[[caption-width-right:320:Pam (Connie Sellecca), Ralph (William Katt), and Bill (Robert Culp)]]
->''"Believe it or not, I'm walkin on air\\
I never thought I could feel so free..."''

Created by Creator/StephenJCannell, the show first aired in 1981 on Creator/{{ABC}} and was both a [[{{Dramedy}} comedy and a drama]]. Ralph Hinkley[[note]]briefly "Ralph Hanley" in the wake of John Hinckley's assassination attempt on then-President UsefulNotes/RonaldReagan[[/note]], played by William Katt, is a teacher to a class full of delinquents. He is a good, moral man, and because of this, [[ImportedAlienPhlebotinum aliens give him]] a special "[[ClothesMakeTheSuperman Superman suit]]" that gives him special powers -- but only works for him. Unfortunately, he almost immediately loses the instruction manual and [[HowDoIShotWeb must discover its powers by trial and error]]. He is paired up with FBI agent Bill Maxwell (Robert Culp), whose determination to fully exploit Ralph's new abilities keeps them both busy.

The suit gives Hinkley the power of strength, flight, invisibility, flames, telekinesis, vision of events without being there, protection from bullets and fire ... in short, [[NewPowersAsThePlotDemands whatever powers are required by the plot]]. But he doesn't know everything it does at first, and only slowly discovers its abilities. Essentially, the entire series runs on HowDoIShotWeb.

Ralph must balance his new powers and responsibilities with his old ones, which not only include his students, but his girlfriend Pam (Connie Selleca) and his son Kevin. The basic concept of the show, combined with the quality of the performances was a CrowningMomentOfAwesome for television in the early 80s, even if it appears cheesy and lame to some of the more jaded viewers.

After building a reasonably good following for its first two seasons on Wednesday nights, the show became a victim of The FridayNightDeathSlot when ABC paired it up with a new Cannell show ''The Quest'', finally canceling it with four episodes unaired until syndication.

The show has two legacies:

# Its catchy ThemeTune, "Theme from ''The Greatest American Hero'' ([[RefrainFromAssuming Believe It Or Not]])", which made it to ''Billboard'''s #2 slot in 1981, and stayed on the charts for ''two years''. It was written (with Stephen Geyer) by Mike Post, who also did the themes for ''Series/TheRockfordFiles'', ''Series/HillStreetBlues'', ''Series/TheATeam'', ''Series/HardcastleAndMcCormick'', and ''Series/LALaw'', and turned Joey Scarbury into a OneHitWonder.[[note]]He would later go on to sing the TitleThemeTune of "It's Flashbeagle, [[ComicStrip/{{Peanuts}} Charlie Brown]]", a duet with Desireé Goyette.[[/note]]

# Though not the first show to come from Creator/StephenJCannell Productions, it was the first to end with Cannell's [[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rSjqDpneJNc distinctive]] VanityPlate.[[note]]Furthermore, it uses [[EarlyInstallmentWeirdness a slightly different jingle]] from later versions. This one references this show's theme song.[[/note]]

Recently, the show has been adapted into a comic series set in the current day. The characters are basically the same, but some things have been changed; Bill has a smartphone, for example (which he doesn't know how to use) and the FBI knows to some degree about Ralph and his supersuit with Max's hasty story that he's a test pilot of a prototype military weapon.

Various as-yet unsuccessful attempts to revive the show have surfaced over the years, with the latest coming in 2017, featuring a more comedic slant and (once again) a GenderFlip heroine in the form of a young Indian-American woman named Meera.

A podcast taking a close look at every individual episode can be found [[http://throwbacknetwork.net/category/the-greatest-american-hero-podcast/ here]].

!!This show provides examples of:

* AchillesHeel
* ArbitrarySkepticism: In "The Shock Will Kill You", Bill can't bring himself to believe at first that an extraterrestrial life form could be the problem, even though he has seen firsthand an alien spacecraft that gave Ralph the suit.
* ArtisticLicenseGunSafety: Way averted. Bill Maxwell is determinedly careful with his guns, or at least as much as possible when the circumstances permit. He never points his weapon at anyone he isn't willing to shoot (and he does this even when the person in question is his bulletproof partner, Ralph), keeps it on safe until he absolutely has to take it off safe, and when picking up or putting down a weapon always clears the weapon first.
** In one particular episode, Maxwell needs "backup" to intimidate and arrest the bad guys so he hands Pam Davidson an M-16 that we have just watched Bill unload, clear, and double-check before it ever left his hands. And when she accidentally points this weapon... which he knows is unloaded because he, himself, cleared it... at Ralph (who Bill knows is a bulletproof superhero), Bill pushes the barrel away and then shows her how to hold and carry it without pointing at anyone.
* BadassNormal: Bill Maxwell, not even multiple broken bones slow him down.
* BadassTeacher: Ralph, with or without the suit, will stop anyone from hurting his students.
* BaseballEpisode: "The 200 MPH Fastball."
* BewareOfHitchhikingGhosts: In the episode "Operation: Spoilsport," Ralph and Bill keep passing the reanimated corpse of a dead man in the desert.
* BunnyEarsLawyer: Not Pam, who is an actual lawyer. Bill however is an FBI agent and clearly not playing with a full deck.
* CallBack: Several. The most prominent is probably Bill's ongoing love of dog biscuits acquired in an early episode. In a case of TraumaInducedAmnesia, Pam and Bill convince Ralph that the super-suit is genuine by having him lift up a car, which is how he convinced Pam in the pilot.
* CameraObscurer: Pam in "Desperado".
* CapeSnag: Subverted...Ralph's cape is just about the only thing that '''didn't''' give him problems when he used the suit. Well, it did flop over his head and block his vision on occasion, but that's a side effect of Ralph being able to use the suit to fly but not to make a controlled landing.
* CatchPhrase: While the show itself didn't spark any catch phrases of its own, two episodes feature ones which would become common in future Stephen J. Cannell programs. "Just Another Three Ring Circus" has Maxwell saying a variation of [[Series/TheATeam Hannibal Smith's]] "I love it when a plan comes together", while "The Shock Will Kill You" features Ralph repeatedly repeating [[Series/{{Hunter}} Rick Hunter's]] "Works for me."
* ChuckCunninghamSyndrome: Kevin pretty much vanished after appearing in many first season episodes. He does rate a mention in a couple of second season episodes, but is not seen. Rhonda disappears with no explanation in season three.
* ClearMyName: Tony in "Fire Man."
* ClothesMakeTheSuperman: All of Ralph's powers come from the suit.
* ContinuityNod: Bill mentions getting Ralph into Major League Baseball ("The 200 MPH Fastball") during "It's All Downhill From Here".
* CoolShades: Bill.
* CowboyCop: Bill Maxwell, though he's technically a FBI agent.
* CreativeClosingCredits: The end credits for the third season episode "Dreams" are shown with a reprise of the original song of the same name which played earlier during the episode.
* CryptidEpisode: "The Devil in the Deep Blue Sea" has Ralph wanting to go sea-serpent hunting, before getting distracted by more human villains. It turns out [[spoiler: the serpent does exist, but only the viewer gets to see it.]]
* ADayInTheLimelight: "Lilacs, Mr. Maxwell" and "Vanity, Says The Preacher" focus on Bill (probably not coincidentally, Robert Culp wrote and directed both episodes), while "Fire Man" prominently features Tony.
* DeadpanSnarker: All three main characters have their moments.
* DeconstructiveParody: Of superhero tropes, in that they don't quite apply in the real world, but that's how the suit works.
* DoesNotKnowHisOwnStrength: Ralph breaks Bill's hand with a too-firm handshake.
* DogFoodDiet: Bill's preferred diet is dog food biscuits and hamburgers. He apparently developed a taste for the former after they were all the companions had to eat in "The Hit Car," the second episode of the series.
* DressedInLayers: Ralph, though depending on what he's wearing getting his outer outfit off the suit can be a time-consuming process.
* EarlyInstallmentWeirdness: Bill is dead serious and played very straight by Robert Culp in the pilot, as opposed to the more easy-going, boss-ribbing, sometimes oblivious character he would later become. Ralph's hair is also huge in the pilot.
** Bill's behavior could be his way of dealing with the fact that his partner was just killed.
* EasyComeEasyGo: In "Divorce Venusian Style," Ralph is given a second instruction book to replace the first one that he lost. By the end of the episode he has lost the second book, leaving him no better off than before.
* EightiesHair: Hinkley is a superhero with ''a freakin' perm''.
** If the ''MAD'' satire is anything to go by, he may have been called out on it even at the time ("Did you see the way (Clark Kent) has his hair styled? You ought to try it! I mean... you look like Shirley Temple!").
* EmbarrassingButEmpoweringOutfit: The Suit, oh good heavens, the Suit. William Katt said later that his dismayed facial expression while looking at the suit in the credits was pretty much his real reaction to it.
* EmbarrassingCoverUp: Ralph comes up with all sorts of zany explanations for why he's wearing the suit when innocent bystanders happen on him, most of them embarrassing enough that people don't ask anything more.
** One of the best is when he loses his invisibility in the middle of a restaurant and pretends to be an actor advertising a production of Shaw's 'Man and Superman'. It works.
* {{Expy}}: This series is what you get when you combine {{Superman}} with GreenLantern and.....Series/WelcomeBackKotter.
* FailureIsTheOnlyOption: Ralph never gets a complete handle on the suit, even losing a ''second'' instruction manual given to him by the mysterious aliens. Subverted in that he does get noticably better over time at flying and using certain powers like invisibility.
* FakingEngineTrouble: In a number of episodes Bill would fake car trouble as a cover while Ralph goes into a situation inside the building.
* FBIAgent: Bill.
* FlyingBrick: Just part of the powers he has. Although considering his landings, it's more "brick" than "flying."
* ForgottenPhlebotinum: In one episode, Ralph discovers that the suit gives him the power of {{Telekinesis}}. He never uses this telekinetic ability again in later episodes.
** Ralph does end up using telekinesis several times after learning about it from a previous suit holder, proving skilled enough to use it to crack a large tumbler-lock safe in one episode.
* [[FreeRangeChildren Free Range High School Students]]: Ralph is apparently free to take his class on spur of the moment field trips and search parties, free of any needed permission slips. Validated to an extent by the fact that the school has given up on them, and as Pam says, half of their parents practically need to be introduced to their kids.
* FreudianTrio - TheKirk: Ralph, TheSpock: Bill, TheMcCoy: Pam.
* GeneralRipper: The villain of "Operation: Spoilsport" is one of these.
* GoldFever: Bill is hit especially hard with this in "The Lost Diablo." Even the kids from Ralph's class dump the water from their canteens in order to put more gold ore in them.
* GreenLanternRing: The Suit.
** AmuletOfConcentratedAwesome: Ditto.
* HappilyMarried: Ralph and Pam, eventually.
* HauntedHouse: The house in "The Beast in the Black."
* HowDoIShotWeb: having lost the instruction book, Ralph has to figure out the suit's powers through trial and error.
* HumanPopsicle: In one episode, we see what seems to be other pairs of people "sleeping" inside the alien's ship, apparently replacements for the main characters if they are deemed a failure.
* HypnoFool: In "The Hand-Painted Thai," Bill falls asleep every time someone utters the word "scenario", [[MoreHypnotizableThanHeThinks after consistently insisting that hypnotism is bunk and that it's impossible to hypnotize him]] thanks to his mental strength.
* IncorruptiblePurePureness: Ralph would balk at the slightest suggestion to use the suit for personal gain. Justified in an episode which depicts a former suit-wearer who used the suit to get rich and wound up becoming completely corrupted ''and'' losing the suit back to the aliens.
* InnerCitySchool: Where Hinkley works.
* IntimidatingRevenueService: In the episode "There's Just No Accounting..." Ralph, Pam and Bill are all harassed by an IRS agent who audits or threatens to audit them. It's hard to feel sorry for the IRS agent when the villain of the episode horsewhips him for also harassing said villain and his employees.
* JerkWithAHeartOfGold: Bill.
* UsefulNotes/TheKoreanWar: Bill Maxwell is a veteran of Korea. His old unit captain features in one episode as a cop gone bad.
** And in another episode, another of his commanding officers, now a general, [[GeneralRipper tries to start]] WorldWarIII.
* LastOfHisKind: The alien who gave Ralph his suit is hinted to be this, in the episode where he shows them his dead world (presumably destroyed by nuclear war.) He's trying to save humanity from the same fate.
** If considered canon, averted in the ''Greatest American Heroine'' pilot which features three aliens.
* LeaningOnTheFourthWall: As noticed by the hosts of the [[http://greatbitblog.com/stalkingtheretro/podcasts/tgahp7.mp3 GAH podcast for the episode "Fire Man"]], a guard copies down the license plate TV6-911 in such away that the 6 looks like a G, the 9 an A, and the 11 an H. Later they also noted that twice the show has made jokes about Ralph's students looking older than they are.
* LeftHanging: Whatever happened to those pictures of Ralph in the suit that the PI working for his ex-wife took?
* LoyalPhlebotinum: Ralph's suit only works for Ralph.
* {{Magazine/MAD}}: "The Greatest American Zero."
* MagicalNegro: in the pilot episode, the alien intelligence that delivers the suit to Ralph and Bill comes to them in the form of John, Bill's former FBI partner killed in the opening scene.
* MoreHypnotizableThanHeThinks: Bill in "The Hand-Painted Thai."
* Creator/{{NBC}}: When the creators made the pitch film for NBC for the hoped for reboot, the episode title screen said "The Greatest American Hero" with the letters i-n-e added one by one to the sound of the NBC chimes.
* MoreTeethThanTheOsmondFamily: "The Beast in the Black" is nothing ''but'' a set of giant chomping teeth.
* NewPowersAsThePlotDemands: Justified in that the suit had a ''lot'' of capabilities and Ralph did not know all of them. The show would also subvert this by having Ralph be unable to use his powers in quite the way he intended (e.g. pyrokinesis setting the wrong object on fire). See FailureIsTheOnlyOption above.
* NewSuperPower: In several episodes, he discovers new powers, some of which are never used again, such as mind control (which he developed after being exposed to plutonium) and the ability to shrink himself (his attempt at using the newly-acquired second instruction book).
* [[{{Ninja}} Ninja Episode]] "Thirty Seconds Over Little Tokyo".
* NoodleIncident: In "A Chicken In Every Plot", Tony is impressed that Ralph can hot wire a car. Ralph tells Tony to remind him to tell him someday about how he became a teacher.
* NotImportantToThisEpisodeCamp: Kevin. He disappears completely by the third season.
* OddCouple
* OhCrap: There is a ''mass'' Oh Crap moment in the pilot episode. Ralph has taken the kids on a trip, and they stop at a local diner for a bite to eat. Bill is eating there as well, and the kids' loud, brash behavior causes him to give them a disparaging look (he was also still dealing with the death of his partner). Tony notices and immediately confronts Bill. Tony manages to miss ''every single one'' of Bill's warning signals (turning on his stool to directly face Tony, unblinking eye contact, monotone voice, and hand under his jacket where a gun would logically be). Tony pulls a knife, only to find himself staring down the barrel of a .38 Special. At this moment, the diner goes deathly silent and each of the kids is so terrified that their faces look as if they're about to shatter. Tony in particular is wearing a look that clearly shows that for the first time in his life he realizes he in the real world now, schools out, and he's only one squeeze of a trigger away from dying. Ralph manages to defuse the situation, but even the look on his face shows that he's scared shitless. A brief, but very well done scene. It's even more powerful when you realize that, as a federal agent, Bill would have been perfectly justified in killing Tony the moment he pulled the knife on him.
* ThePlague: In the episode helpfully titled ''Plague''.
* PowerIncontinence
* PowerPerversionPotential: In "Live at Eleven", Ralph can't resist using his (temporary) mind-control powers on Pam. (Although it never goes any further than prank-level behavior.)
* PromotionToOpeningTitles: Michael Paré and Faye Grant, as of season 2. Don Cervantes gets promoted for a single episode only.
* {{Psychometry}}: Ralph can pick up some mental images left in objects by their previous owner. Examples include, upon finding a bomb, getting the location of a second one.
* RealAfterAll: As noted, "The Devil in the Deep Blue Sea" and its legendary sea-serpent.
* ResetButton: You give up the suit, you make everyone forget (except you).
* [[RealLifeWritesThePlot Real Life Designs The Suit]]: Cannell based the emblem on Ralph's suit on the handles of a pair of left-handed scissors he kept on his desk.
** It's also very similar to the Mahjong tile 'Red' or 'Red Dragon' and the Chinese character for "center." The Cantonese-dubbed version was titled "Flying Red Center Hero."
* RealLifeWritesThePlot: William Katt and Connie Selleca were unavailable for a revived NBC series, leading to the retooling as ''The Greatest American Heroine'', a concept the network passed up.
** William Katt and Robert Culp didn't get along at all at first (The main issue being that Culp resented not getting top billing, and Katt resenting Culp for resenting that). Luckily for the first few episodes Bill and Ralph don't care for each other too much either. Katt and Culp quickly put aside their problems about the same time their characters did the same on the show.
** In the pilot the distress on Katt's face as he looks at himself in the mirror in suit for the first time. He recalls thinking during that scene "Here's William Katt, throwing away his career." When telling Cannell that he looked "ridiculous" in the suit, Cannell told him that that was the point.
* RefugeInAudacity: Ralph doesn't make a whole lot of effort to be inconspicuous in his super-heroing, relying mostly on the fact that even if anybody sees his actions, who's going to believe them?
* ReluctantHero: Well, at first.
--> ''Look at what's happened to me''
--> ''I can't believe it myself''
--> ''Suddenly I'm on top of the world''
--> ''It should have been somebody else...''
* RunningGags: Bill is constantly injured and is constantly wrecking his cars, accidental or not.
** Ralph almost always crashes anytime he lands after flying.
* SaveOurStudents: What Hinkley was doing before he got the suit.
* SelfDeprecation: "Captain Bellybuster and the Speed Factory" features cheesy local commercials with the eponymous "superhero" "flying".. using exactly the same special effects that the show did with Ralph's flights.
* SpinningNewspaper: Announcing Ralph to the world in the ''Greatest American Heroine'' pilot.
* StatusQuoIsGod: Subverted when Ralph and Pam get married.
* SuperHero
* SuperheroesWearCapes
* SuspiciouslySimilarSubstitute: Tony Villicana was a prominent character for the first two season, but only appeared in one third season episode. For the rest of the season, a character named Joey filled his role. Justified since Joey was not a new character but had been a part of Ralph's class since day one.
* {{Telekinesis}}: In one episode, Ralph discovers that he can move objects with his mind -- but only if he clears his mind first. To clear his mind, he tries imagining a great big sheet of plain white paper. He has to concentrate on this image of white paper more dilligently [[DistractedByTheSexy at some times than at others]].
** In "Here's Looking at You, Kid", Bill is trying to get Ralph to move things with his mind when Ralph turns invisible instead.
* ThematicThemeTune: [[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e9Q3orQhEcA Check it out.]]
* ThemeMusicPowerUp: The instrumental version of the show's theme music often plays when Ralph takes flight or otherwise uses the suit to do something heroic.
* TitleDrop: As Ralph is exposed in the ''Greatest American Heroine'' pilot, the President greets him with "Thank you, Mr. Hinkley, you just proved what we've suspected for a while now...that this country truly has ... The Greatest American Hero".
* TouchedByVorlons: Or at least given one of their suits to wear.
* TrademarkFavoriteFood: One of the show's {{running gag}}s has Bill snacking on a box of [[DogFoodDiet Milk Bones]].
* TransformationIsAFreeAction: Humorously averted. Depending on what Ralph is wearing, it can take some time for him to take it off so he can save the day.
* TraumaInducedAmnesia: A collision with a train causes Ralph to selectively forget everything back to the time he acquired the suit. Bill and Pam have to convince him the suit is real and remind him how it works; made harder by the fact that Ralph now no longer trusts Bill, remembering only the run-in they had upon first meeting. Ironically, Ralph is better at flying as an amnesiac than with his memory. He recovers after a close call with yet another train.
* {{Uncanceled}}: Well, almost. About three years after it had been canceled by ABC, NBC expressed interest in reviving the show. A twenty minute presentation film was created which set up the premise for the revamped series - Ralph was found out after the media happened to film one of his rescues. At first reluctant to 'go Hollywood' he quickly became very famous and well known. The aliens return and insist that he has been compromised and demand he give up the suit to someone else to work with Bill Maxwell. To Maxwell's horror, Ralph gives the suit to a woman, making way for the title change ''Greatest American Heroine''. For a number of reasons NBC passed on it and the footage was edited with other footage to make one final episode for the syndication package and eventual [=DVDs=].
* TruthSerum: In "Operation: Spoilsport" Bill gets injected with one of these, leading to IntoxicationEnsues hijinks.
* UnfortunateNames: See the Hinkley/Hanley note in the opening paragraph.
* UpUpAndAway: The first time Ralph tries to fly, a young bystander helpfully explains that he has to take three steps and jump, then adapt this pose. It sort of works.
** In one episode, Bill comes up with an idea -- rudders! The idea is that Ralph would attach them to his boots for stability. They don't help one bit.
* VitriolicBestBuds: Ralph and Bill.
* WeddingDay: Ralph and Pam finally get married in "The Newlywed Game." Naturally, the wedding doesn't exactly go as planned...
* WeirdnessCensor: Most of the people who see Ralph in the suit think he's nuts (which became a RunningGag), promoting a show, or make up various other rationalizations for his odd form of dress. Some of the bad guys that Ralph fights think he's a gymnast or martial arts expert. Police who arrest said bad guys assume they're delusional or lying when the bad guys start talking about a flying, super-strong man.
** In the current comics, most people assume he's a lucha libre fan, or even an aspiring luchador. Max's excuse to other cops is that Ralph is the test pilot of a top secret military weapon.
* WideEyedIdealist: Hinkley when he starts teaching at the school.
* WrittenInAbsence: Pam is absent from the early episodes of season two, apart from a few scenes where she's on the phone with Ralph. The explanation is that she's in another city "working on a big case". In reality, Connie Sellecca was pregnant and then on maternity leave at the time.