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Midnight Caller is a dramatic NBC television series created by Richard DiLello, which ran from 1988 to 1991. It was one of the first television series to address the dramatic possibilities of the then-growing phenomenon of talk radio.[1][2]

Midnight Caller
Midnight Caller.jpg
Title card
Created byRichard DiLello
Composer(s)Ross Levinson
Brad Fiedel
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
No. of seasons3
No. of episodes61
Executive producer(s)Robert Singer
Production location(s)San Francisco
Running time60 minutes
Production company(s)
DistributorWarner Bros. Television Distribution
Original networkNBC
Picture formatColor (Metrocolor)
Audio formatMono
Original releaseOctober 25, 1988 (1988-10-25) –
May 17, 1991 (1991-05-17)



Midnight Caller starred Gary Cole as Jack Killian, a former San Francisco police detective who had quit the force after he accidentally shot his partner to death in a confrontation with armed criminals. After lapsing into alcoholism, Killian receives an offer from Devon King (Wendy Kilbourne), the beautiful and wealthy owner-operator of KJCM-FM, to become "The Nighthawk", host of an overnight talk show, taking calls from listeners and acting as a detective solving their problems during the day (the title of Killian's show would later be adopted in real life by talk-show host George Noory on KTRS in St. Louis from 1996 until 2003, when Noory took over from the retiring Art Bell as host of the nationally syndicated Coast to Coast AM).[3]

Killian's adventures took him frequently back into the realm of police work, where several of his former colleagues were less than happy to see him again. He faced myriad problems, both personal and professional, and was at various points required to come to grips with the nature of his relationship with both his absentee father and his troubled siblings. What he never seemed to come to grips with, however, was his relationship, or lack of one, with Devon. Devon eventually became pregnant in a relationship with another man and sold the station (Kilbourne was undergoing a simultaneous real-life pregnancy). Despite hard-hitting topical episodes dealing with AIDS, capital punishment, and child abuse, among other topics, the show lost its audience when it was moved from its original time slot and was cancelled after three seasons.

Midnight Caller's strength was in combination of well-created stories shaped by realistic and topical characters. The stories also rotated around the main cast, and its well-developed characters allowed the viewers to relate to them. The show's jazz music soundtrack also added to its popularity.


Each episode of the series ended with Jack Killian's sign-off from his radio show: "This is Jack Killian, "The Nighthawk" on KJCM, 98.3 on your FM dial, and good night America...wherever you are."


SeasonEpisodesOriginally aired
First airedLast aired
117November 25, 1988 (1988-11-25)May 9, 1989 (1989-05-09)
221September 19, 1989 (1989-09-19)May 22, 1990 (1990-05-22)
323September 28, 1990 (1990-09-28)May 17, 1991 (1991-05-17)

Cast and charactersEdit



Series creator Richard DiLello took the title of the series from a song written by Pete Ham for the band Badfinger. DiLello had previously authored The Longest Cocktail Party, a history of the rise and fall of The Beatles' corporation, Apple Corps, and their record label, Apple Records, where Badfinger had originally been signed. The song itself had no relation to the series' subject matter; it had been written by Ham in tribute to a friend of the band who had resorted to working as a high-priced prostitute to pay her bills.

"After It Happened" controversyEdit

In an episode entitled "After It Happened" (1988), a bisexual man is depicted as an AIDS carrier who deliberately infects straight women. As originally conceived, the man is gunned down in a vigilante murder by one of the women that he infects, and a medical team in full Hazmat suits comes to take his body away as Jack Killian comforts the distraught shooter. In the broadcast version, the victim is stopped before she can kill the carrier.

Coming in the early years of the AIDS epidemic in the US at a time when public understanding of the disease was quite low,[5] the proposed episode was immediately criticized as sensationalistic, biphobic and scientifically inaccurate. Protests were launched by GLAAD, BiNet USA and BiPAC, among others.[6]Additionally ACT UP pickets disrupted the show's filming.[7][8]

Eventually, the tone of the episode was softened to one of tolerance for all people who are ill and a heightened awareness of the need for safe sex practices by all.[9] However, it was still considered controversial among AIDS activists and the bisexual community. Then-NBC affiliate KRON-TV in San Francisco ran a disclaimer before the show with an AIDS hotline number and aired a half-hour live special, Midnight Caller: The Response during which activists and public health officials aired their grievances.[10]

Awards and nominationsEdit

In 1989, Kay Lenz won an Emmy for her role in the episode "After it Happened", and Joe Spano won an Emmy for his role in the episode "The Execution of John Saringo".[11]


  1. ^ O'Connor, John J. (November 14, 1989). "Review/Television; 'Midnight Caller' Continues Its AIDS Story". The New York Times. Retrieved October 24, 2010.
  2. ^ Cerone, Daniel (November 11, 1989). "Activists Hail 'Midnight Caller' Sequel Episode". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 24, 2010.
  3. ^ "'Midnight Caller' Should Hang It Up". Chicago Tribune. October 25, 1988. Retrieved October 24, 2010.
  4. ^ Bobbin, Jay (January 2, 1989). "Gary Cole In 'Midnight Caller' Hot Seat". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved June 21, 2017.
  5. ^ Easton, Nina J. (December 3, 1988). "'Caller' Clash Reflects TV's Challenge on AIDS". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 24, 2010.
  6. ^ Easton, Nina J. (October 25, 1988). "Gays Protest 'Midnight Caller' Episode". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 24, 2010.
  7. ^
  8. ^ "The State". The Los Angeles Times. October 23, 1988. Retrieved October 24, 2010.
  9. ^ Archived August 21, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ Tropiano, p. 103
  11. ^ The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows 1946-Present. Ballantine Books. 2003. p. 1439. ISBN 0-345-45542-8.

Further readingEdit

  • Tropiano, Stephen (2002). The Prime Time Closet: A History of Gays and Lesbians on TV. New York, Applause Theatre and Cinema Books. ISBN 1-55783-557-8

External linksEdit