July 8, 2012

Knight Rider Revisited

So I've got some pretty awesome opportunities going on right now, of which I will not speak lest I jinx them. I will say that it involves rewriting two different manuscripts, which may seem horrible to the uninitiated but is really flipping awesome. I'm in serious crunch time right now and will be for a few months. If ever there was a time not to suck, this would be it.

The trick is, when I'm not writing on the official stuff, my brain keeps creating. Lately, it has been falling back on that Knight Rider post I did awhile back. I have since rewatched the pilot of the original series (and thus answered why he was called Michael Knight, something I knew as a child that but forgot as an adult). If you've never seen the original Knight Rider, you haven't missed much. It was an '80s show that is very much an '80s show. It did not endure the test of time.

The thing is, it was iconic for its time and impressionable to a young boy. Even if you haven't seen it, you've probably seen KITT, the black Trans-Am (from the original series) / Shelby GT500 (from the 2008 failed series) with the red light that flashes back and forth like a Cylon.

The 2008 show smacked of formula and made classic sci-fi mistakes that someone that doesn't normally read/write the genre would make. Specifically, the artificial intelligence of KITT and the abilities of the car were too powerful too quickly. The super-computer that can hack building security systems to watch through cameras, that can change the appearance of the car, etc etc. Put that all in the beginning and where do you have to go to challenge your protagonists? That's not power creep, that's a power skyrocket.

They did a few things right, tossed up the "man and his car" dynamic with another character. They better played the outlaw status (of course, with a lame FBI agent). Of course, they screwed up the whole two people and their car dynamic with the surly jock guy driver and daddy's-girl love-hate romance thing that was never very romantic and never actually developed their characters beyond being whiny. I really don't like the cocky jock hero. That was the biggest barrier for me to getting into Farscape. Crichton really rubbed me wrong.

ANYWAY, so me being me, I think I can do it better. ALSO, my mind is in super-duper creative mode, and while I do not have time to write fan fiction, I do have a blog where I can tickle my fancy for the time being. So settle in for a more of Joseph L. Selby's Knight Rider (2012).


Major Michael Long (Idris Elba) is a decorated Army special forces/airborne ranger detached to Knight Industries as a test driver and military consultant as part of the KITT development program under contract by the Department of Defense. As an operator of the KITT platform (a hummer in its first iteration), his call sign is White Knight. Once the team goes independent, his call sign changes to Black Knight. I'm not sure how this will play, what with television race politics, but mostly it has to do with the car, going to the black car (of indeterminate make--I don't feel compelled to adhere to the original Trans Am; there's advertising money to be made here, so do what's best for the show's budget).

Wilton Knight (William Daniels) is the founder of Knight Industries, one of the country's leading arms manufacturers. In his old age, he's focusing on saving lives rather than taking them, working on technology to save soldiers' lives rather than take them. The company is going in the opposite direction. He considers the KITT program to be his final legacy. He is assassinated when the technology is stolen.

Eleanor Knight (China Chow) is Wilton's only child and director of Knight Industries' fastest-growing division. She oversees contracting with the CIA and military. Her relationship with her father is strained. She does not share his vision of the future of the company. She has a worse relationship with Michael, who has a poor opinion of contractors and the contracting industry.

Yi Bo (Jerry Shea) is the team's linguist and computer programmer. He works on integrating voice command and voice actuation software with Vik's prototype KITT design. He and Vik do not get along. He think's Vik is immature and doesn't like his practical jokes (such as Vik installing a Cylon voice as the default program voice). He is also a Chinese spy. He tries to steal the KITT technology, but doesn't know Vik is working in a secret partition. The version of the software he steals is obsolete and non-functional. He pursues the team, trying to finish his original assignment.

Vik Singh (Vik Sahay) is the team's computer intelligence designer. He is the geek's geek. All your nerd humor has an easy access point here. Relax on the cliches, though. Yes he's single, but that doesn't mean he doesn't know how to act around women. He just finds computers more interesting. He's an overprotective father obsessing over his greatest creation, which gets in the way of life. This obsession is what prevents Bo from getting a complete version of KITT and what saves Navi's life.

Anand Patel (Sachin Bhatt) is the chief engineer responsible for integrating the KITT systems into military transports. He is inadvertently killed when Bo steals the software.

Navi Patel (Navi Rawat) is Anand's wife and partner. She specializes in advanced combustion engines and propulsion systems. She is wounded but not killed during Bo's theft. She takes the KITT software from Vik as they escape the burning warehouse. She installs it in the care that becomes the show's KITT-mobile. She is responsible for the upkeep and performance of the car, making any mechanical improvements. (Ejector seats! You remember this? David Hasselhoff flying up on top of a 20-foot wall and jumping down the other side and landing without bending at the knees. Oh '80s, you so crazy.)

Knight Industries Turing Transport / KITT (Zachary Levi) It's inevitable that KITT will eventually have a voice. In its first appearance, KITT is a white hummer. The red light is installed only as a point of reference for test-course observation. Vik originally installs a Cylon voice (as much for me as the classic nerd shout out). Eventually the computer creates its own voice as its begins to display genuine artificial intelligence. This is a feature that allows the car to evolve over the course of the show and adds an air of unpredictability, as these commands are not being programmed by the team.

Special Agent Connor "CC" Campbell (Tahmoh Penikett) is a retired Marine lieutenant and current field officer in the Washington, DC, bureau. He has a stellar track record and an investigative mind. He is assigned to retrieve the KITT technology and apprehend the criminals responsible for the espionage. He's not so single minded as to be oblivious to the clues that show a more complicated conspiracy, but he's also not so morally gray to overlook that the KITT team ran instead of coming to the authorities.

Supervising Agent Glen Larson (Richard Schiff) is Agent Campbell's direct supervisor. He may be corrupt but there's no evidence and he makes no direct overtures that suggest one way or the other. He takes an active role in the investigation, making sure to remain informed in all matters.

Probationary Agent Francis Elliott (Fran Kranz) is a young but genius computer expert that Agent Campbell recruits to aid in his pursuit. Where Campbell does the field work, Francis tracks the group digitally, trying to target the various GPS and network connectivity made by the KITT software.

Zhang Li (Bruce Locke) is Bo's handler and leader of the espionage group trying to steal the KITT technology. He is also the Chinese representative at the United Nations and has diplomatic immunity. Agent Campbell wants to have the State Department expel him, but Agent Larson insists the evidence isn't convincing. He wants a more solid case before they approach the State Department so they don't tip their hand.

In season 2, Army CID gets tired of waiting for the FBI to crack the case and this introduces new characters that I have not cast here.

Now, there are a few racial topics to discuss. First, the entire "Knight Rider" team is non-white. This is intentional. One of the reasons I enjoy British television is that the racial politics aren't so obvious. The need to include or exclude an actor because of gender and ethnicity tires me. Idris Elba was the best character in Thor despite the uproar of his skin color. And he's proven he can carry the lead in Luther, which is a super awesome show that needs more episodes. I admit that China Chang has looked "less" Asian in some of her roles, and while it's horrible that's even a consideration, some network asshole will bring up the lack of white leads, so screw that guy. Take this middle ground. Navi Rawat has years of exposure on Numb3rs and other shows and Vik Sahay was a comic genius on Chuck, so hopefully the lack of white in the team won't be an issue and this will usher in an enlightened age in American TV where the color of the character doesn't matter.

Likewise the villains are Chinese. This is also intentional. Rather than having a chase-and-run scenario between the team and the feds, the fact that the team isn't in the wrong makes that chase unsustainable unless there's a third party complicating things. This is classic Scarecrow and Mrs. King espionage and we're using China instead of the Soviet Union. So anyone wanting to say that it's unfair that the Asian (non-Indian) actors are all villains needs to show me where they were complaining that Russians were always the villains in the '80s.

Which brings us to the Feds. Yes the white people are chasing the non-white people and no that wasn't intentional. It's a mix of TV race politics and a genuine desire to cast those actors in those roles. Tell me Fran Kranz wasn't the best part of the Dollhouse and you'd be lying. Who doesn't want more Richard Schiff? He's always awesome and giving him a possibly corrupt character to play just sounds like a lot of fun. So when the same network prick above asks where the white people are to play to middle America (that's what they call racists), we point to the good guys. Look! The law-abiding characters are white. Shut up and sit down. Let's tell an awesome action/espionage/adventure story with Idris Elba being awesome.

5 comments:

  1. My brain continues to process this. Season one ends on a cliffhanger (of course). Agent Campbell is closing in. Will he catch Michael? Won't he? It's down to the wire!

    Michael narrowly escapes, but Campbell is determined to correct the error promptly. He's already poised to strike again and this time it seems like Michael can't escape.

    Except that the near miss has drawn attention and the Army has grown tired of Michael and his team remaining rogue with classified prototype Army technology. They press and receive command of the hunt. Introduce the new pursuers:

    Lt. Col. Ruben Oviedo (Ruben Blades) is old and tired. He's been passed over for promotion twice and is on his last leg. Returning the KITT technology will earn him that long sought-after promotion, but he employs the very tactics that have gotten him passed over so far. He employs a salted earth strategy, pursuing the team's friends and families. Campbell has been playing soft and Col Oviedo plays hard.

    Master Sergeant Stephanie Houston (Sonja Sohn) is his right hand. Where Oviedo is hard on the team, Houston is hard on the feds. She thinks they've been sloppy, and she doesn't brook any of Agent Elliott's ego. She plans on putting the whole thing to rest. They'll figure out the mess once KITT is returned. Good deeds are no excuse for vigilantism.

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  2. Okay, you've clearly put more thought into this than I've yet to put into all but one of my novel ideas. (And it's at least 10x more thought than was put into either of the Knight Riders that have already been "fully" developed.)

    You've done great job defining the characters and story (and casting), but I think my favorite concept is KITT's adaptive AI. That the car would learn as it went and be unpredictable (and perhaps a Cylon) would lend itself to some exciting television.

    Alas, my only Hollywood connections are two rarely-employed actors and a friend-of-a-friend's wife who writes for Leverage. Thus, for now, Knight Rider Rides Again (clearly just the working title) will have to remain blog-based entertainment.

    P.S. I'm ashamed to admit the only four actors I recognized purely by name were the four white guys. (Also, my first thought for both Penikett and Kranz was "typecasting." Although, they would be stellar in those roles...)

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  3. Type casting? Absolutely. :) Especially for Fran Kranz. My instruction would be "I loved your character and you didn't get to play him long enough. Keep doing that." Not to mention have you ever noticed that the cyber-geek in these kinds of shows is always cocky? You kinda have to go that way given they're almost always at a computer. Being reserved would make for some really boring television.

    I was never a big fan of Penikett in BSG, but I liked him in Dollhouse. I also tried to cast people who don't have recurring roles in shows (except for Sonja Sohn, because I couldn't think of anyone else who fit the role better).

    I think if you saw the actors, you'd recognize more of them. Bruce Locke is the Asian guy that gets cast any time they need an evil Asian guy. If he changed his name to Evil Asian Guy, it would not be too far off the mark for his acting career.

    Ruben Blades is one of those actors I always recognize but never remember his name. Which is weird because his name is flipping Ruben Blades, so how does one not remember a name like that?

    Have you not watched the Wire? If not, this is something you need to correct immediately. Idris Alba, along with being Heimdall in Thor and the title character in Luther, was Stringer Bell. Likewise Sonja Sohn was Kima Griggs.

    A lot of these actors are relatively unknown. I knew Sachin Bhatt in real life. China Chow was in an episode of Burn Notice I was watching at the time, and I thought she'd be perfect. Jerry Shea is "Ken" from Psych (appearing in the same episode as Bruce Locke). For such a bit part, Ken is an awesome character.

    I think my favorite casting (other than Idris, of whom I'm obviously a big fan) is William Daniels, who is the original voice of KITT. :)

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    1. Okay, I'm with you now on Fran Kranz. Good reasoning. I actually liked Penikett on BSG. At least early on; after a while it was just more of the same. And yeah, I definitely recognized more of the actors after checking out their IMDb pages (e.g. Sahay, Locke, Blades, Sohn, Daniels... the latter of whom I didn't realize was KITT. Nice touch).

      But I somehow glossed over Idris Alba completely. His name and photo didn't ring a bell, and for some reason IMDb doesn't consider The Wire one of top 4 things he's "known for." (And then I didn't scroll down far enough to see it listed.) I've only seen season 1 so far, but you can't go wrong with Stringer Bell. Now I completely understand the pick.

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  4. Since Knight Rider is a trademarked title, I cannot use it nor would I use something similar (Knight's Ride, etc) but K.I.T.T. is not trademarked. So I'm thinking for a title I will name it OPERATION: BLACK KNIGHT, A K.I.T.T. Adventure

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