Originally created 09/29/05

Gabrielle Union returns to TV in 'Night Stalker'

PASADENA, Calif. -OK, so she hasn't had the greatest track record with TV remakes.

But Gabrielle Union says unlike the summertime big-screen flop "The Honeymooners," her latest project, a small-screen remake of the '70s cult TV series "Kolchak: The Night Stalker," is different.

"It's not a remake, it's a 'reworking,'" she emphasizes, laughing. "I've learned my lesson about remakes."

Premiering 8 p.m. Thursday on ABC (WJBF-TV, Channel 6), the new "Night Stalker" picks up the saga of newspaper reporter Carl Kolchak, who investigates crimes connected to the supernatural.

Portrayed for one season (1974-75) by Darren McGavin - whom we see for 24 hours every year on TBS as the father in Jean Shepherd's "A Christmas Story" - Kolchak now is played by Stuart Townsend ("The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen").

The series - reminiscent of "The X-Files," on which executive producer Frank Spotnitz once worked - adds a new twist, with Union's Perri Reed serving as Kolchak's journalistic sparring partner.

"I needed other people in the newsroom for Kolchak to interact with," says Spotnitz, "relationships that were going to drive these stories. And I wanted the competitiveness... Who could outdo the other to get the story."

While shooting an episode recently in Pasadena, Union is relaxed and cool, despite sweltering heat and no air conditioning in her trailer - her preference.

She's so blissfully chatty about the show and handsome co-star Townsend ("My girlfriends are always dropping by to visit the set") that it's hard to believe she almost passed on the series.

"Hourlongs are like doing movies that never end," says Union, who'd soured on TV dramas after her laborious stint on "City of Angels."

In the last five years, the 32-year-old Omaha, Neb., native has appeared in more than a dozen films, running the gamut from action ("Bad Boys II") to romantic comedies ("The Brothers"). But she felt as though she was "being put in the box."

"It's cool to be in the commercial movie box, but I wasn't getting the opportunity to even audition for more serious roles. I really didn't want to do TV," she says, "but my options film-wise were literally this actress' third best friend and like somebody's wife who you'd see twice."

Initially, when she got the "Night Stalker" script, "I was like, I don't get those sci-fi shows."

But at her agent's insistence, Union finally read it "and I was like, this is kind of good. Couple more pages, and I was like, this is really good!"

She met with Spotnitz and executive producer-director Daniel Sackheim. "They said, 'When we think of Perri Reed, we think of you.' And I'm like, 'OK, who else passed, because I know you didn't just think of me,'" she says, laughing.

"They're like, 'No. When we thought about Perri Reed we thought about strength, and thought about you,'" Union says. "And they didn't say we have to change the writing because you're black. It was never brought up. Not once."

Spotnitz confirms: "Perri wasn't written to be anything other than a really smart, capable person. I think we're becoming more of a polyglot as a people... and I'm eager to embrace that."

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