NBC’s corny car opera, Knight Rider, drove off with 12.70 million viewers Sunday. In this day of depressed ratings, that’s a hit! It won its timeslot and attracted probably enough viewers to move forward with a series order. Welcome to the desperate new world of network television.

This is the remake which featured Toronto’s Will Arnett (Arrested Development) as the voice of KITT–the one reason to look forward to this series–until Ford, who sponsored the movie as a boost for their Shelby ‘Stang, hit the brakes. Arnett has voiced GMC truck ads for a decade, as if the producers didn’t know. Arnett was replaced just weeks ago by beefy ex-Batman Val Kilmer. Holy paycheck, Batman!

Anybody who tuned in Sunday will be shaking their head. The new Knight Rider TV-movie was little more than a two hour infomercial for Ford’s pricey pony car. (See a bang-on comic strip panel about this at Joel Watson’s Hijinks Ensue).

As David Bianculli posts on his blog, TV Worth Watching, “The commercials were better made, and slightly better acted, than the telemovie, but otherwise were indistinguishable from the program.” Bianculli also notes that no Knight Rider screeners were sent in advance for critics–part of a growing trend. As more and more of these stinkers are hurled at screens (especially until new strike-delayed scripted episodes are back in late March and April), critics are getting fewer chances to see them in advance. TV Feeds My Family didn’t see that horrible new reality timewaster My Dad is Better Than Your Dad, for example, but then, judging from the fast overnight ratings/share (5.0/7) neither did too many other people.

With Knight Rider hitting the fast lane, God knows what ’70s retread NBC will green light next. They’ve already rebuilt (and abandoned) Bionic Woman. Can remakes of Police Woman, McCloud, CHiPs and maybe even My Mother The Car be far behind?

Too bad Dexter didn’t drive a cool car. CBS’s edited edition of this sizzling Showtime series drew 8.14 million viewers Sunday night, third in the timeslot behind Knight Rider and a new episode of Brothers & Sisters on ABC.


UPDATE: Canucks love cars that talk too, eh? Knight Rider won the night for Global, picking up 1.6 million total viewers Sunday night and easily besting CTV’s edited simulcast of Dexter among 18-49-year-olds (1.071 million vs. 478,000).
In other U.S. network news, the 12 celebrity contestants competing on the next Dancing with the Stars have been announced. They are: former Man Show goofball Adam Corolla (who will be savaged nightly on his old pal Jimmy Kimmel’s talk show), hunky Chilean actor Cristian De La Fuente, American Pie hottie Shannon Elizabeth, token has-been Steve Guttenberg, R&B singer Mario (not the Nintendo Mario, although that would have been fantastic), Marlee Matlin (you try lip reading Bruno Tonioli), gigantic magician/prankster Penn Jillette, token older babe Pricilla Presley (well, parts of her are older), whiny tennis champ Monica Seles, token sports hunk, Miami Dolphin Jason Taylor, Broadway whozat? Marissa Jaret Winokur (Hairspray) and seemingly unstoppable Olympic ice princess Kristi Yamaguchi.

Jillette’s reaction (to OK! magazine): “I’m as speechless as Teller that America wants to see a magical sasquatch dance.”

The series returns to ABC/CTV March 17. Look for several members of the Osmond family to be in attendance.

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