Digital Polyphony

film, games, memories & random thoughts

Liquid Nostalgia #25

Knight Rider: A Look Back

 

I am not, nor have I ever been a "car guy." I can name some basic, rudimentary things about cars and the like, but I've never been ingratiated into that culture of engines, RPMs and chrome because I've never been raised nor have known anyone a part of that culture. As a kid, though, the one thing I did love was Hot Wheels and making model cars. That never evolved past that, though, even if all the signs pointed to me loving cars. 

There's a difference, you see: there's those that love cars. They love the form and the function, the grease and the customization and the speed. Then there are those like me: those that just love to play with cars. I won't make your car or figure out how it works, but I'll drive it around for an hour and have a good time.

It's that "boys toys" attribute that made a show like Knight Rider such a hit. It had universal appeal to the male demographic because it combined cool, science-fiction fantasy cars with realistic customization of cars. It was about the classic car form, but now less the realism and more the over-the-top fantasy of its function. It was the "dream car" everybody wanted, and he had himself a sassy personality at times too.

KITT, the superpowered Trans Am, was Knight Rider. Make no mistake, the show had that misunderstood, chivalrous, hairy-chested man factor that went after the girls and were "lone wolves" to play against, for better or worse that being David Hasselhoff, but its success is directly linked to the concept of peoples' love of playing with cars, especially young men and kids who would dream of driving a really fast, tricked-out car of their dreams. America has always had a "car culture" to it, Knight Rider tapped into that, broadened it even further, and found success as a result.

So those toys and Hot Wheels and, yes, even the Knight Rider car and Michael Knight action figure I once had, weren't so much about me being a "car guy" as it was me relishing in the fantasy of a really cool car. That in itself was what "car culture" is - pure fantasy and lots of gasoline. So grab your stone washed jeans and leather jacket, we're going to celebrate a little bit of Knight Rider.


 

 A Brief History of Knight Rider

-Producer Glen A. Larson, after having incredible success with the likes of Battlestar Galactica, Magnum P.I. and the Fall Guy, looked to find a lighter science fiction show for television. He looked to classic pulp hero The Lone Ranger for inspiration and classic tales of "knights and chivalry (hence the term "Knight") From there, he re-formatted it into a science-fiction western with the lead, Michael Knight, a modern day cowboy and super car, KITT, his trusty steed.

-Larson's track record spoke for itself, his company producing hits for both CBS and ABC. NBC, having already had minor success with Larson on his Buck Rodgers series, looked to continue their relationship with the powerproducer. Working with then head of NBC programming Brandon Tartikoff, he and Larson developed and pitched the show originally as a joke. "A man with a talking car" seemed to be something the execs at NBC liked, and it took off from there. 

-Casting included David Hasselhoff as the lead of Michael Knight (his first major role), the voice of William Daniels as KITT (which stood for Knight Industries Two Thousand) and the ever-bombastic Richard Basehart as narrator of the opening credits and appeared in the pilot as Wilton Knight, creator of KITT. Other actors included Edward Mulhare as Devon Miles, the leader of FLAG and mission provider, Patricia McPherson as Dr. Donnie Barstow, KITT's technician and mechanic (and romantic lead for Michael) and Rebecca Holden as April Curtis, who only appeared in Season 2 as McPherson was not available. The final season saw the addition of Peter Parros as RC3, the driver of the FLAG semi truck that KITT would often dock with.

-KITT, originally to be a Datsun 280ZX in the original script, was a custom built 1982 Pontiac Trans Am that is reported to have cost over $100,000 to build. Over the seasons, various models of KITT existed, such as empty shells used for stunts and miniatures for elaborate action sequences. KITT wasn't the first supercar in the Knight Rider universe though. KARR, yes KARR, was KITT's prototype and evil doppleganger. KARR was voice by Peter Cullen of Transformers fame, naturally.

-The famous opening theme was composed and conducted by Stu Phillips, who also did some of the music for the show. Don Peake was the primary series composer, from about the middle of the first season to the end of its run. The main theme and opening credits sequence, though, is one of the most famous from the decade.

-The show ran for four seasons from 1982 to 1986 and only had itself 90 episodes. It was most popular amongst young men and children making the merchandising for toys and games profitable (often with Hasselhoff and Daniels reprising their roles). During this time, it only was nominated for one Emmy: in 1982 for sound editing.

-Knight Rider had its share of spinoffs, starting first with Knight Rider 2000 - a sequel movie, Knight Rider 2010 - a movie based on Knight Rider, Team Knight Rider - a spin off series that lasted for one season and the 2008 movie and following series that was canceled after one season as well.


 

Top 10 Awesome KITT Features

 The only point of even making a show like Knight Rider is the car...chicks dig the car. Amazing cars had been done dozens of times before, from James Bond's gadget-riddled movie vehicles to Herbie the intelligent slug-bug. KITT was a combination of both those concepts and had himself a ton of advanced features that were pure fantasy at the time and quite a handful reality in many cars today.

His best features were his overboard, crazy ones, though, and here's ten that were not only cool, but were used quite a bit during the show.


10: The Micro Jammer

One of the bigger "yeah right" parts of KITT, maybe next to the laser and turbo boost, The Micro Jammer was one of KITTS best "weapons." The car didn't have anything like guns or rockets, unless you count that laser-cutter, just as Michael Knight never carried a gun or killed people. KITT, though, could send out a microwave transmission that would completely wreck your shit. He could take control of any electronic device through the use of his Jammer, and basically get it to do anything he wanted it to. That's a scary thought...and probably a premonition of how machines will soon make us their slaves as they begin to control other machines to do their ungodly bidding. Damn you science!


9: Deflatable/Inflatable Tires 

Easily the "why aren't cars made with these yet?" entry on the list. If KITT's tires were ever punctured and air quickly lost, he was able to re-inflate them with wheel-based air compressors to temporarily give him spare wheels until he could be re-fitted. KITT was so bad-ass he didn't even have to stop to do it. He'd sense his tire was out as he's cruising at Mach 3 and just casually re-inflate it without missing a beat. It's like Jesus saying "Oh, is that water you have there?...let me just snap my fingers and continue with our party."


8: KITT's hard, sexy body.

Far less hairy than his human partner, KITT's body was called a "Molecular Bonded Shell." That's sci-fi lingo for "I just made this shit up." Think of it as a really, really good form of being bulletproof. No gun could damage KITT's body or undercarriage and even explosions, at best, might scuff it. But even bazookas (bad guys liked bazookas in the 80s) barely did anything. 

His body was also able to withstand intense heat and pressure, and thanks to an internal cabin oxygen supply and environment control, he could keep the interior as cool and dry even if he has to drive through a flaming building. The Hoff's hair remained unsinged.


7: Window Darkening

A bit of a personal favorite and actually something that exists too. KITT could automatically darken his windows to a high tint to where nobody could see inside. KITT would sense, with his microsensors that sort of create a type of "sense aura" around him, if someone was "sneaking around" or trying to look in and darken his windows. He would also do it to keep whoever might be driving or as passenger shielded from being noticed by those bad guys. What bad guys? All bad guys, because sometimes being bulletproof just isn't' enough...your identity shall be as protected as your body by the mighty KITT.

And seeing as how I couldn't find anything fitting, witty or funny to put as a picture, enjoy the classic pic of The Hoff. What's a Knight Rider article without a half nude hairy Hasselhoff? Maybe this is what KITT was shielding us from this whole time with those blacked-out windows.


6: Seat Ejection System

Now this one was a weird one, but it was used a ton in the show. The seat ejector would basically launch whoever was in the front of the car out of the roof (after the tops of each roof panel automatically were removed or when KITT went into convertible mode in the fourth season). This not only would get Michael out of danger or get rid of someone he or KITT didn't like, Michael would actually eject himself out of it on purpose to be launched to higher ground, over a fence or on a roof. KITT would determine every single detail and variable to ensure Michael got to where he needed to go. He was like a friend that would cup his hands to give his pal an extra boost.


5: Medical Scanner

"Michael, get up!" Boy, did KITT ever say that quite a bit? He always monitored Michael's injuries and health, keeping his best friend in away from danger best he could. He often would "scan" and monitor the condition of others to detect injuries as well as other ailments such as poison or drugs. He could also monitor various other human physiological signs to detect lies and analyze blood.


4: KITT's voice/AI

Ahh...the ever soothing voice of William Daniels was as much a part of the show as anything even if the man never wanted to be acknowledged for it. KITT's voice is one of his most identifiable features. Add in the supercomputer artificial intelligence, and you have more than just a car: you have a character. KITT might have looked at most things black and white, but he still had a personality.

Notice in this entire article I always refer to KITT as "him?" KITT wasn't an "it" despite being just. He was alive and aware and a personality that made the show what it was. If it weren't for that distinct voice, a lot of that wouldn't have come through. Not bad for something, according to the show, ran on just 5000MB.


3:Turbo Boost

Not to be confused with "pursuit mode," which was a driving mode that allowed KITT and Michael to drive at insanely high speeds, Turbo Boost were the moments when KITT would launch himself into the air at the push of a button. An episode without Turbo Boost is like an episode without Hasselhoff wearing tight jeans. It was the fan favorite and rightfully so: a car flies. It's never explained how exactly it achieves this...but a car can apparently launch itself in the air and nail its target directly because that's the only way KITT knows how to do things.  Just like that...and that is awesome. 

Click Here for Turbo Boost Awesome Tribute.


2: Surveillance Mode

One of KITT's most used features. When Michael needed info, KITT would enter a "surveillance mode" where he could "see" and analyze everything from structure damage, various radio and telephone conversations, track people and other vehicles (combined with number one on this list) and, best of all, hack into other computers remotely. If Michael's at a door, he'd talk into his watch and KITT would provide an access code. If there's someone Michael needs to follow, KITT would track their vehicle no matter where they are. One of his broadest and best features.


1: Anamorphic Equalizer

What's KITT's most defining trait? Well, out of all of the awesome things he does, the little thing he's most associated with is a bad-ass, Cylon-inspired red light on the front of his hood. (and yes, it is directly inspired by Larson's previous success on Battlestar Galactica) Ever wonder what that was? Well, that's KITT's Anamorphic Equalizer and probably his most widely-used feature. Think of it as KITT's "Eye" that allowed him to see and detect all sorts of visual modes, such as X-Ray, Infrared and is what allowed KITT to see and drive the car himself which tended to happen about every single episode. 

Plus, what would the car be without that little red, pulsating bar? Just another 1982 Trans Am.

By the way, if you're wondering where KITT's Laser is on this, seeing as how laser's are usually cool be default, I only recall seeing that in two or three episodes at most, notably when he and Michael took on Garthe Knight and a few episodes where KITT had to cut through stuff.


 

A lot of those things KITT had are found pretty commonly in cars today. KITT wasn't the originator of most of them, but he was the one that, I think, showed how fun they could be. Stuff like video displays and teleconferencing, GPS and navigation systems are so common today, we're all slowly starting to drive KITTs. But KITT wasn't just a car,  he was still a character and as strange as it sounds, there were many times when you would actually feel a little for him. Moments when he's damaged or crushed or buried or reprogrammed and malfunctioning, you tend to feel Michael's emotion because KITT was less a vehicle you drove and more a friend you rode with. In fact, despite the backstory given for Knight, KITT was the more likable and sympathetic character...but both still made a great team.

Knight Rider had itself some bad writing. Afterall, it was only nominated for that one Emmy I mentioned and that's about it - for sound design no less. Even the now-famous theme song didn't really get acknowledged. Like a lot of 80s action shows, it was often ridiculous and completely illogical. But that's what makes those 80s action shows so damn entertaining. Not everything was trying to be gritty and real like Hill Street Blues or soap-opery melodramatic like Dallas, you need the likes of The A-Team, MacGuyver and Knight Riders of the world to give us some great guilty pleasures and fun.

Knight Rider did it with a man and his car, just like the classic westerns it was based on of a hero riding into town on his horse. Unlike those, Knight Rider was probably more the car than the man because, let's face it, anybody could have played Michael Knight. He was secondary. That doesn't mean he wasn't a good hero, though. He always just and true and would work more with his and KITTs mind to solve something than to pull a gun (he never carried weapons...then again that's what KITT is for). That's the twist that made it work - it just slightly flipped the roles, you wouldn't watch a Lone Ranger serial if Silver was the lead, yet it retained the synergy of both as one...and even both as friends. A man friends with a car...if that's not purely an American idea then I don't know what is.

Knight Rider was pitched originally as a joke because, on paper, it was a joke. "The story of a man and his talking car?" Give me a break. But a break is just what Knight Rider got and it found an audience for the years it ran and in the future years on budding cable networks looking for programming with syndicated repeats.  The audience all had one thing in common; it's the thing that drew them all together to love the show no matter how utterly stupid it would be if not outright bad:

Everybody wanted that car, but more importantly everybody wanted that friend to drive around with.

 Also Turbo Boost.

 

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