by Herbie J Pilato
Back in 2007, NBC debuted and cancelled its new Bionic Woman, a reboot of the classic 1970’s female sci-fi sequel to that same decades’ Six Million Dollar Man series, starring Lee Majors as Steve Austin, the bionic man (both of which were originally on ABC).
David Eick was the executive producer of the new Woman, but he failed to work the same magic he had performed with the then- recent re-do of another small-screen sci-fi classic: Battlestar: Galactica. As Eick told the Syfy Channel’s Battlestar upfront presentation to advertisers in New York on March 18, 2008, “I just felt that the process [of reinventing TBW] was so frustrating, and the conditions under which we were making that show never really came to fruition in such a way that I felt like we could make the show well. The actress [Michelle Ryan] we found was wonderful. Some of the writing was good.”
Yet, Eick added, “We just didn’t ever bring it all together like we did with Battlestar. At a certain point, when it becomes that frustrating, I think you’re better off to say, ‘Let’s try again another time, and let it go.’”
Or how about, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?”
Especially if it’s “Bionic.”
As far as this writer is concerned, the concept of the original Bionic Woman, with the charismatic lead of Lindsay Wagner as the iconic Jaime Sommers – was just fine – and did not need to be reworked to the extremes that were taken with the updated edition.
Let’s further explore the issue with a journey back to that dark (and I do mean dark) September 2007 debut of what was simply then titled Bionic Woman (minus the The from the initial show’s moniker).
While watching the remade BW on that late September evening, I happened to be visiting my Mom, who had just returned home from the hospital after experiencing a slight heart attack. I had flashed back some thirty years before – when the original (T)BW had first hit the airwaves. Had it really been over three decades since the American mainstream TV viewer had been introduced to the cybernetic and romantically-intertwined worlds of Steve and Jaime?
I recalled watching the original BW on Wednesday night (8:00 PM, on ABC, as opposed to NBC’s new BW’s time slot at 9:00 PM), in January 1976, when my parents were off to a dinner party. I was 15-years-old and had plopped myself down in front of the tube – to view Lindsay Wagner running in slow-motion, as my Aunt Elva (who lived next door to us in a double house) made multiple visits to check on me (although a mid-teen, I was a young mid-teen).
At any rate, television, then – in general – as well as the original Bionic Woman series, in particular, was much more fun to watch than TV superhero shows today (The Flash notwithstanding) and, certainly, when I was glued to my contemporary TV monitor in 2007 to view the new BW.
The irony was manifold, as I compared newcomer Ryan’s Jaime with Wagner’s Jaime. There I was, visiting my Mom who, only hours before, had been hooked up to wires and monitors of her own in the hospital. Now, she lay resting in the other room, as I readied myself to review a newly-wired TV Woman series that spouted dialogue like, “What used to be science fiction, is no longer fiction.”
When I first heard that interplay, I asked myself, “Did they really just say that?”
“They did, indeed,” I replied to myself.
After I finished watching the pilot of the new BW, I wish I could have been astounded. But I was not.
New BW producer David Eick was correct: Michelle Ryan is a wonderful actress. She’s beautiful, and her acting on the show was superb. Whatever issues I had and have with the new BW do not fall on her; I simply had issues with everything else about the series.
First and foremost, the entire program and its concept were too dark; too edgy.
What is this obsession with darkness – with particular regards to the re-imagination of classic TV shows? Does more darkness translate as cool? Maybe so, but it sure also at times may be defined as way less fun.
I can certainly understand that the producers of the new BW wanted to place their own mark of distinction on their remake, signified if only in the title by leaving out the The from the original series title.
But let’s now take a brief look at probably one of the most initially successful superhero franchises of all time:
The first feature film series, starring Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker/Spider Man, worked so hard to do things the right way in bringing everyone’s favorite web-head to the big-screen. In doing so, they remained true to Marvel genius Stan Lee’s original comic book vision. Spider-Man was brought into the 21st Century with a sleek, professional, exciting and loyal motion picture trilogy (which I hope somehow continues).
Yes – the premise became somewhat darker with the entire dark-suit storyline in Spider-Man 3, but that was intrinsic to the plot – and it was something that was also intrinsic to Spider-Man’s original mythology.
With the new BW, there was no such mythic loyalty. In fact, the loyalty itself became a myth, as in non-existent.
What happened to Jaime’s great love-story-line with Steve? What happened to Jaime’s awesome, multi-level personality? Her career as a tennis pro? Did all of that have to disappear to resurrect her in the new series – for the sake of dark and edgy?
At one point, in the new BW pilot, the new Jaime finds out that she has been rebuilt. As such, she asks her then-intense boyfriend/doctor, “What did you do to me?”
Real good question. “What indeed did they do to you, Jaime?”
What’s more, did we really need to be introduced to two new Bionic Women in the first episode of the new BW? The charms of Katie Sackhoff (then also of Eick’s Battlestar: Galactica re-do) were clearly evident. But let’s get to know the new Jaime before we get to know the initial evil BW prototype (even before we knew there was a prototype).
Alas, none of it matters, has the new Bionic Woman has long left the air.
Had the updated wonder half-woman/half-machine been given a legitimate shot in the Bionic arm – and had David Eick and his band of producers and writers followed the philosophy and integrity of say, the Smallville production team (who relatively knew how to remake a classic franchise with a contemporary twist), everything would have been fine.
Instead, the new Bionic Woman team (from behind and in front of the cameras) actually started making derogatory remarks about the original series (at one point, someone from their camp called it “campy”). Thus, they not only isolated fans – but disintegrated any possibility of having Lindsay Wagner make a cameo guest appearance (which would have put the ratings through the roof).
The bottom line is this:
There would have been no new Bionic Woman series had there not been the original Bionic Woman series. The producers and everyone associated with the new edition should have been grateful that they had all jobs because of that fact.
Meanwhile, too, Jaime Sommers, as first portrayed by Lindsay Wagner (who by the way, won an Emmy for her performance on the original series – and was the first actress to do so for a sci-fi character in the lead-female drama/show category) was a very complicated character who was emotionally torn by her situation. She was just as torn, if not more so, than Michelle Ryan’s new Jaime. So, there was no need for the new producers to call the original series campy. There was room for everyone.
Also, too, the producers of the new BW should have lightened up a bit on their plight with darkness. (Just as Warner Bros. needs to lighten up on their too dark take on their Justice League list of superhero big-screen films (Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman, Wonder Woman, etc.), and take a lesson from Disney’s marvelous Marvel motion pictures (Iron Man, Captain America, The Avengers, etc.).
Overall, mainstream TV and feature films should be fun, not depressing. We get enough of the downbeat dilemma in the real world. I personally had enough of that reality check when my Mom suffered that heart attack the week of the new BW’s debut.
In fact, I would have had an easier time dealing with my Mom’s physical ailments and care-giving for her had I been able to enjoy the new Bionic Woman – which I had been anticipating to do since NBC announced its development in the spring of 2007 (or even as far back as 2003, when Team Todd Productions was allegedly signed to take a crack at remaking the show).
Either way, I so just wanted to smile during the debut of the new Bionic Woman – and every time I watched the show. I really, really did want to smile.
Sadly, however, that never transpired – and now it never will.
Unless, of course, someone reconstructs The Bionic Woman once again – or at least gets it right/write with the feature film edition of The Six Million Dollar Man…which is now in the works (with Mark Walberg, heaven help us, who is already miscast as he’s too old – and too short – for the part).
The truth is, “they” can get it right…from the get-go – if those in power retain all the superhero mythology – the uplifting enthusiasm that was and should always be associated with the storytelling of super-heroism – and okay – yes – with a legitimate 21st Century twist.
But with specific regard to the Bionic world, there better be some running-slow-motion and okay, “campy” sound effects for cybnertic super-seeing for Steve Austin (“dee…dee…dee…dee…dee”) and super-hearing for Jaime Sommers (“puah…puah…puah”).
Writer/producer Herbie J Pilato is the author of several critically-acclaimed TV companion books, including The Bionic Book: The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman Reconstructed (click this link to order: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-bionic-book-herbie-j-pilato/1020917200?ean=9781593930837).