Knight Rider got an overhaul, and its star tells why you should watch

Knight Rider star Justin Bruening with K.I.T.T.

NBC's update of Knight Rider debuted to great fanfare and pretty good ratings last fall, but has since hit a speed bump with poor reviews and dwindling ratings.

The remaining viewers have noticed that producers have recently retooled the show, killing off or eliminating regular characters Charles Graiman (Bruce Davison), Alex Torres (Yancey Arias) and Carrie Rivai (Sydney Tamiia Poitier); shutting down the top-secret government organization that ran K.I.T.T.; and refocusing on the car and Mike Tracer (Justin Bruening) and his three friends, Sarah Graiman (Deanna Russo), Billy Morgan (Paul Campbell) and Zoe Chae (Smith Cho).

The show is also scrapping the "terrorist of the week" storylines to focus more on local missions, as in the recent episode in which Mike has to deal with bank robbers.

Last November, SCI FI Wire visited the show's set in Southern California's Santa Clarita Studios, and the changes were evident. The usually chaotic K.I.T.T. Cave is devoid of activity, although an adjacent room that usually serves as the basketball court has been transformed into a jamming bar set.

It's here that Mike is enjoying some much-deserved down time until a confrontation leads him into being grabbed by two guys and repeatedly punched by another. A head butt, a right hook and a flip over his back later, Mike quickly gains the upper hand. As the director yells cut, an enthusiastic Bruening saunters over to speak exclusively with us about Knight Rider's new direction and K.I.T.T.'s evolution. Following is an edited version of our interview. Knight Rider airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT.

Where are the rest of your fellow actors today?

Bruening: They reinvented the show, so it's going to be more of the original format, where it was usually Michael and K.I.T.T. going out on missions. And being it's Michael's day off, everybody else has to work. They were actually here in the SSC, and they've filmed all their scenes. They communicate throughout the episode via the earwig and video conferencing, but they've already filmed their side of it.

How do you feel about them reinventing the series yet again and going back to the basics with regular missions?

Bruening: People will be able to relate more. When you do a mission on a global scale, there's too much to fit in 42 minutes. With a more localized murder-mystery mission, you can get more in depth. In this, we can have a smaller mission with more twists and turns that can make it interesting. We still have these grand-scale missions, just not this week.

It must be hard to lose a good portion of your cast halfway through the year.

Bruening: Obviously, I'm sad to see people go. They are great friends, and I've learned a lot from them, but the way it happens, it makes the story stronger, and it makes the remaining four characters much stronger. We all have to step up instead of relying on the other cast members. It gives us more to do. I think it's always fun to reinvent. It's exciting. There are changes, and you see progress that way. It's not stagnant, and it makes sense why we change. Plus, it makes it more like the original series with missions. Sarah is more of the mechanic, and she runs the place. Billy and Zoe are the computer techs, so knowing everyone's expertise allows Michael to call the right guy. ...

At this point, where do things stand between Michael and Sarah?

Bruening: I wish I knew, and I don't even think my character even knows. We are getting to the point where we come together, events have happened, and it makes us shut down in terms of romance. In this episode, there is a new girl from my past, someone I knew from my childhood, and Sarah knows of her. Oddly enough, she is going through things that are almost a carbon copy to what Sarah is going through. This episode is a new step for Michael and has nothing to do with Sarah. And Michael doesn't know what's going on with Sarah, and he's starting to get frustrated. In episode four, she knew he loved her, and still nothing. It's like "Why beat a dead horse?"

What are your thoughts on the way Michael's relationship with KITT has progressed?

Bruening: I'm loving it. K.I.T.T. is learning from me, and the relationship that is developing is more brotherly. It's basically the same principle as Iron Man, where he was a normal guy without the suit. When K.I.T.T. is around, Michael knows he's not going to get hurt. That also allows us to joke around more. In the midst of gunfire, because he's bulletproof, it's fun to play the opposite of what you normally would. At the same time, we do care about each other like a family. K.I.T.T. continues to learn, and in an upcoming episode he gains even more personality, to the point he starts playing practical jokes on me. It's a buddy-cop show with the banter. The one thing I would be excited to see is K.I.T.T. becoming angry and how he would retaliate.

What new cool weapons and technology will K.I.T.T. be equipped with?

Bruening: With K.I.T.T. being a computer, we can program him to do whatever. I want to see what Michael would add, like a lot more guns and an Xbox. In episode 13, it's a more localized mission, and we figure out how to beat this person. K.I.T.T. gets some new guns that exhaust his ammunition, which is 8,000 rounds, in seven seconds. It's pretty impressive, but I actually make fun of him for only lasting seven seconds. That's the fun part of the show. K.I.T.T. is becoming such a strong character that we're trying to find a way to make the scenes humorous.

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