First Look At Knight Rider's KITT in 4X4 Mode
By: Mike Levine Posted: 07-30-08 01:36 PT
© 2008, Images Courtesy of NBC Universal

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When “Knight Rider” makes its return to NBC’s lineup this fall, it will feature a new KITT derived from a 2008 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500KR (King of the Road) that has about as much in common with the original KITT as a mid-80s Motorola cell phone shares with an iPhone. Among the new tricks? KITT can transform into a 2009 Ford F-150 FX4 pickup truck when it needs to go off-road or move furniture!

Science-fiction fans were treated to a sneak peek of NBC’s reinvented “Knight Rider” at last week's annual Comic-Con gathering of pop-culture enthusiasts in San Diego. You'd have to be hibernating in carbonite not to know the show revolves around a clandestine crime fighter and his artificially intelligent, nanotech-enabled supercar partner: Knight Industries Three Thousand.

The original “Knight Rider,” which ran from 1982-86, featured the Knight Industries Two Thousand, based on a 1982 F-body Pontiac Trans Am. Among its inventory of weapons and defense mechanisms were turbo boost, nearly indestructible body panels and a dry verbal wit that could go toe-to-toe with David Hasselhoff, who played Michael Knight.

In the new version, Michael Knight's long-lost son, Mike Jr., steps into dad's shoes in the new and improved KITT. Among the innovative new features is KITT’s ability to transform its shape and capabilities depending on the tactical situation. If it's out for a leisurely drive, KITT stays in Normal Mode. If it's pursuing villains it can enter Attack Mode, expanding its engine displacement, growing air intakes and sprouting a massive wing. That’s old news; we saw Attack Mode KITT in the two-hour “Knight Rider” movie last February. That's soooo early 2008. The mode that grabbed attention at Comic-Con was KITT’s new pickup truck persona.

"KITT's got a lot more capabilities than before,” said executive producer Gary Scott Thompson, who also wrote the street-racing film "The Fast and the Furious" and produced NBC's "Las Vegas." “Twenty-five years ago a talking car was cool. Now everybody's car talks with GPS. Speeds have increased, too. The advances have been astronomical. All these things added up to, 'What would [KITT] do now?'"

So how did the concept of 4x4 Mode KITT become reality? Thompson says he came up with the idea while writing an episode script.

"The main characters get themselves in a predicament and I was trying to figure out how to get them out,” he said. “They were running from bad guys, who are shooting at them. How could I get them into the car without stopping it? I thought, 'Wouldn't it be great if they just jumped in the back of a pickup truck?'"

Thompson also said NBC execs told him “Knight Rider” fans didn't think the movie pushed KITT's capabilities far enough.

"It wasn't enough that the car could morph and change colors, I said it had to change itself into another vehicle,” he said. “They responded, 'Yeah! That's what we need to do. Go do that!'"

“Knight Rider's” special effects and production teams designed the KITT F-150 with a look similar to the GT500KR. In an early rendering, KITT's red “eye” is embedded in a custom power-dome hood, but production practicalities gave way to a more subtle light treatment that moved the red eye above and behind the top bar of the FX4's tall grille. The rest of the truck remains near stock, in contrast to the modified GT500KR's body.

While many might groan at a GT500KR that can transform on the fly into an F-150, Thompson talked to futurists at Microsoft to find some grounding in reality. Their meetings covered what cars and trucks might be like in 2030.

“They talked about vehicles being able to maneuver between smaller spaces, meaning it would have to squeeze itself, or it would grow larger or grow bigger wheels to get over a large obstacle,” he said. “I thought, ‘Wow, if these guys are already thinking about this now, then we need to be looking at this.’”

It looks like KITT's new offroad program will become a regular part of “Knight Rider.” Thompson says we'll see it in two of the first four episodes. There might be other modes on the horizon, too.

“As long as we stay within about the same mass, you might see other versions of KITT,” Thompson said. “You're not, however, going to see it turn into a huge spaceship.”

We'd suggest the next mode blend KITT's Attack and 4x4 programs to create an even more aggressive pickup. We'd call it Raptor Mode, of course.

You can catch “Knight Rider” on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET this fall on NBC.

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