Arguably the greatest of the man-and-machine adventure series which saturated our TV screens in the early 1980s, Knight Rider centred on one man and his talking gadget-laden car – although KITT didn’t come with airbags or an iPod connector as standard.
Knight Rider (84 episodes, 1982-86).
Michael Knight (David Hasselhoff) fights crime with the help of KITT, an artificially intelligent computer coupled to a virtually indestructible supercar, usually saving a damsel in distress or two along the way. Or, as creator Glen A Larson once described it, “The Lone Ranger with a car”.
Topped and tailed with shots of KITT driving through a purple-hued desert landscape, the intro features clips of the show’s stars (Hasselhoff, Edward Mulhare and Patricia McPherson) and action sequences from the show with shots of KITT’s exterior and futuristic-looking interior.
The heavily electronic theme tune was composed by Stu Phillips, whose work also includes the opening music for The Six Million Dollar Man, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and the original Battlestar Galactica. He also produced songs for a variety of recording artists, including Nina Simone.
Halfway through season one, the intro was revamped with new visuals reflecting KITT’s redesign and also including a new voiceover narration by actor Richard Basehart (who had featured in the pilot episode):
Knight Rider – a shadowy flight into the dangerous world of a man who does not exist.
Michael Knight, a young loner on a crusade to champion the cause of the innocent, the helpless, the powerless, in a world of criminals who operate above the law.
Basehart’s voiceover was the final piece of the puzzle. Without it, the original intro was merely very good; with it, it became iconic.
Knight Rider’s intro was revised slightly each season with new visual clips, although Phillips’ theme music remained essentially unchanged.
Below are the original intro and the one used in season three. Note the lack of narration, and the absence of a credit for McPherson.
And for a comparison of how it is possible to take a classic original and turn it into a completely soulless mess, here are the opening titles used during the first half of the first – and only – season of the 2008 reboot of the show.
According to Brandon Tartikoff, head of programming at NBC, the concept for Knight Rider resulted from a discussion about the problem of casting handsome leading men who couldn’t act. A concept called The Man of Six Words was developed, which would begin with the lead getting out of a woman’s bed and saying “Thank you”, chasing down some villains and saying “Freeze!” and then murmuring “You’re welcome” to the people he had saved, while in between his talking car could would carry the bulk of the dialogue.
KITT, the Knight Industries Two Thousand, was a customised 1982 Pontiac Trans-Am.
Creator Glen A Larson took the design for KITT’s hood-mounted scanner from the Cylons in his earlier show Battlestar Galactica.
William Daniels, who provided the voice of KITT, was never seen on the show and never received an on-screen credit.
Daniels and David Hasselhoff never met until the show’s first Christmas party, six months into filming.
The Knight Rider theme has been sampled by a number of artists, including Busta Rhymes, Timbaland, Lil’ Kim and So Solid Crew.
Hasselhoff released a single, Jump In My Car, in 2006 which featured him driving a 1983 Trans Am which had been modified to look like KITT. The most noticeable difference to the original was that the car used in the video was right-hand drive, not left. The song peaked at number three in the UK singles chart.
Earlier this year, Hot Wheels released a 1/18 diecast model of KITT as part of their Cult Classics Collection. It features a light-up red scanner, opening doors and rear hatch, an engine hood which opens up to reveal a detailed Knight 2000 turbine engine, pop up-headlights, revolving license plates, ejector seats, removable t-tops and a foldable rear seat. (A 1/64 version is also available.)