The star and executive producer of the new TV movie talk about this reincarnation from the 80s

NBC is bringing back one of its staples from the 80s with a brand new Knight Rider two-hour movie. We were in on a conference call with the new movie's star Justin Bruening and executive producer David Bartis, and they had plenty to say about this new version of the classic 80s program.

What was it like working with the new KITT?

Justin Gruening: Working with the new KITT - that was an amazing experience. Actually, it's the Shelby Cobra 500GTKR. It's an absolutely amazing piece of machinery, you know, and all our little bells and whistles that we added to it also heighten the experience. But it's great - absolutely a joy. But, you know, he gets a little standoffish and stuff and doesn't talk all the time. But other than that...

David Bartis: You know, one of the things that we were able to do on the show is create something which we called the Pod car and it allowed us to put Justin and Deanna (Russo) in an actual car, and run the stunts, you know, live action - and record their performances rather than putting them in a car on a green screen on a stage and, you know, hope that it looked really good when we matted the backgrounds together.

A lot of the performances you see from Justin and Deanna are actually them in the car on the road, with a stunt driver who is sitting in a cage that's bolted to the top of the car. So it's the real car going the real speed, doing the stunts while they're doing their performances. And I think you guys will see when you see the final product, it's an incredible - you feel the moment that they're feeling because they're really in it. It's not them, faking it on a stage. It's really happening, so that was really - for me as a producer, it brought a level of reality to the performances and the action that was pretty special.

Mr. Bartis, what made you decide that this was the right time to revive Knight Rider? Did the success of Transformers have anything to do with this?

David Bartis: Transformers definitely played a role in it. It sort of heightened everybody's awareness for the potential of the show. But to be honest, it wasn't my idea to bring it back. Ben Silverman at NBC was the first person to say hey, this is, you know, a series that we own that was a classic, you know, iconic series from the 80s. And Ben had a lot of passion for the show. And, I was lucky enough to be on a deal at Universal. They own the show where they're partners with NBC.

So I got lucky in some ways being in the right place at the right time. But I was also working on another project with Dave Andron, who wrote the sequel and we were sitting in my offices when the folks at Universal and NBC called and said is this something you guys would be interested in? We were - we jumped on it. For both of us it was something we remembered from the first time it was on TV. So we definitely had a lot of passion for it from our own sort of experience with it on air the first time around. And then the chance to reinvent it and bring it to a new audience was definitely something that was exciting to us.

Everybody was wondering about what David Hasselhoff's involvement would be. Was it your plan from the beginning to bring his character back in to cameo?

David Bartis: Yes. I mean, we always knew that, you know, David had to have a role in this project. We've spent a lot of time with him, both before production and in production. The thing that surprised me the first time I met him was that, Knight Rider is something that's really important to him, and he's very passionate about, more so than I think almost anything else that he's ever done -- even Baywatch, which he owned and he was on the air with for 11 years. It's still Knight Rider that he really seems to have the stronger connection with. And he had this inherent sort of understanding of what made it work and what the fans responded to.

So for us, that was a tremendous asset to be able to tap into and get a sense from him of what elements we would carry over to the new version that he was passionate about and that he felt made the show work for the audience. So he definitely had a role in helping us sort of conceive of what this would be as well as obviously being in it. And I think everybody will be excited to see the way we've worked him into the show as Michael Knight.

What was behind the decision to go with the Ford Mustang instead of sticking with the Trans Am?

David Bartis: Well if we stuck with the Trans Am, it would have to be an old one. Right?

Good point.

David Bartis: It's not really a model they make anymore, and we had a lot of discussions and debates about how much to reinvent the show and how much to keep the same. It was a real balancing act for us. We knew that we wanted to bring the car to a new audience and reinvent it enough, and that meant going out with a new model. We also knew it had to be American. It had to be two door. It had to have some muscle to it. It had to be exciting to watch.

When you line up sort of all the options available that fulfill those requirements, for me personally it became sort of an obvious choice. When we started digging into all the different models and lines available, and Ford showed us this new Shelby which isn't even on the market yet, it kind of blew us away. We were like that car is just pretty cool.

I had my doubts when I first heard and then I saw a picture of it, and I went okay.

David Bartis: Yeah. Obviously, for the original fans there's a lot of loyalty and strong feelings about the car. We understand that, and we felt the same way, but we also knew that we had to bring the show to a new audience and reinvent it. We made the choice that we thought was the best choice out there. We're pretty excited about the car. We're happy with the way it turned out.

Justin, when you're working in a scene with a car, do you kind of have to get into a weird mindset or is it just another, you know, "actor?"

Justin Bruening: Initially it was - it's a little odd. I've never, had to do the - kind of the green screen. Obviously we had someone once in awhile reading the lines for us and stuff like that. But the moments that we didn't, you just kind of you just kind of have to learn to deal with it. But it's a little weird at first. In the end I mean, it's - you get used to it and you kind of just imagine that it's KITT's voice. And, you know, it's not that hard because I did it when I was a kid. So it took about a day to get used to it. So it was very easy.

David, what surprises you have in store for us as far as the capability of the new KITT?

David Bartis: Well there's obviously going to be a lot of new tricks that the car can do and I'm not going to give them all away. It's funny. One of the most frequent questions we all get asked is does the car have turbo boost? So we know how passionate people are about what the car can do and we've gone into it really aware that it's something important to the audience. We've spent a lot of time building in some pretty cool tricks. I think everybody knows already that the car has the ability to morph. It can shape shift a little bit in ways that enhances its, its handling and its abilities on the road.

It also has some sort of weapon defense systems that are based on nanotechnology that I think are going to be pretty amazing when people see the way we've built the effects there. It's got a pretty deep arsenal of abilities and tricks there. And the exciting thing for us, if we're lucky enough to go to series, is that we have this long list of things that we want to roll out and show people in each episode so people will be tuning in to see what, you know, what's the new thing that we're going to reveal. What's the new trick the car can do?

I think people are going to be pretty satisfied in the pilot or the two-hour. They'll see the car has the ability to change colors, shift shapes, you know, defend itself against bullets - things like that, repair itself. I mean, there's some pretty cool effects that are as good as any effects you're going to see in a $100 million plus movie.

Why did you decide to go this sequel route instead of just completely starting over?

David Bartis: Well there's a couple of answers. The legal answer is that this is a sequel because that's one of the rights that they had at NBC. So we knew we were working within the boundaries of making a sequel, not a remake. For us creatively, we knew how strongly people felt about the original characters - as did we, and that's the best way to bring David Hasselhoff into it - is to bring him into it as Michael Knight. I think one of the really brilliant moves that Dave Andron did in writing the script was he created a new character named Charles Graiman who is the link between, you know, our show and the original series. He is the guy who actually built the original KITT. He was hired by the, you know, the original financer -- the guy named Wilton Knight who is pivotal in the original series for having created the Foundation and the whole concept of KITT, the car and the rider.

There's never a mention in the original series about who actually physically built the car, who developed the technology. So we've created that character, and therefore, he's the guy who knows the original Knight Rider. He knows Michael Knight. He knows what happened in the original series and what kind of issues and stories they dealt with. And his daughter happens to be the girl who grew up with our new driver, Mike Tracer. So it's a really organic connection with the original series, yet this new character brings, you know, something new to it and provides that link to the original series.

For the voice of KITT, why did you go with Will Arnett? Was there something particular about his voice?

David Bartis: The voice of KITT - you know, we knew we needed the comedy. We knew we needed somebody who has the cache to bring a new audience to it as well. Just the vocal, sort of tonal quality of the voice. And it was - it had to be believable coming out of a computer that was wrapped inside a car. So, you know, we had talked a lot about, you know, what people expect in a voice now from a car because so many people already do have talking cars. Not such an amazing thing anymore. And there was one time when, a computer that could talk was portrayed as something very mechanical, and now the mark of sophisticated technology is a voice that sounds as human as possible.

We had a little more leeway in how we cast because, it can be more human I think than the original voice just based on what people's expectations are. Will fit all that.

Justin, what did you talk to David Hasselhoff about? What did you ask him?

Justin Bruening: When we first filmed together - it was actually the first day of filming, so I had a lot of questions. I mean, I was pretty nervous about continuing this franchise. It's pretty big shoes to fill. I asked him a lot about what kind of fun he had on the original show and things like that - some of the outtakes and stuff. He was one of the first people to mention that, the key of the show is the relationship between a man and his car, and how they do become best friends. That's the foundation. That was one of the key things that we spoke about.

Dave, I did want to ask if you considered maybe if the series is picked up to have William Daniels (the original voice of KITT) do some sort of an audio appearance?

David Bartis: Yeah. We've actually talked about that. I mean, we love Bill Daniels' voice. And again, it's like seeing Hasselhoff in the show. It'd be really fun to find a way to put him in there somehow.

Justin, I wanted to know if you felt any extra pressure with David being in the movie and on set? Did you feel any pressure to live up to the way he originally played the role?

Justin Bruening: Oh yeah, wholeheartedly. You know, being a fan of the original series, I want to keep it as close to the original as well as having a new take on it as I can - which, you know, that's a fine line. Dave was talking about the balance that you keep, and that falls in that category as well. But I do feel a lot of pressure - my friends would bring it up more than anyone else. So I'm taking over the franchise and stuff. And that is humbling and it's an honor at the same time. You know, I just hope I do it justice.

If this does get picked up as a series, would it be more episodic or would there be this - as is so popular today, sort of this deep, underlying mythology that you learn more and more about what the Knight Foundation or the background of all these folks as the series goes on?

David Bartis: Again, our plan is to have a balance. We will probably be a little more close ended than something like Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, which I've been watching. I think they're doing a great job. To me that's more serialized than what we're going for. We will have missions of the week that Mike is involved with and the whole team that we've put together. We'll continue to roll out more mythology, more back story, but our instinct is to go a little more close ended.

If the original Michael Knight is back, is KITT - is the original KITT dead? Do we deal at all with his feelings about whatever happened to the original KITT? And would that play into this as to what could conceivably happen to this KITT?

David Bartis: You know, that's a really good question. We do reference the original KITT and you actually see glimpses here and there of the original KITT if you look really carefully. The thought we had was that some of the technology from the original KITT is in the new KITT. But we - again, that would be a great series opportunity to explore that. We just didn't have time to get into it, but in our minds, we believe that the original KITT's sort of motherboard is somewhere buried in the new KITT, and enhanced.

So this KITT is sort of a quasi-reincarnation of the previous KITT?

David Bartis: Yeah, that could be a way of thinking about it.

I assume that you're both on board for a series should the movie go that route. Is that true? And David, can you say the same thing for the rest of the cast?

David Bartis: Absolutely. We have such a fantastic cast and team put together on this. It - we just got lucky. I'm like knocking on wood right now. It's just been a great experience and we had a lot of fun making it. Everybody's performance is spectacular, and it's always a combination of good planning and good luck. It happened that way for us. So yeah, we're hoping we get that shot.

The two-hour Knight Rider movie/pilot(?) will air on NBC on Sunday, February 17 at 9 PM ET.

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