ABC's 'Night Stalker': Cue the 'da Dum da Dum'

Reporter Kolchak (Stuart Townsend), standing, and partner Gabrielle Union grill Tony Curran in
Reporter Kolchak (Stuart Townsend), standing, and partner Gabrielle Union grill Tony Curran in "Night Stalker." (By Danny Feld -- Abc Via Associated Press)
By Chip Crews
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 29, 2005

"I drive at night. The police radio is my compass. Looking for answers to questions I'm only learning how to ask. About things adults dismiss but children are right to fear. . . . Forces that spring not from the imagination but live amongst us, unseen."

Jeepers creepers! Even without all the moody piano noodling, that grim voice-over leaves absolutely no doubt: Something horrid is about to happen. And that something is ABC's "Night Stalker," a junky, clunky and derivative dip into the dark side premiering tonight at 9 on Channel 7.

Grim voice-overs and moody pianos never lie. Barely a minute later we see a woman telling her husband goodbye in front of their isolated house as he sets out for his job as a night watchman. There's some rustling off in the distance, but everybody knows TV and movie characters never react to rustling in the distance.

Next, little wifey is puttering in the kitchen, clad in her bathrobe, when she hears a lamp crash to the floor in the living room. She checks that out but still doesn't seem unduly alarmed -- what, her worry? -- until the lights go out and she sees something terrifying in the dark. Is it a nasty-tempered monster? A space alien? A very bright wild animal? The show's creators aren't tipping their hand, but a frantic chase ensues, and when last seen, the woman is being dragged off in terror.

The following day, police officers are all over the scene and a conflict breaks out when Los Angeles Beacon crime reporter Perri Reed (Gabrielle Union) shows up with photographer Jain McManus (Eric Jungmann) in tow. As Perri starts asking questions, she learns that Carl Kolchak (Stuart Townsend), a newcomer to the paper and an insufferable twit besides, has already arrived and interviewed all the copper brass.

"You can go," Kolchak says, dismissing them.

A squabble ensues, and the Beacon awards the story to Perri. But Kolchak keeps producing eerie leads from vague sources, and Perri overcomes her hostility to partake of them. Could this be the start of a beautiful friendship?

The kidnapped woman later turns up dead, and the evil beastie keeps doing its thing, at one point even attacking a woman in her shower. And in a show like this one, we know exactly what's going to happen the minute she reaches for the faucet.The only question is whether we're going to see a pint of blood or a gallon. The great shower scene in "Psycho" will never be equaled, and alluding to it -- again -- in 2005 is nothing but a cheap, crummy stunt.

(Speaking of cinematic allusion: The first couple are named Emily and Henry Gale, which happen to be the names of little Dorothy's aunt and uncle in "The Wizard of Oz," who were caught up in a different kind of whirlwind situation. Clearly, the "Night Stalker" team has seen a whole lot of movies.)

Soon enough doubts are raised about Kolchak himself: What's his game? Did he commit a murder in Las Vegas, where he used to live? Is he committing all these crimes? An FBI agent from Vegas shows up to torment him, but reporters are made of stern stuff. However lurid or loopy the situation, Kolchak -- the character, if not the show -- will survive.

"Night Stalker" is based on an old series called "Kolchak: The Night Stalker" that came to life in 1974, a year after "Kojak" was launched. At that time, network executives had begun telling themselves that the public enjoyed watching shows about people whose names begin and end with the letter K, but alas, ABC pulled the plug after 20 episodes. This incarnation has been given a particularly onerous assignment -- taking a bite out of TV's Thursday Night Stalker, the No. 1-ranked "CSI."

The next sound you hear may be Carl Kolchak turning on his shower.

Night Stalker (60 minutes) premieres tonight at 9 on Channel 7.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company