TV’s superheroes are armed with unique abilities, usually cloaked in a variety of off-the-wall crime-fighting ensembles and share a common goal: Putting the bite on crime. From Superman to The Flash, television has played host to a plethora of powerful heroes. They’ve each used their special abilities to foil the nefarious plots hatched by numerous con men, thieves, spies and the like in their respective locales. We’ve compiled our picks for 10 of the best crimefighters ever seen on the small screen. Check out the list and see how many of these heroic ladies and gents you remember.
This series followed the adventures of the Dynamic Duo — Batman (Adam West) and Robin (Burt Ward) — as they waged war against a gaggle of campy criminals including the Penguin (Burgess Meredith), the Joker (Cesar Romero) and the Riddler (Frank Gorshin). By day, the caped crusaders went about their philanthropic duties as millionaire Bruce Wayne and his young ward, Dick Grayson. By night, the crimefighters tried to rid their beloved Gotham City of assorted villains from their high-tech crime lab, located in a cave under stately Wayne Manor.
The Bionic Woman
ABC, 1976-77; NBC, 1977-78
Former tennis pro Jaime Sommers was first introduced as The Six Million Dollar Man’s (Lee Majors) one-time fiancée. However, a skydiving accident, partial memory loss, a coma and life-saving bionic surgery all contributed to her getting spun off into her own series. Jaime’s bionics equipped her with two superhuman legs, a right arm with amazing strength and an ear with acute, long-distance hearing. She combined her special abilities with disguises ranging from a nun’s habit to a Vegas showgirl’s costume in order to solve dangerous cases for the Office of Scientific Information (OSI). In her spare time, Jaime taught elementary school and hung out with her bionic dog, Max.
A freak accident caused police chemist Barry Allen (John Wesley Shipp) to be soaked with a powerful mixture of electrically charged chemicals, enabling him to move with superhuman speed. As The Flash, his speed made him virtually invisible to the naked eye and thus made thwarting criminals a breeze. Donning fire-engine-red tights, he kept the streets of his native Central City safe for at least one season before the show was canceled, and definitely no teen angst in this one.
The Greatest American Hero
This series was actually more of a superhero spoof about a high-school teacher (William Katt) named Ralph Hinkley (changed to Hanley following John Hinckley’s real-life attempted murder of President Ronald Reagan) who received an incredible red flying suit from aliens he met in the desert. Unfortunately, Ralph misplaced the instruction book that accompanied the extraterrestrials’ gift. He tried to wing it, but was never fully able to master the full powers of the suit, which included the ability to become invisible and see through walls.
The Green Hornet
Communications magnate Britt Reid (Van Williams) edited and published “The Daily Sentinel,” owned a TV station and fought crime in his spare time under the guise of The Green Hornet. Armed with a special gas gun to immobilize crooks and a sting gun that penetrated steel walls, Reid chased down villains in his state-of-the-art car, the Black Beauty. The Green Hornet’s true identity was actually known by a handful of people including his faithful manservant, Kato (Bruce Lee), and his smitten secretary, Casey (Wende Wagner).
The Incredible Hulk
Poor David Banner (Bill Bixby). As a research scientist, he exposed himself to a massive dosage of radiation, which resulted in a big change in his biological makeup — especially when he got angry. As soon as his feathers got ruffled, Banner transformed into the Incredible Hulk (Lou Ferrigno), a tremendous, green, very muscular half-man/half-monster who wasn’t easy to reason with. Banner traveled the country in hopes of finding a cure for what ailed him, taking odd jobs along the way, and always with nosy reporter Jack McGee (Jack Colvin) hot on his trail.
The Six Million Dollar Man
Astronaut Steve Austin’s (Lee Majors) life was saved via bionic surgery after a moon-landing craft he was testing crashed in the desert. The space-age bionics replaced several of Steve’s human parts with electromechanical devices. After the surgery, his legs, right arm and left eye were each changed for the better and allowed him to set out on dangerous missions for the Office of Scientific Information (OSI). He battled Bigfoot on several occasions, as well as aliens and a seven-million-dollar man (Monte Markham), who ran amok after undergoing his own bionic surgery.
The Amazing Spider-Man
Peter Parker’s (Nicholas Hammond) story is yet another example of what can happen when lab experiments go awry. The young college science major was bitten by a radioactive spider, and as a result became endowed with tremendous strength and the ability to sense danger and scale walls. He combined those powers with a neat little wristband that shot webs to subdue criminals. Following in the footsteps of Superman and The Green Hornet, Parker’s chosen profession was reporting news for the “Daily Bugle,” which tipped him off to the latest troubles as they occurred around town.
The Adventures of Superman
The granddaddy of them all, this show set the standard for comic-book superheroes on the small screen. Superman (George Reeves) hailed from the planet Krypton and masqueraded as mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent to conceal his identity from the general public. His strength, X-ray vision and ability to fly enabled him to patrol the city of Metropolis in search of criminal activity. However, his efforts were usually focused on bailing “Daily Planet” colleague Lois Lane (first Phyllis Coates, then Noel Neill) out of perilous situations with crooks, con men and other unsavory types.
ABC, 1976-77; CBS, 1977-79
Wonder Woman (Lynda Carter) drew her strength and power from a compound known as Feminum, a magical metal that her Amazonian ancestors molded into belts and bulletproof bracelets. The first incarnation of this series was set in the 1940s, during World War II, when the princess left her native Paradise Island (where Amazon women had lived for centuries) to help the U.S. foil the Nazis. When the show moved to CBS, it was revamped and set in the present with Wonder Woman, a.k.a. Diana Prince, working as an agent for the Inter-Agency Defense Command (IADC).
Kick-Ass TV Heroines: Xena – Warrior Princess
What was not to love about Xena? As Lucy Lawless says: “Xena is a bad-ass, kick-ass, pre-Mycenaean girl.” Evildoers, clearly, must stand down, but not only bad guys (and girls) have Xena-phobia. Even heroes quake when she swings her broadsword.
Originally created as a syndicated complement to Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena pretty much kicked Herc to the curb. It was like when the Bionic Woman made us lose interest in the Six Million Dollar Man–only more so.
Unlike Lindsay Wagner’s early half-woman, half-machine, Xena wasn’t prone to frailty. Nor did she need robot parts. In fact, the Warrior Princess never lost. If she’s down, it’s not for long.
Plus, she was in touch with the dark side: This big-boned bruiser had definite moments of blood lust, as well as lust of some other varieties. Garbed in a leather miniskirt and armed with her trademark razor-edged, boomerang-action chakram, we watched Xena single-leggedly kick down entire platoons of Roman soldiers.
Sure, there were murmurings about Xena and her softer female sidekick, Gabrielle (actress Renée O’Connor). So what if they liked to conserve bathwater by doubling up? And what’s wrong with close friends frenching once in a while?
Then again, maybe it was true–and there’s anything wrong with that.
Actress: Lucy Lawless
Show: Xena: Warrior Princess
Classic TV Revisited: McMillan And Wife
Starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, McMillan and Wife was a super cute crime-solving saga from the 1970s made for the NBC’s Mystery Movie series.
Who were they?
Hubby was the debonair San Francisco police commissioner Stewart McMillan.
Sally was a foxy, rather scatterbrained dame with a knack for finding corpses.
Worked down the morgue did she?
Hardly. Sally’s finds were usually in some glitzy mansion which the couple were frequenting for a weekend cocktail party. She also had a habit of getting her life threatened or being kidnapped.
Who was in it?
Tragic Hollywood star Rock Hudson no less. He took on Stewart McMillan in his first TV role, after years as a matinee idol with movies such as Giant.
Fans of the lantern-jawed star were dismayed when he went public about having Aids. He had long kept his homosexuality secret. He carried on working in ’80s glam drama Dynasty, but make-up could not disguise the deterioration of this once-statuesque man. He died in 1985, aged 59.
What about Sally?
That role fell to raven-locked Susan Saint James. The Ali MacGraw lookalike was previously in shows such as Alias Smith And Jones and The Name of the Game.
A vital ingredient to McMillan And Wife was sharp-tongued housekeeper Mildred, played by Nancy Walker. Somebody needed to keep the place tidy while they gallivanted about solving crime.
Famous guest stars?
The couple’s conception?
Like Hart To Hart, the idea was borrowed from Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man books of the ’30s.
Gritty crime drama?
Hardly. These were cosy whodunnit cases, where the brutality of murder was never portrayed. The show was more about the interplay between McMillan and Sally.
Had viewers arrested?
Certainly in the US. It was the fifth highest-rated show in 1972 and 1973.
Fate of the golden couple?
Susan Saint James quit in 1976 over a contractual dispute. Nancy Walker also packed away her duster as housekeeper Mildred.
The dame’s exit was a fatal blow?
Certainly for the character of Sally – she was killed off in a plane crash. But Rock soldiered on with new assistant Sgt Steve DiMaggio (Richard Gilliland). The show became McMillan.
Audiences dwindled and the plug was pulled.
Cosy pillow talk, cocktail parties, Rock Hudson, pyjamas and numerous corpses.
Let’s go to bed. Turn the light out, darling.
Must you eat toast in bed, darling. Apologies, but I’ve got terrible flatulence. Separate bedrooms.
Not to be confused with
My Wife Next Door, Harold Macmillan, The Merry Wives Of Windsor and Mr And Mrs.
Classic TV Revisited: The Royal
The Royal was an ITV drama commission and was inspired by its sister programme Heartbeat.
The lowdown: This nostalgic family drama is set in the swinging 1960s and centres on the staff of a cottage hospital in Yorkshire. Newly qualified doctor David Cheriton (Julian Ovenden) is determined to make a difference to the world and arrives at St Aidan’s Royal Free Hospital in Elinsby full of big ideas. But he clashes with the hospital’s secretary TJ Middleditch (Ian Carmichael) who is determined to run things his way. Then there is the Matron (Wendy Craig) who rules her nurses with a rod of iron and tries in vain to stop them being distracted by the handsome arrival.
Memorable moments: Watch out for former Heartbeat favourite Bill Maynard who crosses dramas and continents as Claude Jeremiah Greengrass. Greengrass has returned from a Caribbean holiday with a mystery illness but that doesn’t stop him trying to earn a fast buck. It doesn’t take long before Claude attracts Matron’s ire.
Trivia: The Royal is a family affair for real life husband and wife Robert Daws (Ormerod) and Amy Robbins (Weatherill). No fewer than seven members of their clan have appeared in the series including their daughters and stepson.
Michelle Hardwick, who played receptionist Lizzie, says her favourite moment in the whole series didn’t come on screen but in the actors’ green room. She says: “I was sitting in there with Wendy Craig and Honor Blackman and we were having a lovely conversation. I sat back and thought ‘Wow, this is great, I can’t wait to tell my gran’.”
A modern day set version called The Royal Today aired 7 January – 14 March 2008.
First broadcast: 2003
Starred: Wendy Craig, Ian Carmichael, Michael Starke, Robert Daws and Julian Ovenden
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