The Bionic Woman got it’s start as a spin-off of the 1970s Six Million Dollar Man science-fiction TV series. The show starred Lindsay Wagner as the character Jaime Sommers aka the titular Bionic Woman. Throughout the series, Sommers takes on a variety of special high-risk government missions while using her cybernetically enhanced superhuman powers.
Jaime Sommers is a former pro tennis player who ends up getting critically injured in a freak skydiving accident. Her life is saved by Oscar Goldman and Dr. Rudy Wells, who use several highly-advanced bionic surgical implants, similar to those seen in The Six Million Dollar Man, to give her extraordinary powers like amplified bionic hearing, super strength, and super speed.
She then gets assigned to top-secret missions as an on-call agent of the fictional Office of Scientific Intelligence while simultaneously teaching middle and high school classes in her regular everyday life.
Despite it’s relatively short run, The Bionic Woman was a huge success worldwide. Not only did it see high Nielsen ratings in the US, but it also performed exceptionally well in the UK, where it became the only sci-fi program to reach the number 1 position on TV in the 20th century. When you consider how popular the iconic BBC sci-fi show Doctor Who was during the same era, that’s quite a remarkable feat.
The series ran for three seasons between 1976 and 1978, first on ABC and then on NBC for it’s final season. Years after it got the ax, a series of three spin-off made for TV films were made between 1987 and 1994. In 2004, a short-lived remake series was produced for the USA cable network, but that show featured very few elements of the original script, instead opting for a much darker vibe. It received generally negative reviews and was canceled after just one season.
As popular as the original Bionic Woman series was, it makes you wonder why it only aired for three seasons. These days, they would have milked the show for everything it’s worth, but apparently, back then, there was more of a ‘quality over quantity’ mentality when it came to hit franchises.
Join Facts Verse as we address why The Bionic Woman was canceled. We’ll also dive into several other little-known secrets about the show that true fans need to know about.
Jamie Sommers First Appeared In The Six Million Dollar Man
As we mentioned in the intro, The Bionic Woman was a spin-off of the equally popular live-action science-fiction adventure series The Six Million Dollar Man. It was on this show that the character of Jaime Sommers was first introduced in the two-part backdoor pilot episode fittingly titled ‘The Bionic Woman’ in 1975. When the show’s producers were casting Jaime, they considered both Stefanie Powers and Sally Field for the role.
Lindsay Wagner’s Contract With Universal
In 1971, Wagner signed a multi-year contract with Universal Studios and proceeded to work as a contract player appearing on several Universal Television LLC productions. She made her primetime network debut in the show Adam-12 in the episode ‘Million Dollar Buff’. Wagner went on to appear in dozens of other shows with Universal, including The FBI, Night Gallery, Owen Marshall: Counselor at Law, and Sarge.
From 1971 to 1975, she appeared in five episodes of the Universal-produced show Marcus Welby MD and another two episodes of The Rockford Files.
When she was cast as Jaime Sommers in The Bionic Woman in 1975, that role was supposed to be the last role that would honor her contract with Universal.
Jamie Came Back From The Dead
In that two-part backdoor pilot episode of The Six Million Dollar where Jaime Sommers is first introduced, Steve Austin, played by the late Lee Majors, travels to his old California hometown of Ojai to purchase a ranch that is up for sale as well as visit his mom and stepdad.
During this outing, Austin rekindles his relationship with his old flame Jaime Sommers who happens to be one of the top tennis players in America. Unfortunately, while out on a skydiving date, Jaime’s ‘chute fails to open, and she plummets helplessly to the hard, unforgiving ground below. In the process, she falls through several tree branches, which presumably saved her from certain death, before smashing abruptly into the ground. She ends up suffering numerous traumatic injuries to her head and extremities.
Steve Austin then makes a heartfelt plea to his old boss, Oscar Goldman, to save poor Jaime’s life by making her bionic like him. Goldman, with the help of Dr. Rudy Wells, then proceed to rebuild Jaime with a handful of cybernetic bionic implants.
In the second part of the duo of episodes, Jaime begins to experience crippling headaches. Dr. Wells determines that her bionic implants are being rejected by her body and that a sizable cerebral blood clot is causing her headaches and other malfunctions.
In a rather dramatic scene, she collapses into Austin’s arms and soon after passes away on the operating table as her body shuts down. Fortunately, that’s not the last that we would see of Sommers, as her character eventually was brought back from the dead for a whole new series.
Her character was so popular that ABC requested for the writers of The Six Million Man to devise a way to bring her back from the grave. In the first episode of the spin-off series, It’s revealed that Sommers was never really dead after all! Shocking right?
Steve was only told that she was dead! He discovers the truth about Jaime when he is hospitalized after severely injuring his bionic legs. Right before slipping into a coma, he catches a brief glimpse of Jaime.
Later, he learns that one of Wells’ assistants, Dr. Michael Marchetti, had urged Rudy to employ a newly developed cryogenic technique in order to keep Sommers in a state of suspended animation until the cerebral clot can be safely removed. After the clot is taken care of, Jaime is revived successfully.
The Bionic Woman Was A Surprise Hit
The Six Million Dollar Man spin-off series, The Bionic Woman, made it’s debut on ABC in 1976 as a mid-season replacement. Historically mid-season replacements haven’t performed very well in the ratings department, but after the fourteen-episode first season of the show premiered, it became the fifth most-watch show on television for the 1975-1976 season. In fact, it ranked just behind established ratings juggernauts such as Maude, Rich Man Poor Man, All in the Family, and Laverne & Shirley. Even more impressive is the fact that The Bionic Woman outperformed The Six Million Dollar Man that season.
Jaime’s Implants Were Less Expensive Than Steve Austin’s
Adjusted for inflation, the $6,000,000 price tag behind Steve Austin’s implants would be equivalent to more than $36 million today. While that might sound like quite a large sum of money, it should be noted that military technology always runs at a premium. Some experimental military aircraft, for example, cost the government upwards of a billion dollars in modern times.
The actual cost of rebuilding Jaime’s body in The Bionic Woman is never revealed, but there is a line of dialogue in the series that points out that the cost to replace Jaime’s parts was significantly less expensive than the hardware needed to turn Steve Austin into the bionic anomaly that he became, since her parts were, quote, ‘smaller’.
That being said, when the show premiered in Germany, it was billed as Die Sieben Millionen Dollar Frau, which translates somewhat ironically as The Seven Million Dollar Woman.
Jaime Sommer’s Abilities Were Throttled For Believability
To maintain the show’s suspension of disbelief, Kenneth Johnson, the series’ creator and executive producer, laid out a very specific set of limits on Jaime’s abilities.
In one interview, Johnson mentioned that when dealing with the realm of fantasy, if you were to just say that the characters can do whatever they want just because they’re bionic, then things quickly can get out of hand.
To avoid this fate, you have to establish a very tight set of rules to play by. For example, both Steve and Jaime can jump up two stories without breaking a sweat, but they’re unable to do three. Likewise, they can jump down three stories, but they can’t do four. Similarly, Jaime has the ability to flip over a car, but she can’t topple a truck.
These necessary limitations were occasionally implemented into episodes of The Bionic Woman. For instance, in the episode, Kill Oscar, Jaime fights the fembots and has to land a jump that is too far down for her bionic legs to handle. As a result, after making the leap, her legs sustain severe damage, and she’s nearly killed in the process.
The Bionic Woman Was Canceled – Then Renewed
While the series performed well for ABC throughout it’s first two seasons, the network ultimately made the decision not to renew it for a third. At the time, they felt as if it no longer was attracting the specific demographic that they hoped to lure in.
Pouncing at the opportunity, NBC stepped in and picked up the series for a third and final season. That 22-episode season aired from September 1977 to May 1978 and featured a brand new character, Chris Williams, played by Christopher Stone, as a love interest for Jaime.
This addition to the cast was partly due to the change of networks. Since they couldn’t do a crossover with The Six Million Dollar Man, they had to drop Steve Austin from the series’ cast.
Although Steve Austin was out of the picture, leaving Lee Majors high and dry, Richard Anderson and Martin E. Brooks ended up reprising their respective roles of Oscar Goldman and Dr. Rudy Wells, thus becoming the first actors in TV history to play the same characters on two series that aired on two different networks.
The End Of An Era
While The Bionic Woman and The Six Million Dollar Man ultimately ended up airing on two different networks, both shows were simultaneously canceled around the same time in the Spring of 1978. The Six Million Dollar Man ended rather unceremoniously with a standard episode, but to appease longtime fans of the show, The Bionic Woman ended up featuring a more proper resolution to that series.
The last episode of The Bionic Woman, entitled On The Run, sees Jaime coming to terms with the fact that she isn’t quite human. After years of doing nothing but assignment after assignment with OSI, she resigns.
The people in charge, however, decide that Jaime can’t simply be allowed to leave. Instead, they plan on placing her in a safe community where they can keep a watchful eye on her. She ends up going on the run but eventually realizes that she’s still the same person she’s always been and returns back to work with the OSI, albeit with fewer missions and bit more free time for herself.
Years after that final episode aired, three spin-off made-for-TV Bionic Woman films were made between 1987 and 1994 with Wagner and Majors reprising their respective roles. In the end, Jaime and Steve end up becoming the ‘bionic couple’ after exchanging marriage vows.
Unfortunately, that’s about all the time we have for this fact-packed video, but before we sign off, we’d love to hear from you. Were you a fan of The Bionic Woman, and did you know that it was canceled after It’s second season only to be picked up by a rival network for it’s third and final season? Let us know in the comments. And as always, thanks for watching. We couldn’t do what we do without your continued support.