New Day For Knight

Remember K.I.T.T. the talking crime-fighting car from the ’80s? The one that out-acted David Hasselhoff? Twenty-five years later, NBC is bringing it back as a TV-movie with hopes that it leads to a series. The updated sequel will air Feb. 17 on NBC and Global. Here’s the NBC teaser:

In the new version, K.I.T.T. (now short for Knight Industries Three Thousand) has been updated from a 1982 Trans-Am to a brand new Ford Mustang Shelby GT500KR. The Hoff is back, guesting as Michael Knight, but this time the focus is on a new hot shot behind the wheel, Justin Bruening (All My Children), who plays Knight’s estranged offspring.
Bruening and executive producer Dave Bartis (The O.C.) fielded questions from critics the other day on one of this awkward phone conferences. Actually, Bartis did most of the talking. About all we learned from Bruening was that he is too young to have watched Knight Rider when it first came out. (He has since caught up through DVDs, which sounds like something that should come with a judge’s order.)

It didn’t matter. Most of the scribes were more interested in the car than Bruening. Why not a Trans-Am? (They’re out of production, dummy, and there goes the big fat marketing opportunity.) Why a Mustang? A no brainer because it’s the coolest car on the planet, said Bartis. Did car companies bid to see who got to place their baby in this two-hour ad? We had marketing folks who looked after that, said Bartis. Translation: Ford “ponied” up the most bucks.

One big change is K.I.T.T.’s voice. In the original, it was William Daniels, who brought a nice laconic tone perfected from all those years as a cranky M.D. on St. Elsewhere. (Listen to him here.) The new machine will be voiced by Toronto’s own Will Arnett, busy on screen in plenty of bad comedies and forever JOB from Arrested Development.
Daniels is still with us but won’t be in the movie, says Bartis. The producer was going for a fresh voice that kids today could recognize. Plus, back in 1982, a talking car was pretty weird. Today, with On-Star and other gadgets, not so much. The producer was after a more casual, conversational voice instead of something that sounded like an upgrade from 2001: A Space Odyssey’s HAL-9000.
NBC owns the rights to Knight Rider and this project was wheeled out of the vault by new programming boss Ben Silverman. If its a hit it will join Bionic Woman as a series retrofit, but it has one big problem on the road ahead: Knight Rider has been a punch line for years on everything from Family Guy to The Tonight Show. How will anybody take this thing seriously?
It was hard not to laugh on the phone as Bartis was talking about striking a delicate balance with the tone of this show. Balance? Balance the tires, sure, but tone?
Maybe a set of hot wheels will be all it takes. The new K.I.T.T. is actually three versions of the Shelby Mustang, one a prototype that hasn’t even hit the street yet. This car can morph, shift shape and colour, hack into computer systems and fire weapons.
But can it pass a gas station? Bartis says its also a hybrid and is extremely fuel efficient. Only in the movies.
My favorite Knight Rider joke: When Hasselhoff was picked up for D.U.I. a few years ago, Conan O’Brien cracked that police pulled him over “because his talking car was slurring its words.”
Good luck and good Knight.

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