The mid-1970’s brought us the first television female superheroes. Starting in 1975 with Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman followed in 1976 by the spin-off series to Steve Austin’s alter-ego, The Bionic Woman first leapt in slow motion into living rooms in January 1976 after Jamie Summers was introduced the year before in a 2 part episode of the Six Million Dollar Man. Summers was originally intended as only an in-season love interest for Lee Majors. The character was even killed off at the end of the 2 part episode. The fan reaction saw her picked up as a mid-season replacement.
Lindsay Wagner played the retired tennis player who became the world’s first bionic woman. Wagner’s portrayal of the secret agent won her Emmy for the role as an undercover agent for the super-secret fictional Office of Scientific Intelligence (OSI).
The show started on ABC but end up 3 seasons later on NBC where it was cancelled in 1978. Richard Anderson appearing in both The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman as the OSI chief made television history by playing the same character on 2 different networks. All 3 season are available on DVD.
In addition to the show’s ground breaking portrayal of women, it also was a merchandising hit. Licensed action figures, toys, colouring books and much more could be found during the shows initial run.
The 12 inch doll was produced by the same toymaker as Steve Austin. While Kenner opted to hollow-out an eye socket for Austin’s bionic eye, the company simulated Summers’ bionic ear with a clicking sound made when you turned her head.
Wonderland Records in 1976 pressed vinyl titled Great Adventures featuring the story arc of the character:
Both The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman would return in the late ’90s in 3 made-for-tv movies.
While it is easy to dismiss the show for its ’70s cheese, the show should be remembered for the grace and beauty with which Lindsay Wagner portrayed her character. She presented a female character who was intelligent, witty, and of course strong. Strong role models were rare in ’70s television and the character would come to inspire many young women.
Between the original 1970’s The Bionic Woman and Wonder Woman, no female super-hero would grace television line-ups until the new Supergirl that launched mid-summer 2015.
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