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THE TINY SCREEN: Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing: ABC Botches “The Night Stalker”

Two types of people might be interested in the new version of “Kolchak: The Night Stalker,” which airs at 9 p.m. on ABC – those who watched it as kids and those who are interested, for whatever reason, in the latest fashionable trend of spooky TV shows. Either way, but especially if you were a fan of the ‘70s series, you’re bound to be disappointed.

Darren McGavin played the original Carl Kolchak, hunter of monsters and evil spirits. McGavin made the show good the same way Peter Falk made “Columbo” good – a hapless but somehow effective hero bumbling his way through cases.

McGavin’s Kolchak wore his trademark seersucker suit and crumpled straw hat, his face marked with deep creases, his voice low and gravely. He looked like a man just sleazy enough to be in the company of werewolves and vampires.

Unfortunately for us, they decided to remake it with an actor who not only doesn’t live up to McGavin but also can’t really carry a whole show. Stuart Townsend (more famous for being Charlize Theron’s boyfriend) is far too pretty to be Kolchak – and far too frail-looking to be believable beating back the hosts of evil he’ll encounter. He isn’t a bad actor but he’s badly, badly cast here.

The creators have added a female sidekick, Gabrielle Union, who provides the Scully end of the paradigm. But having her around only makes it harder for Kolchak to do his job. The whole point of the original was that Kolchak was a loner – on the hunt in a world no one else ever saw. With a cute, sassy female sidekick, you can smell a producer’s meddling from a mile away and the show loses any uniqueness it might have had.

Thanks to the “X-Files,” every show about hunting down criminals or the supernatural has to have a hot, sexy female to question the stoic, hard-headed male leads. At least, in this one the girl is black, a rarity on TV.

The old “Night Stalker” was deliriously cheesy, with bad makeup and costumes – but it had that great score and somehow managed to be scary, not just to nine year-olds like me but to grown-ups, too. So much so, that people still talked about the series for decades after.

The new one isn’t nearly creepy enough, though the pilot episode had a few scary moments. It looks more like a cross between “CSI” and “Medium” than what you’d imagine an update of “Night Stalker” could be. Once they botched the lead character, the show has little else to hold our interest.

“Medium” is a good example of how nobody knows anything, really, when it comes to how an audience will respond. Patricia Arquette, who just won an Emmy for her performance, isn’t a young, svelte hottie nor does she need a sidekick of equal hotness to carry off her show. What she has is good writing and real characters.

The “Night Stalker” producers and writers would have been better off creating an original series about two reporters stumbling on unexplained phenomena rather than trying to remake something that really should have been left alone.

But there is a silver lining – the old “Night Stalker” is playing on the SCI FI channel and has just been released on DVD. They are a preferable alternative to anyone feeling nostalgic for the old show.

Notable TV This Week

Thursday, October 6

Clear and Present Danger (***), 8 p.m., AMC.

Ever After (**), Cinderella retold, 8:30 p.m., OXYGEN.

Night Stalker, 9 p.m., ABC.

Everwood, the family drama returns, 9 p.m., KTLA.

Friday, October 7

The Graduate (****), 7:30 p.m., AMC.

Ghost Whisperer, world’s dumbest title, 8 p.m., CBS.

History of the World, Part 1, 9 p.m., FMC.

Inconceivable, new series on infertility, 10 p.m., NBC.

Saturday, October 8

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, 8 p.m., TBS.

Live Nude Girls (**), 8 p.m., WE.

Art in the Twenty-First Century, 8 p.m., KCET.

Frontline: The OJ Verdict, repeats, 10 p.m., KCET.

Sunday, October 9

The Bad News Bears (****), 7:30 p.m., ESPNC.

The Godfather, Part II, 8 p.m., AMC.

Hunt for the BTK Killer, 9 p.m., CBS.

Mystery! The Murder Room, 9 p.m., KCET.

Monday, October 10

Mystic Pizza (**), 8 p.m., E!

The Sweet Hereafter (****), 8 p.m., IFC.

Broadway’s Lost Treasures III, 9 p.m., KCET.

Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession (**), 10 p.m., IFC.

Tuesday, October 11

Directed by Sidney Lumet: Private Screenings: An Interview with Lumet, followed by screenings of some of his most memorable films, including 12 Angry Men, Pawnbroker, Network, Long Day’s Journey into Night, and The Hill. 5 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. TCM, of course.

Nova: Einstein’s Big Idea, 8 p.m., KCET.

Amazing Race: Family Edition, 9 p.m., CBS.

Commander-in-Chief, 9 p.m., ABC.

Einstein’s Wife, 10 p.m., KCET.

Wednesday, October 12

We Were Soldiers (**), 8 p.m., TNT.

The Apprentice: Martha Stewart, 9 p.m., NBC.

Helen of Troy, a look at the goddess, 9 p.m., KCET.

Moonlight and Valentino (***), 9 p.m., OXYGEN.

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