The world of bionic adventures and tracksuit-wearing Steve Austin arrives onto television screens across the US in March 1973, a year after the author Martin Caidin publishes his science fiction novel Cyborg.
Universal and ABC re-work Caidin’s book into Cyborg:The Six Million Dollar Man, an 85-minute pilot film. It’s the start of bionic film production which lasts for five years.
Strong sci-fi to comic-book style
Two more TV movies, Wine, Women, and War, and The Solid Gold Kidnapping follow the pilot before Season One takes off.
What begins with a strong science fiction premise in the early SMDM, soon becomes more comic- book in style as the series builds up a massive fan base across America.
The high price of living
Former Big Valley and later Fall Guy star Lee Majors finds himself the star attraction again as the actor who takes the leading role in SMDM- he holds this role for the whole of the five-year series.
Majors plays astronaut and NASA test pilot Col. Steve Austin, who, after a plane crash loses both legs, an arm and an eye, but who is then “rebuilt” by medical scientists led by Dr Rudy Wells.
The hefty $6,000,000m it costs to rebuild Austin means he is now equipped with nuclear-powered limbs and a bionic eye. He can run and swim at 60mph, leap fences, bend metal, smash down walls and see vast distances. And of course, he is now cut out for far more important work..
Austin is unaware of the work that has gone into saving his life, and no amount of NASA training prepares him for what he has turned into- a bionic man. So shocked is he by the changes to his body and more importantly his life, that Austin tries to commit suicide. Thankfully, for fans anyway, he is saved by a nurse, who helps him to come to terms with his new bionic life.
Accepting his fate is one thing, but agreeing to carry out work for the government agency that rebuilt him- the Office of Strategic Investigation (later known as the Office of Scientific Intelligence) does not come easy to Austin. He never wanted to work for the OSI, but his unwillingness is soon forgotten as Oscar Goldman, a sort of James Bond M figure hands him high-risk missions. And so, begins the adventures of The Six Million Dollar Man.
UK goes bionic
UK audiences do not have to wait long before they too get a chance to see the bionic man. By September 1974, SMDM has traveled overseas where viewers welcome Austin and his bionic antics with open arms.
Bought by ITV, the series becomes one of the most successful American imports of the mid- 1970’s.
The opposite sex
The garden of bionics would not be complete without a bionic babe, and of course the scriptmakers at Universal provide one in the form of Jaime Sommers.
The Bionic Woman, played by Lindsay Wagner, first appears in 1975 as Steve Austin’s childhood sweetheart in a two-part story of The Six Million Dollar Man in which she becomes his ‘jogging partner’ after a horrific sky- diving accident which leaves her badly injured in the way Austin was after his plane crash.
The ‘Jaime- effect’ on fans is dramatic. Remember, she’s only in the SMDM for 90 minutes, but this is all viewers need to be captivated by her.
When she is killed off at the end of the story, Americans cry in disbelief and protest. Jaime is promptly brought back, and a second bionic series is born.
The bionic woman, like SMDM is given bionic legs and a bionic arm, but instead of a new eye she is rebuilt with a bionic ear.
Her dangerous missions for Oscar Goldman’s OSI agency range from averting a missile threat to Los Angeles with Col. Austin(The Deadly Missiles) to facing an army of deadly female robots in Fembots in Las Vegas.
Farewell then, Steve and Jaime
In 1978, both The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman comes to an end.
After five years SMDM, which started as a serious sci- fi series had become more and and more silly in content. Some people even said it had become a parody of itself- even the kids started cringing.
At the same time, production on the the Bionic Woman comes to an end.
The overall success of SMDM and Bionic Woman never faded from the minds of some producers and many viewers of the original series.
The question: “Would they ever bring back Steve Austin and the Bionic Woman to our screens?” was answered nine years later when Michael Sloan, a producer who had brought other TV movies back from the grave decided to give it a go with SMDM and The Bionic Woman.
In 1987, The Return of The Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman was made with the original lineup, along with some new faces too. The aim was to develop a new series from its success, but the ratings were poor.
However, a second reunion was commissioned and in 1989, Bionic Showdown was aired. Majors and Wagner took the lead roles again, along with a new bionic woman- a young Sandra Bullock.
Fans had yearned to see Col. Austin and Jaime married, especially after Austin proposes to Jaime at the end of Bionic Showdown. Five years later, the fans get what they want in Bionic Ever After.