Friday, April 4, 2014

Classic TV: The Bionic Woman (1976)

It started with a 2-part episode of The Six Million Dollar Man, but just when you thought the story had a tragic ending, it really didn't.

In "The Bionic Woman", Steve Austin (Lee Majors, ex-The Big Valley, etc.) returns home to Ojai, California to visit his parents and reconnects with a childhood sweetheart, tennis pro Jaime Summers (Lindsay Wagner). A skyjumping accident leads to Jaime getting bionic parts of her own, but while on a mission, her implants malfunction, the result of her body rejecting the implants, and Jaime supposedly died on the operating table.

However, because Six Million was a big hit, the fanbase had other ideas, and so did ABC, which commissioned The Bionic Woman as a spinoff series, debuting in January 1976, with Wagner returning as Jaime. Richard Anderson & Martin Brooks reprised as Oscar Goldman & Rudy Wells, respectively, in a rare case of playing the same roles on two concurrent series. The last actor to do that was Leo G. Carroll, whose character of Alexander Waverly was appearing on both The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and its spinoff, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., a decade earlier.

The Bionic Woman lasted three seasons, ending at the same time as Six Million, but the final season saw the series shift over to NBC, and moved to Saturdays, where the "Peacock Network" was looking to replace Emergency!, another Universal series. The other change was the addition of a bionic dog and a new love interest for Jaime, since there would be no more crossovers with Six Million. Viewers voted against the changes, and the series ended with a legitimate finale, "On The Run", in which Jaime had wanted to retire, but goes back to work on a limited schedule.

A decade later, and NBC brought the bionic couple back together in a series of TV-movies, one of which introduced Sandra Bullock as a next-generation bionic woman, and the last saw Steve & Jaime get married. That should've meant closure.

20 years later, NBC decided to bring the series back, rebooted for a new generation of viewers, with British actress Michelle Ryan as Jaime. El-bomb-o, as it didn't even finish its lone season. NBC scheduled it on its original night, Wednesdays, but as often has happened when series are revived or rebooted and placed on what amounts to familiar ground, viewers took a look and didn't respond positively.

While Harve Bennett was executive producer of Six Million Dollar Man, Ken Johnson had the gig for Bionic Woman, and also scored mightily with another super-adventure series, The Incredible Hulk, for CBS, which lasted 5 seasons. The common link? Joe Harnell composed the music not only for Hulk, but the closing theme for Bionic Woman, and became the show's musical director, replacing Jerry Fielding, in season 2.

Let's go back to 1976 and the open:

Don't ya think ABC wimped out on the super-action game back then, since they also dropped Wonder Woman--for financial reasons, a year before dumping Bionic Woman? Just asking.

Rating: A.


magicdog said...

We loved watching TBW!

Despite having a similar premise to SMDM, I never felt like I was watching a retread. Jaime/Lindsay Waggoner was so darn likeable and very real. It didn't hurt that she actually had chemistry with Steve! I do remember Max the bionic dog but at least it explained how he was created FIRST, and it made sense how Rudy would have to deal with the issues Steve and Jaimie had with their bionic parts.

I also seem to remember a "bionic boy" - a teen who had bionic legs (he stopped a runaway car by pushing his feet through the floor and dragged it to a stop).

I remember there were some Bionic reunion TV movies but didn't get to watch them. Never knew Sandra Bullock was in one of them! If she had been in a new series, I think she could have done well - she had that "girl next door" persona down pat and viewers might have taken to her.

hobbyfan said...

"The Bionic Boy" (Vincent Van Patten, IIRC) was an episode of Six Million Dollar Man. Might've been a back-door pilot, too, but nothing came of that one.