1 9 8 1 – 1 9 8 3 (USA)
45 x 60 minute episodes
Despite the earnestness of the theme song, which went to #1 on the US singles charts, The Greatest American Hero never took itself too seriously.
William Katt starred as mild-mannered high-school teacher Ralph Hinkley, who, while on a desert field trip with his Whitney High students, was chosen by aliens to don a costume and fight bad guys.
Witnessing this first encounter was FBI agent Bill Maxwell, who happened to be stranded in the same part of the desert.
The extra-terrestrials gave Hinkley a ridiculous-looking red suit, which gave him the powers of flight, x-ray vision and invisibility.
But there was one problem: Hinkley immediately lost the instruction manual that came with the suit and had to learn all his newly acquired skills by trial and error. Many, many crash landings followed.
Agent Maxwell frequently employed the superhero in his own cases. When he wasn’t solving crimes, Hinkley continued to date his girlfriend (and eventual wife), attorney Pam Davidson, who was aware of Ralph’s double life.
And a double life it was, indeed. When you’re only a so-so superhero, you have to keep your day job, and Ralph continued to teach a class of students that included hunky Tony Villicana, his girlfriend Rhonda Blake, Cyler Johnson and Rodriguez.
Ralph’s ex-wife Alicia occasionally appeared on the show, as did their son Kevin.
In 1981, President Reagan was shot by a would-be assassin called Hinckley. ABC immediately decided that Ralph’s students would now simply refer to him as “Mr H”.
For the few episodes that had been filmed but not aired before the decision was made, “Hinkley” was overdubbed with “Hanley”. Reagan pulled through, and Ralph got his last name back in August of 1981.
A pilot episode was made for a spin-off series, The Greatest American Heroine, when, in 1986, NBC honcho Brandon Tartikoff showed interest in resurrecting the concept.
William Katt wasn’t interested, so Mary Ellen Stuart was cast as Holly Hathaway, the suit’s new owner. Robert Culp reprised his role as Bill Maxwell. The series was never made.
The series’ producers survived a lawsuit filed by DC Comics, which claimed that The Greatest American Hero was a rip-off of their property, Superman. This argument failed to convince the court.
The Greatest American Hero was alluded to on Seinfeld.
George re-wrote the words to the Mike Post/Stephen Geyer theme song, using “Believe it or not George isn’t at home” for his answering machine’s outgoing message.
Jesse D. Goins