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.
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.
It’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.
It’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 Deadline.com, 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.
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…
On 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 “actingjobs, 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 ComicBookMovie.com, 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 was 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?
Actor 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.
The 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.
“The Best Desk Scenario,” the final episode of the first season of The Greatest American Hero originally aired this date (May 13) 1981. Ralph becomes Vice Principal of Whitney High (temporarily), Pam gets a junior partnership at her law firm and Bill gets the shaft at the bureau when a twenty-eight year old “kid” is put in charge while being groomed for the top spot in the bureau. Pam’s junior partnership is threatened when she’s witness to a “message” from the Mob to her boss.
The episode opens with Bill and Ralph trying some new stuff with the suit which becomes more than Bill bargained for.
Later in the episode, as things escalate and Pam ends up kidnapped, Bill can’t seem to do anything right and doesn’t induce much confidence from his new boss…
…for The Greatest American Hero episode “Saturday Night on Sunset Boulevard” which aired this date, April 8, 1981. When Bill fails his lie detector test he has to bargain his way back into the good graces of the bureau, with a little help from Ralph, Pam, the suit and Ralph’s students.
This episode establishes the highly entertaining and classic animosity between Bill and Carlisle. It can be assumed that William Bogart’s subsequent appearances on the show, with Carlisle’s promotion to Agent in Charge of the LA bureau and becoming Maxwell’s suffering boss, was due basically to this one scene.
Bill’s six month lie detector debriefing, however, does not go well…
To bargain his way back into the good graces of the bureau (and bury the failed lie detector test) Bill figures to find one of two missing people that the FBI are anxious to find. To do so, he’ll need some foot soldiers. Enter, Ralph’s students…
We’re lookin’ at you, Bill—er, I mean, kid! The Greatest American Hero episode “Here’s Looking at You, Kid” aired this date, April 1, 1981. Bill and Ralph must find a stolen weapons component before it’s sold to the highest bidder. Ralph discovers he can completely disappear with the suit which will be a big help, as long as he can hold it together long enough.
It’s one thing when Ralph gets the funny looks because of the suit. In this episode, Bill gets his turn when he’s pulled over by a motorcycle cop who spots the Fed appearing to be talking to himself in the car.
Later in the episode, Ralph – still invisible – saves Bill from the bad guys and they get the gun sight back. Maxwell’s retort to Ralph about using the rifle is priceless along with his grumbling later in the clip about “working with the Cheshire Cat.”
The Greatest American Hero episode “A Chicken in Every Plot” aired this date, February 17, 1982. Filmed on location in the Virgin Islands, a friend of Maxwell’s invites Bill down to a small island country in the Caribbean to help raise up a shipwreck. Only nobody wants the boat raised and Bill, along with Ralph, Pam and Ralph’s students find themselves mixed up in nasty local politics and deadly voodoo.
I can’t think of a better reminder that warmer weather is coming!
Maxwell’s assertiveness is legendary and the following scene is no exception. But when he learns of his friend fate, it literally stops him in tracks…
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.