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Lindsay Wagner: The Bionic Woman, Then and Now

Entertainment | June 22, 2020

Lindsay Wagner starred as TV's Bionic Woman from 1976-78, a spin-off character and show that sometimes rivaled its source, The Six Million Dollar Man. Up until the mid-'70s, there had been a dearth of female action heroes on TV, but Wagner was part of a wave that included Angie Dickinson (Police Woman), Lynda Carter (Wonder Woman) and the Angels of Charlie's Angels. Wagner's character of Jaime Sommers was the childhood sweetheart of Steve Austin (Lee Majors), who gets life-saving bionic implants and, like Austin, becomes a government agent.

A breakthrough spin off for a lead woman doesn't happen too often. Especially back in the day. (blog.sitcomsonline)

Wagner had a promising TV career in the early '70s, having appeared on numerous shows, most notably The Rockford Files (twice) and Marcus Welby, MD (six times). With her on-screen charisma and looks, she was obviously leading-role material. On March 16, 1975, she appeared on The Six Million Dollar Man in the episode "The Bionic Woman," and audiences loved her from the start. 

In the episode, Steve Austin reunites with Sommers, an old flame and professional tennis player. But a skydiving accident leaves Sommers crippled -- Austin convinces his boss to restore Sommers with similar bionic implants -- and so is born the Bionic Woman. In the two-part episode, Wagner made such an impression on viewers that producers greenlit The Bionic Woman just a year later as a midseason replacement for a flagging show.

The Six Million Dollar Man’s Bionic Boo

An amazing woman to match the 6 Million Dollar Man. (bestofcomicbooks)

The Bionic Woman was generally just as popular as The Six Million Dollar Man. Wagner's portrayal of Jaime Sommers would eventually earn her two Golden Globe nominations and an Emmy win for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Dramatic Role.

The Bionic Woman Breakthrough

Wagner came in guns blazing. (bestofcomicbooks)

It might seem a little crazy in retrospect, but the decision was actually a groundbreaking one. “There wasn’t any prime-time show that starred a woman in the dramatic area," Wagner recalled. "There were a couple people who were forerunners in the comedy area, but not in a serious role and certainly not in a man’s role, so The Bionic Woman kind of broke that glass ceiling and then all of a sudden there was a flood."

More Than A Gender Flip

The Bionic Woman distinctly female characteristics fueled its award success. (picclick)

Often, writers take ideas from other movies or sitcoms and simply change the gender and race of the main characters. Everything else remains the same but a new show breathes life from the same concepts as the old show. One might naturally think that’s exactly what happened with The Bionic Woman but you’d be wrong. As Wagner put it, the show explored “What a woman would do differently in this kind of a circumstance than a man even though she has the physical capability of overpowering a man ... except for the Bionic Man."

"We worked very hard at that and working at the pace of a TV series is really rough especially because we were a mid-season replacement," Wagner recalled. "Everything was at break-neck speed and trying to do something differently. So it was really tough but it was also very exciting and fun and not trying to have Jaime solve everything by bashing somebody because she was stronger and that was the primary mandate from me. Let her use her mind. It gave the show a very unique quality. A lot of the shows that starred women after that didn’t really go that track it was pretty much 'Well I’m tough too,' so Boink! and I win.”

Never Enough Bionic Woman

Lindsay Wagner still a stunner at 70! (thefamouspeople)

The Bionic Woman ran for two years but came back for three made for TV movies that also included Lee Majors, the Six Million Dollar Man. For fans of the show who eagerly wanted to see the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman tie the knot, they can thank Wagner. Initially, the producers weren’t sure how the show would end. But Wagner stepped in. 

"I said ‘You have tortured this audience long enough. This is not fair’,” recalls Wagner. That of course led to Bionic Ever After. Despite her character's success in finding her six-million-dollar true love, Wagner struggled with love in her own life. Married three times, each marriage lasting three years, the Bionic Woman may have been too much woman to handle.

Today, She works in holistic healing inspired by her own battles from stress-induced ulcers. “We have the capability to change the way we feel about things, even if we cannot change the circumstances,” she explained. "I help people deal with all kinds of everyday life problems—things we think are so difficult, but which are not really, it's just our perspective of them."

Tags: Ladies | Lindsay Wagner | The Bionic Woman | Then And Now | TV In The 1970s

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Kellar Ellsworth

Writer

Kellar Ellsworth was born and raised in Hawaii. He is an avid traveler, surfer and lover of NBA basketball. He wishes he could have grown up in the free love era!