Knight Rider Opening Credits
Knight Rider Opening Credits

10 Fast Facts About Knight Rider

Knight Rider Opening Credits
Knight Rider Opening Credits

With its offbeat premise, synth soundtrack, and David Hasselhoff’s voluminous perm, Knight Rider is a worthy pick to land on the Mount Rushmore of ‘80s TV. Debuting in 1982, the show ran for four seasons and 90 episodes, with a number of TV movies and short-lived revivals to follow. To this day, the franchise continues to stay relevant as rumors of even more Knight Rider surface regularly. Here are 10 facts about Knight Rider.

1. THE SHOW WAS A MASHUP OF THE LONE RANGER AND CLASSIC SCI-FI.

Glen A. Larson had made a name for himself throughout television in the ‘70s and ‘80s as the creator of shows like Battlestar Galactica and Magnum P.I., and in 1982 one of his more unique ideas hit the screen in Knight Rider. While a talking car that helps fight crime sounds a bit bizarre (and it is), the series has its roots in a much more grounded TV classic.

"I wanted to do The Lone Ranger with a car," Larson said of the show. He went even further by saying, "If you think about him riding across the Plains and going from one town to another to help law and order, then K.I.T.T. becomes Tonto.”

The "good vs. evil" inspirations from The Lone Ranger were joined by Larson's background in sci-fi. In Hasselhoff’s autobiography, the actor states that HAL 9000 from 1968's 2001: A Space Odyssey was the direct inspiration for K.I.T.T., while the red strobe lights that emblazoned the car's hood were a nod to the scanner lights that were the trademark of the Cylons from Larson’s Battlestar Galactica.

2. WILLIAM DANIELS FOUGHT FOR K.I.T.T. TO HAVE MORE OF A PERSONALITY.

When William Daniels first began working on Knight Rider, K.I.T.T. was set to sound more robotic and synthesized than the actor wanted. Instead, “I saw a chance for it to be amusing and bright,” Daniels recalled. “K.I.T.T. had to have human expression.” Soon, K.I.T.T. began to loosen up and show more of Daniels’s natural charm as the series progressed. 

3. LARSON GOT A HUGE CUT OF THE MERCHANDISE MONEY.

Larson’s business savvy and faith in his creation were rewarded beyond anyone’s expectations. When he was negotiating his deal with Universal, he nabbed himself a huge chunk of the merchandising rights. With Knight Rider’s popularity sustaining for long after it went off the air, Larson profited handsomely.

“I think I had the best deal in the history of television,” Larson said. “As the writer/creator I got 50-50 with the studio on all toys, models, T-shirts, and whatnot.”

These types of deals are virtually unheard of now, as Larson pointed out, “It was just before studios realized how profitable merchandising could be.”

4. WILLIAM DANIELS AND DAVID HASSELHOFF DIDN’T MEET UNTIL THE SHOW’S CHRISTMAS PARTY.

Though they made for a formidable duo on-screen, William Daniels and David Hasselhoff were never even in the same room together while the show was being made. They first met at the show’s Christmas party when Knight Rider was already an established hit.

“A guy walks over to my table and goes: ‘Hi I’m William Daniels, I play K.I.T.T.,’” Hasselhoff said in an interview with CBS. “And I say: 'Oh I’m David Hasselhoff and I play Michael.’ And he says: ‘Oh we have a hit don’t we?’ And that was our first conversation.”

5. DANIELS ISN’T FEATURED IN THE CREDITS AS K.I.T.T.

William Daniels’s name doesn’t appear in the opening or closing credits of Knight Rider throughout its run. The one story surrounding the decision is that Daniels wanted the audience to believe the car had a mind of its own and preserve the mystery. The plan backfired as Daniels was soon getting recognized on the streets where he lived as the voice of K.I.T.T.

6. DANIELS WORKED FOR LESS THAN AN HOUR PER EPISODE.

Though his voicework as K.I.T.T. was integral to the success of the show, Daniels was fairly far removed from the production when he would record his lines.

“I knocked off an episode in about 45 minutes. I never watched the episode while I would do the voice over,” Daniels said. “I would have the pages that involved K.I.T.T.—not even the entire show. Those pages would have David’s dialogue and then K.I.T.T.’s answers.”

Daniels’s process involved reading Haselhoff’s lines out loud in the recording booth, then answering them as K.I.T.T.

7. K.I.T.T. ALMOST WENT BY A DIFFERENT NAME.

K.I.T.T. stands for Knight Industries Two Thousand, based on the car’s fictional creator, Wilton Knight. The car went by another name when the series was early in its production: T.A.T.T., which stood for Trans Am Two Thousand.

When it came time to give a name to K.I.T.T.’s evil doppelganger, a completely different name was created in K.A.R.R. This stands for Knight Automated Roving Robot, and it was voiced by Peter Cullen, who was the man behind another talking vehicle: Optimus Prime from The Transformers cartoons and movies.

8. K.I.T.T. WENT THROUGH VARIOUS MODIFICATIONS AS THE SEASONS WENT ON.

During Knight Rider’s first two seasons, K.I.T.T. was based on an F-bodied Pontiac Trans Am with minimal alterations, and it was dressed up by Universal’s prop department. The major change were the red strobe lights to give the car “life” as it was interacting with Michael. But not much else made K.I.T.T. stand out from a standard Trans Am (Pontiac didn't even want them referring to the car as a Trans Am). The production would have around four different K.I.T.T. cars at a time, costing about $18,000 apiece to modify.

It was during production on season three, though, that K.I.T.T. got a bit of a facelift. Spoilers, wings, and new hood scoops were just some of the cosmetic additions that the legendary George Barris—who also designed Adam West’s Batmobile and The Munster Koach—added to the car. It took eight weeks to complete each car, but the new version set Knight Rider’s trademark set of wheels apart from anything else on the road.

9. THERE WAS A MODIFIED CAR TO SIMULATE A SELF-DRIVING FEATURE.

For scenes when K.I.T.T. had to appear to drive itself, Barris created a right-seat driving position inside the on-set car that dipped below the dashboard. From the passenger side, a stunt driver was then placed in a special seat that sat low enough to avoid detection on camera, but high enough to see where he was going. This was all part of Barris's job on the show. In addition to creating a more unique look for K.I.T.T. in later seasons, he was also in charge of creating different models of the car, all for the sake of specific stunts that could make for more unique action sequences.

10. THE SHOW’S THEME WAS BORROWED FROM AN 18TH CENTURY BALLET.

Knight Rider’s opening theme—composed by Stu Phillips—is one of the best the ‘80s has to offer, but its roots go further back than the synth stylings it embraces. It’s actually based on a selection from Léo Delibes’s ballet Sylvia. Specifically, “Cortège de Bacchus” from the third act.

Over the years, the song has been sampled by a number of artists, including Busta Rhymes and Lil' Kim. However, the song owes its longevity to its status as a ringtone. In 2005, Phillips won an award from BMI—a performing rights organization—for most downloaded ringtone. (Phillips shared the award with Lalo Schifrin’s Mission: Impossible theme.)

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Knight Rider Opening Credits
Karl Walter, Getty Images
When the FBI Investigated the 'Murder' of Nine Inch Nails's Trent Reznor
Karl Walter, Getty Images
Karl Walter, Getty Images

The two people standing over the body, Michigan State Police detective Paul Wood told the Hard Copy cameras, “had a distinctive-type uniform on. As I recall: black pants, some type of leather jacket with a design on it, and one was wearing combat boots. The other was wearing what looked like patent leather shoes. So if it was a homicide, I was thinking it was possibly a gang-type homicide.”

Wood was describing a puzzling case local police, state police, and eventually the FBI had worked hard to solve for over a year. The mystery began in 1989, when farmer Robert Reed spotted a circular group of objects floating over his farm just outside of rural Burr Oak, Michigan; it turned out to be a cluster of weather balloons attached to a Super 8 camera.

When the camera landed on his property, the surprised farmer didn't develop the footage—he turned it over to the police. Some local farmers had recently gotten into trouble for letting wild marijuana grow on the edges of their properties, and Reed thought the balloons and camera were a possible surveillance technique. But no state or local jurisdictions used such rudimentary methods, so the state police in East Lansing decided to develop the film. What they saw shocked them.

A city street at night; a lifeless male body with a mysterious substance strewn across his face; two black-clad men standing over the body as the camera swirled away up into the sky, with a third individual seen at the edge of the frame running away, seemingly as fast as possible. Michigan police immediately began analyzing the footage for clues, and noticed the lights of Chicago’s elevated train system, which was over 100 miles away.

It was the first clue in what would become a year-long investigation into what they believed was either a cult killing or gang murder. When they solved the “crime” of what they believed was a real-life snuff film, they were more shocked than when the investigation began: The footage was from the music video for “Down In It,” the debut single from industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails, and the supposed dead body was the group's very-much-alive lead singer, Trent Reznor.

 
 

In 1989, Nine Inch Nails was about to release their debut album, Pretty Hate Machine, which would go on to be certified triple platinum in the United States. The record would define the emerging industrial rock sound that Reznor and his rotating cast of bandmates would experiment with throughout the 1990s and even today on albums like The Downward Spiral and The Slip.

The band chose the song “Down In It”—a track with piercing vocals, pulsing electronic drums, sampled sound effects, and twisted nursery rhyme-inspired lyrics—as Pretty Hate Machine's first single. They began working with H-Gun, a Chicago-based multimedia team led by filmmakers Eric Zimmerman and Benjamin Stokes (who had created videos for such bands as Ministry and Revolting Cocks), and sketched out a rough idea for the music video.

Filmed on location among warehouses and parking garages in Chicago, the video was supposed to culminate in a shot with a leather-jacketed Reznor running to the top of a building, while two then-members of the band followed him wearing studded jumpsuits; the video would fade out with an epic floating zoom shot to imply that Reznor's cornstarch-for-blood-covered character had fallen off the building and died in the street. Because the cash-strapped upstarts didn’t have enough money for a fancy crane to achieve the shot for their video, they opted to tie weather balloons to the camera and let it float up from Reznor, who was lying in the street surrounded by his bandmates. They eventually hoped to play the footage backward to get the shot in the final video.

Instead, the Windy City lived up to its name and quickly whisked the balloons and camera away. With Reznor playing dead and his bandmates looking down at him, only one of the filmmakers noticed. He tried to chase down the runaway camera—which captured his pursuit—but it was lost, forcing them to finish shooting the rest of the video and release it without the planned shot from the missing footage in September of 1989.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the band, a drama involving their lost camera was unfolding in southwest Michigan. Police there eventually involved the Chicago police, whose detectives determined that the footage had been filmed in an alley in the city's Fulton River District. After Chicago authorities found no homicide reports matching the footage for the neighborhood and that particular time frame, they handed the video over to the FBI, whose pathologists reportedly said that, based on the substance on the individual, the body in the video was rotting.

 
 

The "substance" in question was actually the result of the low-quality film and the color of the cornstarch on the singer’s face, which had also been incorporated into the press photos for Pretty Hate Machine. It was a nod to the band's early live shows, in which Reznor would spew cornstarch and chocolate syrup on his band members and the audience. “It looks really great under the lights, grungey, a sort of anti-Bon Jovi and the whole glamour thing,” Reznor said in a 1991 interview.

With no other easy options, and in order to generate any leads that might help them identify the victim seen in the video, the authorities distributed flyers to Chicago schools asking if anyone knew any details behind the strange “killing.”

The tactic worked. A local art student was watching MTV in 1991 and saw the distinctive video for “Down In It,” which reminded him of one of the flyers he had seen at school. He contacted the Chicago police to tip them off to who their supposed "murder victim" really was. Nine Inch Nails’s manager was notified, and he told Reznor and the filmmakers what had really happened to their lost footage.

“It’s interesting that our top federal agency, the Federal Bureau of [Investigation], couldn’t crack the Super 8 code,” co-director Zimmerman said in an interview. As for Wood and any embarrassment law enforcement had after the investigation: “I thought it was our duty, one way or the other, to determine what was on that film,” he said.

“My initial reaction was that it was really funny that something could be that blown out of proportion with this many people worked up about it,” Reznor said, and later told an interviewer, “There was talk that I would have to appear and talk to prove that I was alive.” Even though—in the eyes of state, local, and federal authorities—he was reportedly dead for over a year, Reznor didn’t seem to be bothered by it: “Somebody at the FBI had been watching too much Hitchcock or David Lynch or something,” he reasoned.

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Knight Rider Opening Credits
Courtesy of Park Circus and MGM
West Side Story Is Returning to Theaters This Weekend
Courtesy of Park Circus and MGM
Courtesy of Park Circus and MGM

As Chris Pratt and a gang of prehistoric creatures get ready to face off against some animated superheroes for this weekend’s box office dominance, an old rivalry is brewing once again on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. West Side Story—Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins’s classic big-screen rendering of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway musical—is returning to cinemas for the first time in nearly 30 years.

As part of TCM’s Big Screen Classics Series, West Side Story will have special screening engagements at more than 600 theaters across the country on Sunday, June 24 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. If you can’t make it this weekend, encores will screen at the same time on Wednesday, June 27. The film—which is being re-released courtesy of TCM, Fathom Events, Park Circus, and Metro Goldwyn Mayer—will be presented in its original widescreen format, and include its original mid-film intermission. (Though its 2.5-hour runtime is practically standard nowadays, that wasn’t the case a half-century ago.) The screening will include an introduction and some post-credit commentary by TCM’s Ben Mankiewicz.

West Side Story, which was named Best Picture of 1961, is a musical retelling of Romeo and Juliet that sees star-crossed lovers Maria (Natalie Wood) and Tony (Richard Beymer) navigate the challenges of immigration, racial tension, and inner-city life in mid-century Manhattan—but with lots of singing and dancing. In addition to being named Best Picture, the beloved film took home another nine Oscars, including Best Director, Best Supporting Actor and Actress (for George Chakiris and Rita Moreno, respectively), and Best Music—obviously.

To find out if West Side Story is screening near you, and to purchase tickets, visit Fathom Events’s website.

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