KITT

A RETROSPECTIVE BY MICHAEL CLOONAN

(Warning: This page is rated ES for "Extreme Sarcasm".)

 

"...Knight Rider: a shadowy flight into the dangerous world of a man... who does not exist. Michael Knight, a young loner on a crusade to champion the cause of the innocent, the helpless, the powerless - in a world of criminals who operate above the law..."

 

David Hasselhoff Knight Rider ran from September 1982 to April 1986 - beating other gadget-oriented super machine shows like Airwolf, Streethawk or The A-Team. It even rated higher than Dallas. The series was created by Glen A. Larson, the man responsible for other such television gems as Battlestar Galactica, the revival of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and, with Donald P. Bellisario (creator of Quantum Leap), Magnum P.I.

In a stunningly cerebral pilot episode, young Vietnam vet and undercover cop Michael Long (played by someone else with hauntingly similar acting abilities as David Hasselhoff, pictured left with trademark leather jacket and macho glimpse of chest hair) is shot in the face in pursuit of a gang of electronics pirates. He is rescued by millionaire Wilton Knight and undergoes plastic surgery to assume his new identity as the handsome, debonaire Michael Knight.

Michael eventually comes to terms with his new identity, and with Wilton's dying words, "One man can make a difference", echoing through his skull, he launches on a crusade to fight for truth, justice, and the American way™. Michael is given KITT, the Knight Industries Two Thousand (also posing left with his co-star), a modified 1982 Pontiac Trans-Am that can do absolutely everything.

For the next 88 episodes Michael faced complex plots, engaged in dazzling action sequences and met a plethora of strange and villainous characters played by some of the most respected and distinguished actors in American television at the time (for example, Robert Englund and Justin Bateman), and others who used it as a vehicle for later success (like Deep Space Nine's own Nana Visitor and Marc Alaimo). To keep the series fresh and innovative as a showcase of talent, there were not very many repeat performances from its guest actors (the only notable exception being Catherine Hickland, Hasselhoff's wife at te time).

Some villains proved so successful with viewers that they were returned for follow-up episodes (despite apparent deaths or detonations): not surprisingly, it was the usual audience-grabbing concept of Michael's and KITT's own "evil twins" (Garthe Bishop, played by Hasselhoff in a moustache; and KARR, played by KITT with silver paint).

With a distinguished cast comprising of David Haselhoff as the handsome and brawny Michael ("Woo hoo!") Knight, Edward Mulhare as the classy English gentleman Devon ("Take care, Michael") Miles, and Patricia McPherson as KITT's mechanic and series femme fatale Bonnie ("I've just installed this new component in KITT in case you need it") Barstow, and William Daniels as the voice of the Knight Industries ("They're getting away, Michael!") Two Thousand.

David Hasselhoff, trying to escape the teen idolization he acquired in The Young and the Restless, disputed reviews labelling him as a "hood ornament", and fought to have Knight Rider take off all around the country - defying promotions for the car to emphasise the human aspect of the show: "I think it's a good show - because it's about heroes, and the concept that one man can make a difference" (Starlog #77, February 1983). His subsequent work on the likes of Baywatch and Nick Fury shows his commitment to quality broadcasting.

Edward Mulcair The late Edward Mulhare (second best remembered as Captain Gregg from The Ghost and Mrs Muir television series) felt much the same way Patrick Stewart did at the start of production for Star Trek: The Next Generation: "It'll run for three weeks and flop!". Neither of them expected the success to follow! Likewise, William Daniels, brought to fame in the TV series St Elsewhere, was dubious about the series and his name was omitted from the credits - but of course his fruity Boston tones were unmistakable!

Patricia McPherson left the show after the first season, replaced by former model Rebecca Holden as April Curtis: the only other woman next to Bonnie with whom Michael completely fails to get off with. However, fans and fellow actors' pressure brought Patricia back into the fold, but her attempts to talk the writers into bringing a love affair between Bonnie and Michael never became a reality. Perhaps the producers felt it would be a little too cliched for a series such as this. Patricia's acting career later reached new heights when she played the second brunette from the left in a first season episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The fourth and last season of the show introduced the "token black guy", Reginald Cornelius III, played by Peter Parros.

The formula for each episode was simple, and yet its ability to vary in many ways during the course of the four seasons remains astounding.

Each season opened on a double-length episode. Season Two featured the indestructible monster truck Goliath, resulting in the first trashing and rebuilding (in remarkably short time) of KITT. The upgrades to KITT occurred due to increases in current motoring technology: every car now had "Fuel Low" or "Fasten Seat Belt" flashing lights now, so just to keep the series state-of-the-art these refurbishments were necessary.

This happened again midway through Season Three (an acid bath) and at the start of Season Four (an acid bath and then being rammed by a huge truck). This last reconstruction brought even more great new innovations for KITT: a fantastic new Super Pursuit Mode whereby the vehicle would sprout jets and the digital speedometer would race into the multiple hundreds. Not to mention the infamous 'C' button...

However they managed to squeeze these latest gadgets into an already overcrowded chassis I'll never know! But such is the enigma that is Knight Rider.

However, despite these continued enhancements, view credibility was pushed to the limits (the Super Pursuit Mode was used perhaps a little too often in the chase sequence) and the series was given the push, being given a grand send-off with none other than Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In star Henry Gibson in an intriguing story about voodoo.

Upset fans worldwide rallied Universal Studios and in 1991 were finally given the chance to watch the continuing adventures in the form of a one-off telemove, Knight Rider 2000.

Knight Rider 2000 Set in the year 2000, this one had everything: Devon Miles' death, Michael Knight in retired life (a blatant continuity error here, Michael said in Good Day at White Rock that he hates fishing!), and KITT even gets transplanted into a '57 Chevy before finally ending up right at home in the body of the newly-developed Knight Industries Four Thousand (pictured), complete with all new super gadgets (including Virtual Reality technology, although we never got to find out what it was really for).

However, despite an appearance by Star Trek's own James Doohan and The X Files' Mitch Pileggi as a business-suited bad guy, the pilot didn't fare as well as it might have done and the proposed series never became a reality.

Neither did Knigt Rider 2010, which was abysmal (probably because it didn't have either David Hasselhoff or KITT in it). And, in 1997, production went underway for Team Knight Rider - but by then the situation was hopeless. The damage had been done and Knight Rider was no more than a memory for those whose childhood thrived on a healthy dose of it every Friday night. Watching it even now brings tears to my eyes.

 

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