"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…"

So, this policeman gets shot in the face, right. Gets left for dead and all that. Anyway, for reasons best known to himself, dying millionaire Wilton Knight saves the dying cop, one Michael Long, nurses him back to health, gives him plastic surgery, puffy hair, and a new name. Rather than attempt to return to society, or bother informing his loved ones that he’s fine after all and that no, he isn’t dead or anything, the rescued cop – now known as Michael Knight, of course – doesn’t protest when he’s told that for the rest of his life he’ll be an unlicensed crimefighter, equipped with a condescending talking car.

You know, as premises for TV action shows go, Knight Rider was really shit. You’ve got to wonder why they even bothered with that “shadowy flight” voice-over at the beginning of every episode. Knight Rider was no more “shadowy” or “dangerous” than The Muppet Show was “pornographic” and “amoral”. And as for Michael Knight being a “young loner”… you don’t hire Germany’s favourite pop sensation David Hasslehoff to play “loners”. For better or worse, you hire David Hasslehoff to be… David Hasslehoff. The man offers about as much subtlety as a half-naked Mexican squashing his genitals against the camera during a live Royal Wedding broadcast.

According to legend, Knight Rider was the brainchild of NBC executive Brandon Tartikoff (alas, not a made-up name). During a casual chat with a colleague, Tarty-cough had made a joke about the lack of acting abilities possessed by the leading men of most action shows, who were usually employed to look good and little more. Tar-tie-cuff had jokingly suggested a show entitled “The Man Of Six Words”, which featured a central character who uttered – yes - a mere six words per episode. Any other dialogue could be delivered by the hero’s car. Unfortunately, when Tarka-The-Ott’s idea was green-lit, as stupid ideas often are, star Hasslehoff was too much of an egotist to know when the shut-up. The show was developed by US tat-king Glen A. Larson, whose resume reads like a what’s-what in bad genre television. The Hardy Boys Mysteries, Buck Rogers In The 25th Century, Manimal, Magnum PI, Automan, The Fall Guy, Galactica 1980… Nevertheless, Larson once again tapped into the zeitgeist, and Knight Rider was another hit, particularly among the “brain dead” and “clinically stupid” demographics.

Partnered with the Knight Industries Two Thousand – or “K.I.T.T.”, the world’s first homosexual talking car (reportedly, a runner once burst into K.I.T.T.’s garage to find him blowing Herbie’s exhaust pipe) – Hasslehoff was often mercifully overshadowed by his effeminate automobile. As he was by his human co-stars, Edward Mulhare, as his refined boss Miles, Bonnie and April, two identikit “glamorous” assistants, and RC3, a street-wise mechanic whose ill-advised appearance in the show’s fourth season helped speed it towards an early demise.

Unquestionably, the best episodes in the series were those which more or less dispensed with the human characters, and pitted K.I.T.T. against other talking vehicles. Alas, there were but two, who cropped up several times during the show’s lifespan: the self-explanatory Goliath, a talking articulated lorry, and a slightly less well-named K.A.R.R. (Knight Automated Roving Robot, for Christ’s sake…) – K.I.T.T.’s evil twin.

The plots of each episode were typical of most youth-orientated US action shows of the time, and typically began with evil industrialists terrorising a small town, or cussing some attractive young girl. Michael and K.I.T.T. would be summoned to their roving HQ – a big lorry parked in a southern Californian layby somewhere – and delivered their mission objectives. Each episode would feature each of the following elements at some point: a swarthy immigrant walloping K.I.T.T.’s indestructible chassis with a pipe; K.I.T.T. driving on two wheels; K.I.T.T. driving himself while Michael climbs out of the window; K.I.T.T. pulling up alongside some women in bikinis, and the women in bikinis nodding in awe; a sequence of poor continuity in which Michael would change his outfit twice during the course of a conversation with K.I.T.T.; Michael being thrown into jail by crooked cops; Michael saying into his watch radio “K.I.T.T., I need you, buddy.”. Each episode would also allow K.I.T.T. to have the final word. Inevitably it would end with a sequence featuring the principle cast inside the big lorry base thing, Michael propped on K.I.T.T.’s bonnet, and some sort of an exchange along the following lines:

DEVON: All’s well that ends well, Michael.

MICHAEL: Yeah, but I won’t be eating sushi for a while! Isn’t that right, old buddy?

K.I.T.T.: Don’t ask me, Michael – I’m gay.

(Everybody laughs. Cut to end credits.)

While it lasted, Knight Rider was a huge ratings hit. Even Hasslehoff came out of it well, getting a plum job among the silicone on Baywatch. As with all hits, there were attempts to copy the show’s success. Other high-tech vehicle/loner pairings included Street Hawk (motobike), Airwolf (helicopter), Blue Thunder (another helicopter) and Conch Voyager (giant fibre-glass seashell on wheels).

Ending somewhat inevitably in 1986 following a steep ratings slide, possibly instigated by the unwise decision to transform the car into a convertible, there have nevertheless been several attempts to revive Knight Rider’s rapidly blackening corpse. The first came in 1991, in the shape of the stupid TV movie Knight Rider 2000. By-then Baywatch star Hasslehoff reprised his role, this time assisted by a red talking car (way to go with those bold format changes!), and was set in the grim and gritty, crime-ravage futuristic setting of, er, the year 2000... A few years later it was followed by another TV movie, Knight Rider 2010. However, the movie ditched any connection to the original series, and featured a car which was implanted with the brain of some dead woman. The only good thing about it being that the repellently enthusiastic Hasslehoff was nowhere to be seen. One final attempt to re-establish the franchise was launched in 1997, with the short-lived Team Knight Rider. Only loosely associated with the original show, TKR spread the screen-time thinly across five talking vehicles and their young, buff pilots.

Knight Rider is gone now. Gone forever. Our one endearing memory of the show will be our visit to Universal Studios in 1984. There we endured a forty five minute wait in order to get a one-on-one with K.I.T.T. himself. We had the opportunity to ask him anything. We could’ve asked him to solve the mysteries of the universe. We could’ve asked why his voice didn’t sound quite the same as it did on TV. But no. We squandered possibly the greatest opportunity of our life up until that point. Here’s how the conversation went:

K.I.T.T.:  How are you?

US: Fine.

K.I.T.T.: Is there anything you’d like to ask me?

US: Um… uh… yes. Why… uh… why is… it… hot?

K.I.T.T.: Uh… it is hot isn’t it.

US: Yes.

K.I.T.T.: Is there anything else you’d like to ask me?

US: No. 


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Knight Rider

1.  Michael Knight worked for an organisation called F.L.A.G. What did F.L.A.G. stand for?

2.  What was K.I.T.T.’s chassis made out of?

3. Which of these features were not integral to K.I.T.T.?

4. Who provided the voice of K.I.T.T.?

5. How many episodes of Knight Rider were there in total?


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