The Six Million Dollar Man/The Bionic Woman

The tale of Colonel Steve Austin was introduced in Martin Caidin’s book “Cyborg” published in 1972. This told the tragic story of a man horrifically injured in an accident and resurrected through machine and electronics technology.  Few know of this novel but many fondly recall the series it spawned, The Six Million Dollar Man.

In 1973, Harve Bennett (Star Trek) transformed the book into a weekly television following the exploits of Steve Austin (Lee Majors), the bionically-enhanced human who fought against criminals and enemy agents who sought to do harm to the United States. Part secret agent, part private detective, Steve was sent on his adventures by his friend and secret government agent, Oscar Goldman (played by Richard Anderson; however, the character was “Oliver Spencer” in the pilot, played by Darren “Kolchak” McGavin). Oscar, working for the Office of Scientific Intelligence, a special branch of the Central Intelligence Agency. Oscar was the front man for a number of government black projects, including the cyborg project that chose Steve Austin as their first test subject.

Col. Steve Austin first came into contact with Oscar Goldman after a failed test flight that resulted in a crash in which Steve was badly injured.  Barely alive, Steve was rebuilt, his torn and burned flesh replaced with cybernetic replacements, including an eye that could see better than any could, legs that could run faster than any man could run, and a bionic arm of incredible strength. Recruited by fate, Steve became a core defender of the American way of life.

In mid-70s television, such a defender was badly needed. Enemies were everywhere. Throughout the series, Steve not only defeated earthly elements but actually went on to fight otherworldly invaders, including their robotic minions haunting the woods in the form of Bigfoot. Sometimes unbelievable and often downright silly, the Six Million Dollar man was a series with a lot of fun and a lot of adventure. The show enjoyed guest appearances from some of the top personalities of the age.

In 1975, the network executives decided that Steve needed a steady love interest. Since the show was a huge success, they developed plans to branch out the franchise by adding a second key bionic character. Steve fell in love with Jamie Somers (Lindsey Wagner), who was as passionately in love with Steve. Yet, as soon as they introduced Jamie, in a turn worthy of any Greek tragedy, they took her away. Jamie was badly injured in a sky diving accident, and was rushed to become the next test subject of Oscar Goldman’s cyborg project. Yet, medical science could only repair part of her damage, Her head injury gave her partial memory loss. She awoke unaware of much of her past and her love for Steve.

She was free to launch on her own series. The Bionic Woman continued the exploits of the Cyborg project and allowed for crossover stories with Steve and Jamie occasionally teaming up to defeat television villains.

Both series suffered badly from their poor selection of stock footage.  Steve Austin frequently demonstrated his piloting skills by lifting off in one sort of aircraft and landing in another. Vehicles would often transform during their use and background scenery rarely matched the establishment shots taken from the studio vaults. Concurrent with this continuity problem, some minor characters shifted as well. Dr. Wells, the scientist who created the bionics and founded the Cyborg program, was originally played by respected character actor Martin Balsam but was abruptly replaced with Alan Oppenheimer who was himself abruptly replaced by Martin E. Brooks who became a central character in The Bionic Woman series. As he became more central, he shifted from a skilled scientist to a bumbling comedic sidekick who seemed to be getting increasingly younger as the series progressed.

Soon, practically everyone became bionic. In the second season, Steve was confronted with the Seven Million Dollar Man, a stronger bionic convert who lacked Steve’s good judgment and ultimately turned into an opponent. Steve defeated this adversary despite being physically weaker and a million dollars cheaper. Later, a bionic dog named Max was brought into the storyline along with the bionic boy, Andy Sheffield (Vincent Van Patten). Had the series continued, the executives planned to have Steve aided by a bionic girl as well.

The Bionic Woman never really took off and in 1977, production on that series halted. The Six Million Dollar Man continued until it was cancelled in 1981.  The bionic couple was shuffled off the stage … but not for long.

In 1987, Steve and Jamie returned in The Return of the Six Million Dollar Man and Bionic Woman. This telemovie was successful enough to spawn a second telemovie, Bionic Showdown (1989) and a third, Bionic Ever After (1994).