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.
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).
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 grip 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 and was cancelled after three seasons.
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 he infects, and a medical team in full Hazmat suits comes to take his body away as hero 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, the proposed episode was immediately criticized as sensationalistic, biphobic and scientifically inaccurate. Protests were launched by GLAAD, BiNet USA and BiPAC among others. Additionally ACT UP pickets disrupted the show's filming.
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. 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.
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.
"This is Jack Killian, "The Nighthawk" on KJCM, 98.3 and Good night America… wherever you are." (Jack Killian's sign-off and the last words spoken at the end of each episode)
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.