Greatest American Hero

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).

Bill Maxwell FBIAlthough 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.

Season One

The Greatest American Hero (1) *Pilot*
The Hit Car
Here’s Looking at You Kid
Saturday on Sunset Boulevard
Reseda Rose
My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys
Fire Man
The Best Desk Scenario

Season Two

The Two-Hundred-Mile-an-Hour Fastball
Operation Spoil Sport
Don’t Mess Around With Jim
Hog Wild
Classical Gas
The Beast in Black
The Lost Diablo
Plague
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
Dreams
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)

Season Three

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
Space Ranger
Thirty Seconds Over Little Tokyo
Wizards and Warlocks
Desperado
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!

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Isabelle LakeLisa PhilbrickLisa LakeXenobiaWill the Greatest American Hero Movie Ever Fly? | TheConsummateCulp.com Recent comment authors
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Mona
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Mona

Culp as Bill Maxwell was one of the most fascinating, complicated characters on TV, ever. Tough and neurotic, abrasive and vulnerable, in your face and needy, Bill Maxwelll was one of the good guys. Maxwell grew and changed in the show, even with its unfortunately short duration as the writers focused on him and his past more than Ralph, who didn’t change as the episodes progressed. And without Bill, Ralph would not have “saved the world” any of the times he did. Bill Maxwell is one of my all-time favorite characters TV ever produced.

Mona

Mona
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Mona

My view of those contradictions in his personality are based on three things–Maxwell’s innate personality, whom he grew up with, and the era of his developing years. I think Maxwell is definitely soft-hearted and kind, caring, vulnerable, who thrives on friendship and appreciate a strong father figure. Apparently his mother was a drunk and Maxwell had to grow up with his grandparents (this is a recurrent theme of Culp’s, based on his spending a lot of time with his own remarkable grandfather). He learned a lot from his grandad, and then was in a time when there was wars and… Read more »

Frank Miller
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Frank Miller

Bill Maxwell is one of my all-time favorite characters, played masterfully (as he did pretty much everything) by Robert Culp.

R.I.P. One of the best ever.

Eric Delgado
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Eric Delgado

This is a letter I wrote to Robert Culp shortly before his passing. After finding this site I thought it fitting to post it here. Dear Mr. Culp, Hello! My name is Eric Delgado, and I hope this letter finds you in good health and spirits. The reason I write to you is to thank you for making an impact on my life as well as millions of others through your characterizations in television and film. I could go into great detail about many of them, but what I really want to do is make my case for the man… Read more »

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Xenobia
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Xenobia

I *just* finished watching the first season of The Greatest American Hero on Hulu, and moment after moment, Bill Maxwell makes me smile. What I see on screen, more than I have seen in anything else I have watched so far, is our Man Culp really and truly loving his work. What a joy it is to watch this again (I did watch when I was six) and really appreciate it now.

Isabelle Lake
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Isabelle Lake

I am an eleven year old kid and I love RC (Bill Maxwell). He is the cutest guy on Earth. My mom introduced me to: The Greatest American Hero. I love it so much. We got it on the thanksgiving break and we are on the last disc of season 2. Thanks, bye.

Lisa Lake
Guest
Lisa Lake

Hi Lisa. I’m Lisa, Isabelle’s mom. Thank you SO MUCH for answering my daughter’s message. She was very excited when she saw your response.
I was 11 when GAH premiered, the same age my daughter is now. Back then, Bill Maxwell was my favorite character, too (like mother like daughter).
I enjoy sharing the nostalgia of watching the show with my daughter.
Over the years I have watched so many other Robert Culp characters, but Bill will ALWAYS be my favorite!

Isabelle Lake
Guest
Isabelle Lake

We have restarted the series today, and we will be watching the 2nd episode of the first season today, too(none have been skipped).

Isabelle Lake
Guest
Isabelle Lake

We have made it to the second season second episodes for the second time.😄