Knight of the Phoenix is the syndication title to the two-hour long pilot (originally aired on NBC as just "Knight Rider") to the popular 1980's television show Knight Rider, which starred David Hasselhoff, Edward Mulhare, Richard Basehart, and William Daniels (who was uncredited as the voice of KITT). It first aired September 26, 1982, and was written by Glen A. Larson and directed by Daniel Haller. The pilot was rebroadcast as a two-part episode during further broadcast syndication.
The only regular cast member that didn't appear in the pilot is Patricia McPherson. Many celebrity guest stars were featured including Vega$'s Phyllis Davis and her sister Deborah Ludwig Davis, Baretta's Michael D. Roberts, actress Pamela Susan Shoop and former child star Barret Oliver. The pilot also features Elvis Presley's two best friends, Lance LeGault and Red West.
Long spies Fred Wilson (Vince Edwards) and is aware that he is giving orders to Lonnie (Shawn Southwick) to go into the elevator up to Acton's hotel suite, and take pictures of the computer micro chip. Long now tells his partner Muntzy (Herb Jefferson, Jr.) to keep an eye on Lonnie going into the hotel suite 214. Lonnie takes picures of the micro chip via microfilm.
Acton then decides to call it a night. Wilson gives orders to Long to take care of Acton. Wilson asks Lonnie if she was followed or was witnessed entering the suite; she confirms that an electrician (Muntzy in reality) may have made her. Wilson then tells Lonnie to get out of the room (that he will take of the electrician in the hallway), and tells her to get east of out town where he will meet with her later. Long then tells Muntzy to follow Lonnie. Tanya and Long both convince Charles to go the cashier to cash his stack of gambling chips he won at the craps table. Muntzy now decides to follow out Lonnie. Wilson then gives a order to Security Guard Vernon Gray (Lance LeGault), lurking in the shadows outside of the casino in the parking lot, to the kill the electrian.
Lonnie now gets into her car, and Muntzy now follows her outside. Long is concerned about his undercover partner, and both Long and Tanya run after Muntzy. Unfortunately, Muntzy is now shot in the chest by Gray, and both him and Wilson get into a Matador security car, and take off. Muntzy soon dies in Longs hands, and is left on the ground. With Long not able to help his partner, he decides to gets inside his car (a 1982 Pontiac Trans Am, black with gold trim and bowling ball hubcaps) with Tanya, and follow the others out on the desert highway.
Just as Wilson, Gray, and Lonnie meet up to transfer the film, Long gets out of the car, and makes a Security Guard named Symes drop his gun. Long is betrayed by Tanya when she decides to pull out her gun, and forces him to drop his gun. She then decides to shoot him in the head and leaves him to die on a desert highway. Long then collapses on the hood of his Trans Am, and falls on the ground, the headlights of the Trans Am bathing the gruesome scene in bright light. The bad guy gang then takes off. Luckily, he is soon rescued by helicopter with the help of Devon Miles (Edward Mulhare), and eccentric billionaire philanthropist Wilton Knight (Richard Basehart), who take him to Wilton's private estate.
There, Long undergoes emergency medical attention, and later plastic surgery to reconstruct his face which was disfigured when the bullet shattered against a steel plate in his head he received during the Vietnam War. Four days later, Long is still in a coma having flashbacks of Muntzy and Tanya. When the bandages are removed an unspecified time later (presumed to be several months later), Long has a different face and a new identity as Michael Knight, (now played by Hasselhoff). Devon tells Michael that Long has been declared dead in the eyes of the law. He is then offered a job to work for "The Foundation for Law and Government", (aka FLAG), a division of the Knight Foundation. Since the killers believe Long is dead, this will give him a better chance of infiltrating their organization and bringing them to justice.
At first, Michael refuses the offer, but during his recovery he becomes curious as to what technicians are working on in a nearby garage. Wandering inside, he finds the engineers have completely modified his Trans Am and Devon offers him a test drive of the vehicle which is called the "Knight Industries Two Thousand" (KITT). Michael is overwhelmed by the car's capabilities, one of which is an advanced AI computer that talks to him. Devon tells him KITT will protect him and assist him on his missions if he takes the job with FLAG.
Later, Michael meets with Wilton Knight who is dying from illness. On his death bed, Wilton tells him that "one man can make a difference" and encourages him to become a modern-day knight who will protect the innocent and bring criminals to justice. After Wilton dies, Devon informs Michael that his shooter, Tanya Walker and her associate Fred Wilson have achieved top positions within a Silicon Valley computer company called Comtron. Devon suspects the criminals will embezzle millions form the company and steal their technology (only to sell it to others for large profit.)
Michael begins his investigation by spying on Comtron employees who frequent a nearby bar called the House of the Rising Sun. There, he meets a sexy waitress named Maggie, (Pamela Susan Shoop), who becomes angry when Michael asks her about Tanya Walker. Maggie is fired from the bar for her outburst, but Michael finds her later to apologize. He learns she is the recent widow of a Comtron executive who she believes was murdered by Walker when he began asking "too many questions." When asked by Michael how they could cover up such an act, she said that any witnesses to his murder where Comtron employees who were paid off to keep quiet. Arriving at Maggie's apartment, Michael meets her young son Buddy, (Barret Oliver). Maggie informs Michael that Comtron is sponsoring a demolition derby the next day. Michael thinks it's a good idea to attend and offers to take Maggie and Buddy with him.
The next day Michael informs Devon about the derby and to Devon's surprise says he will enter KITT hoping the car will attract Walker's interest and allow him to get close to her. Meanwhile, as a comic relief, two bumbling car thieves try every means available to break into KITT's interior but to no avail. They are dumbfounded when Michael simply walks up and KITT lets him open the door without so much as a key. Michael takes Maggie and Buddy to the derby and enters KITT as planned. Meanwhile, Buddy slips away and gets inside KITT just as Michael starts the competition. Unable to turn back now, Michael enters the contest and gives Buddy a joy ride. KITT manages to take out every opponent on the track without so much as a scratch. This of course perks Tanya's interest who soon begins plotting to get her hands on the amazing car. Michael drops off Maggie and an excited Buddy, then heads to a petrol station to call Devon for an update.
With KITT as bait, Michael sets an appointment to meet Tanya at the House of the Rising Sun, but upon his arrival Michael confronts a group of thugs and a bar-room brawl ensues. Michael is arrested and is taken to jail. KITT gets into his own predicament as he gets impounded and taken to a Comtron garage. There, technicians try to reverse engineer him, but KITT's impenetrable body armor makes getting inside impossible (Gray notes that they tried to use three diamond-bit drills to open KITT, but it did not work.) From jail, Michael calls Devon to tell him to help him out (Devon says that it will take him a while to get there, so they may have to rely on "other means" temporarily.) Later, KITT starts up by himself, manages to escape the garage, and busts through the jail cell wall to rescue Michael.
Michael then races back to Comtron where he enters the building via KITT's Ejection seat feature. There, he catches Walker in the act of stealing chip schematics as she prepares their getaway. Michael steals her gun and forces a confrontation. During the scuffle with a security guard (he fires a gun at the guard, something he doesn't normally do in later episodes), Michael is shot in the shoulder and begins to lose blood. Michael flees (it is unknown if Michael shot the guard or not, as the guard "vanishes" without explanation) and makes it back to KITT who suggests he go to the hospital. Michael refuses and orders KITT to chase after Tanya and Wilson. Meanwhile Wilson calls for road blocks and orders a helicopter pilot to destroy the car. KITT however, easily avoids the barricades with his armor, speed, and Turbo Boosts.
Tanya and Wilson head to an airport where a private jet awaits them. Michael intercepts the jet and smashes the wing off the plane causing it to explode. Tanya, who now recognizes Michael Knight as Michael Long, steps from her car and in rage and tries to kill him point blank by shooting at the driver-side window of KITT. Unaware that the glass is bullet proof, although Michael tries to warn her, the bullet bounces off and strikes Tanya in the chest killing her.
As police arrive, Michael takes off with KITT driving him to the hospital, burning plane and villian dismay left behind on the runway. After his recovery, Michael visits Maggie and promises her son one last ride inside KITT. Later, Michael meets Devon aboard his private jet where Michael agrees to stay on with FLAG and carry out Wilton Knight's dream. They celebrate the partnership with a drink.
The pilot episode opening scenes were filmed in Las Vegas, Nevada on the night of August 8, 1982; the recovery scenes were filmed in Los Angeles, California through the days and nights of July 26 - August 18, 1982; and the detective scenes were filmed in Silicon Valley, California through the days and night August 19 - August 26, 1982.
The pilot's soundtrack includes songs by Quarterflash performing "Harden My Heart", the The Eagles performing "Take It Easy" and "Peaceful Easy Feeling"; Fleetwood Mac performing "Don't Stop"; James Taylor performing "Carolina In My Mind"; Pat Benatar performing "Hit Me With Your Best Shot", and Deborah Ludwig Davis who performed "Proud Mary" in a cameo for the casino scene. There is also an extra scene featuring Willie Nelson's rendition of Elvis Presley's "Always On My Mind" featured in Television screenings, but not on the DVD version.
During the first day of filming Hasselhoff mentions that he had a stomach ache in the plastic surgery/recovery scenes which caused him to convincingly moan and groan with pain.
Michael Long is played by Larry Anderson although his voice is overdubbed by David Hasselhoff, and his name didn't appear in the screen credits. Larry actually had chosen to be uncredited because of the overdubbed. The location was a mocked up casino in the lobby of a hotel near the Los Angeles International Airport. The make-up department had put curls in Larry's straight hair to match David's, and everything had happened so fast that he went onto the set with the script "warm" in his hands. Moreover, Davis' voice is dubbed by another actress.
Larry Anderson gets inside the car at the beginning leaving the hotel. Then there is a shadowy appearance of David Hasselhoff who gets out of the car, and assumes the acting role of Michael Long, and who eventually gets shot in face by Phyllis Davis's character Tanya Walker in the desert.
The running gags of the two car thieves trying to steal K.I.T.T. were written very quickly. The Las Vegas strip opening was now the new hotel and casino opening, which were the new inserts that were shot, after the first cut of the pilot was seven minutes too short.
KITT's nose and dashboard configuration change slightly throughout the pilot. As Larson explained on the First Season DVD, a forty minute "presentation" was created to sell the show. NBC and Universal initally liked the concept, but later hesitated about picking up the show. By the time they green lit the pilot and series, Larson was unable to reshoot the presentation scenes, so they were simply edited in the movie and the slight continuity problems this caused were ignored.