“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…”
Knight Rider was a serious hit, but ironically enough, it began its life as a joke. Brandon Tartikoff, then the head of NBC programming, used to kid around with one of his assistants about creating a show called “The Man of Six Words,” which would revolve around a hero who would only say the titular amount of words in each show while his car did the rest of the talking. This would allow them to cast a handsome leading man without having to worry over whether or not he could act.
The joke suddenly became serious when Knight Rider debuted in September of 1982. Created by television veteran Glen A. Larson, the story began when dying millionaire Wilton Knight rescued Michael Long, a cop who had been shot in the head while on an undercover assignment. Knight gave Michael plastic surgery and a new identity.
Re-dubbed Michael Knight, the former cop was given a new mission to undertake with his new lease on life: he became the driver of the Knight Industries Two Thousand (K.I.T.T., for short), a reconverted Pontiac Trans-Am with a computer brain and a serious amount of firepower (smoke bombs, flamethrowers, you name it). K.I.T.T. also had a voice (with a personality to match) and could communicate with Michael, who despite Tartikoff’s original plans, could speak much more than six words.
Wilton also left behind the perfect crime-fighting set-up for Michael: a palatial mansion to use as a base of operations (the Foundation for Law and Government), a vast fortune to fund his missions, and Devon—Wilton’s former right-hand man—to keep the whole operation running smoothly.
Also included in the original team was a gorgeous female mechanic, Bonnie, who assisted during missions from the FLAG Mobile Command Center, a huge maintenance van that housed all the equipment necessary for K.I.T.T.’s upkeep. Bonnie temporarily left the show during the 1983-84 season and was replaced with another female mechanic, April. An additional mechanic character, streetwise Reginald Cornelius III (a.k.a. “RC3”), was added in later years.
The show was a smash hit in its first season: K.I.T.T.’s vast array of cool tricks (it could move as fast as 300 m.p.h., leap up to fifty feet through the air, and had video-game-style navigational displays) kept kids and action-addicts riveted while former soap-opera star David Hasselhoff attracted a contingent of female fans as Michael Knight. Also, the comedic verbal interplay between Michael and K.I.T.T. added a touch of humor that kept the show from taking itself too seriously. There were jokes aplenty, but never at the expense of the action—Michael and K.I.T.T. had their hands full with megalomaniacs, terrorists, and at least two very dangerous vehicles: the big rig Goliath and the evil K.I.T.T. kounterpart, K.A.R.R. The show ran successfully for five seasons, ending its run in August of 1986 after 90 episodes. Hasselhoff and K.I.T.T. were later reunited in a made for television film, Knight Rider 2000(1991).
There was also another made-for-television film, Knight Rider 2010 (1994), a potential pilot for a series unrelated to the original Knight Rider plotline that did not feature Hasselhoff or K.I.T.T. It never became a series, but the franchise was successfully revived in 1997 with Team Knight Rider. The new show had the Foundation for Law and Government replace Michael Knight and K.I.T.T. with five drivers and five talking cars. Hasselhoff would later take the lead in another major television hit, Baywatch, a show so filled with bounteous beauty (both male and female), nobody would have cared if the characters only spoke six words.
And to show you clearly can’t keep a good format down there was another one season revival of the series in 2008 that starred Justin Bruening as Mike Knight.
USA / NBC – Universal / 90×50 minute episodes / Broadcast 26 September 1982 – 8 August 1987
Creator: Glen A. Larson / Music: Stu Phillips / Executive Producers: Glen A. Larson, Robert Cinadar, Robert Foster
David Hasselhoff as Michael Knight
William Daniels as Voice of KITT
Edward Mulhare as Devon Miles
Rebecca Holden as April Curtis
Patricia McPherson as Bonnie Bristow
Susan Norman as Shawn McCormick
Lynne Marta as Laura Phillips; April’s sister
Robyn Lively as Becky Phillips; Laura’s daughter
David Hasselhoff as Garthe Knight
Peter Cullen as Voice of KARR
Richard Basehart as Wilton Knight