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Knight Rider Facts That Are Cooler Than A Talking Car

When "Knight Rider" debuted September 16, 1982 on NBC, David Hasselhoff became a household name, and KITT became the coolest car on TV.

"Knight Rider" wasn't the first show on TV with a talking car; before, there was "My Mother the Car," a short-lived comedy that became so synonymous with bad TV that it made everyone else nervous about trying the same gimmick again. But once "Knight Rider" debuted, it quickly assuaged the network's fears, launching a successful series run that spanned from 1982 to 1986.

As "Magnum P.I.'s" Ferrari 308 GTS proved, a hot car can often add some great icing on the cake for a TV show. With William Daniels' droll vocal delivery and KITT's sleek, dark, state of the art design, "Knight Rider" became a beloved '80s hit. ("Knight Rider" also had a classic theme song, written by Stu Phillips and series creator Glen A. Larson.)

But even if you faithfully watched "Knight Rider" every week, there's a lot about the show you may not know already. Here's some great "Knight Rider" facts that are cooler than a talking car.

How TV legend Glen A. Larson created the show

"Knight Rider" was created by television veteran Glen A. Larson, who also created the original "Battlestar Galactica," "Quincy, M.E.," "Magnum P.I.," and "The Fall Guy," among others.

When Larson was under contract at Universal, he created a short-lived "Smokey and the Bandit" take-off called "BJ and the Bear." On one episode of "Bear" titled "Cain's Cruiser," there was a "super car," a computerized technological marvel that could do practically anything. Larson had left Universal, but the studio said he owed him one more show before he was free and clear.

The studio told him they wanted to do another show with a super car, so Larson went to Hawaii and wrote a script in ten days. After shooting the pilot script, the network had reservations about a talking car and David Hasselhoff as the star, but Larson persisted.

The pilot was sold to NBC, and the show took off from there. As Larson explained in a Television Academy interview, "I found out America has a love affair with cars. I expected, 'Okay, we're doing a good eight o'clock [prime time] show, kids will love it.' I got calls from every professional person I knew. Lawyers, doctors, everybody. 'We like that show.'"

Knight Rider had a variety of influences

As far as the inspiration for the show — and for KITT, which stands for Knight Industries Two Thousand — there were several key influences that all came together.

Larson once explained that "'Knight Rider' is "The Lone Ranger," referring to the famous western that was popular in radio and television. "It's one man comes into town and he has a little bit more going for him than people think — and that's a great theme," Larson said.

The red light in front of the car was inspired by the Cylons, the villainous robots from the original "Battlestar Galactica" series, and Larson was also influenced by HAL from "2001": A Space Odyssey," which helped inspire KITT's speaking voice. (The studio wanted a woman to give KITT a sexy voice, but Larson rejected this idea.) William Daniels was Larson's first choice for the voice.

How the Knight Rider theme was created

One of the great trademarks of "Knight Rider" is the show's theme, which was written by Stu Phillips and Larson.

As Phillips explained in an interview with "Knight Rider Historian," he originally worked in the record business, then moved into film scores. In 1974, he started scoring shows like "McCloud" and the "Six Million Dollar Man." Phillips ended up working with Larson for 14 years, and the "Knight Rider" theme was the first time he fully embraced the emerging technology of the decade. In a featurette, Phillips recalled, "It was different, it was the first one that was really a synthesizer main title."

There was a German piece of music that fit in well over the car scenes, but they couldn't get the rights to the music, so Phillips used it as inspiration for the "Knight Rider" theme. Larson also recalled a classical piece — he couldn't remember exactly what it was called, possibly "Cinderella Suite" — and he used that for inspiration as well. The theme was also reportedly influenced by Leo Delibes's "Procession of Bacchus," which was used in a ballet called "Sylvia," and you can hear one motif from the beginning of the piece that is very similar to the "Knight Rider" theme.

"What we ended up with was nothing like that German synth music," Phillips said. "The hope was to do something original, something that was fresh and new." The theme was over a minute long, which was also unusual for network television, but the song was one of the big appeals of the show.

In 2005, music publisher BMI gave Phillips an award for most downloaded ringtone for the "Knight Rider" theme.

Pontiac wasn't originally excited about the show

The KITT car was a Pontiac Trans Am, and whenever a car is in a popular movie or TV show, it can send sales through the roof. "Smokey and the Bandit" did wonders for the Pontiac Firebird Trans Am, and "Knight Rider" made the Trans Am a hot car again ... except Pontiac wasn't totally sold on "Knight Rider" at first.

John Schinella was the chief designer for Pontiac, and he drew the design for KITT on a napkin. Yet Pontiac had some reservations because the last show with a talking automobile, "My Mother the Car," was one of the biggest disasters in television history. The company was afraid that a show featuring a talking car would be a similar object of ridicule if it was done wrong.

But as Schinella recalled years later, "I think once they saw the show and how they were doing it, people liked it. I thought it was great, especially for young people." Said Larson, "For whatever reason I was attracted to that Pontiac. We got the first three off the assembly line ... it was very clean. It turned out to be a good choice." 

The William Daniels backstory

Before "Knight Rider," William Daniels was a fine stage, film and television actor. The future "Boy Meets World" fan favorite played Ben Franklin in the musical "1776," he was Ben Braddock's father in "The Graduate," and he was a regular on "St. Elsewhere."

As Daniels recalled in the book "Knight Rider Legacy," "I knocked off an episode in about 45 minutes. I never watched the episode while I would do the voice over. I would have the pages that involved KITT's answers. So, I would speak David's dialog and then I would answer it. I had something to relate to that way."

As Hasselhoff explained to TV Insider, "It had to be tongue-in-cheek, like Sean Connery in the James Bond pictures. If we played it straight, it would have been ridiculous." Yet Daniels took the role seriously, and his serious delivery made the banter between him and Hasselhoff funny. "Those two are a comedy team on that show," said Larson.

Daniels and Hasselhoff didn't actually meet for quite some time. As Larson recalled, "They met for the first time at a party six months after the show's on the air and a big hit. 'How do you do? I'm your comedy partner.'"

Daniels told the Daily Star, "For me the role was one of the easiest I've done. It was certainly less work than eight performances a week in the theater." Daniels also told Larson he didn't want credit on the show, but people soon recognized it was him. One time he was walking around his neighborhood when someone yelled out, "Congratulations on the show."

"It turned out that everyone recognized my voice as it was very distinct," Daniels said.

How master car builder George Barris came aboard

For "Knight Rider," there were special cars that were made for the show with the help of master car builder George Barris, who built the Batmobile for the '60s TV show, "The Munsters" cars, and many other great movie and TV vehicles.

On the show, KITT can leap through the air, and drive up to 300 miles an hour. As the book "Barris TV & Movie Cars" explains, Barris came in for the third season of the show. The original KITT car was built at Universal and used for the first two seasons. For the third season, Barris updated KITT with movable spoilers, wings, scoops, and a convertible roof.

As Barris told NPR, "The interesting part about ('Knight Rider') is that the car not only talked, but it also performed. [With] the KITT car, I had to make it the first transformer. That means it had to transform from a KITT, driving on the ground, to hit speeds of 150 miles an hour in the air. The director said to me, 'I want it all in one take.' So I had to have everything happen — [have it] come down, land, at speeds of over 150 miles an hour."

Hasselhoff, who was clearly happy with the end result, said in the Barris book, "Thanks to George for helping to develop a car that has a mind of its own. George really is a legend in the car business."

Pontiac sold stunt cars to Knight Rider for a dollar

As one could guess, a lot of stunt cars were used for "Knight Rider," and they all had to take a serious beating. One of the most important members of the "Knight Rider" team was Jack Gill, a stunt man, stunt coordinator, and second unit director on the show.

On the "Knight Rider Historian" YouTube series, Gill was asked how many cars got smashed up on the show — only a rough estimate, of course. "We probably went through easily 40 to 60 KITT cars a year," Gill said. "Every single jump, because it didn't have a main frame to it, the frame bent very easily."

The funny twist to this is Pontiac gave them cars to use for a dollar apiece. "They were usually water damaged cars," Gill continues. "We were going to take all the electronics out of them anyway, and build the engine up. We would get cars that were pretty beat up, and we would turn them into KITT cars."

At a dollar apiece, Gill could have 15 KITT cars on the set ready to go. "One would be set up strictly for really high speed, up above 150 miles an hour in the desert. Some would be set up for big turns inside the city where I had a lot of horsepower, and I could do a lot with the car, but it never went faster than 100 miles an hour."

Hasselhoff's Knight Rider popularity helped Baywatch get financed

Traditionally, a lot of actors have resisted taking TV roles. Because once a hit show went off the air, if you got stereotyped into a role, you could potentially never work again. David Hasselhoff is very lucky in that he's defied television typecasting to become the star of two big TV hits, "Knight Rider" and "Baywatch."

As Esquire reports, "Baywatch" was initially canceled by NBC, but it was popular in Europe. Producer Douglas Schwartz was encouraged by his uncle Sherwood Schwartz (producer of "The Brady Bunch" and "Gilligan's Island") to buy the show outright. Eventually "Baywatch" was bought out for $10 million and sold into syndication, where it became a monster hit.

As Hasselhoff said on "The Wayne Brady Show," he gets recognized more from "Knight Rider" than "Baywatch." In Germany, Hasselhoff was a big star, and the country was dying for more episodes. He then explained to one German production company, "I don't own 'Knight Rider,' I have a new show." To their dismay, it didn't have a talking car, but with Hasselhoff as the star, they told him "We'll buy it anyway!"

"That's how 'Baywatch' began because we got all the financing from Germany because of the success of 'Knight Rider,'" Hasselhoff said. "'Knight Rider' was the number one show on television in Germany for 20 years."

Hasselhoff was made an executive producer on the show, and it made him big money. As "Baywatch" screenwriter Michael Berk told Esquire, "Through Hasselhoff's popularity in Germany, we were able to get $300,000 an episode from continental Europe."

Knight Rider helped make Hasselhoff the most-watched man on television

Thanks to the worldwide success of "Knight Rider" and "Baywatch," David Hasselhoff eventually held the distinction of becoming the most-watched man on television. In fact, he wound up in the Guinness Book of World Records for this. (At one point, "Baywatch" had 1.6 billion viewers worldwide every week.)

As Hasselhoff told Hollywood Outbreak, "I live, eat, and breathe 'Knight Rider' everywhere I go around the world. In New York, with the cab drivers, it's 'Yo! 'Knight Rider'!'"

Perhaps one reason the legacy of Hasselhoff and "Knight Rider" stands so strong today is the show predicted car technology that came true. As Hasselhoff said on "The Kelly Clarkson Show," "The most amazing thing about KITT is today KITT is still relevant. Everything is exactly what we came up with back in the day. The cars talk, they drive themselves, they park..."

Knight Rider episodes that were never made

"Knight Rider" was on the air for four years, and there were 84 episodes in all. But as "Knight Rider Historians" tells us, there were a number of episodes that never got made.

"The Deadly Prize" was an episode meant for 1985, and it would have given Edward Mulhare a chance to play dual roles just as Hasselhoff had done on the show previously, for a storyline in which Michael Knight had an evil brother. The episode also would have had an orangutang who is trained to be a thief. Another episode, "Knight School," was supposed to take place at a college, centering around a computer disc that bad guys are looking for.

Another episode, "Endangered Species," had a woman trying to save animals in the forest where she ran afoul of poachers. In "Farewell Michael Knight," Michael Knight would have investigated a mysterious death while the villains planned to sell KITT once Michael was subdued. "Knight Rider" villainess Adrianne Margeux, played by Ann Turkel, was supposed to return for this episode. In "Jet Tractor," Michael and KITT would have fought powerful "jet tractors" run by a mob conglomerate battling a group of farmers.

Several Knight Rider reboots have been in the works

With everything being remade and rebooted these days, one would think that "Knight Rider" would be ripe for a redo as well. In fact, it's already been rebooted for TV — albeit briefly — and more than one major Hollywood player would love to turn it into a film as well.

"Knight Rider" was indeed rebooted by NBC in 2008, but it was canceled the following year. The show starred Justin Bruening, and Val Kilmer provided the voice of KITT.

James Wan is also interested in turning "Knight Rider" into a film. Wan is the writer/director behind the "Saw" films, "The Conjuring," and "Aquaman," It was announced in 2020 that he was working on a "Knight Rider" movie with TJ Fixman, who formerly wrote video games.

It was also reported in 2022 that James Gunn, director of "Guardians of the Galaxy" and "Suicide Squad," was interested in doing a "Knight Rider" reboot as well. As Gunn told /Film, "My friend David Hasselhoff and I have discussed doing a modern continuation of 'Knight Rider' many times. The primary hurdle has been there aren't enough hours in the day to do all the cool things I want to do."