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Series: The Bionic Woman

For the 2007 series, see Bionic Woman.

The Bionic Woman (ABC, 1976-1978) is a Spin-Off from The Six Million Dollar Man, featuring Lindsay Wagner as Jaime Sommers, the second active bionic agent of the OSI. Jaime made her initial appearance in a 1975 episode of The Six Million Dollar Man — she was a tennis pro and Steve Austin's old sweetheart. During a vacation from the OSI, Austin returns to his home town of Ojai and runs into Jaime again, and pretty soon their romance resumes. During one of their outings, they decide to go parachuting; Jaime's chute fails and she suffers catastrophic injuries. An overwrought Steve convinces his boss, Oscar Goldman, to authorize bionic replacement surgery to restore Jaime's destroyed legs, right arm and right ear. Goldman agrees.

Jaime and Steve bond further after the surgery, and he proposes marriage. But before they can wed, her body starts rejecting the bionics; she dies on the operating table as Rudy Wells struggled to save her life.

Or so it seemed. Viewer response to Jaime was so great, and their response to her death so negative, that ABC ordered the producers of Six Mil to revamp the opening of the show's third season in order to slot in a two-parter that explained that unknown to Steve, Jaime had been placed in suspended animation (cryonics), which allowed her to be brought back to life. But at a price: no memory of Steve or her love for him remained. Again, viewer response was strong and ABC commissioned, on very short notice for TV, a new spin-off series to debut in January 1976.

Because her bionics gave her an unfair advantage on the court, Jaime left the professional tennis circuit and returned to her home town of Ojai, California, to work as a teacher — and as an occasional, not to mention reluctant, special agent for the OSI. Her adventures tended to be lower-key than Steve's, and less violent, often following the Star Trek formula of emphasizing character over style. That didn't stop the show from occasionally dipping into the overt sci-fi well the parent show did, such as a series of episode featuring lifelike androids called "Fembots", and the inevitable crossovers with Six Mil that included a run-in with the infamous Bigfoot.

During the show's final season, even more attempts were made to humanize things by saddling Jaime with a "Bionic Dog" named Max, a German shepherd who was one of the early successes in Rudy Wells' bionic development program, and who had been scheduled for destruction before Jaime stepped in.

One of the keys to the program's top-ratings success (it often beat its parent program in that area) was Lindsay Wagner's very wry and down-to-earth performance as Jaime. One got the feeling that (unlike Austin) she could lose all her bionic augmentations and not care much, although she certainly was more than able to make good use of them in the appropriate crisis situations (and the series also frequently showed how bionics could be used in day-to-day situations as well). Wagner became the first actress in a science fiction-based TV series to win a Best Actress Emmy Award due to her work on The Bionic Woman (a fact often ignored by those keen on dismissing the series as another example of "1970s cheese"). Her support cast include always-dependable Richard Anderson as Oscar Goldman, and Martin E. Brooks as Dr. Rudy Wells. Both actors made history when ABC cancelled the series and NBC picked it up for a final season, and the two were allowed to continue to appear in both shows, even though they were now on competing networks. (Further crossovers with Lee Majors, however, were forbidden.)

Like The Six Million Dollar Man, the special effects are a product of their time, in particular the slow motion effects which were inspired, according to producer Harve Bennett, by NFL Films' iconic slow-motion footage of football players in action, and because, so sayeth Lee Majors on the 2010 DVD release of his series, showing bionics at full speed looked silly. With Wagner, the slow-motion takes on a graceful elegance generally missing from the parent series, which is likely why the use of slow-motion on The Bionic Woman tends to be less-frequently lampooned. Like most series, the scripts run the gamut from classics like "Doomsday Is Tomorrow", a two-parter by series creator Kenneth Johnson (V, Alien Nation) that pitted Jaime against a computer programmed to destroy the world, to lesser episodes such as one in which Jaime had to protect a lion (the plot did not get any thicker than that!). Due to the very short notice given for the production of the first season, a couple of scripts had to be recycled from the show's male counterpart. Still, Wagner's charm and sense of humor was often enough to carry the show, and it is still remembered with fondness by a large number of fans.

At their best, both The Bionic Woman and The Six Million Dollar Man sometimes transcended the usual limitations of TV action/adventure. For example, in "Kill Oscar", an evil scientist decides to replace the female personnel of the OSI with life-like female "fembots". The 3-part crossover took this and actually made it both disturbing (at how easily people could be replaced, and how much harm could come of it if a high-ranking person was one of them) and oddly non-sexist, in that the women the robots replaced were the secretaries and assistants of high-ranking male OSI personnel. These secretaries are clearly shown as having high security clearances, access to important knowledge and making a very important contribution to the work, and yet underappreciated and too often ignored. This nearly enables the scientist to bring about the defeat of the OSI.

A couple of reunion movies were made in the 1990's. In the 1990s and 2000s there were occasional rumors of new film or TV versions of the series, including a made-for-cable series that would have starred Jennifer Anison as Jaime and an In Name Only reimagining in which the title was going to be simply a metaphor and the lead character would have no powers at all! Eventually, a short-lived remake appeared on NBC in 2007. And in 2012 a Darker and Edgier comic book version (featuring a Jaime who is not averse to breaking necks when threatened) was launched.

The Bionic Woman provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Achilles' Heel
    • Extreme cold can make her parts stop working until they warm up.
    • Jamie's natural arm is vulnerable.
    • Following on from something established in the parent series, after Jaime jumps from too high a building in "Kill Oscar" and makes her legs explode, taking out her legs has the potential to leave her at death's door.
    • She is also vulnerable to some forms of electrocution, again through her legs.
    • Early on, attempting to remember her relationship with Steve still had the potential to cause her pain.
  • Action Girl: Jaime, obviously, though she actually makes an effort to avoid being one.
  • Actor Allusion: The episode "Iron Ships and Dead Men" features a story about Oscar's (Richard Anderson) older brother, who was killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor. Anderson himself played Captain Earle in the Pearl Harbor epic Tora! Tora! Tora!
  • Artistic License - Military: The soldiers or airmen Jaime encounters tend to have shaggy 70s haircuts.
  • Battle in the Rain: Technically Steve's encounter with her in the pilot 2-parter counts.
  • The Board Game: Parker Brothers made one in 1976.
  • Break the Cutie: Literally, both before and after she becomes bionic.
  • The Cast Showoff: Lindsay Wagner shows off her singing abilities in at least two episodes, one in which she sings "Feelings" while infiltrating a beauty pageant a la Miss Congeniality and later when she pretends to be a country singer.
  • Comic Book Adaptation: Charlton Comics put out a short-lived adaptation; in the 2010s a reimagined version also appeared.
  • Cyborg
  • Disney Death: Jaime's own, at the beginning of the series.
  • Distaff Counterpart: To The Six Million Dollar Man, of course.
  • Does Not Know Her Own Strength
    • In the 1994 reunion movie, Steve was trying to help Jaime with her malfunctioning arm... and promptly got whacked into the drink for his troubles.
    • Jaime crushes a tennis ball by accident in her first SMDM episode, and the scene was replayed during the spin-off's opening credits. Similar incidents pepper the series as a form of comic relief.
  • Dramatic Hour Long
  • Easy Amnesia
  • Everything's Sexier in French: As demonstrated by Jaime in "Doomsday is Tomorrow".
  • Face-Heel Turn: The OSI in the final episode of the series, "On the Run".
  • Genre Blindness
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Oscar to the sheep-herding nuns in "Sister Jaime" who are blocking his way: "You've got to get the flock out of here!"
  • Glasses Pull: Oscar was given to these in moments of alarm.
  • Killed Off for Real: Fellow agent and love interest Chris Williams, though this occurs after the end of the series, and is revealed during the first reunion movie.
  • Lighter and Softer: As Kenneth Johnson explains on the 2010 DVD release, The Bionic Woman was conceived as a less-violent companion to The Six Million Dollar Man. The use of "pocket bionics" (a term coined by Johnson to describe a normal everyday use of bionics, such as opening a can of soup with a bionic fingernail) was emphasized over violent use, and Jamie would rarely be seen being the aggressor in a fight or, certainly, killing.
    • Averted in the 2012 comic book version, in which Jaime has a well-established "kill count", and in the 2007 remake the character is also less averse to deadly force.
  • Master of Your Domain: The episode "Biofeedback".
  • Non-Human Sidekick: Max, the Bionic Dog.
  • Not Wearing Tights
  • Poorly Disguised Pilot: One two-parter was considered a backdoor pilot for a potential Max the Bionic Dog spinoff.
  • Railing Kill: Carl Franklin, the son of the Fembots' creator (and himself a robot), hurtles to his destruction when he lunges for Jaime and instead goes over a railing.
  • Recycled Script: Due to the very short notice given to mount the spin-off, the producers were forced to remake several Six Million Dollar Man storylines for the first season.
  • Required Secondary Powers: See the entry for The Six Million Dollar Man for more details.
  • Robotic Reveal: The first time Jaime tangles with the Fembots, she doesn't realize what they are until she rips off one of their faces and reacts with (understandable) horror at what she sees. The reveal is enough to drive her to leap out a window several stories high just to get away from them—well, that and the fact that the Fembots are tearing through doors and furniture to get to her.
  • Running Gag: Nearly every episode featured at least one moment (dubbed "pocket bionics" by Word of God) where Jaime is shown using her bionics in some every-day circumstance (such as doing the dishes at high speed).
  • Science Fiction
  • Spin-Off
  • Spot the Imposter
  • Stock Footage: The World War II-era submarines shown in Part 3 of "Kill Oscar" are especially memorable.
  • Super Hero
  • Super Villain Lair: Several over the course of the series. Lampshaded in Wagner's commentary, as she wonders aloud why '70s bad guys got to live in palatial European mansions while today's villains tend to be depicted lurking in low places.
  • Title Sequence Replacement: The second season Title Sequence replaced the first one in syndicated reruns, while an early version of the first-season sequence was used for all first-year episodes on the 2010 DVD release.
  • Trouble Magnet Gambit: In "Deadly Music".
  • We Can Rebuild Her
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Played literally in several episodes in which we learn Jaime is, indeed, fearful of snakes.
  • You Can Never Leave: The final episode of the original series has Jaime resigning from the OSI, but in a storyline inspired by The Prisoner, the OSI tries to capture her and send her to a retirement facility instead. Although Oscar ultimately decides not to, it creates a rift between Jaime and Oscar that is not healed until the TV movies.
  • You Look Familiar: John Houseman played Dr. Franklin, creator of the Fembots. He also played Lindsay Wagner's dad in The Paper Chase.

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alternative title(s): The Bionic Woman
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