The Fall Guy (1981-86): What Happened to the TV Show that spawned the movie?

With the big-screen version of The Fall Guy due to hit this week, we take a look back at the iconic TV show that started it all.

The 80s were a time when country music and a type of hero born of the good ol boy class that came into his own.  This could be seen in shows like The Dukes of Hazzard, BJ and The Bear, as well as movies like Any Which Way But Loose and Smokey and the Bandit.  They were a time of what would be considered fun action films and TV.  Again, this was personified in shows where usually no one got seriously hurt, like The A-Team. The bad guys went to the same shooting school as your friendly neighborhood Stormtroopers.  But, one TV show that would personify this “nobody better get hurt” adventure series was The Fall Guy.  

The series was designed as a vehicle for star Lee Majors, who had become a household name thanks to The Six Million Dollar Man, but struggled to find a worthy follow-up. This would be it, with him playing Colt Seavers, a likeable stuntman who supplements his income as a bounty hunter. For Majors, this would be a passion project, with him even singing the theme song. The show became a major hit, with Majors riding a second wave of fame while his gorgeous co-star, Heather Thomas, would become one of the biggest pin-ups of the 80s. The show has just been given the big-screen treatment, with Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt starring in the well-received remake (read our review here), so now it’s time to pay tribute to the original show.

How did The Fall Guy get made?

The Fall Guy came to be in probably one of the most bizarre ways a TV show would happen.  And yet…for those who grew up with the series and that epic theme song, it makes complete sense.

Glen Larson, a name Gone But Not Forgotten viewers should recognize, was one of the gods of 80s television. He was hanging out with a friend of his named David Somerville who just happened to be a member of a music group named The Diamonds.  Somerville had written a theme song for a project about stuntmen called “The Ballad of the Unknown Stuntman,” which he was humming and singing. Larson heard him and asked his friend what it was. He had Somerville perform the whole song.  Based on that song, Larson had an idea for a TV series.

Armed with Somerville and literally no script, Larson went in to pitch the idea of a show to ABC.  The pitch consisted of Larson and Somerville singing the song.  Lo and behold, that was enough for them, and the show got the greenlight. It’s as crazy as some scenarios Colt Seaver would wind up in.

Larson’s idea became a series that would give viewers exactly what was promised: crazy stunts and behind-the-scenes of what it was like making Hollywood action films. But consistently doing that for an hour a week would get really expensive and exhausting.  So the lead character of our Fall Guy, Colt Seaver, would have a gig between his stunt jobs as a bounty hunter for bail jumpers, a scenario the film dropped for some reason.  This concept would keep a level of action still going and allow Colt to use his stuntman abilities and training while dealing with this other dangerous line of work.

Where is The Fall Guy cast now?

The Fall Guy wasn’t a deep premise, but it was a hell of fun.  And this was helped along in spades by casting Lee Majors as Colt Seaver.  Majors had a history with Glenn Larson thanks to his work in Six Million Dollar Man.  Lee was likable, had a glimmer in his eye, and was not from bionics this time. He had been around stuntmen and the industry for a while.  He had a good ol boy charm, which was something that would work years later when he was cast in the role he seemed born for, Bruce Campbell’s father in Ash Vs Evil Dead.

Majors would do many of his stunts in the series besides singing the theme song.  He also directed some episodes and produced the series.  A number of the guest stars who would show up or cameo were friends of Majors who had been around a while by this point in his career in numerous TV and film roles, several which were based in the Western genre.  

The Fall Guy definitely lent itself to this sort of “Redneck Cinema” genre, which was growing in popularity in the late 70s and early 80s, and Major’s western resume helped greatly with that mystique.  It was something Larson would bring to the small screen in other series like The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo, BJ and the Bear, and, to some extent, Simon and Simon.

Majors is still working in both TV and film, most notably in the previously mentioned Ash Vs Evil Dead where he gave as great a chin as Bruce Campbell on screen.  

Douglas Barr played Howie, the naïve and lovable sidekick for Colt.  Howie loved the ladies and would try his hand at being a stuntman alongside Colt and Jody, using his many failed attempts at degrees in college to help out when needed.  Barr’s charming smile, good looks, and loveable personality made him a great foil for Major’s, and there was a great chemistry there.  

Barr had already been in a few TV series and films at this point.  He’d go on to co-star alongside David Rappaport in the fantastic tv series called The Wizard as his bodyguard and partner.  He’s since become more known for writing and directing TV movies like the Hallmark Channel’s Notes from the Heart Healer and Taking a Chance on Love.  He’s also become a winery owner with the snazzily named Hollywood and Vine Cellars.

Heather Thomas played Jody, the stunt woman who helped keep Howie in line and was Colt’s right hand.  Thomas was a stunning actress whose poster wound up on the wall of a LOT of 80s teenage boys.  She appeared in several TV series in guest roles and some great cult films like Zapped alongside Scott Baio.   But my favourites were the Fred Olen Ray-directed Cyclone opposite a very young Jeffrey Combs and Red Blooded American Girl, where she starred alongside Kim Coates, Christopher Plummer, and Andrew Stevens.

heather thomas the fall guy

Thomas’s time in Hollywood wasn’t an easy one though, and she’s talked about the struggles that happened while she was more in the public eye.  Stalking became a life-threatening issue when one of Thomas’s stalkers came to her house and climbed a fence while brandishing a knife.  Thomas did return to acting though and also became a writer, penning the book called Trophies.  

Jo Ann Pflug would star for the first season as Big Jack, Colt’s bondswoman boss.  Pflug was in many TV roles, TV films, and feature films.  But I’ll always remember her as the fast-talking Louise Harper from The Night Strangler.

Markie Post would take over the bail woman role as Terri Shannon for all but the series’ last season.  Post was a staple on TV throughout the 80s and had a massive career, with her most well-known role being Christine from Night Court.  In fact, her commitment to being on The Fall Guy prevented her from joining Night Court until its third season. Sadly, she would pass away at the young age of 70 in 2021 after a long battle with cancer.

But, we can’t recite the cast of The Fall Guy without mentioning its most iconic character…and that’s Colt’s GMC Pick-Up. Many who owned the toy car version of this baby would have it race alongside the other famous vehicles of the 80s like KITT, The ATEAM Van, and, of course, The General Lee.  The 1980’s was a magical time to be a car geek. The truck was a GMC K 2500 with some additions.  They did many stunts and jumps with the trucks. Eventually, GMC would modify the pickups to help cut down on the number of them being trashed during stunts.

The Fall Guy would become a major, pun not intended, hit for ABC thanks to a great mix of comedy, action, and a massive guest star list.  As said, Lee Majors got many friends to show up in the series.  Just in the pilot alone, Lou Rawls would play Country Joe.  And when you have a guy with a voice like Lou Rawls, you have to find someone with an equally unique voice to play the villain harassing him.  That role went to Percy Rodrigues, the voice of over 100 movie trailers. When you heard that voice coming onto a trailer you knew you were in for something terrifying.  From Jaws to The Exorcist, Rodriguez’s voice was always involved.  

Besides Rawls and Rodrigues, Delta Burke would appear as a waitress, and Lara Parker was a very unhappy resident in town.  Terry Kiser (Bernie from Weekend at Bernie’s) was Jody’s director.  Eddie Albert, another staple from film and TV played Big John, the child hit and runner in a villainous turn.  

James Coburn played himself, and so did Farrah Fawcett.  Farrah’s appearance almost didn’t happen.  In reality, she and Majors were getting divorced, and it was playing out across many tabloids and in the news.  Her friends had asked her not to do the cameo, which was a really sweet moment where you could see the affection the actors still had for each other.  But Farrah wanted to show the world that she and Majors weren’t at each other’s throats as the headlines would have you believe.  So she did the cameo, which lends itself to the line Majors sings in the theme song (“I’ve been seen with Farrah”).

The guest stars and brief appearances over the show’s run were MASSIVE.  Here’s a short sampling.  Richard Kiel, Milton Berle, Linda Evans, Vincent Schiavelli, Lou Ferrigno, Tom Selleck, Heather Locklear, Richard Burton, Roy Rogers, Lindsay Wagner and many more.  Much like Dukes of Hazzard, some country music performers like Johnny Lee, Mickey Gilley, Dottie West, Ray Stevens, and Charlie Daniels would be a part of the show.

But my favourite episode of The Fall Guy had to be the one that aired on October 31st, 1984…with the original title called October the 31st.  This episode sees Colt, Howie, and Jody all at a supposedly haunted mansion alongside Elvira and John Carradine.  But John isn’t the only Carradine here as his sons David, Keith, and Robert are also in the episode.  This episode would be followed up the following year with October the 32nd, which would have Elvira return where Colt and company are filming a horror film and dealing with an escaped mental patient.  This would see Doug McClure return as well as Schiavelli, and would also co-star Vernon Wells.

As I said previously, there were toy cars of Colt’s truck in different sizes and an airplane.  The merchandise was huge, with things like lunchboxes, action figures, t-shirts, and a board game. 

Overseas, the show was also a hit, with Fall Guy Annuals produced in the UK, which was something done for series like Doctor Who and the like.  If you want to see the original Fall Guy series, you can order it on Amazon Prime.

Is the movie a fitting tribute?

The answer to the question of if Fall Guy should return has already been answered.  This week, Ryan Gosling is starring in a big-budget remake feature film called The Fall Guy, with him playing Colt Seavers who in this isn’t a bounty hunter for bail jumpers but is simply a stuntman.  The Jody here, played by Emily Blunt, isn’t his assistant but the film director of the project he’s working on and who also happens to be his ex-girlfriend.  There’s no Howie around, but the rumour is that Lee Majors does have a role in the film, which follows Colt as he tries to find the missing leading man of the movie, Tom Ryder, played by Aaron Taylor Johnson before Jody’s film is shut down.

The trailers all show this looks like a great time with a funny and charming cast and lots of explosions and crazy stunts…which is exactly what The Fall Guy should be.  It’s an amped-up peek into Hollywood.  But more than that, it gives the guys and gals who risk their lives for our entertainment a spotlight that’s been well-deserved for a long time.  And here’s hoping that with a film like this most assuredly being a hit, it will inspire the Oscars to give us a best Stunt Person award FINALLY.  Check out our EIC Chris Bumbray’s review HERE!

About the Author

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Jessica was raised on a diet of Dark Shadows, Doctor Who, and a lot of things she saw way too young. She’s been writing for nearly a quarter of a century about the world of entertainment and her own fiction (and that sound you heard was her bones turning to dust.) Jessica loves being a JoBro as well as creating content for her site/channel/Podcast Fangirl Magazine/Fangirl Radio. Her favorite things are writing, movies/tv, video games, reading, and trying to summon the ghost of Vincent Price.