The X-Files and Kolchak: The Night Stalker (part 1)

After recently having watched the entire X-Files series, I happened to re-watch a few episodes of Kolchak. Thinking in broad strokes, I came upon the conclusion that the 1993 series The X-Files began largely as a modernized take on the 1974 series Kolchak: The Night Stalker – or so it would appear. Both shows focus on a character who is investigating paranormal phenomena (although Kolchak does so only whenever he happens to come upon such situations while Mulder usually seeks them out), but the parallels don’t end there. Consider, for example, the similarities between the protagonists – Fox Mulder and Carl Kolchak.

• Both characters could easily be called workaholics – often forgoing sleep, food, and their own sanity for the sake of their current quest.

• Both characters were originally highly respected as being the best in the respective fields (FBI profiler/reporter), and had girlfriends, before their combination of integrity and willingness to acknowledge the paranormal got them socially black-balled.

• Both are presented as people who are used to being thought of as more than a bit nuts, yet they continue going after their supernatural investigations.

• Both have supervisors who know they’re the best, but often give them crummy work to punish them for their personalities.

• Both are constantly trying to tell the public “the truth” about paranormal phenomena, but are inevitably kept from doing so by bureaucratic cover-ups, the disappearance of any evidence, or (in Kolchak’s case) photos or other proof being too crummy to prove anything due to the frantic circumstances under which they were gathered.

• Both have a somewhat frumpy appearance and don’t take care of themselves very well. In Mulder’s case, this is indicated by the character wearing an ill-fitting FBI suit, repeated references to how poorly he eats, and the fact that he sleeps on his couch because he has no bed. In Kolchak’s case, this is indicated by the character always wearing the same rumpled, outdated seersucker suit and an old straw hat.

• When it comes to women, Kolchak basically lives like a monk. He had a girlfriend in the first TV movie, The Night Stalker, but not after that. Mulder isn’t portrayed as being quite so abstinent after he began his paranormal investigations, even early on, but he certainly could not be considered a “ladies man.” Presumably, from the writers’ point of view, this had more to do with his pining away for Scully than his eccentricity scaring women away. Actually, this is just as well. Too many modern TV shows are ruined by excessive relationship related melodrama.

• Most of the time, both characters carefully research the monster of the week through books, newspaper archives, and interviews with old people before going after it. This is one of  the better aspects of both shows. Many programs just have the protagonist run head-long into the monster and defeat it through pure luck, or a really good guess based on some key detail they noticed earlier. One annoying thing X-Files did that Kolchak avoided was to have a bad guy tell one of the good guys (usually Mulder) almost enough to solve the whole mystery, then have the good guy lose his/her temper and go stomping away without asking the one extra question that would solve everything.

While Kolchak narrated the story in each episode, The X-Files gave this trait to Scully (the show’s co-protagonist, so to speak) in the early episodes. Thus, Scully also had some characteristics in common with Kolchak.

So, what elements of The X-Files made it more appealing to the modern viewer of the 1990s? Find out in my next post…

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