Friday, November 23, 2012

Classic TV: Wonder Woman (1975)

Some say that if at first you don't succeed, try, try again. They also say that sometimes, the third time's the charm. Both homilies certainly apply to Wonder Woman.

We have previously discussed William Dozier's ill-advised ultra-campy pilot, which went unsold in 1967 for 20th Century Fox, and intended for ABC, one would think. 7 years later, ABC tried again, this time with a Movie of the Week that cast Cathy Lee Crosby as a blonde, costume-less Amazing Amazon, clearly riffing off the "Emma Peel wannabe" period of the late 60's-early 70's when Princess Diana was stripped of her powers and was given a blind Asian advisor as a partner in peril. Journeyman actor Kaz Garas was cast as Steve Trevor, with Ricardo Montalban as the villain of the piece, a corrupt businessman named Abner Smith. This didn't register too well, so ABC went to the well again a year later with a 2nd Movie of the Week, "The New, Original Wonder Woman", set in World War 2, and with another relative unknown, Lynda Carter in the title role. Jackpot!

The movie aired in November and was a ratings bonanza. 2 "specials", also set in WWII, aired the following Spring, and it went to full series in September 1976. Lyle Waggoner came over from The Carol Burnett Show to play Trevor. Stanley Ralph Ross, a writer-producer on Batman, served in the same capacity for Wonder Woman. The series was still set in WWII, and was a top 5 hit. However, it was expensive to produce, and because it was a period piece, it was a problem for ABC, prompting them to drop the show. Warner Bros. then moved it to CBS, and re-set the show in the then present, with Waggoner now as the son of Trevor, who along with Diana Prince (Carter), was working for a government agency. The series ended its run in 1979, when CBS decided it didn't want to be typecast, if you will, as the superhero network, having Wonder Woman coupled with Incredible Hulk on Friday nights. WB stablemate Dukes of Hazzard replaced Wonder Woman, which enjoyed a pretty healthy run in syndication during the 80's after cancellation.

The season 1 open is not available to be posted here at the moment, so I have a season 2 open, uploaded by Spockfalcon. When the series shifted to CBS, it was retitled, The New Adventures of Wonder Woman, though I believe the change was reversed the following season.

Waggoner had tested for Batman years earlier, which explains why Ross cast him as Steve Trevor in the first place, as a sort of make good. Waggoner demonstrated some impressive acting range, as he'd been better known as a comic actor from his run with Carol Burnett. The guest stars during the course of the series run ran the gamut, from Dick Van Patten and Stella Stevens in season 1 to the likes of Dick Gautier and a pre-General Hospital Rick Springfield during the CBS years. Yes, it did get silly toward the end. A 2011 pilot, helmed by noted producer David E. Kelley, died stillborn, but there's always hope for another go-round......

Rating: A-.


magicdog said...

I don't know what you call it - lightning in a bottle I guess!

Lynda Carter IS Wonder Woman and her influence in the role carried over into many WW adaptations! Justice League even had Diana change into costume by spinning in place just like on the show! Plenty of young girls did the same in front of their bedroom mirrors - I know I did!

Carter herself is certainly glad for her time as WW, even making that remark in the film, "Sky High" ("I'm not Wonder Woman ya know!").

I loved the early seasons set in the WW 2 era. I hated it when the show inexplicably was moved to the (then) present. Sure, Wondy can fit in most any time period, but the world came to know and love her during the 40s and she's so at home in that period!

hobbyfan said...

I have always believed ABC blew it big time by not agreeing to move the show into the present, as CBS agreed when the acquired the series for seasons 2 & 3. Then again, they still had a piece of the Amazon pie with Super Friends being revived for the Saturday crowd in '77, and the rest of course is history. Could you picture Wonder Woman shifting over to, say, Tuesdays, in back of Happy Days & Laverne & Shirley, instead of having Three's Company there? Boggles the mind!