October 24, 2005 12:00 PM

ABC (Thursdays, 9 p.m. ET)

The character named Carl Kolchak, a journalist whose beat is the supernatural, first appeared in 1972. Or rather, emerged from the dank murk with muck smearing his shoes. The original Night Stalker had something scummily compelling about it. Darren McGavin, an actor with a knack for unwholesome crustiness, played Kolchak in the old-fashioned newspaperman mold. That’s “mold” as in “fungus.” This was a rumpled guy with a gutter-tabloid sensibility, except that he stalked monsters instead of third-rate celebrities. He didn’t look much better than the monsters, come to think of it.

The new Night Stalker is a much cooler affair, starting with theme music by composer Philip Glass. Kolchak is now played by Stuart Townsend, who is bleak and brooding but by no means crusty, dank or mucky. He looks as if he had done nothing his entire life except peer out from behind a windshield while driving through glamorously inclement weather in car commercials.

This Kolchak, hired by a newspaper in Los Angeles, has been obsessively hunting a mysterious force or creature since his pregnant wife was murdered and their unborn child ripped from her womb by some…thing. Now, sure enough, awful stuff is happening, either out in the nighttime desert or on sunny streets. In the premiere, a coyote-like monster dragged a little girl off to a cave. In the follow-up, which generated some solid suspense, a serial killer mentally commanded fresh murders from within his prison cell.

This doesn’t have as distinctive a style as The WB’s Supernatural—that’s more like a jeans ad for the undead—but Kolchak three decades on still knows how to move.

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