Executive Producer Gary Scott Thompson is no stranger to fast cars or long running TV shows. He wrote both “The Fast and The Furious” and “2 Fast 2 Furious,” as well as creating and producing the hit show “Las Vegas.” Now as the Executive Producer and show runner of the new “Knight Rider” series, he’s bringing that experience with him to breathe life into the famous car-based adventure show for a whole new generation.
The new “Knight Rider” stars Justin Bruening (“All My Children”) as Mike Tracer, the son of Michael Knight and K.I.T.T.’s new driver. The show also features Deanna Russo (“The Young and the Restless”) as Sarah Graiman and Bruce Davidson (“X-Men”) as her father, Charles Graiman, the creator of K.I.T.T. The car is now a Ford Mustang instead of a Pontiac Firebird and is voiced by Val Kilmer (“Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” “Heat”).
With “Knight Rider” set to debut this week on NBC, CBR News spoke to Thompson about the new series, the show’s mythology, working with Val Kilmer, improving the car and K.I.T.T.’s new headquarters, the K.I.T.T. Cave.
CBR: To start with, you weren’t involved in the two-hour pilot movie that aired last February. How is the new series different from the film and what are some of the changes that you have made for the series?
Gary Scott Thompson: We went back to the original series to look at what made that work. We went through the pilot and then, you know, we don’t want to disappoint some of the fans of the two-hour movie so we have four characters coming back from that.
We made sure that those four characters clicked into what the new mythology was for the series. Again, it’s 25 years later so we have to update the car, update the people and be in touch with the times. So I think really what we did was just try to bring it up to date. So it’s a lot different. I think the movie just sort of set the table and bridged the gap between the original series and this series. That’s how we like to look at it. This is a much faster pace. It’s, you know, kind of balls to the wall, flat out go, high octane adrenaline. And it’s a real rush.
What are some of the changes that you’ve brought to the show and to K.I.T.T.?
K.I.T.T. can transform from one vehicle to another. He has more advanced weaponry now. We also have a headquarters, which we affectionately call the K.I.T.T. Cave. It’s a Satellite Surveillance Chamber, which is part of Knight Research and Development. That’s our main base of operation. We can track and follow the car anywhere in the world via a co-opted satellite.
What kinds of stories will you be telling on a weekly basis? Are they standalones or are they based on new mythology? Will it be a combination of both?
All of the above but most of them are standalones. It’s boy and car save world. We live in a different world than the original show. In the original show it was, you know, a drug dealer here, a runaway there. We live in a world now where there’s terrorism, where people are trying to destroy and kill each other, and the stakes are a lot higher. So that’s what we’re going to deal with.
How much of the show’s car sequences are produced with special effects instead of practically?
It’s a combination of both at this point. There’s real driving but because the car is transforming, we need to do that with CG. Also, it’s just not cost effective, nor can we close down freeways to drive 300 miles an hour. Trying to drive that fast in the state of California is a little prohibitive. So we have to do green screen for a lot of those shots. But we’re out doing stunts in highways that we can control. So it is very much a combination of all of those.
We have something like seven hundred visual spec shots in the first episode alone and they’re complex effects. They’re not just one-layer effects. They’re up to eight and ten layers, so you multiple each effect by that and it’s far more than the normal amount. It’s the amount that a huge feature would have and to have that in an hour TV show is unheard of.
You spent five years as the creator and executive producer on NBC’s “Las Vegas.” Was it always your plan to jump into another series right away, to potentially keep you really busy for many years to come?
No. I have a lot of features that I still have on hold that I put on hold five years ago. So it was not really my intention. NBC sort of handed me [“Knight Rider”] and said do you want to do this? Do you think you can make this work? And I looked at it as a big challenge. The other thing was, I started thinking about it and once I started thinking about it I couldn’t turn it off. And that’s usually, for me, a reason why to jump into something because if I’m staying awake obsessing about it, then there’s probably a good reason for me to be doing it.
The Montecito was featured in the pilot movie, is there going to be any kind of crossover between “Las Vegas” and “Knight Rider?”
There is no plan at this point. That doesn’t mean there won’t be in the future. It’s already been there once.
You wrote the first two Fast and the Furious films, what from that experience do you bring to this show?
The experience from “The Fast and the Furious” [taught me to] just drive fast and furious, have a relentless pace and that there’s an audience out there for cars. We’re a huge car society, so people like to tune in for cars. We try to remember that when we’re writing the episodes.
What’s it like to have veteran film actors Val Kilmer and Bruce Davidson on “Knight Rider?”
It’s great as a writer. Bruce is great and Val is as well. There are a lot of explanations to be done and I know that they can do it because they’re pros and know how to deliver that information so it doesn’t just sound expository. So that’s great from a writing standpoint. You only have basically forty-three minutes to tell a story and at some point, no matter what the TV show is, you have to explain something. To have pros who can pull it off and pull it off in a way that it doesn’t seem like it’s just spoon-feeding an audience is fantastic.
Plus, the great thing about Val is he has such a voice that he can sort of get into this character of K.I.T.T. He’s able to go in all the directions that we ask him to because K.I.T.T. is learning from one point to another point. He doesn’t speak with contractions. He doesn’t do anything like that. And Val’s really embraced the idea of, on a weekly basis, having K.I.T.T. start to learn something more and in learning he actually imparts much more wisdom, in some strange way, than our humans do.
Finally, David Hasselhoff appeared in the two-hour movie, will he be involved with the new “Knight Rider” series at all and has there been any talk of William Daniels, the voice of K.I.T.T. in the original series, making an appearance?
We haven’t spoken about William Daniels at this point. I have spoken to David. David, NBC, and myself, are discussing it.
“Knight Rider” debuts September 24 on NBC.