Sep 6 2011 2:30pm

Gimme Some Action: The Alpha Hero

Dallas SWATAllow me to introduce the Alpha Hero. You, and every other member of the female populace, will notice this man the moment he walks into a room. He’s got confidence. Swagger. He is strong-minded and has the body to match. Sound familiar? Although you might not know this guy personally, you’ve probably seen him recently on your favorite reality show.

No, I’m not talking about Jersey Shore.

This testosterone-saturated creature is starring in a raft of reality TV programs featuring survivalists, spec ops warriors, police snipers, and more. Flip on the tube and see what I mean. The fabled Alpha Hero, long a staple of romance fiction, is taking over the small screen. Television shows such as Dallas SWAT, One Man Army, Man vs. Wild, and Manhunters: Fugitive Task Force are just a few of the programs bringing you real-life heroes to rival any fictional character found in a romance novel. I’ve noticed this trend because as a romance author, my radar tends to perk up every time a guy with hero potential walks onto the scene.

Who are these men? Contrary to what you might expect, they are not necessarily thermostat-shattering hot. But they are strong, driven, and have an air of danger about them that many women find irresistible.

Take Mykel Hawke, the star of the popular series Man, Woman, Wild. He’s not the biggest guy out there, but he comes across as a powerhouse. Why? Because he’s confident, quick on his feet, and seemingly able to get himself and his beautiful travel companion (who happens to be his wife, Ruth) out of any desperate situation those masochistic TV producers can throw at them. (I think another reason the show is popular is that women enjoy watching Ruth go toe to toe with him at least once an episode as they struggle to survive on roasted opossum and other backwoods delicacies.)

The casual channel flipper might assume that many of these shows about SWAT teams and door-kicking bounty hunters are directed at men, but I think women are the true target market. Nothing against Sensitive Ponytail Man and his brethren, but the Alpha Hero has a gut-level appeal that prompts women to hide the remote during commercial breaks. Even when covered in greasepaint, or wrapped in Kevlar, or coated in mud, these adrenalin-addicted tough guys are fun to watch. That’s one reason so many romance authors have discovered a renewed enthusiasm for television “research.”

And I can tell you from first-hand experience that this appeal I’m talking about isn’t all smoke and mirrors orchestrated by skillful film editors. While researching characters, I’ve interviewed Navy SEALs, SWAT team members, FBI agents, and others in “macho” professions. I’ve been interested to discover that often the people behind these TV stereotypes are even more impressive in person than they are on the screen.

Why? Because they’re human. You talk to them about their jobs and you hear not only about the rigorous training they go through to make it into these elite careers—you also hear about their personal lives. You hear about their wives, their parents, the nieces who send them Girl Scout Cookies while they’re deployed overseas. You hear about the ups and downs that go along with some of these gun-toting jobs—jobs that seem so cool until you realize that for every one of these law enforcement or military professionals, there is a spouse or a parent or a sibling fretting over their safety each time they walk out the door.

These are just the sort of layered characters that are fun to read about in fiction, so authors are busy putting them into novels. Peruse the shelves at your local book store and you’ll find that the alpha heroes of today’s fiction may remind you of the stars of your favorite reality shows.

Just another example of how art imitates life.


New York Times bestselling author Laura Griffin started her career in journalism before venturing into the world of romantic suspense. Her books have won numerous awards, including a 2010 RITA (Whisper of Warning) and a 2010 Daphne du Maurier Award (Untraceable). Her new book Snapped hits book stores this month. Visit Laura at www.lauragriffin.com, on Facebook, or on Twitter @Laura_Griff.

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Heather Waters
1. HeatherWaters
"...the Alpha Hero has a gut-level appeal that prompts women to hide the remote during commercial breaks."

Yes, definitely. I do love men in uniform, and SWAT guys are some of the toughest. Yum!
Megan Frampton
2. MFrampton
I have to confess to liking Man vs. Wild the coupla times I've watched it. Nom, Alpha Heroes!
3. TracyS
"I’ve been interested to discover that often the people behind these TV stereotypes are even more impressive in person than they are on the screen."

This is so true! A good friend of mine at church lost her son in Afghanistan in 2003. I did not meet her until 2004, so I never knew her son personally, but I've gotten to him through her. Her son, C., was a Navy SEAL then a CIA agent. He was with the CIA when he was killed. She has pictures of him in uniform, and he's even shown up in the pages of some books out there written by former SEALs. He was a tough guy who loved his job. Alpha to the core. However, I also hear about C. from the mother who loved him and whom he doted on and from the little brother than adored him. I've learned who he was as a person, not just the "alpha warrior" that the pictures show. Definitely makes for a "layered character!"
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