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Spies on Television & Radio ~
The New Bionic Woman – What Went Wrong and Why She Failed to Connect With the Audience

By Herbie J Pilato

Herbie J Pilato
Author Herbie J Pilato

Editor’s Note ~

Outside of the original participants themselves, no one knows more about The Six Million Dollar Man or The Bionic Woman than Herbie J Pilato.

In 2007, BearManor Media published his The Bionic Book: The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman Reconstructed, in which Herbie left no stone unturned to get behind the scenes of these landmark series.

I was curious to find out what Herbie thought of the short-lived remake that aired only a few episodes before the Screen Writers Guild strike halted production, followed by the cancellation of the show.

Here are Herbie’s very personal thoughts about a remake gone wrong.

According to Sci-Fi Wire – a news service of the Sci-Fi Channel, NBC has finally and formally cancelled its new Bionic Woman. The reconstruction of the classic 1970s female sci-fi show debuted last fall on September 26th – and was executive produced by David Eick, who failed to work the same magic he had performed with the recent re-do of another small-screen sci-fi classic: Battlestar: Galactica.

As Eick told the Sci-Fi Channel’s upfront presentation to advertisers in New York on March 18th, “I just felt that the process (of reinventing BW) 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 [Michell 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?” And 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 debut of what was simply entitled Bionic Woman (minus the The from the initial show’s moniker).

Cover – The Bionic Book

My Mom had suffered a slight heart-attack on night before the new BW’s debut. I had made frequent visits to the hospital, and my Mom eventually – and gratefully – recovered. But during her rehab time at home, I decided to stay at her apartment, in order to keep a close watch. It was during that period that the new BW arrived – just as, too, BearManor Media released my new TV tome, The Bionic Book: The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman Reconstructed, which is a companion to not only the original BW series, but the other original Bionic series (that featured a half-human/half-mechanical man named Steve Austin, stoically portrayed by Lee Majors).

While watching the remade BW at my Mom’s on that late September evening, I thought back to twenty years before – when the original BW had first hit the airwaves. Had it really been over thirty-years since the American mainstream TV viewer had been introduced to the cybernetic and romantically-intertwined worlds of Steve and Jaime?

As I sat watching the pilot of the new BW, I recalled three decades before, when I viewed the original series, which had also aired on a Wednesday night (8:00 PM, on ABC, as opposed to the new BW’s time slot and network, 9:00 PM, NBC). That night, back in January 1976, 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. Though a mid-teen, I was a young mid-teen (just as I categorize myself today as a young fortysomething).

At any rate, television, then – in general – as well as the original Bionic Woman series, in particular, was much more fun to watch than it is today. For certain, that was made abundantly clear this past November when I was glued to my Mom’s TV monitor to view the new BW.

The irony was manifold, as I compared newcomer Michelle Ryan’s Jaime Sommers with Lindsay Wagner’s original Sommers interpretation. 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.”

Herbie J Pilato
Lindsay Wagner in a scene from the TV series The Bionic Woman (1976-1978).

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 reimagination 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 successful superhero franchises of all time:


The 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 whole 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 Sommers’ great love-storyline with Steve Austin? 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?”

Cover – NBC & Me

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 (also of Eick’s Battlestar: Galactica re-do) were clearly evident. But let’s get to know the new Jaime Sommers before we get to know the initial evil BW prototype (even before we knew there was a prototype).

Alas, none of it matters, now that NBC has officially cancelled their new Bionic Woman. And it’s all so very sad. The updated super girl, had she 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 really know how to remake a classic franchise), everything would have been fine.

Instead, the new BW team (from behind and in front of the cameras) actually started making derogatory remarks about the original series. 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).

Whatever. 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 played 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 Sommers. So, there was no need for the new producers to call the original series campy (as they had on several occasions). There was room for everyone.

Also, too, the producers of the new BW should have lightened up a bit on their plight with darkness. TV and movies should be fun, not depressing. We get enough of that 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 troubles that week 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 just so wanted to smile during the debut of the new Bionic Woman – and every time I watched the show. I really, really did.

Sadly, that never happened – and now it never will. Unless, of course, Universal/Dimension hires me to reboot The Bionic Woman once again – or at least write the feature film edition of The Six Million Dollar Man. And we can get it right, from the get-go, with all the mythology intact, with a legitimate 21st Century twist, slow motion and all.

So if David Eick is serious when he says, “Let’s try again at another time”, well, then – the dude needs to call me.

Herbie J Pilato is the author of several books on such classic television shows as Bewitched, Kung Fu, and Life Goes On, in addition to The Bionic Woman and The Bionic Man. These books are available in bookstores everywhere, as well as these on-line merchants ~

BearManor Media
Amazon U.S.
Amazon Canada
Amazon U.K.

To order your personally-signed copy of The Bionic Book: The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman Reconstructed, contact the author at HJPilato@aol.com.

And please drop by Herbie’s blog.

Portrait of Herbie Pilato courtesy of Salvatore Armato Photography.