For a period of three years, from late 1989 through early 1992, I watched a lot of television. It wasn't by choice so much as necessity. I simply couldn't afford to do much else. Most of the shows I came across annoyed me or baffled me. I couldn't understand what people were thinking in making some of these television shows.
I somehow managed to develop an affection for Midnight Caller, which starred Gary Cole as Jack Killian, the host of a late night radio program where people would call in and tell him their problems. He was a former cop who had shot his partner by mistake, which led to him no longer being on the police force. That backstory, which sometimes came to the front of the room, gave the show a dark edge that was missing from the light and goofy fare I usually found when turning the dial.
We're not talking about one of the truly great programs in the history of television or even a groundbreaking milestone. Although one episode, which dealt with Killian finding out his ex-girlfriend had AIDS and then hunting down the guy that infected her won an Emmy Award, the show has faded into obscurity after a four year, sixty-one episode run.
The show was centered at radio station KJCM in San Francisco, where Jack Killian worked with partner Billy Po, who apparently ran the technical side of the show and screened the telephone calls. The people who called were generally deeply troubled, and often Jack and Billy would get drawn into their troubles. Jack Killian had this pressing need to help people, perhaps brought on by the loss of his standing with the police department, and this led to him stepping outside of just being a voice on the radio and becoming actively involved in his callers' lives. While Clint Eastwood may have advised him not to get involved in the lives of his callers, he apparently either did not or Jack didn't listen. Regardless, Clint Eastwood was not on the show.
The original owner and station manager of KJCM was Devon King, a professional acting woman played by Wendy Kilbourne. She had a fortune from her family's laundromat businesses, but after two years sold the station to Nicky Molloy, played by Lisa Eilbacher. The show had a pressing need for Jack Killian to have a female boss. His white knight complex and often macho behavior needed the foil.
The one thing that stood out for me was that the show was always dark. Everything always happened in the middle of the night. The sun never came up, or at least I don't remember the sun ever coming up. The characters on this show were awake at night and asleep during the day. In many ways it captured the essence of life in the darkness of night when most "normal" people are sleeping.
Jack would have regular dealings with his former police associates, some of whom were his friends and some of whom had issues and grudges. Most of the characters had far more depth to them than your usual cardboard television characters, and most of their depth was submerged in darkness. These people had dangerous secrets, untold stories and sometimes would do anything to prevent these untold secrets from being known. It had the potential for greatness, but this was television. The show often seemed to touch the edge of something deeper but then pull back and try to wrap things up cleanly. It was better when there wasn't a simple ending.