Looking Back At STREET HAWK

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The man…the machine…Tony Fyler.

Oh sure, everybody remembers Knight Rider. Michael Knight, a young loner on a crusade to champion the cause of the innocent, yadda yadda yadda. Cool black car which spoke, pretty girl mechanic, old geezer who was there for…some reason and named after an English county, and a one-chinned David Hasselhoff, still managing to look a bit like a cut-price, curly-headed Patrick Swayze in black leather.

But who remembers Jesse Mach, eh? Three years after the ratings—killing success that was Knight Rider on NBC, rival network ABC decided to try to steal some of Knight’s thunder. If four wheels were good, two wheels could only be better, right? Motorbikes were inherently cooler than cars – sleeker, faster-looking, more supremely dangerous because the rider was exposed. How could they fail with a super crime-fighting bike?

Well, they did. Street Hawk only lasted 13 episodes, despite having quite a lot going for it. Rex Smith, playing Jesse Mach, the man with the bike, was cooler, and to be honest, a better actor at the time than Hasselhoff. Four wheels cool, two wheels cooler and so on – the bike that was Street Hawk was too cool to even be a real thing: based on a succession of Hondas, it was plastered in plastic panels to make it look sleeker, blacker, cooler than it was before. Like KITT, Street Hawk had a hyper thrust function that pushed it to nearly 300 miles an hour, plus, in an emergency it could do somersaults from a standing start! To show ABC’s commitment to the project, the network even sprang for Tangerine Dream, experimental synth-gods in their day, to compose and perform the Street Hawk theme music. How could it only last 13 episodes?

Well, partially, it was hobbled out of the gate by a shift from early season to mid-season. And partially, it was made to seem less cool right from the get-go, because whereas KITT had the same sort of personality as K9 had in Doctor Who – mechanical but just a little bit sassy – and the back-up crew for Knight Rider were there to service the car, in Street Hawk, it wasn’t quite the case that it was ‘the man, the machine – Street Hawk.’ It was ‘the man, the machine, and the pedantic FBI geezer with the giant computer that did all the clever stuff. Erm…Street Hawk.’ The presence of the irredeemably dull Norman Tuttle (Joe Regalbuto) as the ‘brains’ behind the bike slowed down the pace, made most decisions a discussion and robbed the series of a crucial element of fantasy where Mach and the bike could have bonded, as Knight and the car did.

What’s more, the scripts themselves were chunky with padding and, watched with hindsight, are trapped in that mid-eighties zone of not quite knowing what tone to take, along with Remington Steele, Manimal and Automan. And also, to be fair, even at its best, the stunt and chase sequences looked cut and pasted, as though (as they probably had) someone had said ‘add stunts here,’ rather than being in the show for any very good reason. For a series with some seriously cool potential, dodgy scripts, cheap-looking and pointless stunts and a lack of connection to its own potential meant Street Hawk only lasted those 13 episodes before being consigned to TV geek history.

But if you were 14 when you watched Street Hawk, a wonderful thing happened – what was actually on the screen went in through your eyeballs and hit its own hyper thrust button, so you saw a series that was actually as cool as the show had the potential to be. The bike was sleeker, Mach was cooler, even Norman Tuttle was bearable. The whole thing was indescribably excellent. And that still works to this day – get any number of geeks in a room who watched Street Hawk when it was broadcast, and they’ll enthuse about it endlessly. Then show them the real thing, and watch their faces fall, their brows crease, and the gradual question ‘What the hell is this?’ bubble out of mouth after mouth. The disconnect between what was made and what was experienced is still there, and we Street Hawk geeks can never quite understand why it was cancelled – until we see it again with fresh eyes.

Surely then, if any 1980s show is worth a reboot with up-to-date effects and tighter, post-modern scripts, it’s got to be Street Hawk – the geek goodwill the show carries is enormous for a show so fundamentally bad in its day. Imagine what would happen if the remade show was actually as good as we remember it to be.

Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk

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