KNIGHT RIDER Has Been On The Road For 40 Years: Take An Inside Look At David Hasselhoff and KITT's Journey

Making its debut in 1982, Knight Rider introduced audiences to the pairing ever of David Hasselhoff and his car, K.I.T.T., and what follows is a retrospective look back at the show, its cast and spin-offs.

It’s tough to make a TV show about a car. Oh, sure there have been some really cool ones featured in TV shows like Batman (the Batmobile), Green Hornet (the Black Beauty), Starsky & Hutch (their ‘75 Ford Gran Torino), or My Mother the Car (a 1928 Porter — OK, not all of them were cool), but they were never front and center. That all changed with Knight Rider, the David Hasselhoff series that originally ran on NBC from 1982-1986. 

In the show, undercover LAPD officer Michael Arthur Long is shot in the face during an assignment and left for dead. Instead, he’s saved by self-made billionaire Wilton Knight (Richard Basehart). Following plastic surgery, Michael is given the last name Knight and made the lead field agent in FLAG (Foundation for Law and Government), a public justice organization and, armed with KITT (Knight Industries Two Thousand), a Pontiac Firebird Trans Am equipped with artificial intelligence among other high-tech features, he fights for justice. It is probably the only successful show that developed an actual connection between the lead and his car. And that connection, of course, led to the other important aspect of Knight Rider: the impact that the show — and especially KITT — has made on a couple of generations of viewers.

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Knight Rider is perhaps the most beloved of TV producer Glen Larson’s many hit TV shows,” offers Mark A. Altman, co-author of this July's John Wick oral history, They Shouldn't Have Killed His Dog. “Although he created such beloved shows as Quincy, M.D., Alias Smith & Jones, Battlestar Galactica, and The Fall Guy, everyone remembers the series about the talking car. A lot of that probably has to do with the amazing chemistry between The Hoff and Williams Daniels’ voice as KITT, as well as Stu Phillips’ unforgettable main title music which captured the sense of adventure and excitement of the show. Not to mention, the car itself is badass. There’s something unique in the DNA of the series that can’t be duplicated.”

Adds Emmy-winning editor David Rogers, who has his own version of KITT which even appeared on The Goldbergs, “What’s really amazing is the genuine chemistry between David Hasselhoff and Williams Daniels as the voice of KITT. They have this great back and forth between them, but they never recorded their lines together. When David was on set filming, he would deliver his lines and the Script Supervisor or Assistant Director would respond as KITT. It wasn’t until weeks later that the footage would be edited and William Daniels would come into a recording booth to see what David did and respond with his performance. People still ask Williams Daniels where he ‘sat in the car’ during filming, because they assume he was there talking to David for every scene. David and William hadn’t met in person until the Christmas party!

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Equally enthusiastic is Joe Huth. Like a lot of kids, Joe found his imagination captured by reruns of the show. And, like a lot of kids, he became kind of obsessed with all things Knight Rider-related. But unlike them, he went on to co-write a pair of non-fiction books about the show (Knight Rider Legacy: The Unofficial Guide to the Knight Rider Universe and Knight Rider: 30 Years of One Crusader and His Talking Car), serves as co-webmaster of knightriderhistorians.blogspot.com, and, more impressive than all of that, owns one of the original KIITs, which was recently featured on Jay Leno’s Garage series. Now that’s a fan!

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Currently in his mid-30s, when he was a kid Joe used to catch reruns of the show in three-hour blocks on television and fell in love with it. “It was the car,” he enthuses. “It was this amazing car that could do all of these things and looked sleek, and was one of those things rooted in my childhood. As I got older — my teen years — I still liked it, but kind of put in the back of my mind. Then when I was in college in the early 2000s, that’s when the news groups sprang up and the Internet really started coming into its own.

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Searches for Knight Rider related boards led him to others who loved the show and as the discussions increased, so did his curiosity. “Eventually,” he explains, “I’d seen all the episodes and knew them pretty well, but then I started to want to know what happened off camera and behind the scenes. That was kind of the start of the first book.” Which led to his seeking out and interviewing Glen Larson, cast members Williams Daniels, Patricia Macpherson, and Rebecca Holden, as well as George Barris, who designed KITT — as he had done the Batmobile for Adam West’s Batman, the Monkeemobile for The Monkees, and the Black Beauty for the TV version of The Green Hornet.

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In terms of his discovery about the making of the show, he notes, “The one common thread is how much of a positive experience it was behind the camera. You always hear drama and that people didn’t get along and all that stuff, but everyone says how welcoming and accommodating David Hasselhoff was. And that was the best thing we heard throughout the whole process, just how great it was to truly be on the set.

 Where there were issues was between David and the network over the content of the episodes. NBC was more concerned with the action and making sure that KITT was cool, while the actor was feeling not only overshadowed by a car, but that he wasn’t being given a lot of “human” moments to play genuine emotion.

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Joe points out, “That was a big thing with David, because the network wanted all of this bang ‘em up action, and David wanted there to be some heart to the show. Some backstory to the character and some meat to play. They did have a few attempts with that. They brought in Michael Knight’s fiancee from before he became Michael Knight, and they did a few stories peppered in throughout the series that you could tell were David’s influence to try and give it a little bit more heart, but the network wanted crashes, jumps, car chases and all that stuff. David was actually threatening to quit the show because of it, but they eventually came to an agreement.

One would imagine that “agreement” had something to do with money. “Probably,” Joe smiles, “but beyond that, there weren’t any problems. The truth is, David’s done a ton of work. He’s had a musical career in Europe, he’s done a lot of stage productions. He did The Young and the Restless in the ‘70s. He did Baywatch, which was much bigger than Knight Rider, but to this day Knight Rider is the work he’s most proud of. It’s what he has the fondest memories for. He loved the people that worked on the show, and even the motto that one man can make a difference. He’s been trying for 20 years to bring the show back successfully. It’s been brought back a couple of times, but it hasn’t been done right and hasn’t lasted. But to this day he’s still trying to get something off the ground.”

David Hasselhoff is Michael Knight

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Baywatch may have been a more successful series for David Hasselhoff, but it simply has not lived up to the longevity of Knight Rider. And it's obvious that it's something David is very much aware of. When asked by AVclub what movie or TV show he would spend the rest of his life in, without hesitation David responded, "Knight Rider. The theme of Knight Rider was that one man can make a difference. It’s made such a big difference in so many lives… It affected so many people. The audience that watched it has all grown up. They’re telling me, 'I love you, man! Can I tell you my Knight Rider story?' It affected them when they were eight or nine years old, and sometimes it brought them through a rough time. I respond to that, you know. I say, 'God, this is so cool.'”

Patricia McPherson is Dr. Bonnie Barstow

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The character, who appeared in Season 1 and Seasons 3 to 4, is KITT'S chief technician. She was dropped after Season 1, but fan outcry, and pressure from David and Edward Mulhare, resulted in her return beginning in Season 3.

William Daniels is the voice of KITT

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We may never have seen him on screen, but William Daniels was as much a star of Knight Rider as David Hasselhoff, providing the voice of KITT. In an interview with journalist Will Harris, the actor explained how he came to that particular role. "The producer of Knight Rider called me and said, 'Would you do me a favor, Bill? I have some copy that I’d like you to tape for me, because I’m going to New York," William detailed. "He was going to be meeting with some producers and selling this thing, and he wanted them to listen to it. I said, 'Sure!' I wasn’t going to get paid or anything like that. So I go over to the studio at Universal, and he hands me the script. And then I look at him and say, 'This is the voice of a car?' So I started reading it, and he said, 'Could you make it like a robot?' I said [snorts] 'No.' And I started reading a little bit more. He said, 'How about…' I said, 'Would you please let me read this?' So I just read it the way I read it, in my own voice. I think instinctively I knew that those other things were ridiculous. So, anyway, that was that.

"About three weeks later," he continues, "he calls and says, 'Hey, listen, it sold. Would you do KITT?' I said, 'Well, you know, I’m doing St. Elsewhere. I’m kind of busy.' He said, 'We all know that. But this is NBC, and St. Elsewhere is NBC, and they’ll work around it. We’ll just wait until you’re not busy, and you can come over and do this.' So that’s the way I did it. I never worked with David Hasselhoff at all, because we were never together. He’d just have some dialogue lady give him my lines, and then they stuck them together. But when I finally met David at a Christmas party, he said, 'Well, it seems to work!'"

Rebecca Holden is April Curtis

Appearing in the show's second season was Rebecca Holden as April Curtis, the new chief technician for KITT (and replacement for Patricia McPherson). In an interview posted on her website she says of the show, "I loved doing Knight Rider. It’s basically a modern-day morality play in which my character aids Michael and KITT in their fight against the evil forces. April was smart, creative, and resourceful; she was the one who invented new techniques and powers to enable KITT to help Michael conquer the 'bad guys'. So I’ve always felt she was a terrific role model for young women and a joy to play."  

Edward Mulhare is Devon Miles

Edward Mulhare, who starred in the classic TV sitcom The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, was cast as Devon Miles, the head of FLAG and the guy who provided details on their missions to Michael and KITT. His last role was co-starring with David Hasselhoff on 1997's Baywatch Nights. That same year, on May 24, he passed away following a battle with lung cancer.

Knight Rider Sequels and Spin-offs

Knight Rider 2000

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Following the assassination of a mayor in San Antonio, his replacement demands a solution, which is found in the form of the "Knight 4000", a car that will become the next generation of the Knight Industries' supercar KITT. To drive it, Michael Knight (David Hasselhoff) is called out of retirement.

Of this 1991 TV movie, Joe Huth offers, "This was David's first attempt to bring back the show only five years after it had been canceled. The story itself wasn't too great, but it scores higher than the other sequels because of David Hasselhoff and Edward Mulhare's involvement. Interesting facts: The original draft of the script was much different than the final version. Originally the Trans Am was used in the movie and it was destroyed. KITT's AI was then not transferred to Michael's '57 Chevy as seen in the movie, but his Volvo station wagon."

Knight Rider 2010

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In Southern California in the 21st century, border smuggler Jake McQueen (Richard Joseph Paul) takes on a corrupt businessman responsible for killing a member of his family. It's been compared in tone (and little else) to Mad Max, but, you know, with a talking car. "There is nothing good to say about this," points out Joe Huth. "It's Knight Rider in name only, but otherwise is not related in any way."

Team Knight Rider

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In this syndicated TV series, FLAG pulls together a team of high-tech crime fighters to carry on the mission that Michael Knight began. Writer Steven Kriozere, whose producing credits include Castle, Agent X, and The Librarians, reflects in an exclusive interview, "With the premiere of Knight Rider on NBC on Sept. 26, 1982, I discovered that 'one man can make a difference.' 11 years after that show ended, in 1997, I discovered that a new version of Knight Rider was in the works as a 22-episode syndicated show produced by Universal Television. But this time around, it wasn't one man and one car fighting the good fight for FLAG, it would be five drivers and five cars in Team Knight Rider! Talk about a traffic jam.

"I ended up writing five of the 22 episodes," he adds, "including my first episode, 'K.R.O.,' which bridged the gap between the vintage version of the 80s' Knight Rider with the new iteration of Team Knight Rider, as well as the episode 'Legion of Doom,' the season finale (and series finale, as it turned out to be). Even though the new vehicles of Team Knight Rider lacked the patented red scanner lights of KITT, it was an amazing experience to work on the show and continue the rich legacy of Knight Rider. One fan can, and did, make a difference."

Justin Bruening is Mike Traceur in the 2008 Knight Rider.

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In 2008, a new version of Knight Rider was produced, with Justin Bruening as Mike Traceur, the estranged son of David Hasselhoff's Michael Knight who happens to be struggling with remembering his past. Also featured is Deanna Russo as Sarah Gaiman, an ex-girlfriend of Mike's whose father, Charles Graiman (Bruce Davison) has created a new generation of KITT (voiced by actor Val Kilmer). The premise of the show itself has Mike and KITT taking on different terrorists in a series that felt a little more espionage-like than the original.

At the time of the premiere, Justin was a relatively new face in primetime television, having established himself on soap operas like One Life to Live and All My Children. In an exclusive interview at the time, he offered, "The original series, I always felt, was cool, because they had a talking car, something no one had, but the stories weren't as strong. There's no way I'm putting down the original series and for the time it's perfect. But now you want things faster, slicker, and the audience wants it to make sense. Our series is more character and story driven, where you get into the mythology of the characters and the car, because the car is a character. Yes, we have a talking car, but it's thrown into a realistic element. We're not fighting giant lizards or something like that. The car is another team member, though he is the common link between the characters."

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Midway through the show's single season, NBC insisted that it should more closely reflect the original and big changes were made. Knight Rider 2008 shifted gears mid-season. When it returned to the airwaves, it was based on a concept by showrunner/executive producer Gary Scott Thompson, who promised that the show would be focused more on character than hardware. The series that aired didn't quite live up to that description.

"We had written scripts and shot episodes that detailed Mike Traceur's past and had flashbacks to what happened as he tries to remember, and these were things we were forced to take out — kicking and screaming, by the way," says Gary in an exclusive interview. "They just felt it was too dark. It wasn't. It was just telling what happened and him trying to piece together his memory. It gave a sense of mystery that's missing and made it stand out a little more than just being a fluffy show. By the time the network saw the cut of episode five, they just had us rip all of that out and it became a mad scramble to replace it. It became the network's reboot. They never liked when I said that, but those were the marching orders coming down.

"On the show," he adds, "the dying wish of one of the characters is that they go back to what they had originally started with, before they got too involved with the government. Mike is told to go back to the idea that one man can make a difference; that he should go out and help people who need help and not take on the terrorist of the week. As a result, they kind of went rogue and were operating outside the law, because they're not associated with any agency. So the government shut them down and what they did from there was the new direction of the show."

One person who enjoyed the change in focus is Joe Huth, who notes, "This was the best attempt at capturing the spirit of the original show. It started off a bit dull, but was retooled about halfway through the first season and really came into its own. Just when it was starting to get better, NBC canceled it."

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