Believe it or not, I’m walkin’ on air
I never thought I could feel so free
Flyin’ away on a wing and a prayer
Who could it be?
Believe it or not it’s just me
The Greatest American Hero was a comedy drama that aired for 3 seasons from 1981 to 1083 for a total of 45 episodes. The premise of the series was high school teacher Ralph Hinkley, played by William Katt, gets lost in the desert one night while on a field trip with his students. He comes across FBI Special Agent Bill Maxwell (Robert Culp) and the two of them go off to investigate some lights in the sky. Soon a UFO appears and a spaceship lands in front of them. Aliens give Ralph a suit with a set of instructions and tell him to work with Maxwell and use the suit to fight injustice.
Unfortunately on the way back to his students Ralph loses the instruction manual for the suit, setting him up for the often comic trials and errors of learning what his powers are which included flying, invulnerability, invisibility, super strength, E.S.P., super speed, telekinesis, shrinking, pyrokinesis, holographic vision, precognition among others. Usually these powers would manifest in different episodes during a time in which he needs them. The main gag on the show was although the suit gave Ralph the power of flight he had no navigational ability and was terrible at landing.
The problem is this premise works well for the first few episodes then wears thin. Unfortunately, the producers decided to go with the 1970’s model and take a super powered person and only put him up against ordinary crooks and thugs.
I recently had the opportunity to meet William Katt at a convention. No one was coming up to his table so I was able to talk to him for a few minutes. I have to say William Katt was one one the nicest celebrities I have ever met. I told him my mom was a huge fan of the original Perry Mason Show which co-starred his mom Barbara Hale. He autographed a picture of of him, his mom and Raymond Burr and gave it to me. William co-starred in a series of Perry Mason movies as the son of Paul Drake from the original series who was played by William Hopper who died in 1970. The movies ran from 1985 to 1995. He also let us take a selfie with him and didn’t charge us for it. In contrast, Jason Momoa was also at the same con and was charging $150 for a photo op…the highest I have ever seen. I was also able to ask Katt a question that has been burning in my mind since 1976: Did the empty bucket of pigs blood that was dumped on Carrie and fell, striking Tommie Ross (Katt) in the head, kill him? He said no, he believes Tommy died in the fire.
A couple of other fun facts:
-In the pilot, Faye Grant played one of Mr. H’s students, Rhonda, and William Heard played the Vice President. The two would appear together again in 1983’s V and V: The Final Battle. Grant played resistance leader Juliette Parrish and Heard played the Visitor’s Supreme Commander John. In the second mini-series, Juliette would rip John’s face off on live TV revealing him to be a visitor…an exposure which would be quickly cleared up by the Visitors as “fake news”.
-The theme of The Greatest American Hero is one of just a few TV show themes to play on national wide radio. Others included the them to Dallas and the them to S.W.A.T.
-A pilot for a female Greatest American Hero was shot and not picked up and was later worked into the syndication package.
In 2007, William Katt co-starred in a movie by former Twilight Zone writer Jerome Bixby called Man From Earth. It’s a magnificent piece of science fiction about a college professor who gathers some colleagues together to say good bye. What follows is a deeply thought provoking and challenging conversation which hits the teachers at their core. A must see film.
In 1982 a new kind of hero arrived on the boob tube! The Knight Industries Two Thousand (or KITT). A super car with an advanced A.I. system , KITT fought against the evil men do with the help of his trusty side kick, Michael Knight in the show Knight Rider. ‘Nuff said.
NEXT: The Powers of Matthew Star and The Phoenix!
Please Stand By: The Evolution of TV Super Heroes-1980’s Part 2
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