Today’ s sci-fi heroines owe a great debt to Jaime Sommers, the pretty young schoolteacher also known as The Bionic Woman. Throughout the ’70s Sommers was an idol to millions, and actress Lindsay Wagner even won an Emmy for the iconic role. But how was the Bionic Woman and her supporting cast created? And what went on behind the scenes of this smash-hit show? Read on to find out…
20. The Bionic Woman was supposed to have died
Jaime Sommers was originally never even intended to become the Bionic Woman. The character started life in Six Billion Dollar Man as Steve’s girlfriend, who actually died after a skydive went wrong and her body didn’t accept her bionic implants. But audiences loved her so much she was brought back from the dead and given her own show!
19. Some inappropriate merchandise was made for the show
The show’s producers were adamant that the Bionic Woman wasn’t to be marketed in the same way as Barbie and other fashion dolls. But some toys did slip through the cracks which positioned Jaime as a fashion model rather than a strong action heroine.
18. Jaime was named after a SeaWorld worker
Before he went to work on The Bionic Woman, creator Kenneth Johnson had worked on a production at SeaWorld where he met a water skier called Jaime Somers. And he liked the name so much it was the first one that came to mind when naming his new character.
17. Janice Whitby was told she could lose her job
The Fembots became some of Bionic Woman’s most famous characters. To bring them to life, however, an actress had to have an uncomfortable plaster mold made of her face from which a skintight latex mask could then be made. That actress was Janice Whitby, and she was told she’d lose her job if she didn’t agree to have the face mold done.
16. Several dogs played the Bionic Dog
Jaime’s pet bionic dog Maximillion – so called because it cost a million dollars to create him – was first played by a German Shepherd called Bracken. Gradually, however, other dogs of the same breed had to be brought in to perform different canine stunts like going into fires and jumping from buildings.
15. Wagner took the role of Jaime for her sister
When she was first approached for the role of Jaime Somers, Lindsay Wagner was hesitant. She thought the whole idea was pretty absurd… but her 11-year-old sister absolutely loved The Six Million Dollar Man. And so Wagner accepted the job for her sister’s sake, and the rest is history.
14. Filming was constantly disrupted by studio tours
At around the time of filming on The Bionic Woman, Universal began offering studio tours to customers. This was a disaster for the actors, however, who would often be shooting scenes when the tour tram rattled by and ruined them.
13. The show could have been called “Mrs. Steve Austin”
The Bionic Woman proved to be very progressive in the way it portrayed women, but the original title didn’t swing that way at all. The script which led the creation of Jaime was originally titled just “Mrs. Steve Austin” – she didn’t have a title of her own!
12. Sally Field was considered as a recasting possibility
Wagner’s contract with the TV studio Universal had expired by the time her first episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man were over, so Universal briefly considered a replacement for the Bionic Woman’s grand return. And among the frontrunners was Sally Field, who would go on to be an Oscar-winning actress.
11. Health and safety rules on set were pretty relaxed
Some of the Bionic Woman’s stunts took a lot of nerve. When Wagner was told there wasn’t time to fit her with a security belt during a helicopter stunt, for example, she was understandably petrified as the vehicle took to the skies. And once she’d convinced herself to let go of the skid and free fall onto an airbag, she was so upset her mother had to comfort her.
10. Wagner hated the camera zooming in on her ear
Wagner hated having her ear filmed in close-up, and believed it made no sense to anyway. “If I have a bionic ear, why do I have to pull back the hair? I can hear through walls, but I can’t hear through my hair?” she questioned in a featurette included in the Series 3 DVD.
9. The dogs had to be coaxed into licking Jaime
There may have been a lot of stunt dogs playing Max the dog on the Bionic Woman set… but none of them were able to lick on command. Instead, Lindsay Wagner had to smear liver over her cheek to get the canine to come over and lick her.
8. Lee Majors had to stop being a guest star
After season two, ABC suddenly canceled the show – despite the fact that it was still very popular. NBC picked it up instead, but this left everyone in a curious position – since Lee Majors was still contracted to ABC and The Six Dollar Man, Steve Austin could no longer cross over to star in his spinoff show.
7. The cast had to put in really long hours
The cast would sometimes be working on the set for 18 hours a day. “This show was such a workout in itself, I used to say it was my karma because I refused to work out before that,” Wagner said at the MCM Birmingham Comic Con in 2016.
6. Richard Anderson would use his glasses to hide forgotten lines
All great actors know that removing glasses can buy you some time as your mind scrambles to remember forgotten lines. That’s what Richard Anderson did on The Bionic Woman – and he happily admitted to it on the series one “Bionic Beginnings” DVD featurette.
5. Wagner and the writers would argue
When she signed up for Bionic Woman, Wagner was adamant that the stories show have more to them than fight scenes and action. The writers, however, didn’t always agree with the actress. “That’s why the series was so tumultuous because we were fighting all the time about the scripts,” she told TV Zone in 2000.
4. Children’s hospitals protested Jaime’s death
If there’s one thing that could bring a character back from the dead, it’s a letter from a children’s hospital. After viewers of The Six Million Dollar Man saw Jaime die, a Boston children’s hospital wrote the studio a displeased letter. And it wasn’t long before the Bionic Woman was back on our screens.
3. Sandra Bullock was nearly given her own spinoff
Before she was famous, Sandra Bullock played a new bionic woman in the 1989 TV movie Bionic Showdown. The show was intended to serve as a pilot for a new series with Bullock in the lead role – but it never happened.
2. A remake was made without Wagner’s involvement
In 2007 an all-new, completely Wagner-free Bionic Woman debuted, starring Michelle Ryan (not a blonde!) in the titular role. It didn’t do so well, however, and was canceled within a year. “I don’t think they understood the show,” Wagner told The Columbian in 2010.
1. The show helped to save a woman’s life
A horrific crime took place in 1978. A young hitchhiker named Mary Vincent was mutilated and left for dead. However, at some point in her horrendous ordeal Vincent remembered a snippet of information from a Bionic Woman episode – relaxing the brain helps to slow the flow of blood. And so she tried to calm herself, survived the attack and even received a hospital visit from Wagner herself later.