Hinkley, a liberal, high school special ed teacher, fights for truth and justice
while trying to figure out how to use the superpowered suit he's been given.
1981, producer Stephen J. Cannell (the
Rockford Files, the A-Team, some other shows beginning with "the")
tapped in to every kid's fantasy of being a superhero with the Greatest
American Hero. It all started when Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner (at the time,
ABC's Heads Of Programming) approached Cannell about doing a "superhero" show. Not knowing much about the
genre, Cannell didn't agree right away and after conferring with some writers
agreed on one provision - the superpowers had to be in the suit. From there,
Cannell came up with a story that would team Ralph Hinkley and his girlfriend
Pam "Counselor" Davidson with Bill Maxwell, a gruff,
conservative FBI agent. There was a
comfortable balance between humor and drama, and though it was only on ABC for 3
seasons, it has since become a "cult classic".
While the storylines aren't necessarily anything groundbreaking, the suit,
along with Ralph's inability to know exactly what it does -- thanks to
losing the instruction book in the pilot, livens up the
potentially trite and common material. Another strength of the show is the wonderful interaction between
leads William Katt, Robert Culp and Connie Sellecca. The three display an
easygoing, natural chemistry that, believe it or not (pun intended), is the
heart of the show and the main reason it works as well as it did. In fact,
Sellecca impressed Cannell so much, she turned a character that he only intended
for the pilot, into an integral part of the show. Rounding out the cast, there's
also a small assortment of high school students led by Faye ("V")
Grant and future B-movie star Michael Paré.
It's amazing that a show this light-hearted had its share of controversy.
Before the pilot even aired, Warner Brothers (after buying DC Comics) filed a
lawsuit against Cannell claiming Ralph was too similar to Superman. Thankfully,
the judge ruled in Cannell's favor. Then, a
couple days after the second episode ("the Hit Car") aired, John
Hinkley Jr. shot President Ronald Reagan. This prompted a very skittish ABC to
force the creators to change Ralph's last name from Hinkley to Hanley (keep an
eye out for the nameplate on Ralph's door in "the Best Desk Scenario").
Wisely, it was
reverted in time for the second season.
first season of the Greatest American Hero is 8 episodes long and Anchor
Bay has spread them across 3 single-sided discs:
Video: The Greatest American Hero is presented in an aspect ratio of
1.33:1. The picture was sharp and clear with a bright color palette. I was
impressed with how deep the black levels were during the nighttime scenes. Also,
while I wasn't expecting a remastering of Lucas-ian proportions, the special
effects retain their bluescreen cheesiness and some of the footage of Ralph
flying in the pilot is fairly dirty. Otherwise, as the season progressed, the
special effects showed improvement. Considering its age, i'm amazed the picture looked this sharp.
Audio: The Greatest American Hero features Dolby Surround 2.0.
Personally, I think every single DVD should be remastered in 5.1 or dts. That
said, while the 2.0 track was clean with clear dialogue, it was also flat.
Musically speaking, Anchor Bay has replaced some songs on various episodes.
However, ala Paramount's Keen Eddie release, there's nothing on the packaging stating this
(unlike Keen Eddie's "Music has been replaced for this Home
Entertainment version" disclaimer). I haven't seen this show since it was on network TV, so i'm not sure
what was replaced with what. However, there
were some songs that,
sonically, seemed out of place. And for the record, I think original music
should be used at ALL times.
Bonus Features: There are only two. First, we have fantastic, brand-new interviews
with Stephen J. Cannell, William Katt, Robert Culp, Connie Sellecca and Michael
Paré. 75 minutes in length, it's clear the stars had as much fun making the
series as I did watching it. I was surprised to discover that there was
off-screen friction between Katt and Culp and that Sellecca was pregnant at one
point during shooting. It's strange that the show's poor treatment by ABC wasn't
discussed, but perhaps they're saving that for the second or third season set.
I'm not that big a fan of non-Kevin Smith Audio
Commentaries, but listening to the interviews made me wish Anchor Bay had
Second, disc three contains the unaired pilot for
the Greatest American Heroine. Legend has it, Brandon Tartikoff (then
Programming Head of NBC) thought ABC made a mistake by canceling Hero and
had a plan to bring it back to the boob tube. However, Katt wasn't interested
in donning the "jammies" again and Sellecca was already co-starring on
Aaron Spelling's Hotel, so a story was developed that saw Ralph's secret identity compromised and the "green guys" forcing him to pass
the suit on to another worthy person to make the world forget. While this might
not be the greatest thing ever committed to film, being the completest that I
am, i'm glad Anchor Bay decided to include it. However, i'm puzzled why it
wasn't included with the third season set so it would be in chronological order.
Yeah, i'm being picky.
Packaging: A foil slipcase houses two
slimcases, one's a double. There's also a four page booklet, brilliantly
designed to look like the instruction book pictured above. Now, where did I
Conclusion: I was a fan of this show from the beginning, and being able
to watch it again after all this time instantly brought me back to my childhood.
The special effects aren't up to today's CGI standards, but the charm of the
show is definitely still there. Sure, I wish the effects technology that exists
today was available back then (and available on a television show's
budget), but the suit was only part of it for me - I thoroughly enjoyed the
natural chemistry between Katt, Culp and Sellecca. When it comes to older, less "media-savvy" television shows of
the past, a common question seems to be whether
it "holds up" by today's standards. For me, it did. Music changes
notwithstanding, Anchor Bay has put together a great set that i'm going to give
a Highly Recommended. For a brief moment, I thought about knocking it
down to a Recommended because I felt that AB stumbled a bit as far as some of
the original songs were concerned, but in all honesty, I had too much of a good
time revisiting this show to care. Bring on season two!