Uploaded on Jan 2, 2009
The theme song (and variants of the theme) are used frequently throughout. "Believe It or Not" was composed by Mike Post (music) and Stephen Geyer (lyrics) and sung by Joey Scarbury. The theme song became a popular hit during the show's run. "Believe it or Not" debuted in the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100 on June 13, 1981, eventually peaking at #2 during the weeks of August 15 and August 22, and spending a total of 18 weeks in the Top 40. The show's theme song was featured prominently in the Seinfeld episode "The Susie", where George Costanza used it as his answering machine message, with his own lyrics sung over the music ("Believe it or not George isn't at home, please leave a message at the beep. I must be out or I'd pick up the phone; where could I be? Believe it or not, I'm not home!").
The Greatest American Hero is an American TV series which aired for three seasons from 1981 to 1983 on ABC. It premiered as a two hour movie pilot on March 18, 1981. It starred William Katt as teacher Ralph Hinkley (or Hanley), Robert Culp as FBI Agent Bill Maxwell, and Connie Sellecca as lawyer Pam Davidson. The series has a fanbase around the world, making it a cult classic. The series was created by producer Stephen J. Cannell and Joel Colon who helped design the costumes. The show is typical of his style of character-driven quirky drama, where the plot is secondary to the relationships among the characters.
The series is a superhero drama-comedy. Ralph Hinkley is a schoolteacher for "special students". Determined to get through to them, Ralph took them on a "geological survey" field trip to the desert. Coming back from the field trip later that night, the school bus breaks down. Ralph started to walk back through the desert to get help and he encounters a swerving car driven by FBI Special Agent Bill Maxwell (Culp) that stops just in time to avoid hitting Hinkley. Maxwell insists that he could not control the car. Then two bright purple lights appear in the sky and they both jump in the car and try to get away, but the car will not start and the doors lock by themselves trapping them inside.
They are surprised to find that the lights come from an alien spacecraft. The alien tells Ralph and Bill (by way of the car radio) that they are to work together to save the world and Ralph will be given the power to change it. They are given a black case. Later Ralph opens it and finds a really cool-looking red suit (with cape) which endows him with superhuman abilities. Bill runs off from fear, but later contacts Ralph, leading to an awkward partnership as the two try to use the powers of the suit (which Bill calls the "magic jammies") to fight crime.
The novelty of the show is based on Ralph's inability to properly learn to use the suit, and even learn the use of it's various capabilities, other than by trial and error, because he lost the instruction manual in the desert. A recurring gag involves Ralph clumsily trying to strip off his outer clothes to activate the suit before the enemies can get away.
Pam Davidson is an attorney, who often joins Ralph and Bill on their adventures. She is an attorney who handled Ralph's divorce and later becomes his wife.
As previously mentioned, the main character's name was originally Ralph Hinkley, but after the assassination attempt of Ronald Reagan by John Hinckley, Jr. on March 30, 1981 (only 12 days after the pilot episode aired), the character's last name was amended to "Hanley" for the Season 1 episode "Reseda Rose". For the rest of the 1st season, he was either "Ralph" or "Mister H". During the episode aired the night of the assassination attempt, the sound of a jet airplane was used to dub over the last name being spoken, and in subsequent episodes there was overdubbing of his students calling him "Mr. H" instead of "Mr. Hinkley." In the episode where Ralph is given a promotion and his own (tiny) office space, we see the name "Ralph Hanley" on the door plaque. At the start of the 2nd season the name had changed back to Hinkley.
Ralph's uniform and hero persona
The hero persona never receives a "superhero name," either, although Scarbury sings the Elton John song "Rocket Man" in the pilot.
The powers of the red suit were somewhat broad, but still were "similar" enough to the abilities of Superman that Warner Bros., the owners of DC Comics, filed a lawsuit against ABC which was, ultimately, dismissed as the premise's core concept of a human receiving an alien costume/weapon to fight evil was closer to that of the Silver Age Green Lantern.
The symbol on Ralph's uniform resembles the Chinese character "center" [中]. As the symbol is red in color, Hong Kong television station TVB called the Cantonese-dubbed version of the show "Sky Flying Red Centre Hero" [飛天紅中俠].