♪ "Believe it or not, I'm walkin on air.
I never thought I could feel so free....
Flying away on a wing and a prayer,
Who could it be?
Believe it or not, it's just me." ♫ The Plot
Mild-mannered inner city high school teacher Ralph Hinkley is given a superhero suit by aliens which imparts all sorts of nifty superpowers to the wearer. Only one problem: he's lost the instruction manual. His self-appointed partner, crusty FBI agent Bill Maxwell has a penchant for burgers and biscuits. Dog biscuits, that is.
Together, they fight crime!
The Greatest American Hero
was a combination comedy / drama that ran for three seasons between 1981 and 1983 and clocked 44 sixty-minute episodes, including the two-part pilot. They can all be seen on YouTube, and all but the pilot are also on Hulu. Originally, GAH (or "TGAH") was a mid-season replacement, so the first season is abbreviated. A 45th episode, The Greatest American Heroine
was intended to be a sequel pilot and is linked below.
Without the instruction manual, Ralph doesn't know how to control his powers, or even what they are are. In the pilot episode, a random kid has to explain to him how to fly: “You’re not doing it right, you have to take three steps and jump with your hands out in front of you.”
And take off and fly he does. Eventually. Like a stoned, (frequently screaming-in-panic while crashing) albatross.
As the show goes on, the suit becomes an all purpose deus ex machina
, in which a newly discovered superpower drives the plot -- perhaps never to be used again.
However, the suit leaves Ralph's head (mostly) unprotected. When a villain shoots at him, Ralph usually covers his face and head with his arms.
"...Stephen J. Cannell notes that the symbol design on the front of the suit is actually based on a pair of scissors that he had on his desk during the design of the uniform. However, in Jeff Rovin's book, The World Encyclopedia of Superheroes, the author claimed that it is actually an "open book and needle emblem."
The symbol on Ralph's uniform resembles the Chinese character "center" [中]. As the symbol is red in color, Hong Kong television station TVB termed the Cantonese-dubbed version of the show [飛天紅中俠], translated to mean "Flying Red Center Hero"."
William Katt played Ralph, The Greatest American Hero
Robert Culp played Bill Maxwell
Connie Sellecca played Pam Davidson
Michael Paré and Faye Grant co-starred.Guest stars included Joe Mantegna, Markie Post, Bob Saget, Rick Dees, June Lockhart, Danny Glover, David Paymer, Barbara Hale, André The Giant, Dixie Carter and Don Drysdale.
(The pilot's script is available
(in pdf) from Steven J. Cannell's website.)
Where to Watch
* YouTube: Playlist for the series
* Hulu's Series Page
has everything but the pilot episode.
First Links are to YouTube videos. Second links go to Hulu.
The directors tried to hide Connie Selleca's pregnancy throughout the season, to varying degrees of success.
1) The Hit Car
2) Here's Looking at You Kid
3) Saturday on Sunset Boulevard
4) Reseda Rose
/ Hulu William Katt's character's name is changed to 'Ralph Hanley' from 'Ralph Hinkley.' This change was made after John W. Hinckley, Jr., tried to assassinate President Reagan. The name "Hinkley" is restored at the start of the second season, with no explanation.
5) My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys
6) Fire Man
/ Hulu Watch for: Danny Glover plays one of the cops that tries to bust Tony in this episode.
7) The Best Desk Scenario
1) The Two-Hundred-Mile-an-Hour Fastball
2) Operation Spoil Sport
3) Don’t Mess Around With Jim
4) Hog Wild
5) Classical Gas
6) The Beast in Black
7) The Lost Diablo
9) A Train of Thought
10) Now You See It…
11) The Hand-Painted Thai
12) Just Another Three Ring Circus
13) The Shock Will Kill You
14) A Chicken In Every Plot
15) The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
16) It’s All Downhill From Here
18) There’s Just No Accounting…
19) The Good Samaritan
20) Captain Bellybuster and the Speed Factory
21) Who Woo in America
22) Lilacs, Mr. Maxwell
/ Hulu (This episode was written and directed by Robert Culp)
ABC switches the show to Friday nights, where its ratings fall very fast and the show is cancelled. The last four filmed episodes were never aired.
1) Divorce Venusian Style
2) The Price is Right
3) This is the One the Suit Was Meant For
4) The Resurrection of Carlini
5) The Newlywed Game
6) Heaven is in Your Genes
7) Live at Eleven
8) Space Ranger
9) Thirty Seconds Over Little Tokyo
The last four episodes of Season Three were never aired:
10) Wizards and Warlocks
12) It’s Only Rock and Roll
13) Vanity, Says the Preacher
/ Hulu (This episode was written and directed by Robert Culp)
The Theme Song
Shortly after the first season ended in 1981, the show's theme song "Believe It or Not
", composed by Mike Post (music) and Stephen Geyer (lyrics) and sung by Joey Scarbury, was released as a single. "Believe it or Not" debuted in the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100 on June 13, 1981. It would eventually peak at #2 and spend a total of 18 weeks in the Top 40.
Seinfeld payed tribute to the theme song
in their episode "The Susie." George Costanza used it as his answering machine message, substituting his own lyrics: "Believe it or not George isn't at home. Please leave a message at the beep. I must be out or I'd pick up the phone. Where could I be? Believe it or not, I'm not home!".
Episode Guide and Other Cool Stuff
A full episode guide can be found at the-greatest-american-hero.com
with lots of production details and the site has a large archive of other, related stuff, including publicity stills
, old TV Guide ads
, magazine spreads
, behind the scenes photos
The Sequel that Wasn't
After the show was cancelled by NBC, a sequel pilot was shot: The Greatest American Heroine
. Several years after the series finale, Ralph's identity was revealed to the world. Annoyed by this turn of events, the aliens return and demand that he appoint a successor. TV Tropes
About three years after it had been canceled by ABC, NBC expressed interest in reviving the show. A twenty minute presentation film was created which set up the premise for the revamped series - Ralph was found out after the media happened to film one of his rescues. At first reluctant to 'go Hollywood' he quickly became very famous and well known. The aliens return and insist that he has been compromised and demand he give up the suit to someone else to work with Bill Maxwell. To Maxwell's horror, Ralph gives the suit to a woman, making way for the title change Greatest American Heroine. For a number of reasons NBC passed on it and the footage was edited with other footage to make one final episode for the syndication package and eventual DVDs.
Cast & Crew Interviews
* 75 minutes of bonus material
from the show's DVD release
* The Archive of American Television has a page on the show
that includes video clips of interviews with Mike Post
, Robert Culp and Stephen J. Cannell.
Concerned that the concept of the show and the suit's powers were similar enough to the abilities of Superman, Warner Bros., the owners of DC Comics, filed a lawsuit against ABC
during the show's run. It was ultimately dismissed.
In September 2008, Stephen J. Cannell announced that a movie based on the hit TV series was “in the works." By April, the project was dead. From 'The Consummate Culp': Will the Greatest American Hero Movie ever fly?
Despite having a completed script, a director, and a lead actor cast for the role of Ralph Hinkely, the big-screen version of The Greatest American Herowas over before it began. The reason? A lack of financial backing. Reportedly, Cannell’s vision of the movie was high-tech, with special effects and stunts that were a far cry from the cheesy, low-budget sequences in the TV series. Eric Christian Olsen, who had a contract in hand for the red-suited role of Ralph Hinkley, reportedly explained: “They didn’t have financing in place. But yeah, I booked it – but because the budget was so huge they couldn’t get the money.”