Greatest American Hero

Greatest American Hero

“The Greatest American Hero” aired its pilot episode on March 18, 1981, starring William Katt as the clumsy high school teacher who gained superhero powers thanks to a mysterious alien suit. The show would run for three seasons, totaling 44 episodes, before being canceled due to low ratings.

The premise of the show revolved around Ralph Hinkley (later changed to Hanley), an average high school teacher, who was chosen by aliens to protect the Earth along with his FBI partner, Bill Maxwell (played by Robert Culp). Ralph was given an alien suit that granted him extraordinary abilities, including flight, super strength, and instant knowledge of any language or knowledge he needs. However, the suit did not come with any instruction manual, and Ralph had to learn how to use its various functions through trial and error.

Ralph’s journey is one of self-discovery, as he navigates the responsibilities of his new-found powers, the relationships with his loved ones, and his duty to protect the world from evil aliens. Along the way, he is aided by the sharp-witted FBI agent Bill Maxwell, a man of questionable ethics who was assigned to help Ralph on his mission.

The show was created by Stephen J. Cannell and produced by Cannell, Juanita Bartlett, and Donald L. Gold. The writing team was composed of some of the industry’s best, such as Patrick Hasburgh, Frank Lupo, and Paul Playdon. Some of the most notable episodes include “The Hand-Painted Thai,” where Ralph must race to prevent a terrorist attack, and “Needle in a Haystack,” where Bill and Ralph try to find a stolen component of the suit.

The cast of “The Greatest American Hero” was led by William Katt, who played Ralph Hanley. Katt’s portrayal of Ralph was heartwarming, portraying him as the well-intentioned hero with a heart of gold, minus the skills and self-confidence. Robert Culp portrayed Bill Maxwell, with Maxwell being an experienced FBI agent with a talent for sneaking around and finding information. Connie Sellecca, starred as Ralph’s love interest, Pamela Davidson.

The TV show also featured catchy music, including the unforgettable theme song, “Believe It or Not” by Joey Scarbury, which went on to become a top ten hit record in 1981.

Despite its cancellation after just three seasons, “The Greatest American Hero” has become a timeless classic and cult favorite, cementing its place in American pop culture. The show’s lasting impact is evident in its parodies and references in TV shows such as “Family Guy,” “The Simpsons,” and “Bob’s Burgers.” In 2018, ABC announced that it was developing a new version of the show, but it never made it past the pilot stage.

“The Greatest American Hero” was more than just a superhero show. It was a story about an ordinary man who rose to the challenge to protect the world, with the help of a friend in need. It still has a strong fanbase and continues to be a joy to watch decades later. It is a testament to the creative minds who came together to bring it to life as well as the memorable actors who gave life to these characters. It may have only lasted three seasons, but the show left a lasting impression on American television.