Enjoyed a lively session about classic TV series The Greatest American Hero, held to announce the launch of a new GAH comic book series coming out from Catastrophic Comics (star William Katt is the CEO).
The whole cast was there—William Katt, Robert Culp, and Connie Sellecca—as well as Dennis “Danger” Madalone, Katt’s stunt double.
When I entered the conference room, they were playing a reel of what seemed to be every single instance of red-pajama-fueled hijinks from the show, with Danger as main character Ralph Hinkley crashing into walls, through windows, onto cars, and so on.
It was easily five full minutes long, set to the strains of Elton John’s “Rocket Man.” (Unfortunately, they haven’t put the video online where I can find it, but I found a shorter one with the same general idea here.)
Brown-haired Madalone explained that, the first time he met Katt on set and saw that big, curly blond coif, he thought to himself: “We’re gonna have to put a brown wig on that guy.” He also wistfully recalled how, at age 5, wearing his own red pajamas, he would dive off the bed face-first into the dresser and throwing himself down the stairs. His parents thought he had a brain disease, but he was just a budding stuntman.
“Life,” he thought, the first time he wore the suit, “takes you on a beautiful circle.”
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Despite having worked on a host of other shows, including 3 flavors of Star Trek, GAH was Madalone’s hands-down favorite to work on.
Katt seemed a lot like his character. He said that, the first time he tried on the outfit, he felt a lot like Hinkley did on the show: “I was mortified.” Katt went on to say, though, that he “gets it” now, and understands why fans of the show are so passionate about it.
Sellecca looked great—she truly hadn’t aged a day—and reminisced that Culp used to call her “the skirt” back on the set. (It was a different era.)
“I always wanted to wear the suit,” she declared. “We wanted to see you in it, too,” Culp shot back.
Culp actually had some of the most insightful commentary of the panel, explaining that, at heart, The Greatest American Hero was the story of Arthur and Merlin, with Merlin, Culp’s character Maxwell, showing Arthur, Ralph Hinkley, how to pull the sword out of the stone, i.e. how to use the suit. “And bossed him around thereafter,” Culp added.
Culp explained: “The juice of the show is that Ralph is an ordinary man, and everyone involved worked really hard to keep everything in the world as real as possible.”
He urged against a fan’s suggestion that the comic book introduce super-villains or other supernatural threats that would be more evenly matched against Ralph’s powers. He believes that the strength of GAH lies in the story of a regular guy in the real world, dealing with this responsibility he simply doesn’t want.
(I have to say though that a real regular guy would be pretty thrilled about being able to fly and punch through concrete, red pajamas or no.)
The creator of the show, Steven J. Cannell, couldn’t make it to the panel but sent a videotaped greeting, pointing out that of all his many, many hit TV shows, the DVD set of GAH has sold the best, even though it wasn’t all that successful in its initial run as far as Nielsen numbers go.
Remember that Saturday Night Live sketch where rabid Star Trek fans confront William Shatner with questions about the most minute trivia from the show (transcript here)? A similar moment occurred at the GAH panel, although no one was exhorted to “get a life.” A superfan asked Katt whether the new comic books would feature a reappearance of “the gray suit.”
Blank looks from the whole panel. The fan explained that, in one episode, we met the man who had been tasked by the aliens to fight evil before Ralph was, and apparently his suit was gray rather than red. Gray-suit guy apparently gave Bill his instruction manual, which which would have been great if that second manual hadn’t been abruptly lost as well (hadn’t the Xerox been invented yet?).
This anecdote sparked Katt’s memory, and as thanks the fan’s photo was taken for inclusion in a background shot of the an upcoming issue of the comic. (It felt a bit like an Oprah moment: He’s going in the comic! He’s going in the comic!)
The GAH comic will last 6 issues to start, with more to come depending on the response, so get out there and buy lots of copies. The first issues will retell the story of the pilot (updated from the 80s to the modern day): aliens give schoolteacher Ralph Hinkley a set of red pajamas that gives him super strength, flight, and an assortment of other superpowers, in order to fight crime and protect humanity. And then he loses the instruction manual.
(On a vaguer note, there was mention of a live-action feature film adaptation being put together by Cannell. And also some 3D animated shorts. Lots of GAH goodies are on the way.)
The highlight of the entire panel was hearing Robert Culp declare, “You gotta go put the jammies on.”