Carl Kolchak is my patron saint.
Yes, I am well aware that he’s not real and just the title character of the occult-themed ‘70s TV show, Kolchak: The Night Stalker. There’s something comforting about his disheveled seersucker suit and equally disheveled approach to news writing. The comfort factor only doubles when you consider that Kolchak was played by Darrin McGavin — “The Old Man” himself from A Christmas Story. Chances are, if you’re a writer with a yen for the macabre, you might count him as your muse of choice when sitting down to your keyboard, too.
Apparently, I’m not the only one who’s looked to Carl Kolchak for inspiration over the years. The X-Files and Supernatural only scratch the surface of television shows that have been influenced by Kolchak: The Night Stalker. The 1974 show (which lasted just a single season) featured a “Monster of the Week” format in which Kolchak found himself discovering and writing about some supernatural beastie terrorizing his Chicago stomping grounds. Normally, this far-more-intriguing story detracted him from whatever assignment he was supposed to be working on for his high-strung boss/editor, Tony Vincenzo.
Does an Episode of Kolchak: The Night Stalker “R.I.N.G.” a Bell?
Amid such monsters as zombies, Hindu Rakshasas, and garden variety werewolves, Kolchak stumbled upon a curiously science fiction-tinged case in Episode 12 named “Mr. R.I.N.G.”
In the 1975 episode, an android that had been commissioned by a government-classified military division known as the Tyrell Institute, kills the Professor that has been given the duty of de-programming and terminating him. The android is named for the project it was commissioned for, Mr. R.I.N.G. (Robomatic Internalized Nerve Ganglia) which combined the fields of Autonetics and Microcircuitry to create a miniaturized computer to be used by the military. Additionally, R.I.N.G. was programmed with aggression and a survival instinct. This survival instinct kicked in because R.I.N.G. did not want to die, murdering the professor in an act of self-preservation.
On the flipside, R.I.N.G. had also been programmed with likes, dislikes, and other “human” qualities by another scientist, Dr. Leslie Dwyer. In turn, Dwyer had been taken off the project when she opposed the potentially destructive direction it had taken. After killing the other professor, Mr. R.I.N.G. came to Dr. Dwyer seeking refuge and to complete his course in humanity, studying the readings of St. Thomas Aquinas and Aristototle’s “Ethics” to satisfy the creation of his own desired moral compass.
Does any of this sound familiar to you? Just a bit? The Tyrell Institute? An android who wants nothing more than to live and to be human? It seemed to me that Mr. Ring was a rudimentary version of Roy Batty, Rutger Hauer’s iconic android from the 1983 classic, Blade Runner. The film takes place in the year 2019 and Roy Batty, along with four other “replicants” – or genetically engineered androids used to do humans’ dirty work on off-Earth colonies – decides that he does not want to be “retired”. And by “retired,” it’s just a nice way of saying “destroyed.” In turn, Batty takes off on the lam issuing a path of destruction behind him. All the while, the replicant ponders what it means to be “human.”
Unlike Mr. R.I.N.G. in the “Night Stalker” episode, whose “face” is a mass of circuits and L.E.D. lights, Roy Batty and his fellow replicants are virtually indistinguishable from humans. (In fact, Billy Idol probably owes a royalty check or two to Roy and Pris for co-opting their cyberpunk look.)
In the film, it’s not the Tyrell Institute that creates these replicants, but the Tyrell Corporation, which has amassed a substantial amount of power across the world. If the mind wanders, using the Kolchak “Mr. R.I.N.G.” episode as a springboard, it would only make sense (in an eerily prophetic way) that what was once a mere institute in 1974 would evolve into a world-wide conglomerate by 2019, possibly intertwining government, military, and corporate backing to create androids to carry out human orders.
Which Came First Kolchak‘s Mr. R.I.N.G. or Blade Runner?
The coincidences between this one-off episode of a ‘70s TV series and a film that emerged almost a decade later seem to be too coincidental to not be interrelated. Particularly when you consider Carl Kolchak’s awesomely subversive speech in the episode that ties together pie charts, tax dollars funding top secret government projects that tax payers don’t know about, and “mystery flavor” ice cream atop a pie à la mode. (It makes much more sense if you watch it for yourself.)
While the devil is in the details and those details crop up in Blade Runner, the eternal question of “Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?” comes into play in this instance, too. Much of the story of Blade Runner was (very) loosely based off of Phillip K. Dick’s 1968 novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. The Tyrell Corporation was never mentioned, nor were some of the androids/andys/replicants named.
The original book actually showed the replicants in a much less sympathetic light than they were portrayed in Blade Runner. While the film was loosely inspired by Phillip K. Dick’s novel, Dick was not a part of “Blade Runner’s” writing team. Hampton Fancher and David Peoples were responsible for scripting the film.
Who knows? Maybe Fancher and Peoples caught the “Mr. R.I.N.G.” episode (written by L. Ford Neale & John Huff) when they were drafting their screenplay for Blade Runner?
Given the evidence proffered, there could be a good chance that Kolchak: The Night Stalker could very well have helped to inspire a sci-fi classic as we know it.
September 5, 2021
Funny how Westworld and The Six Million Man, and this Kolchak episode, share sound and visual effects!