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.)