Filed under: 1 Hour Series
The Greatest American Hero
You’re a nerdy guy walking in the desert and a red spandex suit falls from the sky. What do you do?
This was to be Ralph Hanley’s dillema for two years.
The main character (Ralph Hanley) played by William Katt was an unassuming school teacher thrust into an extraordinary life… sort of. First, TV is affected by events. Ralph Hanley’s name was originally to be Ralph Hinckley, but with the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan by John Hinckley, Jr. at the same time, it was changed. The episode plots centered around day to day type events, not save the world events. Ralph was a little doofy, his new suit a little baggy and oh yes… he lost the manual. Yes, apparently a manual was included. This is the slowest start to a superhero ever. Superman fell from space, Spiderman was bitten by a radioactive spider, the Fantastic Four were irradiated in space… the quick changes go on and on. But this guy was learning to be a hero and each episode saw take offs and landings that were reminiscent of the Wright brother’s first day at work. But, unlike the others, he had the radio to help him, changing stations to get a word or two from each to spell out a message. “Eve Of Destruction” was appropriately featured once. It was the one time the radio message was clear.
Ralph never even received a super name. It was probably in the manual. Elton John’s “Rocket Man” was featured in the pilot… maybe that was a hint? The symbol on the suit resembles the Chinese character “center”. In Hong Kong, the show played as “Sky Flying Red Centre Hero”.
Ralph wasn’t alone. While in the desert, he happened upon FBI Special Agent William Maxwell (who was depressed and drunk at the time) who happened to be having a similar problem with his car as Ralph was having with his schoolbus. (You know what they say about UFOs.)
Pam Davidson, an attorney also was jammed into the mix and the three characters would drive around saving people through mystery solving and adventure. Pam and Ralph wound up married somehow. He was a bungling school teacher/oddball super hero and she was a beautiful lawyer. There’s hope for all nerds, I guess.
In 1986, an attempt was made at a new series, uniting the cast. Ralph gets in trouble with the aliens and is told to find a new hero. Mary Ellen Stuart was chosen as the Greatest American Heroine and Robert Culp would stay on for guidance. While Ralph was talking to the aliens, he could have asked for a manual. *sigh* The show never was made into a series. The pilot never aired… or DID it? In syndication the pilot to the new show was added to the original as the final episode. That final episode was never part of the original run.
The song “The Greatest American Hero (Believe It Or Not)” made it to Billboard’s #2 spot for two weeks and stayed on the top 40 for 18 weeks making it one of the most popular TV themes ever. We play the song as a standard on AllFunMusik Radio. Gotta love it.
In 2004, a movie was talked about but since we haven’t seen it yet, I don’t think it will happen.
William Katt’s next role was alongside real-life mother Barbara Hale in the Perry Mason TV movies. The two appeared in what Katt is most famous for “Big Wednesday” the surfing movie from 1978. He still gets standing ovations from the surfing crowd for that one.
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