Today, it's impossible to talk about "Kolchak: The Night Stalker" (1974-75, following TV movies in 1972 and 1973) without talking about "The X-Files" (1993-present). While this annoys some "Kolchak" fans, they have to admit that "The X-Files" has helped keep the "Kolchak" cult afloat – indeed, "The X-Files" is mentioned in the first sentence on the back of the "Kolchak" DVD collection.
Like most people who weren't around when it was on the air, I was inspired to check out "Kolchak: The Night Stalker" (1974-75) – and its preceding TV movies, "The Night Stalker" (1972) and "The Night Strangler" (1973) – because I'm an "X-Files" fan. "Kolchak" is often cited as the biggest inspiration and influence behind Chris Carter's landmark show.
Anyone who has driven through a thick Atlantic Coast fog that limits vision to 5 feet in front of your car knows that few experiences are tenser – especially if you're not familiar with the area. Therefore, "The Mist" (10 p.m. Eastern Thursdays on Spike) – a TV series that follows in the tradition of the Stephen King short story (1980) and the movie (2007) – should theoretically be scary. But it makes the weird decision to create fairly safe environments in the first three episodes (which can be streamed at spike.com).
"Grindhouse" was among my favorite films of 2007 and "Machete" was my No. 1 movie three years later. Although I am almost totally ignorant of 1970s grindhouse cinema, those films were cheap, dirty, gory, ridiculous, lowest-common-denominator fun. But could such a purposely silly genre work as a TV show, artistically or commercially? Time will tell on the second point, but after one episode, "Blood Drive" (10 p.m. Eastern Wednesdays on SyFy) seems primed to go the distance.
Any discussion of the continuum of family dramas in TV history has to include the aptly named 1970s series "Family." Although the premise is simple – it's about a family of five in Pasadena – a quick investigation into the show's genesis suggests it was original at the time: Producers Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg came up with the idea of an hour-long drama centered on the emotional life of a family, then playwright Jay Presson Allen wrote the pilot episode and Mike Nichols ("The Graduate") also joined the team.
If not for "Dawson's Creek," I might not know "James at 15" (1977-78, NBC) existed. Somewhat obsessed with "DC" at its inception, I picked up Andy Mangels' unauthorized Kevin Williamson biography "From Scream to Dawson's Creek" (2000). In it, Williamson reveals he was heavily influenced by the show and wanted to make a "James at 15" for the 1990s.
"Century City" (2004, CBS) was quietly – too quietly, as it turned out – one of the most innovative law dramas from the era when "Law & Order" and "The Practice" dominated the ratings. Because it's set in 2030 and therefore deals with the legal issues that are right around the historical corner, it forces thoughtful writing. No clichés allowed.
I like "Swingtown" (2008, CBS, available on DVD and Amazon streaming) almost entirely for the way it recreates the Summer of 1976, yet it's totally defensible as a legitimate one-season wonder on its overall merits, thanks to its wonderful characters and portrayal of changing societal values. For me, the buzziest part of the show – the fact that it chronicles (gasp!) the swinger lifestyle – is almost beside the point.