Understanding the Mechanics, Heart and Soul of "The Six Million Dollar Man" and "The Bionic Woman"

Herbie J Pilato

[The Classic TV Preservation Society]

Steve Austin, The Six Million Dollar Man, and Jaime Sommers, The Bionic Woman, are not your average superheroes. As portrayed by Lee Majors and Lindsay Wagner in the classic 1970s TV shows of the same names, they are heroes first, super, second. Through various incarnations (on ABC, NBC, and CBS) to the present (in syndication and on DVD and Blu-ray), this atomic-powered, romantically-entangled couple continues to inhabit the television airwaves.

In the initial 1973 ABC pilot film, Steve was the first cyborg (half-human/half-machine), rebuilt (made better…stronger…faster) by the American-based OSO (Office of Strategic Operations) after a freak accident. When the movie became a monthly, then weekly, series, he rekindled a romance with once-lost love Jaime. They planned to wed. She, too, was injured in a serious accident. Steve pleaded with his superiors to rebuild her, just like him. She, too, was given a hit series.

Millions of Bionic fans, general observers, and those new to the genre, continue to perceive these programs beyond the contretemps of science fiction. Viewers the world over recognize and respect the unique covenant imparted by and between Steve and Jaime. Be it in France, Germany, Australia, or any number of disparate destinations, the devotion people have for this dynamic couple is evident. They hit a chord in the 1970s.

As children, today’s thirty- and forty-somethings once aspired to run in bionic slow motion like Steve and Jaime; mimicked sound effects that accompanied his long-distanced-angled left eye; her sonar-powered right ear. Viewers of all ages now continue the bionic legacy, as they still keep on liking and believing in bionic people, because the Austin/Sommers powers of persuasion continue to make bionic people likable and believable.

All these years later, one thing remains indelibly true: these shows were fun. It should be fun to be bionic, and it was. Waiting for the next episode to air was often sheer agony for younger viewers, who would eagerly break down the previous night’s broadcast at school the next day. Fantastical and far-out plots and premises were played with a totally straight face, and we loved every minute of it. Rarities among the science fiction superhero hall of fame, The Six Million Dollar Man (SM) and The Bionic Woman (BW) prevail as real. Superman and Wonder Woman need never fear a rivalry, as they don’t really exist.

Steve and Jaime are tangible. They care for one another, based on their pre-cybernetic history, subsequent bionic transformation, and distinct, yet combined, destinies. The home onlooker is encouraged (subconsciously or not) to seek sincerity at every turn; to stretch their reality, as well as their imagination; to see past contrarieties, and to focus on the common thread of humanity. TV viewers have sensed all along that these two were fundamentally human. Home observers continue to watch these programs not to laugh at camp, but to be entertained and moved.

As fictional government agents of decades gone by, the bionic duo was sent on special assignments, but their most important mission lingers into the present day. They introduced to the general public the bona fide possibility of workable prosthetics. A bionic bond was forged between fantasy and fact; between a farfetched TV concept and the medical visionaries who made good on the promise and potential of bionics.

Clearly, with SM and BW, the extraordinary communicative device known as television has been efficiently engaged. Steve and Jaime prove to be emphatic role models from whom we may ascertain strength. The real kind. The kind that lives inside us. The kind that allows us compassion and discretion; forgiveness and endurance. The human kind, motivated by the human spirit.

Through TV’s majestic mechanics, and by observing the lives of a uniquely-created pair, struggling for personal identity while acclimating to their new physiology, the pressure to learn is off. We’re charmed and walk away with an inspirational thought and positive reinforcement in the process.

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Herbie J Pilato is the author of several books about pop culture including THE 12 BEST SECRETS OF CHRISTMAS: A TREASURE HOUSE OF DECEMBER MEMORIES REVEALED, MARY: THE MARY TYLER MOORE STORY, TWITCH UPON A STAR, GLAMOUR, GIDGETS AND THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, DASHING, DARING AND DEBONAIR, and NBC & ME: MY LIFE AS A PAGE IN A BOOK, among others. He's also a TV writer/producer, writes for the Television Academy and Emmys.com, and is the host of THEN AGAIN WITH HERBIE J PILATO, the hit classic TV talk show (which premiered on Amazon Prime in 2019).

Los Angeles, CA

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