Spies on Television & Radio ~
The New Bionic Woman
– What Went Wrong and Why She Failed to Connect
With the Audience
By 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
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
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).
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
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
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.”
Lindsay Wagner in a scene from the TV series The Bionic
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
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
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
Real good question. “What indeed did they do to you,
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
To order your personally-signed copy of The Bionic Book:
The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman Reconstructed,
contact the author at
And please drop by Herbie’s
Portrait of Herbie Pilato courtesy of Salvatore