression it was a week-to-week kind of thing that tended to blur together.

    While Stalker didn’t have to be a laugh fest, or portray Kolchak as a bumbling klutz, they could have lightened up the character a little. Even tragic characters have to laugh or crack under the pressure. As much as I liked the Jain character and Jungmann’s performance, I would have rather seen more of his characteristics grafted onto Kolchak. Why couldn’t losing his wife make Kolchak more of a loose screw instead of a grim seeker of “the truth”?

    It also would have helped to grab the audience from the get-go. Again, Townsend did a standard generic “husband who has lost his wife under mysterious circumstances” riff. Not entirely his fault, as the scripts didn’t give him much beyond that. But unlike X-Files or even Invasion, there was really nothing there to tap into the public zeitgeist of aliens and abductions and shiny lights in the sky or in the water. Threshold and Surface, ditto. Ghost Whisperer and Medium hit the fascination with what lies beyond the veil, and Supernatural taps into urban legends. Stalker’s writers and producers didn’t seem to have anything left and ended up giving us...furless partially-skinned hellhounds. And later mind controllers and demon kids.

    If they couldn’t make the big threat distinctive enough to grab people’s attention, then they could have gone with the social commentary angle. Reporters are as much in the news themselves as they report the news these days, and some commentary on the current state of journalism could have worked. Did Carl consider himself an old-fashioned crusader, and if so how did he view other modern-day reporters? Or was he more of a celebrity journalism like you see today? But Kolchak here is just...well, a reporter doing his job.

    Ditto with Agent Fain, who represents The Government. With the FBI and Homeland Security and all in 2005, we could have had some social commentary on the public’s right to know versus the government, with journalists as the intermediaries. Cripes, even Charmed is doing it this. But Fain just comes across as generic FBI Cover-Up Guy until later in the game. And the Beacon just seemed to be a generic background.

    Now, all of this might have been addressed in development, but these days that just doesn’t work unless you’ve got an iron-clad full-season contract with the network. Night Stalker came across as a show that wanted the time to develop what it wanted to do, rather then _knowing_ from the start what it wanted to do. Guess what? The audience didn’t know what the show wanted to do either, and they turned off. Without a strong initial hook, “give us time to develop” that just doesn’t work these days in the genre.

    And finally, if you’re going to have a female second lead/partner, give her something to do. “Feisty” by itself doesn’t cut it.

    Now, all of this might have been addressed down the road, that whole “give us time to develop” thing. But in the last few years of network programming, it’s “Now, now, now!” We can only judge by what we’ve seen, not what might have been.


    What Went Right?

    Townsend as Carl Kolchak. He wasn’t terrible, he wasn’t horrible, the Earth didn’t collapse into a black hole when he took the role. I’m not sure if it was the writers/producers’ fault, or his own attempts to overcome his “pretty boy” image, but he did come across as rather bland. I think he was fighting an uphill battle but he exceeded my expectations.

    Cotter Smith as Vincenzo. Not a lot to do but he competently did what he was given and brought a little extra in. A veteran actor giving a performance with gravitas.

    Eric Jungmann as Jain McManus. Heck, I’d watch a show where he’s the lead character. Problem is the writers and producers seemed to agree – he did more than Kolchak did.

    The Kolchak/Vincenzo relationship. We got a mature believable relationship between a boss and employer who like each other and are friends but have their differences. A rare instance where reimaging was required, was done well, and made for a better series.

    The Stories. For the most part, a good combination of psychological horror and dark shadowy things lurking just out of site, combined with just weird shit. I’m far too jaded to be actually frightened by this stuff, but there was weird stuff that creeped me out, and a few plot twists I didn’t expect. At worst it ran about one-third great, one-third average, and one-third mediocre to bad...and that’s a better track record than most shows while relatively few have better.



    Was Night Stalker going to be better than Kolchak: The Night Stalker? Certainly not to any fans of the original series, myself included.

    Was it a successful series? Well, no. Not from the network’s point of view because it didn’t grab the ratings. The way it was structured, and the way the network placed it, it seemed unlikely it could have been a successful moneymaker.

    Do I think it was a successful series? Based on what I saw...yes. I thought the stories were interesting enough, and creepy enough, to hold my interest. But I’m a genre fan, so what do you expect? :)

    _Could_ it have been a successful show overall? Yes. Make more effort to grab the audience from the beginning and then work to keep them. That in my mind was the show’s single greatest downfall.

    Further, give Kolchak more of a personality – preferably Jain’s. Either dump Peri or beef up her characterization and the purpose she served on the show. Dump Jain if you keep Peri – much as I liked his character, he often made Kolchak and Peri redundant. Build up the work environment around Kolchak – is he hated, feared, liked by the other reporters? Did they sign that petition in The Source because he’s their pal, or just to support a fellow reporter? Who knows?

    Of course, it’s all Monday morning quarterbacking and maybe nothing could have saved the series. But it’s clear the audience just didn’t see a reason to stick around and that happens when they don’t see anything to stick around for. Take what’s you’ve got that’s good and put in some hooks to catch the audience’s attention and keep it, and you’re set. This time around for Carl Kolchak, it just didn’t happen.moreless
  • It's just beginning...

    Frank Spotnizz (X-Files, Roswell) did a fantastic job at remaking a 1974 classic series (Kolchak: The Night Stalker). It did indeed start off rough but what show doesn't? Episode 6 "The Source, Part 1" was truely when the mythology of the series was fully clarified. The reason I gave this episode a 9 out of 10 is because it honest to god deserved it. Clues left from the "Pilot" and threw out were finally picked up and explored to were we basically now the answer to "What the heck killed Kolchak's wife and left him?". Finally a threat, The Four Bikers (aka Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse) really brought some much needed depth, the show was dark as is but they added that sense of danger that I felt lacked. I'm really glad that this episode is only Part 1 there is just to much going on to be tied loosely (some were left open for future eps) in an hour.

    Simply if you don't get hooked to the show by the "Pilot" defiantly watch this, and you'll never regret it. Other then the series being short lived, but anything is possible *crosses for a movie*

    - for what would have happened in future eps after this 2-parter you should really go out, get the Complete Series on DVD and listen to the Commentary Frank really went out in them to give us an ounce of closure, but also made us want more and to actually see it with our eyes.moreless
  • Evil Bikers...

    In this episode Kolchak comes up against a group of evil, or deamon bikers who are on a mission terrorising and killing a drug lord. Kolchak, Reed and McManus hunt down the bikers and try to work out what is really going on. Jane is almost killed by the bikers but hides just in time. This was a very good episode which really showed the potenital of the Night Stalker series. I hear that this is the episode that they cancelled the show on... that was a bad call this show was doing well. Part two 'The Seas' is even better. Its a shame that Night Stalker is so under-rated.moreless

    Bring back NIGHT STALKER what in the world was the network thinking????? With only a few winners left on TV (i.e. House MD; Prison Break; Invasion), we lose one of the best? Night Stalker in the 70's with Darren McGavin was absolutely OUTSTANDING!!! I really think all the fans of this show need to unite and get this show back on the air!!!
  • Well that's all she wrote because the network pulled the plug on the series.I must admit it was a bit of a disappointment but the least they could have done is allow the final half of a two part episode to air.moreless

    At times the new Night Stalker series was slow,lacking humor,lacking horror and just plain lacking but it was beginning to show just a small spark of promise.In the days before the current "I want the entire plotline revealed now" television viewer a show such as this may have been allowed to run its course and maybe with a little more development in the story line may have even been an entertaining show.But now with production halted I suppose we will never know and we will next be figuring out which cast member turns up in which other show if there are any scripted television shows left in the reality based television market these days.I do not maen to come off bitter and I am certinly not going to rush out and start a petition to have the show put back into production I am just saying we need to give any television show at least a full season before we put it on the shelf.I realize that writing,producing and acting in shows like these are very demanding,after all,even Darrien McGaven begged and pleaded with the producers to pull the plug on the original Kolchak:The Night Stalker after 20 episodes because he felt the quality of the show was disappionting.In short I suppose my whole point is lets give a show some time to build an audience and not pull a marginal show after 6 episodes without giving it every chance.moreless

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (1)

  • QUOTES (4)

    • Perri: So what happened?
      Jain: Why do you ask.
      Perri: Because Kolchak's been acting crazy. Crazier than usual, anyway.

    • Phone Voice: (to Carl) You of all people should know what the police find means nothing.

    • Fain: You don't know... what you don't know.

    • Kolchak: (opening narration) Before time, before light, before life itself, they say the Earth was formless, empty, and darkness was over the surface of the deep. That darkness hovers there still. Eternity whispering in the crash of the waves. Mysteries about who we are and where we come from. We suffer, we toil, we live and die. Never knowing why we're born into this life. Whether it's to serve good...or evil.

  • NOTES (1)

    • The name Crossbinder is given as the owner of the Beacon. In the TV movie The Night Strangler, Lucius Crossbinder (John Carradine) was the owner of the paper Kolchak and Vincenzo worked for.


    • Fain: It's Les Miserables. I'm Inspector Javert, and Kolchak is poor persecuted Valjean.
      Referencing the famous novel by Victor Hugo, best known as a Broadway musical but also the source of numerous movies. In it, Jean Valjean is an unjustly persecuted thief in France in the first half of the 19th century. After breaking his parole he is hunted for decades by Inspector Javert, a policeman dedicated to strictly following the law and believing the worst about any criminal.