Last week, “Knight Rider” fans had a message for NBC: “You better not fuck this up.”
“Knight Rider,” a popular television show from the 1980s featuring David Hasselhoff, has been the subject of numerous crappy spinoffs and sequels and the failures have effectively tarnished the franchise’s reputation. Supposedly influenced by the recent success of “Transformers,” NBC decided to resurrect “Knight Rider” in the form of a two-hour movie that aired on Sunday night. Instead of dealing Knight Rider’s legacy a final deathblow, the network finally created a product that does the original justice. More importantly, it could restore the franchise’s golden age by becoming a recurring television show.
For “Knight Rider” to succeed, it had to effectively synthesize old characters and plotlines with new ones – and it did just that. The original show focused on Michael Knight, played by Hasslehoff, who fought crime with the help of his super-advanced Pontiac Trans Am. The car – Knight Industries Two Thousand (KITT) – possessed artificial intelligence and could talk to Knight. It could also travel at 300 miles per hour and heal itself. To make a connection to the ’80s series, the new “Knight Rider” protagonist is Mike Traceur (Justin Bruening, “All My Children”), the son of Michael Knight. Hasselhoff’s appearance in the special, in his old role as Knight, was effective and it allowed the quintessential torch-passing scene between father and son to take place.
While the special continued the formula of Knight and his talking car battling villains, it modernized key elements, such as Traceur (Justin Bruening) portraying a veteran of the war in Iraq. To most, though, this will seem unimportant: It’s the revamping of KITT that gets all the attention. KITT’s new image was precisely what many “Knight Rider” fans were worried about: It looked like NBC had planned an elongated Ford commercial. The new and improved KITT (Knight Industries Three Thousand) takes the form of a 2008 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500. Surprisingly, however, product placement was minimal. Even commercial breaks weren’t that bad – only eight of the eleven contained Ford ads (hey, it could’ve been all of them). A crucial factor in both past and present of “Knight Rider” is to ensure that KITT is a primary draw, while also making sure the car isn’t overly commercialized. The special succeeded in maintaining this balance.
Essentially, NBC created the two-hour “Knight Rider” special as a backdoor pilot – a term used to describe a project that can be picked up for a television series if well-received. Sunday’s screening proved that “Knight Rider” has what it takes: a workable formula, colorful characters and a damn cool car to not only win back fans of the classic series, but also get new fans of its own.