Question: I remember watching this television show when I was little about a bumbling superhero. I think the superpowers came from his costume, which was given to him by aliens. However, he lost the instruction book and can't figure out how to use the suit. No one else seems to remember this show, and I was wondering if you could tell me the title? Thanks. — Mike
Televisionary: Sure, I could, Mike — and I will just as soon as I get over the shock of your statement that you used to watch a show that launched in March 1981 when you were "little." Not that it should surprise me, mind you, since you're probably in your late 20s and the difference between us isn't all that great, but I'd only recently gotten my driver's license when that show debuted so I'm feeling a little old. (Like that should surprise me in a city where actresses are over the hill at 20.) Ah, me.
Believe it or not, the series you seek is The Greatest American Hero, which ran on ABC for just shy of two years and produced the hit theme song "Believe It or Not," sung by Joey Scarbury. In it, nice-guy L.A. high school teacher Ralph Hinkley (William Katt) was on a field trip with his students when their van mysteriously broke down. Wandering around in the middle of the desert looking for help, he ran into FBI agent Bill Maxwell (Robert Culp), and the two of them were visited by aliens who gave Hinkley a super-powered suit. (Don't question it — I've been to the desert outside L.A. and really strange things happen there.) Maxwell talked Hinkley into helping him use the suit to fight crime, but complications arose when the hapless teacher lost the instructions for it.
Without any clue as to how to use the suit, Hinkley discovered its powers — superhuman strength, holographic vision, flight, invisibility, the power to see into the future, etc. — at random, usually at the most inopportune moments. As one might imagine, these things wreaked havoc on his otherwise normal life. In particular, Hinkley's struggling romance with spirited lawyer Pam Davidson (Connie Sellecca) took it on the chin. (In the grand TV hero tradition, for example, Ralph and Pam's wedding was marred by his secret life; even Pam's mom, played by June Lockhart, was powerless to restore a degree of normalcy.)
The show owed a lot to the flawed superhero genre popularized by comics like Marvel's Spider-Man, but it was the people with the rights to Superman who raised a fuss, claiming the show infringed their copyright. As if that wasn't problem enough, in March 1981 John W. Hinckley shot President Ronald Reagan and the producers had a lead character who shared a name with a wannabe assassin on their hands. Thus, Hinkley became Hanley for a while before the producers reached a level of comfort and changed it back.