McGavin’s next series was The Outsider, which aired on NBC from 1968 to 1969. He portrays an ex-con named David Ross who spent six years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. Once he’s freed, he becomes a private detective to deal with his own issues as well as those of his clients. When the media tried to draw parallels between David Ross and Mike Hammer, the actor expressed, “Hammer was close to a superman; a cold, hard individual without much capacity for emotion. I enjoyed portraying him from the standpoint that I could pull out all the stops. Ross is an entirely different type. He’s a loner, because of a bitter past fraught with obstacles and social alienation. Ross can be emotionally hurt, yet he’s still tough. But I think Ross is a much more ‘human’ character than Hammer ever was.” Unfortunately, the audience didn’t go for it the same way they had his take on Spillane’s character.
After The Outsider, McGavin continued shifting back and forth between guest star appearances and a new form in the medium of growing prominence, the TV movie, which took off in a big way. Michael McKenna, author of The ABC Movie of the Week: Big Movies for the Small Screen, points out, “It isn’t long before TV movies become a consistent moneymaker and ratings grabber, and it starts to become a genre for all the networks, some sooner than later.”
“The other thing about the TV movie is that it gave people who were in regular-running TV series something of a second career. You always see the most familiar faces on television, because they are recognizable. You know, the audience watches a clip and they say, ‘Oh, Lou Grant is in a TV movie. I’m going to watch that.’ So it does become very insular in a way. For example, there’s a TV movie in 1971 called Maybe I’ll Come Home in the Spring and it stars Sally Field as a young girl who runs away with her hippie boyfriend to a commune. The reviews noted that people would tune in to see Sally Field be a hippie and a bit of a drug user when they had known her for Gidget and The Flying Nun.”
So where does Darren McGavin fit in?
“Darren McGavin made some really remarkable movies of the week,” states McKenna. “First of all, he’s in The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler as reporter Carl Kolchak who goes up against a vampire. In another movie called Tribes, he plays a drill instructor and Jan Michael Vincent is a hippie who ends up being drafted and sent to Marine boot camp. It’s really good, because it gets into the generation gap and the culture of the time. But then Darren McGavin is also in the original Six Million Dollar Man movie and he’s the sergeant in The Rookies, which also goes to series. On top of that, in a movie called The Challenge he plays some type of mercenary who has single warrior combat on an island to decide some Cold War dispute. So he’s got a fairly remarkable career on The Movie of the Week.”
There is no question that Darren McGavin created a wide variety of characters over the course of his career, many of them memorable. As noted earlier, “The Old Man” in A Christmas Story is a good example. But there are certain roles that actors seem to have been born to play and the thing is, no matter what else they do, they will always be remembered for that part. Sean Connery had James Bond, Christopher Reeve had Superman and McGavin had reporter Carl Kolchak, who was at the center of the 1972 Movie of the Week, The Night Stalker.