The Wayback Machine: The Bionic Woman TV Series
With news that Dynamite Entertainment is returning the Bionic Woman to the comic book world as an ongoing in March – written by Paul Tobin with art by Leno Carvalho – we thought we would look back on the femme fatale cyborg it took two TV networks to kill!
Of course, The Bionic Woman was a television series starring Lindsay Wagner that aired for three seasons between 1976 and 1978 as a spin-off from The Six Million Dollar Man. Wagner was tennis pro Jaime Sommers, who was nearly killed in a skydiving accident. Sommers’ life is saved by Oscar Goldman (Richard Anderson) and Dr. Rudy Wells (Martin E. Brooks) by “bionic” surgical implants similar to those of The Six Million Dollar Man Steve Austin (no, not him; the whoop-arse WWE Hall of Famer came two decades later).
As the result of Jaime's bionics, she has amplified hearing in her right ear, a greatly strengthened right arm, and stronger and enhanced legs which enabled her to run at up to 60 miles per hour.
The series premiered on ABC in January 1976 as a mid-season replacement. With 13 episodes airing from January 1976 to May 1976, it became the fifth most-watched television show of the 1975-1976 season, ranking behind Maude, Laverne & Shirley, Rich Man, Poor Man, and All In The Family, and slightly ahead of The Six Million Dollar Man. (How ya like them apples, ”˜70s chauvinists?)
Season Two ran from September 1976 to May 1977 with 22 episodes and finished with good ratings (#14 overall - slightly behind The Six Million Dollar Man). Season Two also had its most notable episodes: “Kill Oscar,” where Jaime fights The Fembots, and “Deadly Ringer,” which would win Wagner an Emmy Award.
Although the show performed well during Season Two, ABC elected not to renew the series feeling it was no longer attracting the kind of demographics that ABC wanted. (Yes, network programmers were even arses back then!) NBC picked up the show for a third (and final) season. Season Three ran from September 1977 to May 1978 with 22 episodes and would see a new character, Chris Williams (Christopher Stone), as a recurring love-interest for Jaime. This was due in part to the change of networks which prevented any more crossovers by Jaime's former love-interest, Steve Austin.
In the last episode (“On the Run”), Jamie is called "Robot Lady" by a little girl who has learned about her bionics. Like Steve Austin in the original book Cyborg, she has to come to terms with the fact that she is not quite human. After three years with too many assignments to allow her time to herself, she resigns.
However, the people in charge decide that she cannot just be allowed to leave and want to put her into a safe community where they can keep their eyes on her. She goes on the run but later realizes that she is still the same woman, despite her mechanical parts, and goes back to work for the OSI, but with fewer missions and more time to herself.
The final episode was acknowledged to have been inspired by The Prisoner as Jaime is similarly being pursued by entities concerned about the secret information she possesses.
Three made-for-TV movies were produced between 1987 and 1994 that expanded the “bionic family” and explored a rekindled love between Jaime and Steve.
In the first reunion, The Return of the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman, Jaime and Steve are reunited after nearly 10 years of living separate lives. Jaime’s memory is fully restored (according to Oscar, Jaime was in an accident that involved an explosion, and “she remembered everything” after she recovered from her concussion) and she tries to reconcile her feelings for Steve, while at the same time helping train Steve's son Michael in the use of his own recently acquired updated bionics. Jaime challenges Michael to a friendly race, and is outpaced, making the comment she feels like an “obsolete model.”
The second film, Bionic Showdown, introduced Sandra Bullock as paraplegic Kate Mason who becomes a next-generation bionic woman and Sommers again helps train the neophyte cyborg.
In the final reunion film, Bionic Ever After?, a computer virus corrupts Jaime's bionic systems. Dr. Wells informs Steve that “she may never be bionic again,” but Steve's main regard is he wants her alive above all else. She undergoes a major upgrade, which not only increases the power of her bionics but gives her night vision. Finally, after so many years of waiting around, the bionic couple say their “I Do's.”
In an interview about the forthcoming comic book, writer Tobin told CBR that “Jaime is drawn into a web of really nasty guys called The Mission -- a group of extremely talented, extremely mercenary doctors who have been (ahem, cough cough) ”˜acquiring’ body parts to sell to their billionaire clients. One thing leads to another for these people, and it eventually leads them to understand that the best body parts, the highest-priced body parts, are bionic. They have a whole list of where these bionic body parts can be (ahem, cough cough) ”˜acquired,’ and Jaime finds herself on that list.”
Welcome back, Jaime! We will keep an ear open for your return!