The Greatest American Hero ran on ABC from 1981 to 1983. The show was created by Stephen J. Cannell (The Rockford Files, The A-Team, Hardcastle & McCormick) and came at a time when superheroes weren’t being called upon much (despite the release of the Superman movie in 1978). Cannell had been asked to create a show for a superhero which he didn’t particularly want to do. Instead, his concept – an ordinary guy receives a suit that gives him extraordinary powers and has to deal with the changes and challenges this brings – was his own unique spin on the superhero genre.
Robert Culp is FBI Agent Bill Maxwell who, along with William Katt’s Ralph Hinkely, is chosen by the “green guys” to use the suit to save humanity. It’s not an easy task, as Bill and Ralph have different ideas of how to use the suit, but they manage to work together with help from Ralph’s attorney girlfriend Pam Davidson (Connie Selleca).
Although the pilot episode fared well and the show garnered enough of an audience in it’s short first season to justify a second, the show nonetheless struggled and the lawsuit filed by Warner Brothers didn’t help things any. (Honestly, TGAH too similar to Superman? C’mon…). ABC eventually shuffled the show around on the schedule and the kiss of death in the third season came when it was put up against NBC’s “Knight Rider.” Game over. The last four episodes despite being filmed and completed, never originally aired on ABC.
Despite the shortlived success during its original run, The Greatest American Hero has enjoyed something of a cult status in recent years. Bill Maxwell is probably one of Culp’s most recognizable roles from television (if not equal to Kelly Robinson, a pretty damn close second). For myself, Bill Maxwell doesn’t just hold a special place in my heart, he outright stole it.
The Two-Hundred-Mile-an-Hour Fastball
Operation Spoil Sport
Don’t Mess Around With Jim
The Beast in Black
The Lost Diablo
A Train of Thought
Now You See It…
The Hand-Painted Thai
Just Another Three Ring Circus
The Shock Will Kill You
A Chicken In Every Plot
The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
It’s All Downhill From Here
There’s Just No Accounting…
The Good Samaritan
Captain Bellybuster and the Speed Factory
Who Woo in America
Lilacs, Mr. Maxwell (written and directed by Robert Culp)
Divorce Venusian Style
The Price is Right
This is the One the Suit Was Meant For
The Resurrection of Carlini
The Newlywed Game
Heaven is in Your Genes
Live at Eleven
Thirty Seconds Over Little Tokyo
Wizards and Warlocks
It’s Only Rock and Roll
Vanity, Says the Preacher (written and directed by Robert Culp)
What Ever Happened to The Greatest American Hero Movie? – In 2008, Stephen Cannell announced there would be a TGAH movie. Where do things stand now? A 2013 update.
The Greatest American Hero pilot script (Adobe PDF format) – Available for free from Stephen Cannell’s website, the final draft script for the pilot episode of The Greatest American Hero. Includes great scene descriptions!