“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…”
After the short-lived sitcom from the 60s, My Mother the Car, television viewers would have to wait almost two decades before a network ventured into talking car territory again as part of the prime time lineup. It was worth the wait, and NBC scored a big hit with a talking car named K.I.T.T in the weekly 80s series Knight Rider.
Debuting in 1982, Knight Rider was the creation of television veteran, Glen A. Larson who envisioned the series as a sort of futuristic Lone Ranger with a car. The result paired a former police officer with a rather verbose Pontiac Trans-Am – whose voice sounded remarkably like Mr. Feeney from Boy Meets World (both having been played by actor William Daniels).
When a former undercover police detective named Michael Long was shot in the face while on assignment, dying millionaire Wilton Knight stepped in and gave Michael a new face and identity before recruiting him into his secret organization, FLAG (Foundation for Law and Government.) Now known as Michael Knight, the former cop was given an arsenal of high tech gadgetry in the form of his new partner, KITT (Knight Industries Two Thousand.) Besides having a chatty computer brain, KITT was equipped with a number of handy weapons such as flamethrowers, smoke bombs, etc.
Using the estate of the late Wilton Knight for their headquarters, Michael and KITT were assisted by Wilton’s right hand man, Devon, who provided their mission details and acted as spokesman for FLAG. KITT also had a pretty mechanic named Bonnie Barstow who not only kept the spark plugs changed, but also threw a few romantic sparks towards Michael. She also assisted in missions from time to time at the Mobile Command Center. Although mechanic April Curtis temporarily replaced her for a year, Bonnie eventually resumed her position at FLAG. Michael would also get a partner later on, the street savvy Reginald Conelius III (RC3).
KITT’s impressive technology and astounding abilities, such as being able to jump 50 feet into the air or travel in excess of 300MPH, won the hearts of young viewers immediately. Heartthrob David Hasselhoff gave female viewers more than enough reason to tune in, and there was lots of non-stop action to appeal to the male fan base. There was also plenty of humor interspersed into the action, especially in the interactions between KITT and Michael, but that wasn’t to say that their missions weren’t serious business. Various terrorists, megalomaniacs and all-around bad guys kept the pair quite busy and KITT even had an evil nemesis car, KARR to contend with, not to mention a vengeful big rig named Goliath.
The sum of all of these factors was one hugely successful television series. Knight Rider enjoyed five seasons of road adventures before being cancelled in 1986. That wasn’t the end of Michael and KITT’s time together though. They would join forces again in Knight Rider 2000, a made-for-television film that aired in 1990. Four years later, another of these films, Knight Rider 2010, was broadcast – but included neither KITT, nor Michael, and was produced as a potential pilot for a new series that didn’t air.
A new series did emerge in 1997. Offering a new twist, Team Knight Rider featured a total of five drivers, each with their own talking car. Unfortunately, more isn’t always better and the new show only lasted for a single season. Then, in 2008, yet another new version of Knight Rider emerged, this time with actor Justin Bruening playing Mike Traceur, the son of Michael Knight. With a new KITT, fashioned this time from a Ford Shelby GT500KR Mustang, the television film received positive enough ratings to green-light a new series, featuring Val Kilmer as the voice of KITT. It also ran a single season.
In a world where our own vehicles converse with us on a regular basis, telling us a door is ajar or providing their own computer brain to offer directions, Knight Rider was a precursory glimpse into the not-so-distant future (granted without the nifty flamethrowers which could prove quite handy during rush hour.) And for those who would prefer to hear a friendly familiar voice during their road trips, a company has recently offered an onboard navigational system – complete with the voice of KITT. Simply attach a couple of smoke grenades to the back bumper, change your name to Michael, and the sky is the limit.
If you grew up watching the adventures of Michael and KITT on Knight Rider, we’d love to hear all of your thoughts and recollections in our comments section.