To be a script writer in 1982

On the eve of Script Frenzy, I find myself wishing I could write an episode or two of Knight Rider — the original Knight Rider, that is. Let’s not speak of the remake.

In the days of Knight Rider, script writers needed to think very little. The episodes played out like this:

  1. A character is in some kind of trouble, maybe in a small-town jail for crime he didn’t commit, and is usually being held by corrupt officials.
  2. Michael Knight arrives in his talking car, KITT.
  3. The Knight/KITT rescue fails somehow. For several unbearable minutes, it seems like the corrupt officers will win.
  4. Michael uses his car to ultimately get around the bad guys by jumping over something or ejecting someone from his front passenger seat.
  5. They make it the county line, leaving a pile of corrupt officers in a wake of smoldering wreckage and the episode is over.

(At that point, my kids asked, “But why did the police stop chasing them?”

And my husband, Oscar, said, “Because in the 80s, there was a magic loophole called The County Line. The characters in the TV shows of this era believed that once the objects of their pursuit had crossed the county line, they were untouchable.”)

When we watched Knight Rider on Hulu Saturday, I was surprised by how simplistic the entire show was — not only the “story” and “plot” (terms I use loosely), but the scenery, dialog, and stunts. The characters were thoughtless cliches, even by 80s standards: the cigar-smoking Boss Hogg-type who thinks nothing of killing witnesses to his crimes; the ignorant, evil-for-the-sake-of-being-evil small-town cop who is a little overweight; the lushly-locked woman in tight denim who is helpless without Michael Knight. In 1982, my brother and I thought this was entertainment at its best.

Here is where I lecture that “television today is just too complicated.” But I won’t, because I love television today. I’m not talking about sitcoms on ABC or American Idol. I’m talking about the near-cinematic experience of watching Mad Men or Lost or Battlestar Galactica (which sadly ended last week). The set and costumes of Mad Men, the mind-bending mysteries of Lost, and the rich characters of BSG make such TV more than a mindless hour-long vacation, in my opinion. With all the options for viewing — Hulu, Netflix, On Demand, iTunes — we are free to skip the crap and spend time on shows that are worth our while.

Of course, these are the same viewing options that allow us to revisit Friday nights, circa 1982, and enjoy a bit of Knight Rider when the nosebleeds of Lost get to be too much. Best of both worlds.

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One response to “To be a script writer in 1982

  1. I liked the 1982 Knight Rider very much. Like the A-Team, it was likable because of the formula. You came to expect it, and soon love it.

    Kind of like locking MacGuyver in a tool shed, or the A-Team in a barn with a welder and a case of freshly picked produce.

    You make some good points, although I disagree with some of your modern show picks.

    Here is my take on the new Knight Rider season. Should be good for a laugh or two. Comment if you think so.

    http://fortresstakes.wordpress.com/2009/04/26/knight-rider-2008-2009-season-1-17-episodes/#comment-132