By Mark Dawidziak
Writer-producer Chris Carter has said it loud and said it proud. He has said it often and emphatically. Even before The X-Files premiered on September 10, 1993, Carter was on the record saying he created the Fox series because The Night Stalker had given him so many wonderful fits of frights as a kid. Here's exactly what he said at the July 11, 1993 press conference introducing The X-Files and its stars, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, to the nation's television critics: "There was a show on when I was a kid called The Night Stalker. And it was a very, very scary show, and I loved that show. And I had an opportunity to create a show for Fox. And they said, 'What do you want to do?' And I said, you know, The Night Stalker was this fantastic show and I was scared out of my pants. I said there's nothing scary on television anymore. Let's do a scary show." That press conference, by the way, took place at the Universal Hilton, perched high on a hill overlooking Universal Studios, where Kolchak: The Night Stalker was filmed.
Many of the key writers on The X-Files -- including the prolific team of Glen Morgan and James Wong, as well as writer-producer Frank Spotnitz -- also were major Kolchak fans, which is why we soon were introduced to a character named Senator Matheson. As frequently noted, "They Have Been, They Are, They Will Be . . . " (also known as "U.F.O.", is the first of the Night Stalker episodes where that influence is particularly noticeable --stopped watches, mutilated animals, mysterious black substance, shady men in suits, anti-government paranoia and official suppression of information all were standard fare on The X-Files. To me, this episode, "Fire Fall," "Mr. R.I.N.G." and "Primal Scream are the ones that thematically have the most X-factor in them.
Carl gets things going, as usual, with the opening narration: “I knew this one was more than just the biggest story of my life. It was the biggest story in the lives of everyone on this planet. I fought for the story -- fought harder than ever before because I knew it was more than news, much more. I felt people should know about it so they could be prepared when it happened again, if it’s possible to be prepared for something like this.”
This was the episode evaluation that appeared in The Night Stalker Companion:
The monsters on The Night Stalker normally kept to the shadows. In "U.F.O.," the problem was completely averted because we didn't see the alien presence at all (except the final view of the flying saucer, which, even for 1974, looks pretty chintzy). The extraterrestrials are represented, quite eerily, by a wind that grows in intensity, so . . . The episode is one of the series' best. It's cleverly shot, nicely paced and moody, but. . . it's also one of the dumbest. More than usual goes unexplained in this one. It's a bit too convenient for Kolchak to be holding the one thing that will drive off the aliens. Kolchak finds the flying saucer with no difficulty. The whole notion of a stalking unseen alien visitor would be used much more effectively in Predator (1987).
On repeated viewings, though, this one holds up quite well. Despite the obvious reservations, there is much to recommend it, not the least of which is . . .
GREAT GUEST CAST: Including James Gregory (Inspector Luger on Barney Miller), who had appeared in the “Where is Everybody?” pilot episode of The Twilight Zone (and in the third-season episode, “The Passerby”), and Mary Wickes, who contributed wonderful supporting comic performances to such films as The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942), Who Done It? (1942, one of Abbott & Costello's best), White Christmas (1952) and Sister Act (1992). In addition to appearing in memorable episodes of I Love Lucy, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, F Troop and Columbo, she was a regular on an amazing total of nine series, the last of which was ABC’s Father Dowling Mysteries. The same year the original Night Stalker film aired on ABC, Gregory appeared in two episodes of Columbo ("Short Fuse" and "The Most Crucial Game") on NBC. Also appearing in the episode are Dick Van Patten (Eight is Enough), busy character actor Phil Leeds (Rosemary's Baby), Maureen Arthur (How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying) and Len Lesser (Uncle Leo on Seinfeld).
GREAT TONY-CARL SCENE: One of the series' comic high points. Seated in his INS office, Tony Vincenzo is about to enjoy a gourmet dinner. He clearly loves to eat, and here is a table of delights. Kolchak bursts in with the latest gory details of the case. Tony is torn between professional duty and personal pleasure. Heck, he's a tough veteran journalist. He can tackle both at the same time. He insists that Kolchak give him the details, no matter how nauseating. While Tony continues the meal, Kolchak continues running through the facts. Tony tries to maintain his gruff editor's exterior. It's a losing battle. The effects of this struggle are on his stomach, but they can be seen on his face. It's the type of very human moment that Simon Oakland could put across in beautiful fashion. And serving the food is another wonderful guest star:
German character actor Fritz Feld, who worked until he was almost ninety.. Often armed with his trademark hand-to-mouth pop (imitating the opening of a champagne cork), Feld appeared in such films as Bringing Up Baby (1938), The Phantom of the Opera (1943), The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947), Mexican Hayride (1948, with Abbott & Costello), Barefoot in the Park (1967) and The Sunshine Boys (1975).
GREAT PIECE OF KOLCHAKIAN WISDOM: "Don't be stupid, please!"
SECOND OF THREE GORDY THE GHOUL APPEARANCES: And John Fiedler's Gordy is thinking about changing the "stiffs lottery" from birth year to time of death. Fiedler, like Carol Ann Susi, wasn't a true regular on the series, but all other morgue attendants were poor substitutes for Gordon Spangler. When cast as Gordy, Fiedler was best known for playing wimpy Vinnie in the Broadway and film versions of Neil Simon's The Odd Couple. His other notable films included Twelve Angry Men (1957), That Touch of Mink (1962), The World of Henry Orient (1964) and True Grit (1969). Fans of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone knew him for two roles, both in episodes written by the anthology series’ host -- Mr. Dundee in "Night of the Meek" and one of the field reps in “Cavender is Coming.” Star Trek fans knew him as Hengist in writer Robert Bloch's Jack the Ripper episode, "Wolf in the Fold." His other television credits included episodes of Thriller, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Munsters, I Spy and Columbo. After The Night Stalker, Fiedler earned a place in sitcom history with two memorable roles: Mr. Peterson on The Bob Newhart Show (the 1972-78 CBS hit on which Larry Gelman, who played Vinnie in ABC’s series version of The Odd Couple, also was a regular) and Woody on Buffalo Bill (NBC, 1983-84). Playing against the “Vinnie” persona, Fiedler made two memorable trips to Jack Klugman and Tony Randall’s Odd Couple series: as building manager G. Martin Duke in “Security Arms” and cruel trainer Mr. Hugo in “The Dog Story.” He also supplied the voice of many cartoon characters, most notably Piglet in Disney’s Winnie the Pooh features.
|Jack Grinnage, Carol Ann Susi and Mark Dawidziak|
The influence of episodes like "They Have Been, They Are, They Will Be . . . " was so strong, Chris Carter and his team reached out to Darren McGavin for a guest role on The X-Files. It should have happened sooner than it did. The writers kicked around the notion of bringing Darren on as Kolchak. Given that ABC Circle Films controlled the dramatic rights to the character and producer Dan Curtis had an option on it at the time, it's uncertain whether this would have worked out, anyway. Then they thought about him playing Mulder's father. But Darren turned down the offers. He had been told that The X-Files had been inspired by The Night Stalker, and he took that to mean it had ripped off what they had done. Therefore, he said, he had no interest in doing the show. But a guest spot on Carter's Millennium, playing the estranged father of Frank Black (Lance Henriksen), led Darren to seeing that The X-Files was very much its own show (and a good one), and that led the way to his guest appearances as the FBI agent who first investigated the X-Files, Arthur Dales. It was Carter and the producers' way of honoring the debt they owed The Night Stalker. Darren played Dales on two episodes and had completed two scenes on a third when he suffered the stroke that ended his acting career. M Emmet Walsh substituted for him, playing Dales' brother, also named Arthur. Still, there's something altogether fitting about the producers' persistence and the forging of a link by making Darren part of the X-Files mythology.
Mark, an excellent summation of the ambivalent response many of us have to this episode, and of why it's the most obvious influence on THE X-FILES. I guess we shouldn't harass Peter and John for failing to mention a guest star or two, since the Dawidziak One-Man Clean-Up Crew seems to handle that pretty well. But it's a fun parlor game trying to see how well we can anticipate you in the comments we post before your essay goes up. Feld even did the cork-popping routine in the "Felix the Horse Player" ODD COUPLE episode, bringing us full circle.ReplyDelete
Please forgive me if I missed this, but did anyone discuss why the episode title was changed? I suppose it should be obvious (the original's too damn long and quirky), but I thought there might be an amusing story behind it ("Frustrated ABC press releasers couldn't handle the offbeat title, so they took it upon themselves to replace and shorten it"). Who made this decision, the network or Universal? How often did the "U.F.O." label appear? Just in the original ABC network rerun? Did it turn up in CBS' late night telecasts as well? Is it officially dead now, given the DVD release? Just curious...ReplyDelete
I've been aware of the reported title change for years, but honestly don't remember ever seeing this episode shown under anything but THBTATWB, and I used to watch the show first-run (not that my memory is perfect). No insight into the story behind the change, alas.ReplyDelete
Weird stuff. I called the episode "U.F.O." in FANTASTIC TELEVISION (written in 1976), and I'm sure I did that because it was renamed for the ABC rerun. An unsolved minor mystery...ReplyDelete
Great write up, Mark, and I love that photo of you with Jack and Carol Ann!ReplyDelete
Great point you bring up, Gary. There are a few Kolchak episodes that apparently have alternative titles (they are all listed in Mark's book): This one is aka "UFO", "Horror In The Heights" is aka "The Rakshasa", "Legacy Of Terror" is aka "Lord Of The Smoking Mirror", "Fire Fall" is aka "The Doppelganger", "Bad Medicine" is aka "The Diablero", "Primal Scream" is aka "The Humanoids", and "The Energy Eater" is aka "Matchomonedo".
Maybe Mark can explain if these alternative titles where simply working titles for the original scripts or if they ever appeared in a broadcast? I don't remember them on TV myself, and they do not appear on the prints used on either the Region 2 or Region 1 DVD sets.
Regarding the alternate titles, I fall back on Mark Twain's response when posed a question in "Life on the Mississippi": "I was gratified to be able to answer promptly, and I did. I said I didn't know." Some of the alternate titles were on late versions of the scripts, some were on syndication packages and some were listed on press material from Universal. To cover all bases, I listed an alternative title whenever one was found -- and that was for seven of the twenty episodes. I know, for instance, that "Lord of the Smoking Mirror" was supposed to be the title of "Legacy of Terror," almost to air. It was in fact the title on the scripts being used by the actors during shooting. But whether or not it was ever actually used on air, I really can't say. I knew that by the time "They Have Been, They Are, They Will Be . . . " aired as one of the sixteen episodes on the CBS late night lineup, it was being called "U.F.O.", but I don't know when or why the change was made.ReplyDelete
Oh, barf, I posted my maunderings on titles to the wrong section ...ReplyDelete
Meanwhile, two more side-questions for Mark D.
1) Did you ever make a running list of the "other" employees of INS, the background extras referred to by name in assorted scripts (such as "Marge")?
2) Based on the dates cited by Kolchak from show to show, did you ever build a rough timeline of the order of his investigations for the series?
@ Mark ~ Ahh, that's very interesting that it was called "UFO" in late night re-runs. I wonder if any of the others were stamped with their alternate titles in later reruns. Verrrrry interesting...OK, it's not THAT interesting.ReplyDelete
FWIW, I still have my VHS recordings of the 1987/88 airings of The Night Stalker when it aired on CBS Late Night, and on-screen title is the longer title, not UFO.ReplyDelete
John, you're probably right. My recollection was that it had shifted to "U.F.O." for those airings, but it has been years since I dug out my VHS recordings of those CBS Late Night airings, and memory is tricky enough for last week, let alone 20 years ago. Another favorite Mark Twain quote: "When I was younger I could remember anything, whether it happened or not; but my faculties are decaying, now, and soon I shall be so I cannot remember any but the latter."ReplyDelete
Nope, never built a timeline within the series, but we did build an adjusted timeline for Carl's career, deciding how the INS stint in Chicago fit into the overall pattern of his career. We decided, for instance, that the show's last episode, "The Sentry," was the story that got Carl fired from the INS bureau because the chairman of the Merrymount Archive, Inc., was a golfing buddy of INS owner Abe "the Smiling Cobra" Marmelstein. But we also decided that "The Ripper" was not the first story Carl covered in Chicago -- that there was a period of time not covered by the series and that when he arrived in Chicago, Louise Harper was with him.ReplyDelete
>>we also decided that "The Ripper" was not the first story Carl covered in Chicago -- that there was a period of time not covered by the seriesReplyDelete
I'm going to get slapped in the face for asking, I just know it, but does that mean that Carl was doing meaningless reporter tasks like covering dog bites and the Pennant-chasing Chicago Cubs before a huge wave of monsters rolled in to town? What I'd really like to know is what he did between these monster cases. When did it strike him that Chicago has an alarming number of supernatural forces at work? And, since you're one of Carl's chroniclers, Mark, how DID Carl and Tony manage to end up in so many jobs together?!
Hardly. Carl is a valuable employee at a wire service -- tireless worker, veteran crime reporter and a good writer. The theory is that Tony is the one who keeps getting hired, and he has a soft spot for Carl (also acknowledging that he's one hell of a reporter). Good editors can move around a lot, from newspaper to newspaper, attracting people who have worked for them at previous stops. The major coincidence is that Carl and Tony actually end up in Seattle at the same time after Vegas. But in Chicago, then in Los Angeles (for the post-Chicago stories), Tony is hired first, then finds a place for Carl.ReplyDelete
I like all episodes of this series enough that the lowest 0-4 rating I'd give any of them is 1 - and this one rates a 1.5...ReplyDelete
BUT... It is dumb. And dumb in ways that a science fiction episode really ought to avoid. The business with the camera is not the worst problem. The single worst problem is that the alien needs to use the planetarium as a navigational aid... It can get a better view of the surrounding universe, in spherical completeness, by simply taking off and getting back into space. And if it hasn't got some computational device better than the planetarium projector aboard it's ship - well, damn. I'd like to try and come up with a justification for that but then I'd also have to figure out what element of 1970s electronic devices might be useful in repairing an intersteller spaceship.
I prefer to remain Anomalous