The Bionic Woman (1976-1978): Gone But Not Forgotten

The Bionic Woman (1976-1978): Gone But Not Forgotten

Previously we’ve covered the iconic Six Million Dollar Man on Gone But Not Forgotten.  It’s only right that we also showcase Steve Austin’s equally amazing bionic co-hart.  The Bionic Woman, who was as popular as The Six Million Dollar Man and was an important piece of TV history for a number of reasons.  It would give women, girls, and guys a new perspective on just how powerful a woman could be, not only in a robotically enhanced strength but also in their character.  Jamie Sommers was something special, and not even a TV death could keep her down.  On this episode of Gone But Not Forgotten, listen close as we tell the story of The Bionic Woman.

The Bionic Woman herself was introduced in Season 2 of The Six Million Dollar Man already an important part of Steve Austin’s life.  Jaime Sommers and Steve had a relationship from their younger years and upon their meeting again in this episode become romantically involved once more. 

On a date skydiving with Steve, Jaime’s chute doesn’t deploy and she’s horribly injured.  Due to this Steve goes to his crew begging for Jaime to be fitted with bionics to keep her alive.  But Jaime’s condition isn’t as stable as Steve’s was. Due to her newly minted bionics malfunctioning, Jaime has a blood clot in her brain that gives her horrible headaches.  Eventually between her bionics malfunction and the hemorrhage, she loses control and collapses.  Jaime dies on the operating table, and it devastates Steve.  It’s interesting here as the entire sequence of Steve chasing Jamie down happens during a thunderstorm. It makes me think of the Bride of Frankenstein quite a bit…which makes sense when you think of Jaime being put back together as she was.  No one else in the world is like Steve and Jaime.  

The scene of Jaime in the operating room is pretty devastating for not only Steve but for fans of the show and everyone wanted her back. So with a bit of TV magi, and cryogenics, Jaime Sommers was brought back to life in the next season of The Six Million Dollar Man.  But, it wasn’t what would be called a happy reunion.  Kenneth Johnson, created Jaime and wrote the original two part episode.  He would write her comeback for the now classic two part episode “The Return of the Bionic Woman” 

Steve and Jaime are completely star crossed lovers. Sadly Steve finds out the hard way that he’s been lied to about Jaime still being alive.  This is after he’s been in another horrible accident which causes damage to his legs where he is put in the same hospital as Jaime.  It turns out that the scientists put Jaime into a cryogenic sleep until the blood clot in her brain could be removed.  The issue is this causes Jaime to forget her accident and more importantly her relationship with Steve..  

Eventually Steve realizes that his involvement in Jaime’s life is causing her to have horrible headaches and pain. Even though it destroys him emotionally he decides the only thing he can do is give her up and have her moved to another location.

The following year Jaime would get her own series on ABC, with The Bionic Woman premiering in January of 1976.  The new series finds Jaime heading back to the ranch that Steve’s parents own and taking a job for a cover as a teacher at a local air force base.  The first two episodes of the new series were written by Johnson.  It doesn’t take long though for Jamie to start working with OSI on missions.  If this seems like it is going against what was established in the last episodes featuring Jamie…it sort of does but we can assume she’s building back new memories and strengths.  

Jaime Sommers was played by Lindsay Wagner. Wagner started working as a model and In 1971, she signed a contract with Universal Studios and worked as a contract player. Wagner worked as a model in Los Angeles and gained some television experience by appearing as a hostess in Playboy After Dark. She later wound up working on TV shows like Adam-12, Owen Marshall: Counselor at Law, The F.B.I., Sarge, and Night Gallery.

But, it was her work on The Rockford Files that got her the role. Producer/writer Kenneth Johnson had been looking for the lead for the series. He saw many actresses but he was impressed by Wagner’s performance on The Rockford Files. He said he felt she was charming and down to earth. He said the audience wanted a hero who could be the girl next door. So Wagner was hired and that’s when the magic began.

The series would see Jaime running up against a number of interesting scenarios and pretty strange plot lines.  This would include The Fembots, aliens, her own double who was also played by actress Lindsay Wagner, and takes on Steve’s most famous foe…Bigfoot.  

Jaime would also, in the third and final season of the series, gain a new friend in the form of Maxamillion AKA Max, one of OSI’s first experiments in bionics and who is a big ol adoralble German Sheppard.  It becomes apparent that Jaime loves dogs, because when she finds out that Max is scheduled to be put down since they suspect him of rejecting his bionics. You can add PETA hero to Jaime’s resume. 

It turns out Max isn’t actually rejecting his bionics, he’s been traumatized by a fire in the lab where he had his modifications.  Over the course of the first two episodes of season three comes to face his fear and help save the day.  This also shows OSI scientists that they were in the wrong about the dog and they change their minds on putting him down.  

Max the bionic dog was actually at one point going to have his own TV series.  The mid to late 70s were big times for dogs so this probably would have worked but with the 3rd season being the final one for The Bionic Woman and the cancellation of the Six Million Dollar Man it wasn’t meant to be.

The third season of the series was its last and it would actually bow out only a few months after the finale of The Six Million Dollar Man.  But the two series would NOT be on the same networks.  In the first case of this happening in the history of television, as far as I know, the Bionic Woman was cancelled on ABC after its second season and would be picked up by NBC for its final.  This would cause a problem though for there to be a Six Million Dollar Man showing up in the series.  Unlike Buffy and Angel which wasn’t hampered by a network switch and would allow the characters to show up on each other’s series, ABC wouldn’t allow Lee Majors to show up on a rival networks show as it was stipulated in his contract with the show.  But this didn’t stop other characters from doing so.  This would be one of the first times characters would show up on two rival networks while appearing in different series, with Oscar Goldman and Rudy Welles, aka Richard Anderson and Martin E Brooks, to appear in both series.

This caused there to be some issues in continuing the love story of Jaime and Steve.  So in the third season the late Christopher Stone would be cast as Chris, a love interest and partner for Jamie.  No, that’s NOT Tom Atkins.  This is the gent who turned into a werewolf in The Howling, Tom Atkins fought teenage alien slug zombies.

Lindsay Wagner was awesome as Jamie Sommers, and she was a hero and role model to women and girls during this time.  The 70s saw a lot of powerful female role models appear on television.  This was the decade that saw a live action Wonder Woman in Lynda Carter and Charlie’s Angels (another Gone But Not Forgotten fave).  Jaime was a lot like these other women in that she tried not to use brute strength that often when it came to issues she was solving.  She was smart, she was kind, and she, like Steve, had to come to terms with who she was now with her bionics.  In fact, the last episode of the series had Jamie wanting to leave the OSI in order to focus on herself and her own mental health and well-being, something the agency wasn’t willing to do.  But, Jamie eventually did get them to agree to her continuing to work with them on her terms.  

the bionic woman Lindsay Wagner

For Wagner herself though, working on the series wasn’t quite so easy.  Lindsay Wagner had to do a lot of her own stunts.  Where Lee Majors actually had been a stuntman, something he’d sing about and portray on screen eventually in The Fall Guy, Wagner wasn’t.  But, she went ahead and did them anyway, even when it came to a dangerous helicopter stunt that wasn’t quite to the level of security it should have been, without a security harness in place and falling to an airbag.

The character of Jaime as I said was important for young women. The team behind the show wanted anything that was tied in the way of toys and merchandise to also show Jaime as more than just a pretty face.  Like the Six Million Dollar Man toys, the Bionic Woman toys had neat tie-ins to the characters powers . For example  if you turned Jaime’s head you could hear the sound effect of her super hearing.  Her arm had an area where you could see the circuitry in it.  But Jaime, unlike Steve also could be bought with a “Mission Purse”…and yes actually it came with make up and a wallet with “bionic bucks”. Also for some reason instead of a picture of Steve in her wallet she had a picture of Oscar?

Mission Purse aside, the Bionic Woman toys were pretty neat.  Jaime had a sports car and even a house you could get.  But also…a Bionic Beauty Salon and no I’m not making that up, no matter how much I wish I was.  You could get a Fembot toy as well as an 18-inch-tall Jaime and one of those hair styling head and shoulders toys where you could do up disembodied Jaime’s hair.  Styling was apparently a big deal here.  But it was pretty cool they made Bionic Woman temporary tattoos for girls so they could pretend they’d lost their own limbs and had them replaced just like Jaime.  

Much like Six Million Dollar Man and a number of series in the 70s, The Bionic Woman had a number of interesting guest stars to show up on missions with Jaime.  Some notable and knowable names included Andy Griffith, Terry Kiser, Kristy McNichol, Hoyt Axton, Abe Vigoda, Dan O’Herlihy and Julie Newmar to name a few.  

Richard Anderson and Martin E. Brooks would continue their roles as Oscar Goldman and Rudy Wells as they would on Six Million Dollar Man as I previously mentioned.  

As we discussed in the Six Million Dollar Man episode, Steve and Jaime would return in made for TV movies starting in 1987.  In the second of these, Bionic Showdown: The Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman in 1989 a new Bionic Woman would be created in the form of Sandra Bullock.  At one point there was talk of giving her character Kate Mason a series, but this didn’t happen.  Steve and Jaime would actually tie the knot in Bionic Ever After.  This would be the last time the characters would be seen as played by the original actors.  

the bionic woman cast

Notice I said…the original actors.  The Bionic Woman has the distinction of having been rebooted and remade into a new series, unlike The Six Million Dollar Man.  Back in 2007 for 8 whole episodes spread over about a month of time, NBC aired The Bionic Woman.  The series starred Michelle Ryan as Jaime Sommers who is now a bartender and whose boyfriend is the scientist who fits her out with cybernetics after an accident nearly kills her.  Possibly a nod to the fact that Lindsay Wagner’s younger sister who motivated her to take the role of the original Bionic Woman in the original series, Jaime is in this series has a younger sister she takes care of.

The series had a really strong sci-fi pedigree with a cast that included Mark Sheppard, Katee Sackoff, and the late Miguel Ferrer who apparently really loved being in charge of robotically enhanced super heroes brought back from the dead.

The series was produced in Canada but didn’t get much in the way of interest from viewers.  The last nail in the coffin of the series was the writers strike the same year it was aired.  No further episodes were produced after the strike and NBC pulled the plug on the series.  Kenneth Johnson, the actual writer and creator of the original series had nothing to do with it either, which probably didn’t help matters.  If you watch the show, you can see its wasted potential. Michelle Ryan is a great lead and Katee Sackoff is an incredible villain. But, the supporting cast was weak. Jamies sister is an annoying teenage always whining and the supporting characters are as dull as wet paint.  Sadly we will never know if the series could have been saved.

Currently the only way to stream The Bionic Woman is to buy it on amazon. However if you’re interested on great special features you should buy the DVD’s which are still in print.  

So that leaves us here with that classic question, should The Bionic Woman return?  It’s apparent that it’s hard to replicate what made the original so special.  There’s just something truly great about the original series and Lindsay Wagner just brought something special to Jaime.  There’s also the fact that these shows were so unabashedly weird in the most wonderful way and embraced it.  Bigfoot, aliens, bionic dogsand friggin Fembots man.  These days shows would bring plot points like that in just for laughs, but The Bionic Woman played it straight and kept a charm you can’t fake.  

You can change the name to “cybernetics” to try and add some flash, but I’ll take a slow motion run every time.