Arguably the most ’80s of all of the ’80s shows, Knight Rider graced the screens of the USA from 1982 until 1986. Though I could swear it was on British TV later than that.
The show made David Hasselhoff a major international star long before Baywatch and catapulted his co-star ‘KITT’, which was, in fact, a talking, self-aware and highly intelligent black Pontiac Firebird sports car, towards worldwide adulation as well as desirability equalling almost that of the DeLorean from ‘Back to the Future’.
The back story was even more convoluted than The A-Team.
You see Michael Knight was actually an assumed name. His real name was apparently Michael Arthur Long, a cop who was shot in the face and was saved by billionaire Wilton Knight and then given a new face via plastic surgery and a new identity, which was to be of course…..Michael Knight.
In return for this pretty tumultuous favour Knight would have to wear an assortment of bad shirts, black dress trousers – though occasionally he got away with jeans – and a dark leather jacket for the rest of his life and drive KITT around the country fighting crime.
Despite this restrictive lifestyle, he remains remarkably upbeat throughout.
Wilton dispatched Devon Miles and his team of scientists to follow Michael around the country and they are always on call for advice and to repair or modify KITT if required. Altogether they formed ‘FLAG’ which apparently stood for ‘The Foundation for Law and Government’ and despite the name was really just a vigilante group financed by Wilton as part of a highly illegal pilot scheme in his ‘public justice programme’.
Devon always wore a tailored suit and sat at an expensive-looking desk in his office which I believe was situated on a continuously moving truck. He was often at odds with Michael’s methods. Michael was a bit of a maverick you see.
KITT was voiced by William Daniels who combined intelligent, likeable, occasionally effeminate and often mincey rather gloriously.
As with the A-Team, it was very episodic. Very much villain of the week with few storylines extending beyond two consecutive episodes.
One storyline which bucked that trend though involved Michael coming up against his evil alter ego……Garthe Knight.
As a kid, I always thought Garthe – no explanation was ever given for why his name was spelt this way – had copied Michael’s appearance so as to presumably ruin his reputation when in fact it was actually the other way around.
Garthe was actually Wilton Knight’s estranged son. It would explain why Garthe always sported a rather sophisticated-looking moustache and soul patch. It wouldn’t make much sense, after all, to get major plastic surgery to look identical to someone to only then grow facial hair and effectively ruin the similarity.
Oh, and Garthe was also pretty olive-skinned compared to Michael. He kind of looked Mexican. Not like a real Mexican but like the way Mexicans were portrayed for years in spaghetti westerns and the like via fake tan as well as dyed jet black head and the aforementioned facial hair.
As you can see in the picture below, he really was quite a sight. Basically, what David Hasselhoff would look like had he ever screen-tested for the lead role in ‘Narcos’.
Anyway, Michael was made to look like Garthe (above) so that he could resemble the son Wilton wished he’d had.
Garthe was megalomaniac you see so Wilton disowned him.
He also nearly killed the previously believed to be indestructible KITT via his enormous semi-truck “Goliath”.
I can still see Goliath charging towards KITT now and then leaving him in pieces. A long week for a 6-year-old that one was I can tell you.
Garthe’s sidekick was his mother and Wilton’s presumably bitter widow Elizabeth Knight. They formed one of the more memorable antagonists in the show.
Though the main one was probably KARR. This stood for ‘Knight Automated Roving Robot’. It was the prototype of what was to become KITT.
Unlike KITT though, who was good and took a genuine interest in people, KARR was all about self-preservation and unpredictability so basically he was bad. He actually only appeared in a few episodes. But you always knew he was out there……..somewhere, being unpredictable and ruthless.
Wilton Knight, who caused all of this madness, was only ever seen in the pilot episode, where he died from a terminal illness. However, his incredible voice was used for the intro to the show.
He had one of those rich American voice-over tones that sounded like it had been soaked in the finest single malt whiskies and dipped in honey. It went something like this:
“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.”
And how did all of this end you might ask? God knows. Hey, I was just a kid. Trying to juggle the plot curves and resolutions of Knight Rider, The A-Team, Streethawk and The Dukes of Hazard at the ages of 5-8 was practically impossible.
Throw in trying to complete a Panini sticker album every new football season and you can forget it.
NB: During the COVID-19 pandemic I’ve actually watched the final episodes of Knight Rider. It’s playing on the Paramount channel every you see.
Michael gets married and leaves FLAG but his new bride is ruthlessly murdered on his wedding day no less so he returns to avenge her and get back in the hot seat. The hot seat being KITT.
He continues to fight crime and I guess he’s still out there somewhere in the fictional world of Knight Rider.
In reality, the show was cancelled after four seasons due to declining ratings.
They tried everything to retain interest such as introducing a cool hip African American character called RC and upgrading KITT with “Super Pursuit Mode” which did exactly what it said on the tin but alas the ship had sailed on the public’s appetite for Michael Knight and his talking car so the last episode aired on April 4th 1986.
But as we all know it’s been rerun like a gazzilion times since across the world so I guess Knight Rider never really does end.
One last piece of trivia.
As mentioned a couple of paragraphs back in one episode Michael gets married. The actress who plays his short-lived, quite literally, bride is Catherine Hickland who was David Hasselhoff’s real-life wife at the time.
They divorced in 1989 and she remarried in 1992 to an actor called……….. Michael E. Knight.
She literally married a guy called Michael friggin’ Knight.
How weird is that?!