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Believe It or Not: 'Greatest American Hero' on DVD

30 Sep, 2006 By: John Latchem

Think about the 1980s adventure series “The Greatest American Hero,” and two enduring memories come to mind. The first is the classic theme song, “Believe It or Not.” The second is the sight of series star William Katt as would-be superhero Ralph Hinkley in a bright-red costume flailing his arms trying to fly.

“The difference between Superman and Ralph was Superman knew what he was doing,” Katt said. In the pilot, his character loses the instruction manual for his alien super suit and spent three seasons trying to figure out his new powers.

Following last year's release of season sets of the show, Anchor Bay Entertainment Oct. 3 releases a $99.98 limited edition collector's tin that includes all 44 episodes from the show's original run, plus a cape, an iron-on decal and, ironically, the suit's instruction manual.

When he first started on the show, Katt wasn't looking for a long-term commitment.

“[Producer] Stephen J. Cannell flew out and gave me a script, and I thought it was extraordinarily funny,” Katt said. “So I did the pilot and signed on for about four to six episodes. I'm more of a theater person, so I wasn't thrilled about the idea of going to Hollywood to shoot a television show. My agent told me not to worry, that it wouldn't last long. It turned out he was wrong.”

The show ran from 1981 to 1983 on ABC and co-starred Robert Culp as FBI agent Bill Maxwell and Connie Sellecca as Ralph's girlfriend, Pam.

“It was really fun doing scenes with Connie,” Katt said. “I was able to push her buttons and make her laugh. So we'd just sit there and giggle and have fun together.”

On the other hand, shooting scenes in the “red jammies” wasn't the most comfortable experience. For starters, the suit was too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter, Katt said. Then there was the matter of filming the flying sequences in the days before computer animation.

“They had me on a large stage that was painted blue, with an upside-down railroad track up in the air, and they attached me to it with wires on my hips,” Katt said. “One time, one of the wires broke, and I just dangled there waiting for someone to rescue me. It was pretty scary.”

While modern CGI might have made it easier to shoot the special effects sequences, Katt said the stunt work wasn't without an element of fun.“One time, I had to hang onto the front strut of a helicopter, and they had a camera strapped over my shoulder,” Katt said. “How many people get to fly on a helicopter hanging on to the strut?”

The DVDs also include the unaired pilot for “The Greatest American Heroine,” NBC's attempt to revive the series in 1986. At the time, Katt was appearing in a series of new “Perry Mason” TV mysteries, so the producers crafted a storyline for the new pilot in which Ralph must give up the suit to a young woman.

“It didn't work,” Katt said. “I remember sitting around the table doing line readings. And every time the girl would open her mouth, Connie would kick me under the table because she thought it was so funny.”

As an additional bonus, 200 random sets will contain a photo card personally autographed by Katt.

“The fans have always been great to me, and the fact that they still remember the show is joyous,” Katt said. “I was happy to give something back to them.”

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