The Perplexing Saga of Knight Rider

Thirty-plus years, and Knight Rider refuses to die. It’s been reborn again and again — regardless of pesky continuity issues.

Knight Rider

The original series debuted in 1982 and ran for four seasons on NBC. A total of 90 episodes were filmed, starring David Hasselhoff as Michael Knight and William Daniels as the voice of high-tech supercar KITT. You know the story: former police officer Knight has reconstructive surgery after being shot in the face, allowing him to go anonymous and work for Knight Industries as a government-sanctioned crime fighter alongside his A.I.-powered hotrod, KITT.

Time hasn’t been kind to the old show, which today plays awfully kitschy thanks to a lot of silly plots and cheesy acting. All I really remember as a kid is tuning in every week hoping to see KITT use Turbo Boost.

Code of Vengeance

You’re forgiven if you know nothing of this strange little anecdote in Knight Rider history. In 1984, during the original series’ second season, a strange two-part episode aired titled “Mouth of the Snake.” It was planned as a backdoor pilot for a new series called Code of Vengeance, which starred Charles Taylor as a Rambo-esque vigilante named David Dalton. It was sort of like Highway to Heaven if the main character used his fists to help people and resolve injustice.

The 2-part episode was not popular among Knight Rider fans, though the ratings were high enough to justify a series order from NBC. But after various delays, only four episodes of Code of Vengeance were filmed. They were promptly forgotten by history.

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Knight Rider 2000

Since the original series’ cancellation, star David Hasselhoff has repeatedly lobbied for a revival or reboot (between filming Baywatch and his inexplicable popularity in Germany as a rock star). One such attempt (not instigated by Hasselhoff) was this 2-hour TV movie, which jumped the timeline forward to the year 2000. But it was filmed almost a decade earlier than its setting, in 1991, and its plot proved difficult for fans to swallow. The original KITT was never seen, having been upgraded to a futuristic, red concept car called the Knight Industries Four Thousand (yep, that spells “KIFT”) that had all sorts of new gadgets. Hasselhoff reprised his role, as did William Daniels, and Edward Mulhare as Devon Miles, but the rest of the cast was filled out with noobs to the franchise — and they were intended to carry on should 2000 get picked up as a series.

The movie drew solid ratings, but the absence of the original KITT vehicle, theme music, and overall tone were lost in favor of a glossed-up, futuristic feel, and a techno score from Jan Hammer. Also, Mitch Pileggi (Agent Skinner from The X-Files) was in it as a villain with an aversion to tension headaches (I kid you not), and James Doohan cameoed as himself in a scene where KITT accidentally zaps Doohan while he’s withdrawing money from an ATM.

Um. Yeah.

Knight Rider 2010

Despite the similarities in their titles, this 1994 TV movie had nothing whatsoever to do with KR2000. In fact, it all but ignored established franchise canon. As a result, most fans don’t consider KR2010 a true part of Knight Rider lore; it came across more like the film’s producers co-opted the “Knight Rider” name in an attempt to draw in more viewers (an assumption that evidence suggests is untrue). 2010 was the story of Jake McQueen, a smuggler in a Mad Max-style post-apocalyptic future, who found himself paired up with a girl named Hannah Tyree on a mission to take down an evil corporation trying to control what’s left of the world. The twist: Hannah is a computer expert who finds a way to download herself onto a computer chip, and uses the chip as a means of escape when her body is killed. (Raise your hand if you see where this is going.) Hannah’s consciousness is then inserted into Jake’s Ford Mustang, and vigilantism ensues.

Despite the ridiculous-sounding premise, KR2010 was said to be better than it should have been. But it probably would have been taken more seriously for its scifi story if only it had been given a different name. Maybe it would have even gone to series. We’ll never know.

Team Knight Rider

Team Knight Rider was a syndicated spinoff debuting in 1997 that treated the original series as gospel but completely (and wisely) ignored the KR2000 telefilm. This series distinguished itself by updating the vigilante-and-supercar concept to incorporate five special government agents, each of whom drive a different A.I.-powered vehicle. Only one of those vehicles was a sports car; the others were comprised of an SUV, a pickup truck, and “twin” motorcycles that could merge together to form a single vehicle.

Sadly, these five intelligent vehicles weren’t able to merge together to form a giant robot, which could be why the show failed. Or maybe it was just too hard to keep up with five main characters, five vehicles with different personalities, and a crapload of supporting characters and enemies. At least it tried to incorporate some new ideas into the mix, such as a serialized mystery that wound its way through the entire season.

Knight Rider (’08)

Thanks to yet another 2-hour telefilm that was written as a backdoor pilot, NBC ordered this new-and-improved sequel series on the strength of the TV movie’s ratings. And in another move that’s become habitual to the franchise, this new 2008 series, starring Justin Bruening ignored both Knight Rider 2000 and Team Knight Rider. In this modern reboot/sequel, Bruening played the son of Hasselhoff’s Michael Knight, who was also forced to take on the pseudonym Michael Knight and go anonymous for the sake of justice. Val Kilmer voiced the new KITT (Knight Industries Three Thousand, naturally), which this time was a Mustang Shelby.

Despite several attempts to tie into the original series’ continuity — such as the return of KITT’s arch-nemesis, KARR — the show only lasted 17 episodes before NBC pulled the plug.

A Big-Screen Future?

The franchise that refuses to die has been in development as a big-screen movie since 2002, having passed through the hands of numerous writers, directors, actors, and production companies. The property is currently in development hell at The Weinstein Company, where a new script is reportedly being written by Wild Hogs‘ Brad Copeland. Hasselhoff is expected to reprise his role, only this time he’ll be the mentor to Knight Industries’ next generation agent.

Like all the other properties mentioned above, the film is envisioned as a sequel to the original series. And it’s said to ignore all the other spinoffs and sequels — including the 2008 series. Complicating the whole continuity thing: David Hasselhoff starred in or cameoed in Knight Rider 2000 and the 2008 TV show, as well as being mentioned as a foundational part of Team Knight Rider.

Confused yet?

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Robin Parrish

Unathletic, uncoordinated tall man with endless creativity stampeding through his overactive brain. Comes with beard, wife, and two miniature humans. Novelist. General blogger and main Gaming Geek for ForeverGeek. Lead Blogger, Apple Gazette.

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