by Joal Ryan
The star wore black. And rubber.
The new Knight Rider KITT car made its public debut Wednesday. And as leaked on the blogosphere last month, it's a Ford Mustang Shelby GT500KR.
"Quite honestly, we thought this was the coolest looking car," said Dave Bartis, an executive producer on NBC's upcoming Knight Rider TV movie, set to air in February.
Just as it took two Olsen twins to play Michelle Tanner, it will take three black, cobra-branded Shelby Mustangs to play KITT. All three were rolled out for a photo op at the NBC lot in Burbank, California, where owing to the ongoing writers' strike, plenty of parking was available.
"It's very smooth. For 600 horsepower," said former soap star Justin Bruening, who landed the human lead in the new Knight Rider, and spent the morning talking up his four-wheeled costar.
The Pontiac Trans Am, which played faithful KITT to David Hasselhoff's singular Michael Knight in the original 1982-86 series, was unavailable for comment. As in, completely, totally unavailable.
"They don't make Trans Ams anymore," Bartis said. "So, the Trans Am's gone."
In its stead, Bartis said producers looked to cast a car that was (a) American-made, definitely; (b) two-door, preferably; and (c) muscular, yes.
"Obviously, we thought Mustang was the right fit," said Ford executive Al Uzielli. "And that's what we started pitching almost immediately."
NBC, no stranger to Fords—a Taurus costars in Life—bit.
"This car has an amazing legacy," Bartis said. "And there's just nobody else who had a vehicle that could match that."
Since the auto blog Jalopnik posted early bird pictures of the KITT-styled Ford Mustang Shelby GT500KR a couple of weeks ago, there has been carping, as there always is: Too boring, too safe, so not a Camaro, etc.
Nobody said keepers of the KITT flame were easy to please.
"Knight Rider enthusiasts probably are disappointed it's not an old Pontiac Trans Am, but the reality is there was a need to sell that marketing opportunity," Jalopnik editor in chief Ray Wert wrote in an email Wednesday.
Besides, not everyone is disappointed.
"I do know hard-core Ford fans are happy with the decision," Wert wrote.
Some hard-core Knight Rider fans, too. Neil Epstein, publisher of the fansite Knight Rider Online, sounded cautiously optimistic.
"Once we see some footage of the car in motion, we will be able to better judge," Epstein wrote in an email. "[But] the producers have taken a step in the right direction by honoring the original KITT and keeping the colors and styles that made the original popular."
The franchise can only improve on one of its latter incarnations, the little-loved 1994 TV movie, Knight Rider 2010, starring, in its KITT debut, a Ford Mustang. Albeit, an old '69.
"People watching Knight Rider—you know, a show with a futuristic talking car—have an expectation that the car's gonna look special," Wert wrote.
The new KITT, as previewed Wednesday, didn't look nearly as special as producers promise it'll look in the TV movie (and possible series), when, through the magic of post, it'll make like something out of Chamillionaire's garage, changing colors and shifting shapes.
Each of the three KITT cars has been assigned a specific duty: The so-called KITT Hero will roll with the actors; KITT Attack will handle the high-speed chase scenes; and the remote-controlled KITT Remote will double for KITT Hero.
The stunt-driver-driven KITT Attack showed off its stuff by doing a tire-burning doughnut in the parking lot. The driverless KITT Remote proved its high-tech worth by not crashing into the assembled press. The KITT Hero, under the direction of Bruening, demonstrated its carpool power by delivering the TV movie's four stars.
Not one of the models featured a strip of blinking red lights, à la classic KITT. And not one of the models featured a Michael Knight, à la classic Hasselhoff. But while the red lights weren't present, Hasselhoff will be. He appears in the new movie as his old TV character. Bruening plays Michael Knight's prodigal son, the equally name-blessed Mike Tracer.
Bruening, whose TV dad on All My Children was played by one Michael E. Knight, said Hasselhoff didn't give him driving tips so much as he gave him relationship tips.
"That's your best friend in the end," Bruening said Hasselhoff advised of KITT. "It's just [your character]. Alone on the road. With a car. That talks."
Arrested Development's Will Arnett will supply KITT's voice in the new movie, succeeding William Daniels, who advised Michael Knight in the 1980s' series.
A nontalking version of the Ford Mustang Shelby GT500KR will go on sale next year.
Oh, and the consumer model won't change colors or shift shapes, either.
"We haven't figured out the technology yet," Uzielli said. "But we're working on it."