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Yes, this is X-Files related. Why? I'll get to that below.

For those who didn't know him, which is almost everyone, Jeffrey Grant Rice was born in 1942 in Providence, Rhode Island. A reporter and writer by trade, he made his way to Las Vegas and did a lot of reporting on the city and state government there. In 1970, Rice decided to turn his experiences into a novel combining horror, reporter movies like The Front Page, and modern-day government conspiracy cover-ups.

The result was The Kolchak Papers, which he typed up and mailed to himself, meeting copyright requirements of the time. Then the ABC network picked it up and hired Richard Matheson to write a teleplay that resulted in what was at the time its highest-rated TV movie: The Night Stalker (1972). Dan Curtis directed it, and Darren McGavin took on the role of Carl Kolchak, making it his own. Kolchak went after a vampire, Janos Skorzeny (Barry Atwater: Surak on the original Star Trek), who decided to set up shop in Las Vegas. No one is able to deal with Skorzeny, mostly because no one can accept that he is a vampire. Kolchak, a hard-boiled reporter, eventually realizes the truth, stakes Skorzeny, and is run out of town for his efforts.



Rice wrote a novelization of the movie, from Matheson's teleplay, which was based on Rice's original Kolchak Papers.

ABC immediately hired Matheson to make a sequel, The Night Strangler. However, they managed to forget that Rice had created the character and needed his permission. Rice had to forcefully "remind" them, and while he wasn't involved in the 1973 movie, he did write The Night Strangler from Matheson's TV script.

The Night Strangler is practically a beat-for-beat remake of The Night Stalker. A century-old alchemist (Richard Anderson: The Six Million Dollar Man and half the Rifleman episodes ever made) is draining small amounts of blood from women that he strangles. He uses the blood to make an age-extension elixir, hides in the Seattle Underground, and the city government is eager to cover up the killer's true identity rather than hurt the tourist trade. Again, Kolchak is the only one who believes, stalks the killer to his lair, and destroys the elixir, causing his opponent to decay into dust in a matter of seconds.



The second TV movie was also highly rated and critically popular. ABC decided to make a TV series out of it and rushed it to air in 1974. However, they again forgot to include Rice or even acknowledge he has created Kolchak. He had to threaten to sue, right up until the show's premiere. ABC hastily slapped Rice's name as Creator on the series and off it went.

The series only lasted one season, airing in the Friday death slot so beloved of genre fans. It went through several name changes, a time slot change, a four week "hiatus" after the first four episodes, and a round-robin of production crew changes behind the scenes. After the first 2-4 episodes, the show settled down into a show that was a unique combination of office comedy and horror. Kolchak dealt with his quirky co-workers at the Independent News Service in Chicago, then got involved with vampires, werewolves, zombies, Helen of Troy, Indian medicine men, succubi, invisible bone marrow-eating aliens, and thirteen other monsters during the series' 20-episode run.



Rice wasn't involved in the series at all, nor were Dan Curtis or Richard Matheson. Which might explain why it followed pretty much the same pattern as the TV movies. A monster shows up in town, kills a few people, Kolchak gets wind of it, is the only person who believes it exists, and eventually either kills it or drives it away. His evidence is destroyed but since it's a TV series, he sticks around in Chicago so that he can take on another monster next week.

ABC was none too thrilled with the threat of lawsuits, and Rice didn't work in Hollywood again. He ended up living in obscurity in Las Vegas, his involvement in a cult classic TV show forgotten or never known by even many fans of the show. As a result of all the legal issues, Rice did receive the literary rights to the character. He could write about the character based on what appeared in his novels, but he didn't own the rights to the TV movies (which belonged to ABC), or the TV series (which belonged to Universal). So anything that was unique to those, he didn't own and couldn't license out.

This resulted in the odd ABC Night Stalker series in 2005 which could only use material from the TV movies. Rice at least got a Creator credit on that without having to threaten lawsuits.

Meanwhile, author and researcher Mark Dawidziak wrote 20th and 25th anniversary Companion books for Kolchak, and befriended Rice. This led to Dawidziak writing an original Kolchak novel, Grave Secrets, in 1994, with Rice's blessing. The novel proved popular enough that Moonstone Comics worked with Rice, published a couple of series and a number of crossovers involving other literary characters such as Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Moreau, and Honey West. They also released a novel or two and a couple of anthologies. Once featured a Kolchak/Barnabas Collins crossover.



What does this have to do with X-Files? Glad you asked. Chris Carter often cited Kolchak as one of his inspirations for creating X-Files. Rice's writing and the popularity of the character also led to a change in how horror TV shows were done. Up to the 1970s and Kolchak, most TV horror was either non-existent, anthologized, or humorless. Or a mix of all three. See The Sixth Sense for one example. What few lighter horror shows that exist were more vaudeville, an already-dying style in the 60s. See Night Gallery's blackout sketches for examples of that.

The Kolchak stories went the route of such classics as Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), effectively mixing comedy and horror. Thanks to the work of people like David Chase (The Sopranos) and Robert Zemeckis (Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Death Becomes Her), the show made horror hip and funny. The budget for F/X was so low, they almost had to go for comedy.

There's a reason that X-Files brought in Darren McGavin as Arthur Dales, the founder of the X-Files. McGavin turned down the role of Mulder's father. The episode "Travelers" is almost literally a passing of the torch from Kolchak to Mulder.



Carter also tossed in Senator Richard Matheson as another tribute to the show that had inspired him.

While the comedy-horror TV show concept would have probably come along anyway, The Night Stalker is one of its earliest examples, and paved the way for X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Forever Knight, Friday the 13th the Series, and many more horror shows that didn't take themselves quite as seriously as their 60s and 70s predecessors.

Kolchak was no Van Helsing. He was the well-intentioned but somewhat incompetent monster hunter who could be counted on to drop the mirror, lose the stake, miss when throwing the vial of holy water, or get the sacrificial ring stuck on his finger. He also investigated his share of government conspiracies, even if they involved aliens and killer robots. Kolchak was essentially the spiritual father to Frohike, Byers, and Langly, In another reality where Mr. McGavin was in good enough health to still do TV appearances in 2001, one could imagine Carl as the mentor to the Lone Gunmen.

Rice's death is the last of four that pretty much bring the Kolchak saga to a close. Darren McGavin and Dan Curtis died in 2006, and Richard Matheson in 2013.

Mr. Rice passed away on July 1 of this year. For those who knew him, he will be missed. For those who don't know him, check him out. The novels have a place of honor on my bookshelf, and can still be found in used book bins and in republished form on Amazon. The movies and TV series are available on DVD.


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Aug 12, 2015
This is a lovely appreciative (and informative) tribute. I'd never seen Night Stalker, though I knew Carter owed a debt to it. My husband remembers it fondly, so we watched the series on Netflix two years ago, and then watched the Arthur Dales episodes of X-Files again (missing Darren McGavin). Thanks for this, well done. And thanks to Rice for giving us Kolchak and shaping things to come.
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Aug 11, 2015
I've always enjoyed "spooky shows", as I used to refer to them as a kid. I can remember sitting in a high chair and watching Dark Shadows and loving it, even though I didn't exactly know what was going on. When asked what my favorite TV shows were growing up, they inevitably included Rod Serling's Night Gallery and Kolchak: The Night Stalker with Darren McGavin. I have no idea who Jeffrey Grant Rice is, but thanks to your article, I now do and have come to appreciate what he did and the influence he left on my one of my favorite pastimes. Your informative article enriched my knowledge and honors his memory and for that, I thank you. Also, thanks for the spooky stroll down memory lane.
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Aug 12, 2015
Thanks! And I certainly don't mean to diminish Night Gallery: except for the comedy blackout episodes. "Junior" is one of the most horrible wretched things I've ever seen.

Episodes like "They're Tearing Down Tim Riley's Bar," "The Messiah on Mott Street", "Silent Snow, Secret Snow", "Cool Air," "The Caterpillar", and "Pickman's Model" are among NG's best episodes, and the best episodes of any horror show.
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Aug 11, 2015
Nice writeup.
Kolchak has always been a fav of mine, and Darren McGavin played that character to perfection. I so so happy that I was able to pick the series up on dvd a few years back. When I had first Heard that McGavin was going to appear on the X-Files, I was hoping that he was going to reprise the character of Kolchak....and pass the baton to Mulder.....but I can't really fault the way they decided to do it.
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Aug 10, 2015
Thanks for that. I've been hearing about Kolchak but never bothered to try to get hold of it since, you know ... it's so old. But this was very informative. Will definitely check the books out,.
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Aug 10, 2015
I believe all of the episodes are on Youtube. The early ones (The Ripper, The Zombie, The Vampire) are typically considered the best. The Spanish Moss Murders and Horror in the Heights are also pretty good. "They Have Been, They Are, They Will be" (episode 3) and "Mr. R.I.N.G." (episode 12) are about as X-Files-ish as the show gets.
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