I had the opportunity to dust off my Kolchak: The Night Stalker DVDs this weekend. What a marvelous bit of macabre TV history.
A storyteller (e.g., writer) can learn much from Kolchak. For example:
- Suspense is your friend. Make the audience wait. Kolchak slowly uncovers the truth, piecing the story together with the audience. Brilliant.
- Don't show your hand too soon, or hide the monster's face for the first half of the story.
- Build a story around a character and setting which works. Kolchak (the series) is set in Chicago--a big enough place for plenty of people to be murdered, and Kolchak (the character) is a freelance news reporter (which gives him latitude to investigate those murders).
- Tension between characters drives the plot.Was there any police captain in Chicago Kolchak didn't lead to a heart attack with his intrepid (if not annoying) questioning?
- Take a trip to the underworld: The final 5-10 minutes of each episode usually involved Kolchak going to the monster's lair and looking for him/it/her. Some of the spookiest sh*t on TV.
- Give your protagonist some quirks. Kolchak was never known as a snappy dresser... (What's with the hat?)
- Most importantly, don't be a one trick pony. Kolchak is a great show, but only survived one season. I'm guessing it was cancelled because, quite frankly, every episode was the same. Watch them in a row and you'll get the pattern.