Exclusive - Ten Questions to Executive Producer Frank Spotnitz - producer of the Night Stalker series. (6/05/05)
After several months, I've finally got a chance to follow up with Frank Spotnitz on a post-show interview following the cancellation of the new Night Stalker series.
1) Most shows get cancelled due to low ratings, but what causes those low ratings varies a great deal. At the end of the day, what led to Night Stalker’s low ratings and cancellation?
Frank Spotnitz: It's impossible to know, but certainly we the odds were stacked against us. We were up against the top-rated drama on television (and, as research later showed, competing for the same kinds of viewers), did not get a penny of paid advertising to promote us, and were counting on a lead-in that ended up getting disappointing ratings and a totally different audience from ours.
2) What “went right” with Night Stalker? What things hit the mark and were exactly what you wanted to do, and they worked and worked well?
Frank Spotnitz: A lot of things went right with the show. I think the cast terrific, the show looked beautiful, and many of the episodes were scary and compelling. Of course, in the early episodes of any series, you're trying to identify your strengths and weaknesses, and we certainly had both. But I was pleased with the work we did. As for the "mark," that storyline was really just beginning to be advanced in the two-part episode, "The Source" and "The Sea," so it never really got a chance to be explored.
3) Your declining to adhere to the original Kolchak – the older on- the-skids aging wisecracking reporter and monster-hunter dismissed as a crackpot – was a point of controversy among a vocal minority of fans and critics. Instead we got a much younger Kolchak that seemed a bit passive – doing a lot of investigation but not so much at the center of the action. Also, with the angst of his dead wife, he was understandably kind of humorless. How much did the change to the basic character ultimately hurt the show, and how much did it help?
Frank Spotnitz: I continue to believe no one could play the late, great Darren McGavin better than Darren McGavin himself. I think any attempt to do the character in his mold would necessarily have suffered by comparison. I still think it was the right decision to go in a different direction with the character, and I think Stuart was terrific in the role. To my mind, Kolchak remained at the center of all the episodes. I do plead guilty to not having enough humor in the pilot episode. There was a lot more humor and charm in a number of subsequent episodes - in particular, "Into Night," the episode that was originally intended to air right after the pilot.
4) A similar point of controversy was Stuart Townsend in the role. What do you feel Townsend ended up bringing to the role, and how did it help/hurt the show in the long run?
Frank Spotnitz: I think Stuart brought intelligence, intensity and a certain darkness to the part that was especially appropriate, given Kolchak's changed back story. Stuart is also a fine comic actor, and I was looking forward to more opportunities to showcase that, particularly in Darin Morgan's unproduced script, "The 'M' Word," which will be available on the DVD set that's coming out in May.
5) Although it’s relatively common in TV these days, there seemed to be a lot of producers and assistant producers and executive producers and co-executives and creative consultants involved with the show. What did folks like Dan Curtis and Darin Morgan bring to the show?
Frank Spotnitz: It was one of the joys of my life that doing "Night Stalker" brought me into contact with Dan Curtis, who is surely one of the seminal producer-directors in American television. I had grown up watching and loving so much of his work, not just "Night Stalker," but "Dark Shadows," "Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde," "The Winds of War," and on and on. I had been warned that Dan pulled no punches in making criticism, which proved true enough. But he was very kind and very supportive, reading and making notes on all the story ideas, scripts and cuts of the shows. I was thrilled, too, to work again with Darin Morgan, who by this point is an old friend, since we both started out on "The X-Files" the same year. Darin has an amazing mind and was a kind and, not surprisingly, funny voice in the writer's room. It was a real blow that we didn't get the chance to shoot his script.
6) How big a role did ABC play in the show’s production and, ultimately, its cancellation? How much instruction, guidance, and support did they provide? How much input did they have in some of the changes from the original series? And why did they choose an odd timeslot as 9/8 central for a show as dark and horrific as Night Stalker?
Frank Spotnitz: The network played a huge role in the series. While I didn't disagree with them all of the time, they were very committed, intelligent and dedicated. A number of people at the network continued to believe in the show until our dying day. Given how much support so many people at ABC gave the show, I remained optimistic until the end that they would find another, more appropriate time slot for us, but it was not to be.
7) The last few episodes will air on SciFi this summer (2006). I’ve avoided seeing them, but it’s pretty unlikely they’re going to wrap up everything. So
where was the series going? Who or what was the Red Mark Conspiracy? Why did Carl have the mark? What did furless hellhounds and ghostly bikers have to do with each other?
Frank Spotnitz: These are questions I answer in the DVD commentaries. I'll be posting more specifics later on my website
8) What did you learn from this experience?
Frank Spotnitz: I'm always learning. I don't think anyone ever masters the craft of filmmaking - it's got so many variables, it's a different experience every time out. I take satisfaction in knowing that I did everything I knew to make a success out of the show. I'm very proud of the work we did, and only wish we'd been given the chance to do more.
9) You recently wrote the forward for Moonstone’s Kolchak anthology. So
is this the end of your involvement with the world of Carl Kolchak? Any plans to do anything further with Moonstone or another Kolchak project?
Frank Spotnitz: I don't know! I have been and always will be a big fan of "Night Stalker." We'll just have to see whether other opportunities arise in the future.
10) In general, what’s in the future for you?
Frank Spotnitz: I just re-upped with Touchstone to develop new television series for the next two years. I'm continuing to work with Chris Carter on a movie script, and with Vince Gilligan on "Amped," for Spike TV. I'm excited to see what comes next.
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For more information on Frank Spotnitz check out his production company Big Light Production's home page
Kolchak Main Page