SEASON ONE OVERVIEW
The Greatest American Hero debuted with much fanfare on March 18, 1981. The pilot scored extremely high ratings, and ABC impressed from the footage seen during the filming of the pilot had already ordered the series as a mid-season replacement before the movie had aired. As with most series by Stephen J. Cannell TGAH is very character driven, with continual conflict between the series three leads: Ralph, Bill, and Pam. Although ABC seemed to think the shows humor came from Ralph crashing into windows and walls (that's the way the series was usually always promoted), the humor came from the situations the characters found themselves in and almost always mixed in with the right balance of action and adventure.
From the start, trouble had already reared its head in the form of Warner Bros., the owner of DC Comics. They filed a lawsuit trying to stop the pilot from airing. A judge ruled in TGAH's favor and the pilot aired. Even during the show's 2nd season, Warner was still trying to end the series, saying it infringed on the Superman copyright. The lawsuit over the series caused many potential licensees to back away from the show. That's why very few items (toys, books, clothes) were made for the series. By the 2nd episode, President Reagan was shot and ABC did not want their newest ratings sensation to have the same last name as the Presidents would-be assassin, and ordered Ralph's last name changed from Hinkley to Hanley. Some episodes had the Hinkley name removed by sound FX before dubbing could make the change. The series ended its 1st brief season on top.
SEASON TWO OVERVIEW
Due to the 1981 Writers Guild of America strike & the World Series being broadcast on ABC, the 2nd season started way late on Nov. 4, 1981. Ralph's name was wisely changed back to Hinkley and the 2nd season was underway. This season had its share of problems, too. The network wanting spaceships and monsters, with Ralph saving the world every week, vs. Cannell's character-driven stories set in a more realistic world. Pre-emptions did not aid the ratings battles that season. Also, no explanation was ever given about the disappearance of Ralph's son Kevin and although mentioned, he was never seen and eventually forgot about altogether.
The aliens returned twice in what became fan-favorite episodes and Ralph found new powers in the suit. Some abilities Ralph became better at using that year, showing some thought on the part of the creative team. At the end of the 2nd season, the ratings were marginal and it was up in the air whether the series would return.
SEASON THREE OVERVIEW
ABC switched TGAH to Friday nights for its 3rd season, and based on the numbers from the 2nd year, only ordered half a seasons worth of episodes. Traditionally a bad night for this type of programming, it was made even worse when the show was scheduled opposite NBC's new series Knight Rider and Dallas on CBS. TGAH's new season debuted on Oct. 29, 1982, almost as late as season two. Right off in the season premiere the "greenguys" return and Ralph is given a new instruction book and we finally get to see the inside of the eerie craft. The preview after the episode This is The One The Suit Was Meant For was for the wedding episode and ABC, noticing the quickly declining ratings, replaced the previewed episode that next week with the Carlini episode, and after the 4th episode of the 3rd season, the series was yanked from ABC's line-up. The network saved the wedding episode for the series return on Jan. 6, 1983. After airing 5 episodes in the new Thursday night timeslot, ABC once again pulled the series and replaced it with two sitcoms that had worse ratings than TGAH. Although stating the series would return, it never did on network television and was cancelled. The 4 remaining episodes never aired on the ABC and didn't see the light of day until 1st airing in syndication that started in April of 1984.