Believe It or Not: ‘The Greatest American Hero’ Joins TV’s Parade of Remakes

Greatest American Hero

Stephen J. Cannell’s “The Greatest American Hero” is suiting up for a revival at Fox, a network that didn’t exist during the show’s initial run on ABC in 1981-83. The quirky action-comedy is one of a spate of classic-TV remakes percolating at the major networks.

Rodney Rothman (“22 Jump Street”) is penning the script for the new “Hero” and will exec produce with Phil Lord and Chris Miller for 20th Century Fox TV. Tawnia McKiernan, a busy TV director who is the daughter of Cannell, will exec produce along with Seth Cohen, head of TV for Lord and Miller’s 20th TV-based banner.

“Hero” had a bumpy run starting as a midseason entry for ABC in March 1981.  But the show remains well-loved among TV buffs for its offbeat mix of comedy and fantasy. The original starred William Katt as a goofy high school teacher who has an alien encounter in the desert one night that leaves him in possession of a red jump suit that gives him superpowers including the ability to fly.

In short order, he loses the suit’s instruction manual and falls in with an FBI agent who persuades him to help fight crime despite his trouble in figuring out how to work the suit. Robert Culp nearly stole the show from Katt in the role of FBI agent Bill Maxwell in the original series — a character so out-there he would occasionally be seen eating dog biscuits straight from a Milkbone box, without generating any comment from other characters. Connie Sellecca, future co-star of ABC’s “Hotel,” played Katt’s sympathetic girlfriend.

“Hero” was known to have been one of the prolific Cannell’s favorite shows from his long run in TV. It marked the first series to get on the air after Cannell struck out as an independent producer following his long tenure at Universal Television, where he co-created the indelible “Rockford Files” and worked on many other shows. Fox took control of the Cannell Prods. library in 1997 with its purchase of New World Communications. (Cannell died in 2010.)

“Hero” yielded a hit record for singer Joey Scarbury with its theme song “Believe It or Not.” But as noted in “The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows 1946-Present,” the series had the misfortune of giving Katt’s character, Ralph Hinkley, the same last name as John Hinckley, the man who shot President Reagan just two weeks after “Hero’s” premiere. The character’s name was hastily shortened to “Mr. H” in the classroom.

After its midseason debut, ABC gave “Hero” a full season in the Wednesday 8 p.m. slot in the 1981-82 season, but the following season it bounced around prior to being axed in early 1983.

Fox is certainly not alone in its interest in dipping into the vault for source material. CBS is taking a big swing at reviving a much-loved TV property, “The Odd Couple,” in the coming season with Thomas Lennon and Matthew Perry in the Felix and Oscar roles essayed in the 1970-75 series by Tony Randall and Jack Klugman.

On one hand, remakes are popular with media congloms in the same way that international formats are appealing — because the source material provides a template for development and a built-in recognition factor. On the other hand, the bar is sky high because comparisons to the original will be likely be tough by fans and critics alike. Even 40 years later, Randall and Klugman are a hard act to follow.

  • Among the other vintage-TV remakes buzzing around in development so far this year:
  • “Charmed” — CBS is trying a new spin on the WB Network fantasy soaper (which ran from 1998 to 2006) about three sisters with supernatural powers.
  • “Twilight Zone” — CBS is re-entering the dimension of sight and sound expertly crafted on its air from 1959-64 by the inimitable Rod Serling.
  • “Tales From the Darkside” — George Romero’s 1984 syndicated horror anthology series may live again on the CW
  • “Remington Steele” — NBC wants to rekindle the old spark with a show revolving around the daughter of the detective couple (played by Pierce Brosnan and Stephanie Zimbalist) at the center of the original series that ran from 1982-87.
  • “Full House” — Warner Bros. TV is looking at a reboot of the 1987-95 “TGIF” comedy that made stars of Bob Saget, John Stamos and the Olsen twins. No doubt this is inspired by Disney Channel’s recent success with its “Girl Meets World” sequel to ABC’s “Boy Meets World.”

The Paley Center for Media is hosting a reunion event for the NBC comedy “The Facts of Life” (1979-88) on Sept. 15. A development deal for the property, now controlled by Sony Pictures TV, cannot be far behind.

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  1. David says:

    A lot of these shows (especially “Greatest American Hero” and “Twilight Zone”) suffered a major problem: Network interference! If the producer says, “This idea will work, that Idea will fail,” then shut up and take his word for it! Stephen J. Cannell, Joss Wheedon, Gene Roddenberry and Rod Serling ALL had to fight against network idiots who don’t know how to butt out, and leave well-enough alone!

  2. anonymous says:

    Believe it or Not, They really don’t care
    Cannell is rolling his grave while he’s face-palm-ing
    Were they smoking a bong, while inhaling the air?
    How can this be?
    Believe it or Not, It’s just greed!

  3. Fuzzy Mutt says:

    The relationship of Bill Maxwell and Ralph Hinkley was unmatched. Bill was a by-the-book Fed and Ralph was a do-gooding liberal with a heart of gold who tried to see the best in all people. The alien encounter was something Ralph embraced as an experience to expand his knowledge of the human condition, where as the “little green guys” scared the bejesus out of Maxwell, because it conflicted with Bill’s sense of reality and right and wrong. Great chemistry between Katt and girlfriend Connie Sellecca too.

    A remake must include these elements to be successful. Also of note was Faye Grant and Michael Pare as Ralph’s special ed students. They were integral to the plot because it showed Ralph’s humanity to help his fellow man. Great show. I loved it, but it got too much competition fro Hill Street Blues. Stephen J Cannell’s shows always had a moral theme from such venues as Rockford Files and the A-Team. I hope they stay true to Stephen’s concept for the show. Stephen, thanks for so many laughs!! It was fun.

  4. Fuzzy Mutt says:

    William Katt had a guest spot on Heroes playing a reporter trying to get an interview with Tracy (The second of 3 sisters played by Ali Larter). Tracy refused the interview and turned Katt into ice. Then he shattered.

  5. Art Ist says:

    Connie Sellica was so flecking hot looking!

  6. Indiana Blott's Last Crusade says:

    First, they’ve got to make it a continuation and NOT a reboot. Second, they need to keep the theme song, but have someone, maybe John Mayer, do an updated take on it. Third, have William Katt guest star at some point. Fourth, cast Stephen Culp as Agent Bill Maxwell, Jr.

    • Alexa Raven says:

      good ideas – glad to see another person willing to give it try instead of just condemning the whole thing :}

      • mel says:

        I’ll give it a shot if the pilot is picked up. I’ve done it with web series takes on the show.

        But I will say I’m reserved and concerned when I saw what they did with 21 Jump Street.

  7. Alexa Raven says:

    Guys, sorry, but no one could possibly replace William Katt!! i don’t think Robert Culp stole the show at all – they were both so well integrated in character and such good actors. it will sure be weird to see 2 other actors doing those parts. i am willing to give it a try :}

  8. Jacques Strappe says:

    Creative bankruptcy. Not one of these remade dogs will succeed.

  9. Believe It Or Not...This Will Tank says:

    Yawn, another remake. Showbiz news is so boring now. Broadcast TV is going down the same rabbit hole as movies. The only TV remake I can remember working is Hawaii Five-O, which is basically NCIS: Honolulu. Anybody remember the Knight Rider and Bionic Woman remakes?

    Add the fact that this is being developed for FOX, which is known to cancel shows after the first episode, and it’s a recipe for disaster.

  10. Benjy says:

    The only one I’m looking forward to is more TWILIGHT ZONE- type stories!

  11. Paul says:

    Belive it or not, I’m going to skip this.

  12. mel says:

    You need to reread the series. You have everything just about WRONG on the story of Greatest American Hero save Ralph get the suit from aliens and lost the instruction book.

    Also, its just a pilot being commissioned.

    • mel says:

      As far as this pilot… I’m concerned they’re going to bastardize it just like how these writers did 21 Jump Street, turning it into a farce.

      This show is beloved by many (honestly IMHO second to The A-Team of Cannell’s work) so it will have to be well done and truer to the original or folks won’t be happy.

  13. chadm29 says:

    They will usually screw up these remakes by giving them the dreaded “modern twist.”

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