From 1982 until 1986, NBC viewers ventured weekly into the dangerous world of a man who didn’t exist, a young loner championing the cause of the innocent, the helpless and the powerless. It was the world… of Knight Rider.
A silly, yet beloved, piece of the 1980s pop culture, Knight Rider is fondly remembered today. Although hardly a top-quality TV show, Knight Rider offered something for everybody: while kids watched it for the adventures of the super-intelligent car KITT, David Hasselhoff provided a little eye candy for the older crowd.
We bring you 11 Things You Should Know About Knight Rider.
11. The Premise
Michael Arthur Long (David Hasselhoff) was an L.A. cop working undercover until shot in the face and left for dead in the desert. Wilton Knight (Richard Basehart), an eccentric billionaire and founder of Knight Industries, orders his doctors to save Michael’s life. With a new face and a new identity, Michael Knight becomes an operative working for the Foundation for Law and Government – an organization that targets criminals working above the law.
Michael is not alone in his quest. Devon Miles (Edward Mulhare) is his immediate superior in FLAG who sends him out on field missions. Dr. Bonnie Barstow (Patricia McPherson) is Michael’s chief technician. Last but not least, Michael’s new partner is KITT: an artificially-intelligent super car with a host of special features. Together, it and Michael would go on to fight evil for four seasons of Knight Rider.
10. The Origin Story
Throughout the 1970s and 80s, Hollywood producer Glen A. Larson created a number of classic TV shows such as Battlestar Galactica, Magnum P.I. and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. In early 1980s, Larson came up with an idea of remaking the classic movie and radio serial Lone Ranger for the contemporary audience. Instead of a western, the show would take place in the modern day, with a lone hero fighting injustice helped only by his trusty ride.
Brandon Tartikoff, the head of NBC programming at the time, tells a more entertaining version of this origin story. According to him, TV executives at the time complained about challenges of producing a show around the handsome male lead who couldn’t act. As a joke, Tartikoff offered them an idea of The Man of Six Words, a show in which the hero would speak only several phrases such as “Thank you!”, “Freeze!” and “OK.” while the rest of the talking would be done by his car. Either way, NBC executives loved the idea and approved it for development.
9. The Star
What can be said about David Hasselhoff that hasn’t already been in the last 30 years? The man and the legend, The Hoff began his career in mid 1970s in the soap opera The Young and the Restless. In 1978 he appeared in Starcrash – a wonderfully schlocky Italian Star Wars rip-off. In 1982 came Hasselhoff’s big break when he got cast as the male lead in Knight Rider.
As Michael Knight, Hasselhoff won the hearts and minds of American school girls, and their moms. Hasselhoff used his fame to launch a singing career in mid-1980s. He became especially popular in Germany and Austria, partially because – as his surname suggests – Haselhoff’s ancestors arrived to North America from Germany in 19th century. However, Hassellhoff’s most popular project came in 1990s when he produced and co-starred in Baywatch. His TV show about sexy women in bikinis running in slow motion became a global phenomenon and aired for 11 seasons.
8. The Car
An experimental car prototype developed by the Knight industries, KITT – or Knight Industries Two Thousand – comes equipped with numerous features including a super computer that boasts 1,000 megabits of memory, tri-helical plasteel molecular bonded shell plating, pyroclastic lamination, turbojet engine with modified afterburners, anharmonic synthesizer and anamorphic and etymotic equalizers. What do all these words mean? Who cares!
Throughout the show’s production, Knight Rider used heavily modified 1982 Pontiac Trans Am as KITT. At first, the show basically advertised the car by explicitly naming its company and model. However, as eager Pontiac customers began expecting real Trans Ams to have all the cool features seen on Knight Rider, producers stopped mentioning the car’s exact model. KITT’s voice was provided by the actor William Daniels. On the set, actors interacted with the recordings of his voice and barely ever saw the actor himself. KITT’s most recognizable feature – a cool red light above the front bumper – was directly inspired by the Cylon scanners from Larson’s previous TV show, Battlestar Galactica.
7. The Evil Twin
Throughout its four seasons run, Knight Rider mostly stayed away from the recurring villains. One of the rare exceptions comes in the second season’s two-part opener Goliath. Also played by David Hasselhoff, Garthe Knight is that oldest of soap opera cliches: an evil twin! The only son of the late billionaire Wilton Knight, Garthe spent years imprisoned somewhere in Africa. Although Garthe and Michael aren’t biologically related, elder Knight had Michael’s face reconstructed to look exactly like his son’s. It’s the kind of decision that psychoanalysis was invented to study.
Garthe returns home and he isn’t too happy to find his father gone and his face stolen. Sporting a goatee – like all evil twins do – Garthe steals technologies used to make KITT and builds himself an armored truck called Goliath. Naturally, Michael defeats him, but not before plenty of hammy acting by The Hoff. Garthe returns late in the second season, but this was his last appearance as Hasselhoff unfortunately found playing dual roles to be too strenuous.
6. The Evil Twin Car
While we’re at the subject of evil twins, there was also an evil KITT. Surprisingly enough, it wasn’t used by evil Michael Knight. Even more surprisingly, evil KITT didn’t sport a goatee. Knight Automated Roving Robot – or KARR – is a prototype version of KITT. KARR is put into storage after is designers realize that its CPU is unstable and more concerned with its own preservation than with the protection of human life. KARR appeared in two episodes of Knight Rider. In the first one, KARR is accidentally activated by a duo of thieves and manipulated into helping them. In its second appearance, KARR is now fully bent on revenge against KITT and Michael.
KARR was also embodied by Pontiac Trans Am but looked slightly different from KITT: it had a black and silver paint job and an amber scanner light at the front. Its voice was provided at first by Peter Cullen, who voiced Optimus Prime in the Transformers, and later by the actor Paul Frees.
5. The Reboots
Knight Rider aired on NBC from September of 1982 until April of 1984. Its cancellation didn’t mean its end, though. In 1991 NBC aired a TV movie called Knight Rider 2000. Taking place in what used to be near future, the movie follows Michael Knight as he helps to train a new generation of crime fighters how to use Knight 4000 – a heavily modified 1991 Dodge Stealth. A second made-for-TV movie, called Knight Rider 2010, came out in 1994. It had nothing to do with the original show and took place in the post-apocalyptic near future.
There were two attempts to revive the show. First one came in 1997 with Team Knight Rider – a TV show sequel following a whole group of crime fighters using various cars and motorcycles with distinctive AI personalities. Although Team Knight Rider was cancelled after its first season, a decade later NBC tried again, this time with a straightforward Knight Rider revival that even had David Hasselhoff do a little cameo in its pilot episode.
4. The Crossover
This totally un-ironically awesome photo of David Hasselhoff posing with the actor Gary Coleman came to exist because of a crossover between Knight Rider and the popular family sitcom Diff’rent Strokes. Diff’rent Strokes followed kid-friendly misadventures of Arnold and Willis Jackson (played by Gary Coleman and Todd Bridges), two boys from Harlem who are taken in by a rich white widower Phillip Drummond (Conrad Bain) and his daughter Kimberly (Dana Plato). The sitcom was so successful that it aired for eight seasons from 1978 until 1986.
In the sixth season two-part episode called Hooray for Hollywood, the Drummond family travels to Los Angeles. Willis and Arnold get lost while looking for a Knight Rider studio set. They accidentally end up in a car that’s up to be blown up for the show, but get saved at the last moment by David Hasselhoff. Hence this photo documenting the historical meeting between these two American TV icons.
3. Sweet, Sweet, Badass Songs
Even those who hate it – do such people even exist? – have to admit that the Knight Rider title theme is insanely catchy. The theme was created by Stu Phillips, a favorite composer of the show’s producer Glen A. Larson. Phillips, who previously worked on Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, recorded the Knight Rider theme using five synthesizers along with drums, percussion and a fender bass. More than a decade after the show’s cancelation, the theme was used and re-sampled by other artists: first by Busta Rhymes for his single Turn It Up/Fire It Up in 1997 and later by Panjabi MC in Mundian To Bach Ke in 1998.
The music legacy of Knight Rider doesn’t stop there, either. Emboldened by his success as a TV star, David Hasselhoff embarked upon a music career in mid 1980s. His biggest hit by far was a corny pop song called Looking for Freedom. Naturally, the music video for the song prominently featured footage from the Knight Rider TV show. Culmination of Hasselhoff’s singing career came when he was invited to sing his greatest hit atop the Berlin Wall in 1989 just after the re-unification of Germany.
2. Kung Fury Cameo
Swedish filmmaker David Sandberg had a dream: to write, produce and appear in a cheesy parody of the 1980s action movies. Thanks to the generous patrons from Kickstarter, his dream became a hilarious reality in the 2015 short film titled Kung Fury. Featuring deliberately bad VHS footage, electronic music, cheesy computer animations and at least one magnificent mullet, Kung Fury is chock-full of the 1980s pop culture trash. It only made sense for Knight Rider to be referenced as well.
Movie’s hero, Miami super cop Kung Fury (played by Sandberg) drives around in a white Lamborghini Countach equipped with an artificial intelligence. In a fun little cameo, its name is Hoff 9000 and its voice is provided by David Hasselhoff. Hasselhoff also gets to sing a cheesy 1980-style pop song titled True Survivor over the movie’s ending credits.
1. KITT’s Legacy
Imitation is the highest form of praise. It’s no wonder that both the car designers as well as drivers would want their vehicles to have at least some of the KITT’s gadgets. During the show’s initial run in the 1980s, owners of Trans-Am cars could buy special aftermarket kits and add KITT’s “scanner eye” to their own cars. There are now annual conventions of Knight Rider fans, some of which lovingly remake old Pontiac Trans Ams to look like KITT.
Thanks to advancements in technology, today we can imitate some of the more sophisticated devices presented in the show. Today, many drivers have GPS navigation systems in their cars similar to those in the TV show. Not only that, but they can also get one that features KITT’s voice. Google has been experimenting with cars that can drive themselves and, similarly to Knight Rider, be summoned by their owners using a simple electronic device. Meanwhile, Ford has been experimenting with in-built seat sensors that monitor the driver’s heart rate and other vital signs. Finally, over the last decade or so, the European Union has began pressing for all of its new cars to have collision avoidance sensors, not unlike those that KITT has in the TV show.
What are your impressions with and memories of Knight Rider? Share them with others in your comments below!