Fox Reportedly “Bullish” on Rebooting The Greatest American Hero – For the Second Time

Greatest American HeroStop me if you’ve heard this before…

Oh. Yeah, you have heard this before. About a year ago, when Fox gave the green light to Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who wrote and directed THE LEGO MOVIE and also directed a big screen version of Stephen Cannell’s 21 JUMP STREET, to film a pilot for a new take on THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO. We’ve heard nothing more since then about a script, or actors or anything.

Frankly, one might have figured the project died, but according Deadline Hollywood, it’s still very much alive and Fox is reported to be “bullish” on getting this one to American TV screens.

It’s been a year and apparently a change in writers, but a casting director has now been hired to scout out some talent. Nathan Fillion expressed some interest in playing the lead during a Q&A session at Chicago’s Wizard World Comic Con back in August, 2015.

GREATEST_AMERICAN_HERO_S2_D5-68It’s also unclear if the concept has changed. Originally, it sounded like Ralph, Pam and Bill were NOT going to be rebooted, that it would be all new original characters; an inner city teacher named Issac would be the recipient of the suit. Now, based on the recent Deadline Hollywood article, the script written by Rick Famuyiwa (DOPE), “is the story of what happens when great power is not met with great responsibility. An ordinary man, completely content with being average, wakes up with a superpower suit he never asked for and has to deal with the complications it brings his life.”

Given Hollywood’s penchant for lampooning and doing parody’s of original shows, it really doesn’t sound encouraging.



~Lisa Philbrick

FOX Flies on a Wing and a Prayer with “Greatest American Hero” Reboot

Greatest American HeroIt’s been talked about for years, as either a feature film or a new TV series, but FOX appears to be the latest player in the attempt to bring back Stephen Cannell’s GREATEST AMERICAN HERO. Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who wrote and directed THE LEGO MOVIE and also directed a big screen version of Cannell’s 21 JUMP STREET, have apparently been given the green light to film a pilot for a new series. Based on the brief description provided by, it sounds like the characters will be all new and will not be reboots of Ralph, Pam and Bill respectively.

Despite the rather dismal track record for TV reboots, Hollywood keeps trying. We’ll reserve judgment on this one until the pilot episode actually sees the light of a TV screen.

We’ll be watching this one closely. Stay tuned…GREATEST_AMERICAN_HERO_S2_D2-69

TGAH: Here’s Looking at You, Kid

Here's Looking at You, Kid

Originally aired: April 1, 1981

Oh no, this was no April Fool’s joke. A military plane with a top secret gun sight is stolen in broad day light and the government is scrambling to find it and get it back before it ends up in enemy hands. But FBI Agent Bill Maxwell knows how to find it. All he needs is Ralph and the suit.

Except Ralph isn’t so willing to drop everything to go after some military hardware that, big deal, “can hit a beer can from five miles out.” After all, he’s got other plans. Pam’s parents are coming in for a visit, he’s supposed to meet Pam to pick them up at the airport, they’re going to dinner… We’re on the third episode of the show and this suit is damn inconvenient, Bill…

Convinced of the severity of the situation, Ralph goes with Bill. He calls Pam from Bill’s car phone (which after more than 35 years, it’s interesting that mobile reception hasn’t much improved since then) and then spends a couple of hours bouncing around the dessert looking for the plane. Bill’s hunch is the plane was brought down in the sand, as opposed to being dumped in the ocean. He turns out to be right, he and Ralph find the plane but the gun sight has long since been removed.

What was left behind, however, was the pilot’s helmet. Ralph gets a halograph image from it of the man that stole the plane and gun sight (although he doesn’t know necessarily it’s him) and the “soldiers of fortune” type operation this guy is part of.

Before they leave the dessert, Bill has an idea that Ralph –with the suit- can do telekinesis “moving things around with the old grey cells.” It would be a useful skill if Ralph can harness it and he wants Ralph to try it. Ralph’s a little hesitant. “Every time you have me do something new with the suit, I get into more trouble.”

That hardly phases Bill. He has Ralph try to stop him from physically approaching and push him back. Only Ralph pushes the wrong something and ends up disappearing.

 Ralph freaks out, of course, and can’t figure out how to reverse what he’s done. He and Bill head back to town, with Ralph whining the whole way about having to face the rest of his life being invisible. Bill, meanwhile, is trying very hard to find positives in the situation and not let Ralph get too discouraged. Despite his cheer leading efforts, he catches the attention of a motorcycle cop, who thinks the Fed is talking to himself.

Bill saves himself pretty smoothly this time, telling the cop that he has to give a speech a Whitney High for Government Day and that he was practicing.

Bill and Ralph continue on to the private vet’s club where McCready and his soldiers of fortune hang out. Bill’s scenario is simple. Since Ralph is invisible, he can just go in, take a poke around and find out what’s going on and where the gun sight is. Easy! Accept….now Ralph becomes visible again.

It doesn’t last long, however, and Ralph fades back out again. Not knowing how to control the visibility power of the suit, Ralph doesn’t chance going inside the house but manages to get a halograph of what’s going on. Bill fakes tinkering around under the hood of his car while Ralph tunes in on what’s going down. He learns that the gun sight is going to be auctioned off, at the consulate, later that night.

 While Bill and Ralph have been investigating all this international intrigue, Pam’s parents are visiting from Minnesota (Deer Lick Falls, Minnesota to be exact where Pam’s father is the mayor but having nothing to do with “The Mayor’s Committee from Deer Lick Falls” which was a Rockford Files episode. Let’s not confuse the issue). Ralph made reservations at a nice restaurant to take Pam and her folks for dinner. Which would be all well and good except he’s still invisible with the suit.

With this pending date, Ralph leaves Bill at the vet’s club and takes off to try to figure out how to get out of his predicament, but promises he’ll meet Bill at the consulate later that night. Ralph doesn’t have any better luck at the restaurant trying to explain things to Pam. He becomes visible again in the suit and, as luck would have it there’s no back door to sneak out of. Ralph has to run the gauntlet through a dining room full of people – including Pam’s parents.

At the very least, they don’t recognize him but poor Pam certainly suffers through enough in this episode.

Back at the consulate, Bill is setting up with his “Willy the Wrench” bit, popping the hood of his car. While tinkering with the radiator cap (which should have been REALLY HOT if the car had been running for anything length of time) Bill talks on his communicator with Ralph to see where he’s at.

And where’s Ralph? He’s on a bus! And at a time when he would love to be invisible, he’s not. The other riders on the bus think he’s a freak and all cower at the front of the bus.

Bill, meantime, gets caught by the bad guys and taken inside.

When Ralph arrives at the consulate, he figures out how to work the invisibility feature of the suit. He finds Bill’s abandoned car and gets a halograph, seeing Bill is being held captive. Remaining invisible, Ralph walks through the front gate of the consulate and heads inside.

He finds Bill, knocks out the man guarding Bill and Bill commandeers the man’s rifle. “Bill, you’re not going to use that gun are you?” Ralph asks. “Of course not,” Bill says, “I’m gonna pick my teeth with it…”

With Ralph invisible and in control of it, Bill figures for him to just go right in where they having the auction and take the gunsight. (I like where Culp looks directly at the camera, where us as the audience are the POV of Ralph for a moment).

 Ralph gets the gunsight and, naturally, pandemonium breaks out as all the bidders freak out when the gunsight magically floats through the air and out of the room. Ralph meets back with Bill again – just in time for his invisible cloak to click off. He and Bill make a run for it and Ralph flies himself and Bill out of the consulate, crashing landing on the ground outside the wall. The flight footage of the two is from the pilot, as Bill magically goes from a three piece suit to khaki’s and green aviator jacket then back to suit again upon landing.

When all is said and done, Bill shows up at the school a day or so later to let Ralph know that McCready and all had been caught and to thank him for his help. Ralph, of course, immediately thinks Bill is there for another scenario and carries on about how he’s taking Pam and her parents to lunch and that’s final. Kid, you are wound way too tight.

In fact, I think Ralph was wound so tight he made himself disappear again. And I’m not even sure if he had the suit on…

The fact that The Greatest American Hero lasted three seasons (never mind beyond three episodes) is truly a testament to the show itself. The show had great performers and good writing but had everything else against it. The lawsuit from WB for the supposed Superman similarities notwithstanding, ABC wasn’t exactly any help for a show that they originally asked for. The finest example of knee-jerk reaction from the network is evident in this episode, where Ralph’s last name is changed from Hinkley to…well, to nothing. All mentions of the last name are not so cleverly edited out (ie, Pam’s mom saying “Ralph (insert loud jet engine noise)” when Pam picks up her folks at the airport). Good thing the students referred to him as Mr. H often anyway, which saved at least some work for the sound editor.

Why was Ralph’s name “bleeped” out? Because two days before this episode aired, on March 30, 1981, President Ronald Reagan was nearly assassinated in front of the Hilton Hotel in Washington DC by John W. Hinckley Jr.

Can you imagine if his name had been John W. Maxwell Jr.?

The assassination attempt was upsetting enough, since Reagan had only been in office less than 70 days. When John Hinckley’s motive for shooting the President was revealed (in short, he was a deranged fan of Jody Foster and was trying to get her attention, having been inspired by the movie Taxi Driver) television and film entertainment thought twice about anything they had going on around that time that would be deemed inappropriate in the light of the events. NBC pushed back an episode of Walking Tall called “Hit Man.” Yet, ABC was left shaking simply over a name, that wasn’t even spelled the same way.

Commentator Paul Harvey thought it was absurd, writing in his syndicated column, “Because probably the sick boy accused of trying to kill the president was named John Hinckley Jr., these professional sin, sex and murder merchants self-righteously reverted to the scapegoat concept of blaming, crucifying and burying somebody else.

Harvey hoped programmers at the network would reconsider. It was largely reported in the press that in the remaining episodes of the Greatest American Hero‘s first season Ralph would have no last name at all, he would just be “Mr. H” and would have a new name the following season. However, by the last episode of season one (“The Best Desk Scenario”) Ralph would be christened “Hanley.”

When season two opened in the fall of 1981 with “Two-Hundred Mile Per Hour Fastball” Ralph would be reborn as Hinkley making the whole name change, really, a moot point.

Noted guest stars included…

Bob Hastings (McHale’s Navy, Green Acres) as Pam’s father and June Lockhart (Lassie, Lost in Space, Petticoat Junction) as Pam’s mom. Hastings would return in future episodes playing a sportscaster both times (“It’s All Downhill from Here,” “The Price is Right.”)




James Whitmore Jr. as the cool and steely McCready. He would return to be the not so cool Biron “the BB” Bigsby, IRS auditor in “There’s Just No Accounting” in season two, and as the nerdy creator of a Dungeons and Dragons knockoff in “Wizards and Warlocks” in season 3.

Red West as one of McCready’s security guards. Besides acting, West also is a songwriter and was part of Elvis Presley’s inner circle known as the “Memphis Mafia” as a body guard for the King.   West would also return in two more episodes of TGAH.

Despite the name haggling, The Greatest American Hero was enjoying a pretty strong run at this point, ranking around 13th in the ratings.

The Greatest American Hero – Season One is available at, either as a download or you can purchase the DVD set.  You can also download the episode itself through Amazon for about the price of a cup of coffee!


What Ever Happened to The Greatest American Hero Movie?

Greatest American HeroOn September 7, 2008, Stephen J. Cannell, the writer-creator of The Greatest American Hero, openly announced that a movie based on the hit TV series was “in the works.” The announcement came at the Screen Actor’s Guild 25th Anniversary Reunion in Hollywood, CA.

If Cannell had any doubts about the movie project going through, it wasn’t evident at this time. He went so far as to promise “acting jobs, not just cameos” for original TGAH cast members Connie Sellecca, William Katt and Robert Culp. Sellecca and Katt were both in attendance at the time of Cannell’s announcement.

Cannell was not one to make empty promises. According to Cannell’s comments, which were reported by SciFiWire on Sept 9, 2008 and re-published by, the movie roles for the Sellecca, Katt and Culp were “absolutely guaranteed.”  You can read the whole thing here.

What Caused the Greatest American Hero Movie Project to Stall?

Fast-forward to April 16, 2009. 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 Hero was 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.” Olsen’s disappointment was shared by longtime Greatest American Hero fans who found him to be a good choice for the role.

Director Stephen Herek was already on deck for the project, bringing his action-adventure direction experience from “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” and “The Mighty Ducks.”  But in Hollywood, projects come and go in the blink of an eye.

What the Greatest American Hero Movie Could Have Been

According to Eric Christian Olsen, the script was “really funny” and contained “a lot of cool stunts.” He told MovieHole that the script TGAH movie scriptwas built around an ordinary guy who got in over his head; a premise that is true to the original TV program.

According to a fan who claims to have seen parts of the script, the movie’s ending had a heartwarming, optimistic note. At the climax of the story, Ralph Hinkley is outmatched by a powerful enemy, facing certain doom. Suddenly he’s rescued by the combined forces of the Greatest Russian Hero, the Greatest Chinese Hero and a few other nations with their own red-suited champions. Apparently, the alien “green guys” empowered a human in each nation with a super-powered suit in an effort to preserve the Earth.

If only the movie project itself had such a happy ending.

The Greatest American Hero Movie Facts According to William Katt

During a podcast interview on March 21, 2011, Katt explained that some ten years ago, he and original series co-stars Robert Culp and Connie Sellecca, were interested in a TV reunion and reboot of the show. Together they created a pilot for the concept. When bouncing the idea off of Stephen Cannell, Katt learned of Cannell’s big-screen movie project.

According to Katt, Cannell pitched the idea to Sony, and then later to Disney. Despite an “excellent” script by Paul Hernandez, an agreement couldn’t be reached for the project. Cannell took ownership of the project back, and reportedly it was last in the hands of 20th-Century Fox, where it has apparently stalled.

Did The Greatest American Hero Movie Die with Robert Culp and Stephen Cannell?

Bill Maxwell FBIActor Robert Culp, who played the role Federal Agent Bill Maxwell, passed away on March 24, 2010 at the age of 79.

Culp’s brilliant interpretation of Agent Maxwell added to both the action and comedic elements of the show. In The Greatest American Hero, Maxwell was an unusual superhero’s sidekick – a hard-bitten, old-school Fed who saw himself as the brains of the outfit. Ralph may have had the power suit, but the scenarios were usually Maxwell’s. He collected the credit – and sometimes the blame – for the exploits accomplished with Ralph and the red super-suit.

Culp would have welcomed the opportunity to reprise his role as Agent Maxell, even in a passing-of-the-torch role in the big-screen movie. Had the film project proceeded as scheduled, he could have had the chance.

As a highly-acclaimed writer and producer, it’s likely that Stephen J. Cannell would have eventually found the support he wanted for the movie. His website speaks of the movie project in present tense, describing it as “in development.” The date of this comment, while unspecific, appears to have been posted between 2009 and 2010.

Whether the “in development” status was posted before, or after, the project halt in April 2009 is unknown. There have been no further updates to the site.

Meanwhile, the distribution rights to The Greatest American Hero, along with several other Cannell productions, were sold to Mill Creek Entertainment in 2009. The announcement was made by Mill Creek Entertainment on October 14, 2009, several months after the reported stall of The Greatest American Hero movie.

Stephen J. Cannell died on September 30, 2010, at the age of 69, of complications from melanoma. His death came just a few months after the passing of Robert Culp.

Other works of Cannell did see big-screen adaptations; the A-Team in June of 2010, and 21 Jump Street in March of 2012.

Greatest American HeroThe Greatest American Hero: the Fans and the Future

Despite the discouragement, fans of The Greatest American Hero have not given up hope that the big-screen movie will someday see theaters. Superheroes are an American cinema staple, and The Greatest American Hero is a unique concept that could be highly marketable for the movies. The idea of an everyday person who becomes endowed with tremendous power and responsibility – and bungles his way through it all – remains a fresh take on the genre.

William Katt remains popular with fans today and enjoys a strong Facebook following. He briefly worked on a comic book version of The Greatest American Hero, but lost the licensing to a business partner. Rather than pursue the exhaustive comic book project with little hope of return, with no business control to speak of, Katt let the comic book go and turned his focus elsewhere. Copies of the brief comic book series are sometimes found on ebay.

Katt still makes appearances at fan conventions and Comic-con. He also remains active in film, and played the villain in the recently-released thriller Sparks.

Will The Greatest American Hero movie ever fly? It could, but it will require a leap of faith by 20th-Century Fox.


Copyright 2013,

The Greatest American Hero (Pilot)

Originally aired:  March 18, 1981

Ralph Hinkley (William Katt) is a young high school teacher who has been assigned to a remedial class made up of a group of misfits, Los Angeles’s answer to the Sweat Hogs. Ralph’s positive he can make a difference with the kids, but his first day proves that won’t be easy. In addition to that, Ralph has a personal issue to deal with – his ex-wife has filed for custody of their young son, Kevin.

When Ralph decides to take his students on a field trip, his life becomes even more complicated. In a diner somewhere near Palmdale, one of his students – Tony – mouths off to a patron who apparently looked at him cross-eyed. This particular patron, despite being “dressed like Archie Bunker going to church,” packs a .38 pistol and has no qualms about pulling the gun on Tony when Tony pulls a knife.

“If you’re looking for trouble, you’ve just come upon the West Coast distributor…”

Thus, we’re introduced for the first time to Bill Maxwell. He doesn’t think much of Ralph’s apology, rebuffs any further attempt by Ralph to smooth things over and they part ways, not knowing that their fates were soon to become intertwined.

Later, the bus Ralph and his students are using appears to breakdown. Ralph tells the kids to stay put while he goes back to a gas station about a mile away. On the road, Ralph is nearly run over by Maxwell, who’s trying to keep control of his car. After the car stops, Ralph yanks open the door, pulls Bill off the steering wheel and then takes the .38 and chucks it. He berates Bill and asks “what institution” let him out. Bill calmly holds up his Federal badge and replies, “this one.”

Ralph’s attitude changes pretty quick, although he’s still somewhat indignant. Bill, pretty much as he did at the diner, ignores him and sets out to figure out what’s wrong with his car. He crawls underneath his car to check on the steering components when suddenly his flashlight and his car lights drain down to nothing. When he gets back up and into the car to see what’s going on, he and Ralph both notice the approaching lights in the sky.

As the lights get closer and they realize something really weird is going on, they both duck into the car. Bill tries to start it but no go and then the door locks lock on their own – and won’t unlock.

Now they’re trying to bust out of the car, unlock the doors, smash a window, something! The ship descends down and Ralph and Bill can only watch in fear and awe. The radio flips on and President FDR’s long ago assurance that “we have nothing to fear but fear itself” is the alien’s way of saying not to be afraid. They then communicate their message, using broken up pieces of broadcasts: Ralph and Bill have been chosen to work together and to use a suit with “unearthly powers.”

Another voice that comes over the radio is that of Bill’s partner, John Mackie, who we saw at the very beginning of the story being chased and caught by some bad guys. His fate is confirmed when he’s beamed down with the suit and puts it in the trunk of Bill’s car.

Remember that gruff patron back at the diner? When Mackie comes back to the window and Bill sees the blood stains on Mackie’s suit, he quietly goes to pieces.

Mackie returns to the ship and the spacecraft lifts away from earth, leaving Bill and Ralph to process what they’ve just experienced.

Bill opens his trunk, lets Ralph remove the box with the suit in it and then takes off like a scalded cat, leaving Ralph behind on the dark desert highway. As Ralph makes his way back to the bus, he’s completely unaware that the instruction book that comes with the suit has fallen out of the box.

The next morning Ralph is late getting to school, having indulged some curiosity and trying the suit on. When he gets to school, he’s told that a “friend” of his is in the boy’s bathroom, throwing up and is ordered to get the drunk out of there before assembly is over.

The “drunk,” turns out, is Maxwell. “The Lawrence of Palmdale,” Ralph calls him. “The desert chicken.” Bill at least admits that the experience the previous night scared the bejeezus out of him but he found his way to Whitney High School to find Ralph to more or less confirm that what happened, really happened.

Yeah, it did. And yes, they’re supposed to work together. Bill’s not exactly thrilled, and he tells Ralph so, nothing personal. He also says that it should be him running the operation. Ralph though doesn’t really want to deal with any of this at the moment and tells Bill he has to leave. Bill’s not ready to leave just yet, he’s got questions about the suit and asks about the instruction book. When he finds out the book is gone, he’s really not impressed with Ralph.

Ralph isn’t too impressed with the idea of Bill calling all the shots either and goes toe to toe to tell him that. They would talk about it more later and Ralph leaves. Bill can only hope that Ralph doesn’t lose the suit too.

At this point if anybody had doubts that these two can work together, well, you’d be rightly concerned.

For Ralph, things take an outrageous turn when he’s trying to get to the courthouse for a hearing on his custody case. He gets stuck in a traffic jam and the payphone he tries to use to call his attorney, Pam Davidson (Connie Selleca) to say he’d be late, is out of order. The suit is in the back of his station wagon…

He debates it, then gives in to try it. He figures he can fly to the courthouse and make the hearing. Problem is, he realizes he can’t fly very well, he ends up losing his clothes and is spotted by the cops as he tries to take flight. He’s also spotted by a private investigator who snaps a few pictures of Ralph after Ralph crashes into a billboard.

The whole fracas lands Ralph in the psych ward of the hospital and when Pam shows up, she’s not sure what to make of the situation. She figures Ralph has really cracked and this isn’t going to go well for the custody case. It gets worse when he starts seeing images of Bill on the wall…

Pam’s convinced he’s gone sideways. Ralph, seeing that Bill is in trouble, busts out of the hospital with Pam running after him. They jump in her car and take off. During the drive, Ralph explains what happened with getting the suit and all. Pam doesn’t know what to believe at this point but isn’t beyond being convinced that Ralph’s lost his mind.

They arrive at the home of Nelson Corey, millionaire industrialist, where Bill is being held captive. Ralph has Pam wait with the car and he makes his way onto the grounds of the estate.

Bill, meanwhile, is being held by members of “Gabriel’s Army” basically a group of thugs thinly disguised as a religious group. One of them talks to Bill about salvation and all, while wielding a cattle prod. Bill shows no outward fear during this but when Ralph comes busting through the wall, Bill’s more than relieved. “I’ve never been so scared in my life!” he tells Ralph.

After Ralph gets himself and Bill out of the compound (by flying over the wall, with Bill over Ralph’s shoulders, and suffering a messy landing), Bill is introduced to Pam who, by this point, is more indignant than anything about this “suit” thing.

Still not fully convinced about the suit and becoming fed up with the boys, Pam orders Ralph to pull over. They get out of the car, except Bill, and Pam basically tells Ralph that she’s not buying any of it. The suit, the spaceship, none of it. So, to demonstrate the power of the suit, Ralph walks back to Pam’s car and lifts it up, Bill and all.

Pam faints. Convinced now, once she’s brought back around she asks the all-important question. “What do we do?”

Each of them have a different idea of what to do. Bill’s ready to take on the Russians. Pam and Ralph are more concerned with their own immediate lives. Bill does forget about the Russians long enough to focus on the immediate task at hand, which is finding out what was going on with this Gabriel’s Army, how Nelson Corey ties into all of it and who killed Bill’s partner, John Mackie.

Back at Ralph’s house they brainstorm for a bit realizing they’ve seen a lot more of the Vice President in the media lately and Bill chimes in with tidbit about Nelson Corey and his political backing. They then hear a news alert on the radio and when they turn on the television they find Los Angeles has erupted in riots. The Vice President is already in LA and the President is on his way.

Ralph asks Rhonda to watch Kevin for him while he, Bill and Pam head out to find out what’s going on. They check with the local commander of the area National Guard, only to discover that he’s in the thick of the plot. He brings Ralph, Pam and Bill to Nelson Corey’s estate where they’re locked in a room.

They don’t stay for long however, since Ralph’s wearing the suit. They dupe their guards and escape. With the President’s helicopter on the way, Bill gives Ralph the simple order: You gotta stop that chopper from landing.

Ralph succeeds and gets the President’s helicopter to turn back. Bill, with some back up by Pam, nabs Nelson Corey. Mr. Corey’s plans to eliminate the President and put the Vice President in power is stopped.

After all this, Maxwell asks for Ralph and Pam to meet him out in the dessert. There, he insists on being “in charge” of their operation from this point on but he praises Ralph for a job well done. He also decides that they’ll continue to work on local stuff and not go after the Russians. Ralph’s wearing the suit underneath his clothes and when he shakes Bill’s hand in appreciation for the genuine respect that Bill pays him, Ralph unintentionally breaks Bill’s hand.

Before Bill can walk back to his car, the green guys return. Over Pam’s car radio they deliver their message: They were satisfied with the results and they suggest that Ralph use the invisibility power of the suit.

Which Ralph would…if he hadn’t lost the instruction book.

And so it begins! A special ed teacher and a gruff, by the book FBI agent brought together by aliens and given a suit to save the world. When I water it down like that, it almost sounds like the show never should have worked. But it did. The pilot was well written and the cast work.

What The Greatest American Hero had against it though was everything else. Two days before the pilot aired, Warner Brothers and DC Comics filed suit against the show claiming it was too similar to Superman. (Seriously?) A federal judge ruled to allow the show to air while the litigation went forward and a year later the lawsuit was thrown out completely. (The damage, unfortunately, was pretty well done by that point but that’s another topic.)

Reviews of the pilot were mixed. Judy Flander of the Washington Star called the show “depressing” and “pathetic.” “An insult to adults,” she added.  The Daily Times of Portsmouth, Ohio said the show “tires quickly.” At the other end of the spectrum, one review called the show “promising” and Peter J. Boyer  (at the time a television critic for the Associated Press, now a writer for the likes of The New Yorker and Newsweek) was more gracious about the show, calling it “good, inspired fun.” Mr. Boyer specifically noted Culp’s portrayal of Maxwell, saying, “This is great Culp here, played straight without tongue bulging conspicuously in cheek, the best Culp since ‘I Spy.'”

Indeed, it is great Culp. It’s without a doubt, my favorite Culp. As I mentioned in my overview of The Hit Car episode, I was sold on Bill Maxwell in fairly short order and although I’ve enjoyed many other Culp performances, I always come back to Maxwell.

Despite some of the reviews of the show and the on going legal issues, The Greatest American Hero became a hit for ABC in it’s short first season. Things would not be easy from that point forward, however.

Guest stars in the pilot included…

G.D. Spradlin as Nelson Corey, who also appeared in the I Spy episode “Tonia” with Robert Culp. Mr. Spradlin began acting in his 40s and made a career out of playing politicians, military officers, Presidents and law enforcement officers in films and television. He passed away recently on July 24, 2011 at the age of 90.

Richard Herd, a familiar face on television since the early 1970s, as Vice President Adam Taft. Herd also played Watergate burgler James McCord in the 1976 movie All the President’s Men, and was Captain Sheridan in the William Shatner series TJ Hooker.

Bob Minor as John Mackie. Minor, a one time body builder champion, has been a successful actor and stuntman/stunt coordinator in films and television since the early 70’s. He was the stunt coordinator for six years on Magnum, P.I. and has doubled for the likes of Bernie Mac, Jim Brown and Sidney Poitier. In addition to the acting credit for this episode, he also is credited for stunts.

The Greatest American Hero first season DVD  and is available at