By GW Thomas
I've always wondered how Jeff Rice was involved (or not) in the creation of the Kolchak saga and why he didn't use the show as a launching pad to a career as a popular horror writer. Reading his interview in a copy of Marvel's attempt at a Famous Monsters type magazine, the very enjoyable Monsters of the Movies #1 (June 1974), I found the inside story on his novel The Kolchak Papers. The TV rights were sold even before the book, with Richard Matheson scooping up the screenplay job before Rice could (and winning himself an Edgar Award for the task). Titled The Night Stalker (1972), the TV movie was a huge ratings winner, setting records for that time. It was followed by a second, admittedly repetitious, but popular, The Night Strangler (1973) and then Kolchak: The Night Stalker, the poorly regarded TV show of twenty episodes.
The Kolchak TV movies were making money too. Matheson and William F Nolan even wrote a third script about android replicas, but the network canned it in favor of the series. The only problem was that they didn't have Rice's permission to turn the movie series into a TV series, and he sued. Settling out of court, Rice was given credit as the series creator and Darren McGavin returned for the twenty episodes. This legal solution may have blacklisted Rice in Hollywood, ending any career in Tinseltown. Decades later in 2005, copyright was not a concern when ABC revived the show. Rice retained the rights to Kolchak in print, but not on TV. The new show did not last even as long as the original, only ten episodes. Somehow viewers knew something was missing, and that something was Jeff Rice.
Because of the settlement, Rice was not allowed to use anything created by the show, only his original novel, making it hard to milk the occult detective cow for a few years even with the show faltering after one season. Only decades later, as Kolchak's cult grew, was this possible with Mark Dawidziak, a friend of Rice's, writing The Kolchak Papers: Grave Secrets in 1994. The novel did well enough to interest Moonstone Comics in a series, with tie-ins to other famous characters such as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Moreau. Jeff Rice appreciated that fans still loved Kolchak, especially after Chris Carter acknowledged that it was the show that inspired his popular X-Files. Still, no Jeff Rice resurrection came...
Jeff Rice ends his Monsters of the Movies interview, which took place before the TV show, by saying, "The Night Strangler came out in February and is also doing record business. So, it looks like I am finally launched on a career as an author and, hopefully, I may soon sell my screenplays, as several producers have shown an interest. My career as an actor we won't talk about in this interview; at least the offers are coming in now." A frozen moment in time before the crap storm that was 1975. Hopeful, excited, ready for more. This is the Jeff Rice I like to remember. The man who gave us Carl Kolchak.
GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is gwthomas.org. He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.