The Greatest American Hero, John Hinckley Jr., and Connie Sellecca…oh, my!

The Greatest American Hero was a comedy-drama superhero series that ran for three seasons, from 1981 to 1983.

Here’s the premise: Ralph Hinkley, (later Hanley—I’ll explain why in a moment) is a substitute teacher in the Los Angeles public school system. Extraterrestrials bestow on him a suit that gives him superhero powers. 

After that, Ralph (played by William Katt) works with his FBI sidekick, Bill Maxwell (Robert Culp) to thwart criminals, and carry out the usual superhero endeavors. 

Ralph is also aided by his divorce lawyer, Pam Davidson (played by Connie Sellecca).

The show premiered on March 18, 1981. On March 30, 1981, a whackjob named John Hinkley Jr. shot then President Reagan and three other individuals. This was an association that the show’s producers obviously wanted to avoid. So Ralph Hinkley became Ralph Hanley. 

Was The Greatest American Hero great TV? Oh, heavens no—not even by the modest standards of the early 1980s. But I would submit that this was not bad TV, either. 

I watched The Greatest American Hero on occasion. It was light entertainment, with a bit of light action, and tolerably likable characters who were lightly drawn. 

The Greatest American Hero was also responsible for giving a generation of adolescent boys a crush on Connie Sellecca.

A personal note here, on the international reach of this show and the aforementioned actress. In the mid-1990s, I worked with a Taiwanese man who was about my age. We were discussing American pop culture one day, and he went out of his way to express an appreciation for both The Greatest American Hero and Connie Sellecca. Make of that what you will.