Retro Sci Fi TV: A look at shows from the past that may not have stood the test of time and/or that are relegated to their era, but many of us still have fond memories of them.
What Is It? After a police detective nearly dies in the line of duty, he is recruited by a billionaire and given the new identity of Michael Knight to become the lead in a public justice organization known as FLAG (Foundation for Law and Government). Michael is teamed up with the high-tech car known as KITT (Knight Industries Two Thousand) which is run by an Artificial Intelligence and has many advancements to assist in the fight against crime. Together they help innocent people and engage in a shadowy battle against criminals that operate above the law.
Aired: NBC, 1982-86, Four Seasons Totaling 90 Episodes
Starring: David Hasselhoff, Edward Mulhare, William Daniels, Patricia McPherson, Rebecca Holden
Created By: Glen A. Larson
Is It Must-Watch Sci Fi TV? No. This one is very much a product of its era, and while it delivered decent enough action-adventure tales, it definitely does not count as a classic to anyone beyond its hardcore fans.
The Skinny: After the expensive failures of Battlestar: Galactica and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century in the late 70’s, the television networks mostly shied away from sci fi TV shows and the ones that did make it to the air tended to be more terrestrial in nature. And despite the fact that the two above mentioned shows failed to keep audiences glued to the screen, NBC had not lost faith in their creator as Glen A. Larson was brought in to develop a high-tech cop show that followed a more Prime Time friendly formula and that cost less than his space-based shows. Knight Rider pitted Michael Knight and KITT against rotating villains of the week with stories that usually had a nice, tidy wrap up at the end. As spy fi / action-adventure goes, this show delivered what the audience expected (with plenty of 80’s cheesiness) with William Daniels having a ton of fun as the voice of KITT and David Hasselhoff playing the pretty boy while mugging for the camera and deadpanning his lines.
In the 70’s, the networks tended to prefer “superhero” shows along the line of The Six-Million Dollar Man, Wonder Woman, and The Incredible Hulk to fill the genre quota on their schedules. In the 80’s, these shifted to “high-tech vehicle” shows along the lines of Knight Rider, Airwolf, and Street Hawk. The basic premise for all these shows was rooted in science fiction, but the weekly episodes were much more procedural in nature. So these attracted genre fans desperate for any sci fi on television while also appealing to the mainstream audience. Some of these still managed to deliver more in the way of sci fi and/or better-than-average stories (namely The Six-Million Dollar Man and The Incredible Hulk), but Knight Rider was one of the ones that mostly stuck to the procedural formula. Many have fond memories of watching this one when they were younger, but it doesn’t really stand up to the test of time as a television classic. Sure, KITT was cool and we all wanted to be behind the wheel of that car. But the weekly adventures this show delivered were mostly standard fare as Hasselhoff was warming up for the role he would cash in big with on Baywatch several years later.
Cancelled Too Soon? Not Necessarily. Sure, this one could have gone on for several more seasons (though, that might have–gasp!–kept Hasselhoff from joining Baywatch) as it had an open-ended concept. But the ratings had apparently slipped enough by the show’s fourth season and it had plenty of episodes for a syndication run, so NBC decided not to bring it back for a fifth year.
Revival: There were multiple attempts to revive this series after it ended, but none of them lasted very long. The early 90’s TV movies Knight Rider 2000 and Knight Rider 2010 jumped ahead to the near future with Hasselhoff showing up in the first of those two, but neither resulted in a new series. In 1997, Team Knight Rider arrived in syndication with a team of five taking over where Michael Knight left off. Hasselhoff was not involved in that one (though they teased his return in the final episode) and it only lasted one season. Then in 2008, NBC tried again to revive the show with Michael Knight’s son behind the wheel of KITT (and Val Kilmer providing the car’s voice). Hasslehoff was not involved with that and it was sent to the junk heap after only one, production-troubled season. There was also a short-lived spin-off of the original series in 1985 titled Code of Vengeance, but it encountered many production issues and shut down after only a few episodes had been produced.
Should It Be Rebooted? Possibly, but I believe the lesson learned from the failed revivals above is that David Hasselhoff should be involved in some capacity. The basic concept of the series works well with the formula the broadcast networks prefer for their Prime Time fare and lends itself to a revival. The show still has some name recognition and could provide decent action-adventure fun, preferably with some retro appeal. There have been talks of a Knight Rider movie with Hasselhoff involved, but nothing substantial has come from that yet.
Interesting Fact: Prior to this series being made, NBC executives complained that it was hard to cast a handsome leading man because many of them couldn’t act. So as a joke, the head of programming Brandon Tartikoff came up with the idea about a man and his car that he had called “The Man of Six Words” in which the leading man would say very little in the show (primarily just “Thank you”, “Okay”, “Freeze!”, and “Your Welcome”) and the car would do most of the rest of the talking. The NBC execs liked the idea and it eventually morphed into Knight Rider.
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