Behind the Scenes of “The Bionic Woman”

“The Bionic Woman” may not a ring a bell to some of you youngsters, but it was a popular sci-fi series that made its iconic-bionic television debut in 1976. The show was short-lived as it ended two years later in 1978, but plenty of “did you know?” facts happened in this cult-classic starring Lindsay Wagner.

Six Million Dollar Man Lends a Helping Hand

Sometimes six million dollars is all it takes to get your own TV series. Actress Lindsay Wagner made an appearance in a two-part episode on the popular 1970s sci-fi series “The Six Million Dollar Man”. The episode has her falling in love with the lead character (and cyborg) Colonel Steve Austin.

She ends up getting severally injured in the episode to the point that she is made into a bionic woman. The show became so popular that Lindsay Wagner’s character, Jamie Sommers was given her own show entitled, you guessed it, “The Bionic Woman”.

The Ol’ Switcheroo

“The Bionic Woman” made its debut on ABC January 14, 1976. Although for the show’s third (and final) season, the series hopped over to NBC before it ended on May 13, 1978. This meant that Richard Anderson (Colonel Steve Austin and Jaime Sommers’ boss in the “The Bionic Woman”) and Martin E. Brooks (scientist Dr. Rudy Wells) became the first two actors to perform as the same characters on two different series for two different television shows.

This sounds like one of those crazy baseball game statistics where the pitcher has most strikeouts on Tuesday evenings during September while raining.

No Trespassing

Changing networks wasn’t that easy, of course. Once “The Bionic Woman” made the leap over from ABC to NBC, Lee Majors (“Six Million Dollar Man” character Colonel Steve Austin) was not allowed to appear on the Lindsay Wagner’s show due to his contract with ABC. The same situation happened with Wagner, as her contract with NBC did not allow her to show her pretty face on ABC.

Until either contract had expired, neither actor could jump between networks. This unfortunately ended the love affair between Jamie Sommers and Steve Austin.

The Bionic Dog(s)

In one episode, Jaime Sommers discovers that a bionic prototype was applied to a German Sheppard named Maximillion six years prior. But what Sommers did not know, is that there are several Maxmillions, not just one. The dog’s character was actually played by several different German Sheppard impersonators.

The dog actors all had different attributes and were trained according to the plot line of the episode. Some dogs were better at jumping, running, or could sit still while there was a fire burning during an episode. This is quite common for television shows and movies with dog actors.

To the Max

Colonel Steve Austin and Jamie Sommers were known as the Bionic Man and Woman, but were not the first cyborgs that scientist Dr. Rudy Well concocted. Maximillion, or “Max,” was the first bionic creature to receive a robot suit. The dog’s suit costed an estimated a mere $1 million (hence the dog’s name).

The scientists wanted to test the operation on a near-death K9 in hopes that the procedure would, in theory, work for us humans as well. You won’t find a “no animal testing” etched within Austin or Sommers’ bionic suit, unfortunately. Shame on Dr. Rudy Well.

Marriage is Overrated

Bionic women have very little patience for men and who can blame them? Since “The Bionic Woman” ended back in 1978, Lindsay Wagner has married, remarried, and divorced on four different occasions. Lindsay, now 67, continues to act here and there and works as an acting coach.

She also hosts self-help seminars based on the Science of Mind teachings of Ernest Holmes. The Los Angeles native has two sons (both now grown adults) and has not remarried since her divorce back in 1993 from Lawrence Mortorff. Sometimes it takes four marriages to make sure it’s not for you.

Heart Breaker

Both youthful and visually appealing, Lindsay Wagner portrayed herself on “The Bionic Woman” as a powerful and independent woman (which the world needs more of!). Both women and men looked up to her. However, the teenage boys had more of a crush on her than inspiration.

Wagner jokes about her days as the Bionic Woman, “…I’m told that quite a lot of teenage boys were in love with me in the 70s, but it seems like they’re all grown up and married now, so I don’t get too many proposals!” Even to this day you can find Jamie Sommers action figures for a hefty price on eBay.

Progressively Different

What made the show great for women (and everyone for that matter) was that Wagner’s character on “The Bionic Woman” wasn’t made attractive with skimpy outfits. Wagner’s natural beauty was shown with clothes that did not reveal an abundance of skin (or metal, you know, her being bionic and all).

This is extremely different in comparison to some TV series these days. Jaime Sommers didn’t need any of that to stay relevant and popular. Along with the lack of sexism the show offered, the series also revealed interracial relationships. This, even now, is considered ground-breaking.

Not Entirely Bionic

Ring, ring. “Hey Jaime, this is Dr. Rudy Wells. Just calling you to say that you are not entirely bionic.” On “The Bionic Woman” only Jaime Sommers’ right arm, right ear and legs were bionic. If you have never seen the show, you would probably assume that all of Lindsay Wagner’s character was robotic.

She is really “The Partially Bionic Woman” in this case. In certain episodes, there are scenes where Sommers is using her right arm to do bionic things… tisk tisk. The gig is up, Lindsay! When nothing is right, what is left?

What Happened?

The love affair between Steve Austin and Jaime Sommers began years ago when they were in high school together (high school sweethearts, OMG). The two of them decided to go skydiving together one day. Steve made it to the ground safely before Sommers did.

A parachute malfunction had Sommers plummeting towards the ground (kids, make sure to check your parachute before jumping out of a plane). This incident nearly left Lindsay Wagners character dead, but Colonel Steve Austin knew a guy that could save Sommers life (and legs, ears, and arm). This is how the saga of “The Bionic Woman” began.

The Perfect Scapegoat

We all have reached a point in a relationship where it is time to end things between and your significant other. That is always a difficult and awkward situation. Here is an idea on how to deal with this in the future: At one point during “Six Million Dollar Man” Jaime Sommers and Colonel Steve Austin were engaged to one another– bionic matrimony!

Although, after Jaime’s traumatic accident that turns her (partially) robotic, she loses her memory. Once they are reunited after the operation, Sommers asks Austin, “Who are you?” This would work every time, no doubt about it!

Tennis Master

Tennis, anyone? Jaime Sommers would love to play some tennis! She was a real jack of all trades. She was a professional tennis player before she became a bionic human, crushing all of her competition with organic human strength. However, her bionic arm gave her an advantage that she felt was unfair to her opponents.

Because of her mechanically superior arm, she decided to quit her pro tennis career to become a teacher, relying on her educational background. Maybe some of those professional tennis players have bionic arms as well? Food for thought.

She Will Teach You a Lesson

Do you remember those substitute teachers back in elementary and high school? Such pushovers, right? Jaime Sommers did not have this trait. Before landing her teaching job, her class had already gone through three substitute teachers. This put Sommers in a tricky position.

What did she do? She ripped a phone book in half, proving she could wreck someone’s day with the flick of a wrist. Of course, she gained the respect of her students. Maybe Sommers should have quit teaching too, as she had an unfair advantage over the other teachers.

D-d-d-down With The Sickness

Cyborgs get sick too. Not like a human does, though. More like your Windows computer does. There is an episode where Jaime Sommers becomes ill. This confuses the doctors; how can a bionic woman get sick? Well, she is only partially robotic, first of all. Eventually, everyone discovers that she picked up a computer virus and not a human virus.

Unfortunately, this was back in the late 70s, so there was not such thing as a firewall to prevent this sort of situation. Although, the virus became easier to cure than a common cold.

What Exactly Does Bionic Entail?

Well, the word “bionic” is a combination of two common words: biology and electronic. Oscar Leonard Carl Pistorius, the South African Olympic runner (and convicted murderer) could be considered “bionic,” as he has two artificial legs. This makes Lindsay Wagner’s character on “The Bionic Woman” both robotic and human.

Her bionic legs, arm, and ear probably make her really great at running, listening to music and, of course, tennis. But, instead of becoming a world-class athlete (or professional musician) Sommers would rather rip phone books apart in front of her students. To each his own.

Emmy Award Winner

Jaime Sommers may have been a pro tennis player and a teacher. But one thing Lindsay Wagner had over her iconic character in “The Bionic Woman” was an Emmy award. For season two of the series, Wagner earned the award in 1977 for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Dramatic Role.

It would have been great if Wagner would have broken the Emmy in half with her human arms after accepting the award. This was Wagner’s first and only award earned for her role on the series. This was also the only award that the show received in general.

Bionic Merchandise

The popularity of the television series may be considered underrated, there was a cult following that was in love with the show’s short lifespan. The show created a demand for “The Bionic Woman” souvenirs and merchandise.

Lunch boxes (pictured above with Jaime Sommers, “Max” and Austin featured), temporary tattoos of Sommers and Colonel Steve Austin, dolls, and a board game were distributed to fans. The dolls were probably the most popular of the bunch. As mentioned earlier, some of this merchandise is worth a pretty penny.

Not Lindsay

As part of the try-outs for the role of Jaime Sommers, participants had to lift a modest 200lbs. Lindsay Wagner was the only woman that was able to do so…. No, that was just a stupid joke. Although, with Wagner’s contract ending she almost was not the “The Bionic Woman” anymore.

Sally Field (Academy Award winning actress) and Stefanie Powers (“Hart to Hart”) were both considered for the role. But they were unable to lift the hefty bar bell… again, only a joke. The studio decided against replacing Lindsay and kept her as the Bionic Woman. Phew, that was close one.

Unstoppable Duo

Short, but sweet was this lovely television couple’s pairing. Lindsay Wagner and Lee Majors are both considered icons. Based on their fictional characters on “The Bionic Woman” and “Six Million Dollar Man” Colonel Steve Austin and Jaime Sommers appeared on TV Guide’s list of the 25 Greatest Sci-Fi Legends.

The dynamic duo ranked number 19. Even though both TV series only ran for a brief time (“The Bionic Woman, three seasons, “Six Million Dollar Man,” five) they proved that time is not of the essence, as their popularity lives on to this day.


The late-70s success of the original Bionic Woman lived on for years. However it was not until 2007 that a remake was made by NBC. This was a more contemporary take on the first “The Bionic Woman.”

Unfortunately, this remake starring Michelle Ryan was a bust. The series only lasted for one season and eight episodes due to low ratings. What also did not help 2007’s “Bionic Woman” was that there was a strike held by the Writers Guild of America. The world was just not ready for a replacement to Lindsay Wagner. Better luck next time for the Bionic Woman.