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Category:    Home > Reviews > Action > Science Fiction > Spy > Adventure > Mystery > Comedy > Cold War > The Bionic Woman – Season One (1976/Universal DVD Set)

The Bionic Woman – Season One (1976/Universal DVD Set)


Picture: B-     Sound: C+     Extras: B     Episodes: B+



Spin-offs usually do not work, especially these days, where they are not attempted as much, but they peaked in the 1970s and usually worked.  Though TV series had come from episodes of anthology shows (think Happy Days or Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, where an installment would serve as a pilot), rarely had it worked in spin-off form.  All In The Family gave us Maude and The Jeffersons, Soap gave us Benson, Happy Days gave us Laverne & Shirley, The Mary Tyler Moore Show gave us Rhoda and Phyllis, but that success seemed restricted to comedies, especially when they were hits.  Ironically, The Bionic Woman was not even supposed to be a spin-off, but a two-part Six Million Dollar Man episode, yet it became a huge hit cementing the Bionic Craze that was the biggest 1970s U.S. TV phenomenon of them all.


In the world of action and spies on TV, only one show (The Man From U.N.C.L.E., reviewed elsewhere on this site) spawned a spin-off (The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.) before and that sadly did not work out commercially, but that was intentional.  Six Million Dollar Man became a series only after three very successful TV movies and the two-part episodes The Bionic Woman and The Return Of The Bionic Woman were huge ratings smashes.  The second set of shows only occurred when the reaction to the fate of the Jaime Sommers character in the first set of shows caused a backlash of buzz, insane tons of mail complaining about it and thus, the revival of the character.


Lindsay Wagner was one of the prettiest, most promising new actresses in Hollywood before she became famous and successful, wisely signed as a contract player by Universal Television and turned up as a recurrent character on early episodes of The Rockford Files (among other great shows) when the makers of The Six Million Dollar Man and new writer Kenneth Johnson saw her as a standout among the many actresses they looked at and considered for the role.  They were careful since the current show was a big hit with big tie-in sales behind it.  They got her for the first two-parter, but when they wanted her back, her contract had expired!


After negotiations and trying to throw a then-huge sum of money at her, she only agreed to return if she got the money and creative control.  This led to The Bionic Woman becoming a mid-season replacement on ABC and almost as huge a hit, which further helped to propel ABC into being the #1 network for the first time in their history.  Wagner could have had a theatrical feature film career, especially after the huge response she got for her work in the 1973 original film version of The Paper Chase, but she became one of the biggest female stars in 1970s TV instead along with Farrah Fawcett, Suzanne Sommers, Lynda Carter and the many, often brilliant comic actresses that made that period the last great golden age of TV.


The Bionic Woman – Season One is a long overdue DVD set in the U.S., though basic editions with older transfers of the first two seasons did make it to a few foreign markets.  This set not only includes all three two-parters that introduced the character: The Bionic Woman, The Return Of The Bionic Woman and Welcome Home, Jaime, all dubbed Six Million Dollar Man Crossover Episodes on DVD One with the conclusion of the last set starting off the actual Bionic Woman episodes at the beginning of DVD Two, though some are saying older episode guides are inaccurate in that both Welcome Home, Jaime episodes are from Bionic Woman, but it is too late for the labeling of this set just the same.  Still, it is the same landmark story arc.


In these shows, you can see Wagner quickly becoming a big star and why that happened.  Always an underrated actress, the camera loves her, she has so much to offer the audience and she brought so much depth, naturalism and humanity to Jaime Sommers that it was a new burst of energy for Six Million Dollar Man and showed the appeal of the original show was not as mechanical as the critics had written it off as.  Lee Majors landed up doing some of his best work as Steve Austin and the two actors had great chemistry on screen.


As I watched the shows in order for the first time ever (I long ago lost count on how many times I Have seen them individually, but it is many), I could see how the makers worked very hard to create a show that totally stood out on its own from Six Million Dollar Man despite having many of its best attributes, including the great Richard Anderson as Oscar Goldman and underrated Martin E. Brooks as Dr. Rudy Wells (taking over the role from the terrific Allan Oppenheimer, who played the character on the first two seasons of Six Million Dollar Man when Martin Balsam did not repeat his first version after the Six Million Dollar Man TV movie) created an instant world of energy that exceeded any mere genre (action, spy, science fiction) and resulted in another television classic.


The episodes (including the Six Million Dollar Man launch shows) are as follows:


1)     Bionic Woman (two-parts) – Steve Austin reunites with old flame Jaime Sommers and everything goes well until a parachute accident severely injures her.  Steve is after a counterfeiter (Malachi Throne) who wants to get in the way after foiling his attempt to get his hands on plates to print $20 bills.

2)     Return Of The Bionic Woman (two-parts) – Jaime is not dead thanks to Dr. Wells’ advanced Cryogenic experimentation, but she cannot remember the previous year or the events of the previous reunion with Steve, but she is starting to remember during a deadly mission at the worst possible time.

3)     Welcome Home, Jaime (two-parts) – Jaime gives up tennis and goes back to Ojai, California (Steve’s home town too) giving up tennis for being a school teacher on a military base, where it is easiest for Oscar to get her for assignments.  She and Oscar fake a falling out so she can go work for a deadly schemer (Dennis Patrick) who wants to steal vital government secrets.

4)     Angel Of Mercy – Jaime teams up with an ornery helicopter pilot (Andy Griffith) to go into a small country and save an ambassador and his wife, who are trapped after an embassy bombing.

5)     A Thing Of The Past – A school bus driver (Donald O’Connor) turns out to be hiding from gangsters who still want him dead for fingering them for a crime and they find him when he saves a child in a bus accident and makes the newspapers with his picture.

6)     Claws – Local ranchers falsely accuse a wild animal of killing and Jaime intends to get in their mob crowd way when she helps animal ranch owner (Tippi Hendren) who has been using animals to help her students better learn how to appreciate nature, animals and increase their self esteem.

7)     The Deadly Missiles – Oscar suspects J.T. Connors (Forest Tucker of F Troop and The Ghost Busters (1975, reviewed elsewhere on this site)) of being involved with some deadly and highly illegal weapons of mass destruction.  Jaime happens to be old friends with J.T., so Oscar asks her to investigate.

8)     Bionic Beauty – Jaime enters a beauty contest that masks a possible transfer of sensitive electronics to foreign, anti-American interests.  Bert Parks is a hoot as the bad guy and the cast also includes Gary Crosby, Henry Pollick and Cassie Yates.

9)     Jaime’s Mother – Barbara Rush shows up playing a woman who claims to be Jaime’s thought-to-be dead mother Ann, but Oscar and her foster parents are not so sure and Oscar wonders if something much sinister is going on.

10)  Winning Is Everything – Jaime is put into a cross country dune buggy race to get a micro-cassette an agent passed onto a certain bartender in an Asian country, but her co-driver (Alejandro Rey) is clueless as to why she is his partner, but some killer agents competing in the race to get the tape before she does.

11)  Canyon Of Death – Gary Collins leads a group trying to steal a top secret jet pack, but a student of Jaime’s sees this and tries to tell her not knowing who she really is, but no one believes him due to his history of exaggerated stories and lies.  Jaime and Oscar investigate.

12)  Fly Jamie – Rudy Wells has a secret inside his head and intends to copy it once he gets to a new destination after being given the information.  This includes flying on major commercial airliner with passengers and Jaime under cover as a hostess, but when the plane crashes, agents on his tail intend to get the information first no matter what they have to do.  Vito Scotti makes his first appearance as the amusing Romero, an eccentric enamored with Jaime and Spencer Mulligan also stars.

13)  The Jailing Of Jaime – A computer decoder designed by a clever computer scientist (Barry Sullivan) is to be delivered by Jaime to a military officer, but she is duped into handing it to an unknown party and framed as a traitor to the OSI.  With a tough investigator (Skip Homeier) certain she is up to no good, Oscar needs to try and help her, though she may decide to try to help herself first.

14)  Mirror Image – An elaborate plot to murder Oscar is put in motion when Lisa Galloway (Wagner in a duel role) is given elaborate plastic surgery to look like Jamie so she can eliminate him.  This also requires eliminating Jaime at the same time, but there are some things the plastic surgery cannot duplicate.

15)  The Ghost Hunter – A research scientist (Paul Shehaf) lives with his daughter (a young Kristy McNichol) in a house that may be haunted, a condition that causes the place to shake (et al) and may endanger the expensive new project he is working on for the OSI.  If it is not supernatural troubles, Jaime discovers an alternative danger that even she’ll have problems stopping.



Of all the shows above, #s 1, 2, 3, 12, 13 and 14 are classics of the series (that is half of the episodes in this set alone), 7 and 10 are well done and all are very watchable and interesting.  Part of this is the energy that quickly built up on the show, part of it is the brilliance of Kenneth Johnson and Harve Bennett, part of it comes from directors like Richard Moder, Alan Crosland, Leo Penn, Phil Bondelli, Jerry London, Barry Crane and Alan J. Levi at their journeymen best, part of it from writers like James D. Parriott, Co-Producer/Story editor Arthur Rowe, Bruce Shelly, Philip DeGuere, Jr., Wilton Denmark & Sue Milburn and some of it simply comes form being at Universal and backed by Universal and ABC at a great time for any TV show that was as ambitious as this one.


To see the show looking so good and seeing how it grew from a two-part show that was supposed to be self-contained to a spin-off to a classic the equal of the original is one of the greatest story arcs in TV history and the show has always been underrated.  Some technology has dated, while others have not.  The energy and joy in each show is something you very rarely see today on TV or in feature films, as authentic and spontaneous as anything from its time period and beyond.


The Bionic Woman is smart fun with surprises as much then as now.  There is a reason it has been on so many top lists of TV shows people wanted on DVD because it is still that good.  Wagner became an international star off of this for a reason, but that the show endures as well as female TV hero counterparts Honey West, The Avengers (original 1960s version), The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., Yvonne Craig’s Batgirl on the final season of Batman and the Lynda Carter Wonder Woman (especially the WWII shows) is a very exclusive club to be a part of.  Anyone looking forward to seeing the show again will not be disappointed.



The 1.33 X 1 image on the bonus episodes may have some flaws, cross color and even edge enhancement (Welcome Home, Jaime is not even the complete show as a whole copy of one of the episodes (supposedly the first one, which turns out might be a Bionic Woman episode after all) could not be tracked down, but the search goes on), but the episodes starting with Angel Of Mercy are brand new transfers and they look better than any previous copies ever issued to the point that it is like never having seen them before.  In the U.S., the only time any of these shows hit an optical disc format is in 1980 when the first two Six Million Dollar Man episodes with Wagner as Sommers (The Bionic Woman) was issued on an old, early 12” LaserDisc when it the format was first introduced as MCA DiscoVision 30 years ago.  Directors of Photography for these shows include Alric Edens, Enzo A. Martinelli, Allen M. Davey and Gene A. Talvin who all pushed (with Johnson) to give the show a more naturalistic, exciting look and feel.  They succeeded and the new transfers show just how much.


The only problem is that parts of the opening credits look faded, in part because of optical work of the time and maybe some fading, but the main title design was ingeniously created by Jack Cole, who also did the same for The Six Million Dollar Man, The Rockford Files, Ellery Queen and Kolchak: The Night Stalker, which are all classic examples of TV credits at their best.  Note how it is edited for the best possible impact and is itself a classic of title design in general.


The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono is not bad throughout and though it can show its age from episode to episode, Universal did a better job than many recording the audio for their TV shows at the time.  Jerry Fielding created the theme song for the show and some variants while scoring the first few shows, which was an interesting change of pace after all the work he did for Sam Peckinpah.  You’ll notice changes in the credits that go along with the music alterations, subtle as they can be.


Extras include audio commentaries by Kenneth Johnson on three episodes (Bionic Woman in two parts on DVD 1, The Ghost Hunter at the end of DVD 4) and Director Alan J. Levi & Writer James D. Parriott (Mirror Image on DVD 4), a brief Gag Reel & nearly half-hour Bionic Beginnings featurette on DVD 3 and a Stills Gallery of promotional shots on DVD 4 which I thought would also include ads and tie-ins to the show (toys, books, etc.), but still has images only fans may have seen before.


That makes for a very welcome set of extras for The Bionic Woman – Season One and those waiting for this set after all these years will not be disappointed.  The Six Million Dollar Man – The Complete Series DVD collection is now reviewed and you can read more about it at this link:





-   Nicholas Sheffo


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