Sunday, May 05, 2013

Nostalgia Theater: The Many Crappy Lives of Knight Rider, Part I -- The Crappy Original

David Hasselhoff and the real star of the show
We begin today a semi-regular Nostalgia Theater series-within-a-series where I look back on a property that's maintained a pop culture half-life that's inversely proportional to any actual quality it embodied. I speak of Knight Rider, the 1980s action/adventure series whose popularity made it the leading edge of a boom in similar "super vehicle" shows that briefly littered the broadcast nets in the mid-'80s. Those shows, like Street Hawk and Airwolf, will no doubt get their turn in the spotlight in due time, but for now let's cast an accusing glance at the thing that got the whole trend started.

First airing on NBC in fall of 1982, Knight Rider was created by Nostalgia Theater mainstay Glen A. Larson as, per the writer, a modern age iteration of the Lone Ranger. Only with a talking car instead of a white horse and/or Indian sidekick. Oh, and with David Hasselhoff instead of the Lone Ranger. I'd go into a long schpiel about the concept and mission of the show, but I think the opening narration (by actor Richard Basehart) from later seasons does most of the heavy lifting in that department, so I'll cede the floor. Take it away, Richard:

Knight Rider Intro Season 3 by sonunoor

I'm willing to bet a whole lot of people's neurons started firing once they heard that theme tune by Larson regular Stu Phillips (that intro is from year three, by the way).

"Michael Knight," by the way, is actually Michael Long, a Vegas cop who's shot in the face but saved by FLAG -- the Foundation for Law and Government -- which gives him a high-tech talking car and a new face that looks like David Hasselfoff ( least he got the car). Every ep, Michael would help the helpless, etc. while exchanging witty banter with KITT (Knight Industries Two Thousand), the souped-up Trans-Am voiced by actor William Daniels (who, depending on your vintage, you know as KITT, Dustin Hoffman's dad in The Graduate, or Mr. Feeney from Boy Meets World).

There's nothing particular groundbreaking about that premise -- and the paint-by-numbers '80s-style execution didn't exactly do it any favors -- but it struck enough of a chord with viewers to become an immediate hit (which may just say more about the state of the competition than anything else). Nonetheless, against all reason, taste, or common sense, Knight Rider lasted an improbable four seasons and 90 episodes, ending its run in 1986 after folks presumably glommed onto the fact that the car was a better actor than Hasselhoff, and that there were only so many times you could see a "turbo boost" or "super pursuit."

Nonetheless, in 1991, five years after KITT last raced off into the sunset, NBC revived the property with Knight Rider 2000, which brought back Hasselhoff, Daniels, and series regular Edward Mulhare for a reunion movie-of-the-week set in the year 2000 (the world of tomorrow!) that was also positioned as a potential backdoor pilot for a new series. I can't really say anything good about the movie (which boasted a score by Miami Vice music man Jan Hammer), but I do remember the TV promos making it sound way the heck cooler than it actually turned out to be:

Oddly enough, one thing I do remember about the movie is a bizarre cameo by original Star Trek actor James "Scotty" Doohan AS James "Scotty" Doohan. No idea why that was in there or why I remember it. Although Knight Rider 2000 marked the end of the original TV iteration of the property and the Hoff spent the rest of the '90s running in slo-mo along the beach, Knight Rider would inexplicably continue to find expression several times over the next few decades. I'll go into more detail about those at some point...whenever I feel like it. In the meantime, if the pull of nostalgia is simply too powerful and you simply must revisit that first TV series, you can buy the entire series on DVD here (don't worry, the reunion flick is in there too).

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