The Six Million Dollar Man
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The Six Million Dollar Man is an American television series about a fictional cyborg working for the OSI (which was usually said to refer to the Office of Scientific Intelligence, but sometimes was called the Office of Scientific Investigation as well as the Office of Strategic Intelligence). The show was based on the novel Cyborg by Martin Caidin, and aired on the ABC network as a regular series from 1974 to 1978, after following three television movies aired in 1973. The title role of Steve Austin was played by Lee Majors, who subsequently became a pop culture icon of the 1970s. A spin-off of the show was produced called The Bionic Woman.
The background story of the original novel and the later series is the crash of former astronaut Steve Austin in “lifting body” craft, shown in the opening credits of the show (the lifting body craft mostly shown was a Northrop M2-F2, however in the episode "The Deadly Replay", a Northrop HL-10, identified as such in dialog, was used). Austin is severely injured in the crash and is “rebuilt” in a title-giving operation that costs six million dollars. His right arm, both legs and the left eye are replaced by "bionic" implants that enhance his strength, speed and vision far above human norms: he can run at speeds of 60 miles per hour (100 km/h), and his eye has a 20:1 zoom lens and infrared capabilities. He uses his enhanced abilities to work for the OSI (Office of Scientific Intelligence) as a secret agent (and as a guinea pig for bionics).
Caidin’s novel was a best-seller when it was published in 1972 and was followed by three sequels, Cyborg II: Operation Nuke, Cyborg III: High Crystal, and Cyborg IV (with no subtitle), respectively about a black market in nuclear weapons, a Chariots of the Gods scenario, and fusing Austin's bionics to a space plane.
In the spring of 1973, Cyborg was loosely adapted as a made-for-TV movie starring Majors as Austin (although usually referred to by the title The Six Million Dollar Man, and that is the precise wording used on the original ABC broadcast, this film is sometimes cited by the longer title Cyborg: Six Million Dollar Man). The adaptation was done by writer Howard Rodman working under the pseudonym of Henri Simoun. The film, which was nominated for a Hugo Award, modified Caidin's plot, and notably made Austin a civilian astronaut, rather than an Air Force officer. Absent were some of the standard features of the later series: the electronic sound effects, the slow motion running, and the character of Oscar Goldman (instead, another character named Oliver Spencer, played by Darren McGavin, was Austin's supervisor, of an organization here called the OSO). The lead scientist involved in making Austin bionic, Dr. Rudy Wells, was played in the pilot by Martin Balsam, then on an occasional basis in the series by Alan Oppenheimer, and, finally, as a series regular, by Martin E. Brooks. Austin does not use the enhanced capabilities of his bionic eye at any time during the film.
The first film was a major ratings success and was followed by two more made-for-TV films that fall — Wine, Women and War and Solid Gold Kidnapping (the former bearing strong resemblances to Caidin's second Cyborg novel, Operation Nuke; the latter was an original story), followed by the debut, in January 1974, of The Six Million Dollar Man as a weekly hour-long series. The last two movies, produced by Glen A. Larson, notably introduced a James Bond flavor to the series and reinstated Austin's status from the novels as an Air Force colonel; the hour-long series, produced by Harve Bennett, dispensed with the James Bond-gloss of the movies, and portrayed a more down-to-earth Austin.
The show was very popular during its run and introduced many pop culture elements of the 1970s, such as the show’s opening catch-phrase ("We can rebuild him — we have the technology."), the slow-motion action sequences, and the accompanying “electronic” sound effects. The slow-motion action sequences were originally referred to as "Kung Fu slow motion" in popular culture (due to its usage in the 1970s martial arts television series), but it became far more noteworthy in The Six Million Dollar Man. (Early episodes, as well as the TV movies, were not consistent in how the bionics effects were presented; such consistency did not begin until the second season.)
In 1975, a two-part episode entitled "The Bionic Woman" introduced the character of Jaime Sommers, a professional tennis player who rekindled an old romance with Austin, only to experience a parachuting accident that resulted in her being given bionic parts similar to Austin. Ultimately, however, her bionics failed and she died. The character was very popular, however, and the following season she was revived (having been cryogenically frozen) and was given her own spin-off series, The Bionic Woman, which lasted until 1978 when both it and The Six Million Dollar Man were simultaneously cancelled.
Steve Austin and Jaime Sommers returned in three subsequent made-for-television movies: The Return of the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman (1987), Bionic Showdown (1989) — which featured Sandra Bullock in an early role as a new bionic woman; and Bionic Ever After? (1994) in which Austin and Sommers finally marry. Majors reprised the role of Steve Austin in all three productions, which also featured Richard Anderson and Martin E. Brooks. The reunion films addressed Jaime Sommers' amnesia she suffered during the original series, and featured Lee Majors son as a new OSI agent. The first two movies were written in the anticipation of creating new bionic characters in their own series, but nothing further was seen of these new characters.
For many years, attempts have been made to bring the story of Steve Austin to the movie screen. In the mid-1990s, director Kevin Smith wrote a screenplay (which he talks about on the DVD "An Evening with Kevin Smith 2: Evening Harder" from 2006), and there were reports later that comedian Chris Rock was being considered for the role. In 2003, an announcement was made to film the story as a full-out comedy starring Jim Carrey but that project appears to be on hold. In a July 2006 interview at Comic Con, Richard Anderson (who played Oscar Goldman in the series) stated that he is involved with producing a movie of the series but the rights are in litigation between Miramax and Universal. A post on writer Kenneth Johnson's website, indicates there are similar problems regarding DVD release of the series in North America, although Region 2 (the United Kingdom) has so far seen the release of the first two seasons since 2005.
In 2007, NBC launched a reimagined version of Bionic Woman which integrates elements of The Six Million Dollar Man by having Jaime Sommers equipped with an eye implant in addition to the traditional ones.
The opening sequence featured NASA's 1967 footage of a real-life accident of the Northrop M2-F2 lifting body tumbling end for end down the runway caused by piloting error. The pilot, Bruce Peterson actually survived reasonably unscathed, although he lost an eye due to an infection acquired while in the hospital.
In the opening sequence, the Oscar Goldman character intones, "Steve Austin, astronaut. A man barely alive. Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to build the world's first bionic man. Steve Austin will be that man. Better than he was before. Better, stronger, faster."
The opening credits actually used footage of two different lifting bodies; the HL-10, shown dropping away from its carry plane, and the M2-F2 shown in the unstable flight/crash sequence. (The aircraft was actually referred to as being an “HL-10” in the series, and the real HL-10 was used in a later episode; however, in the 1987 TV film The Return of the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman Austin refers to it as the "M3F5", which is the name used for the aircraft that crashes in the original Cyborg novel.)
Dusty Springfield sang a theme song written by Glen A. Larson and Stu Phillips, which was used in the opening and closing credits for the Wine, Women & War and Solid Gold Kidnapping telefilms. The song was also used in the promotion of the series, but when the weekly series began the song was replaced by the instrumental theme. The first regular episode, "Population Zero", introduced a new element to the opening sequence: a voiceover of Oscar Goldman stating the rationale behind creating a bionic man. The first season narration was shorter than that used in the second and subsequent seasons.
- Steve Austin, the title character (played by Lee Majors)
- Oscar Goldman, the Director of the OSI (played by Richard Anderson)
- Dr. Rudy Wells, Austin’s physician and primary overseer of the medical aspects of bionic technology (played by Martin Balsam (pilot only) /Alan Oppenheimer (seasons 1 and 2) /Martin E. Brooks (seasons 3-5 and three movies) (due to the change in actor, in "The Return of the Bionic Woman", Wells undergoes an appearance change between Jaime Sommers' death and a desperate plea for revival only minutes later)
- Jaime Sommers played by Lindsay Wagner—recurring
- Oliver Spencer, Director of the OSO in the pilot only (played by Darren McGavin)
- Peggy Callahan, (played by Jennifer Darling), secretary to Oscar Goldman---recurring
- A 20.2:1 zoom lens along with a night vision function in the left eye (as well as the restoration of normal vision). The figure of 20.2:1 is taken from the faux computer graphics in the opening credits; the only figure actually mentioned in the series, by Austin himself, is 20:1, in the episode "Population: Zero." Austin's bionic eye also has other features, such as an infrared feature used frequently to see in the dark, and he has also demonstrated the ability to detect heat (as in the episode "The Pioneers") and view humanoid beings moving too fast for a normal eye to see (as in the "Secret of Bigfoot" story arc). One early episode shows the eye as a deadly accurate targetting device for his throwing arm.
- In Caidin's original novels, Austin's eye was originally depicted as simply a camera (which had to be physicially removed after use) and Austin remained blind in the eye; later, he gained the ability to shoot a laser from the eye (this ability is also demonstrated in the first issue of the Six Million Dollar Man comic book issued by Charlton Comics).
- Bionic legs allowing him to run at tremendous speed and make great leaps. Austin’s upper speed limit was never firmly established, although a speed of 60 mph is commonly quoted since this figure is shown on a speed gauge during the opening credits; the highest speed ever shown in the series on a speed gauge is 66 mph; the later revival films suggested that he could run faster, however.
- A Bionic right arm with the equivalent strength of a bulldozer; the arm contains a Geiger counter (established in "The Last of the Fourth of Julys").
The implants have a major flaw in that extreme cold interferes with their functions and can disable them given sufficient exposure. However, when Austin returns to a warmer temperature, the implants quickly regain full functionality.
The Charlton Comics comic book spin-off from the series also established that Austin's bionic eye could shoot a laser beam and also worked as a miniature camera (these abilities were demonstrated in the first issues of the color comic and black-and-white illustrated magazine, respectively), but neither function was shown on television and are not considered canonical.
The series became known for how Austin's bionic abilities were presented. When running or using his bionic arm, Austin was usually presented in slow-motion, accompanied by an electronic grinding-like sound effect. When the bionic eye was used, the camera would zoom in on Austin's face, followed by an extreme close-up of his eye; his point-of-view usually included a crosshair motif accompanied by a beeping sound-effect. In early episodes, different ways of presenting Austin's powers were tested, including a heartbeat sound effect that predated the electronic sound, and in the three original made-for-TV movies, no sound effects or slow-motion were used at all, with Austin's actions shown at normal speed (except for his running which utilized trick photography); the slow-motion portrayal was introduced with the first hour-long episode, "Population: Zero."
Changes for television
A number of changes had to be made to Caidin’s version of the character to make him work for television. In the original novels, Austin was a cold-blooded killer, while the TV version rarely killed after his status as a childhood hero had been realized, and in fact Austin explicitly states his opposition to killing in the pilot film.
A number of changes to Austin’s bionics were also made. In the novel, Austin’s left arm, not his right, was the bionic one. Also, the arm was little more than a superpowered battering ram and not as complex as the TV version. Austin was blind in his bionic eye in the books, which was simply used as alternately a camera or a laser, and was removable. The book version of Steve Austin had some abilities the TV version lacked, such as a radio transmitter contained within a rib, a steel-reinforced skull that made it impossible for him to be knocked out with a blow to the head, and a CO2-powered poison dart gun in one of his bionic fingers which the literary version of Austin often used to eliminate bad guys.
Another minor change was a matter of spelling: in the original novels, the term “bionics” was always used in its pure Greek form, e.g. “bionics limbs,” rather than the backformed adjective "bionic" (a formation based on the incorrect perception, which Caidin points out in the novel, that the Greek "-ics" suffix is plural). Perhaps to make it easier to say in dialogue, this was changed to “bionic limbs” et al. for the television series. The word “bionics” is never actually uttered during the first pilot film.
One character name was also initially changed. In the original novel Austin’s superior is Oscar Goldman, as he is in the series; however, in the pilot film the name was changed to Oliver Spencer. The opening credits of the second pilot film, Wine, Women and War, performs retconning to eliminate Spencer and reinstate Goldman as the government chief who authorizes Austin’s conversion; Goldman is also portrayed as a friendlier and more sympathetic character than Spencer, whom Austin accuses of being little more than a robot. In Caidin’s novel, Austin is recruited by the Office of Strategic Operations (OSO). In the TV pilot, it is still referred to verbally as the OSO, but door labels are OSI. Later TV episodes completed the change to OSI, and the first season episode Operation Firefly identified this as the Office of Scientific Intelligence (shown on Steve Austin's ID card).
The pilot film changed Austin’s character, making him a civilian member of NASA, rather than the Air Force colonel he was in the original novel; his military rank and background was restored for the TV series and no further reference was made to him being a civilian astronaut.
Martin Caidin wrote four novels featuring his original version of Steve Austin beginning in 1972 with Cyborg. Although several other writers such as Mike Jahn would later write a number of novelizations based upon the TV series, in most cases these writers chose to base their character upon the literary version of Austin rather than the TV show version. As a result, several of the novelizations have entire scenes and in one case an ending that differed from the original episodes, as the cold-blooded killer of Caidin’s novels handled things somewhat differently than his watered-down TV counterpart. For example, the Jahn book International Incidents, an adaptation of the episode “Love Song for Tanya”, ends with Austin using the poison dart gun in his bionic hand to kill an enemy agent; since the TV version of the character lacked this weapon, the villain was simply captured in the episode as broadcast.
(all by Martin Caidin)
- Cyborg (1972)
- Operation Nuke (1973)
- High Crystal (1974)
- Cyborg IV (1975)
(Of the above, only Cyborg was adapted for television.)
- Wine, Women and War—Mike Jahn
- Solid Gold Kidnapping—Evan Richards
- Pilot Error—Jay Barbree
- The Rescue of Athena One—Jahn
- The Secret of Bigfoot Pass (UK title, The Secret of Bigfoot)—Jahn
- International Incidents—Jahn (this volume adapted several episodes into one interconnected storyline)
Comic Books and Other adaptations
Charlton Comics published both a color comic book and a black and white, illustrated magazine, featuring original adventures as well as differing adaptations of the original TV movie. While the comic book was closely based upon the series, the magazine was darker and more violent and seemed to be based more upon the literary version of the character. Both magazines were cancelled around the same time the TV series ended. Artists Howard Chaykin and Neal Adams were frequent contributors to both publications.
A British comic strip version was also produced, written by Angus P. Allan, drawn by Martin Asbury and printed in TV comic Look-In. A series of standalone comic strips was printed on the packaging of a series of model kits by Fundimensions based upon the series. In Colombia, a black and white comic book series was published in the late 70s, with art and stories by Jorge Peña. This series was licensed by Universal studios to Greco (Grupo Editorial Colombiano), then known as Editora Cinco, now part of Grupo Editorial Televisa. In France, Télé-Junior, a magazine devoted to comic book adaptations of all sorts of TV series and cartoons also featured a Six Million Dollar Man comic (under its French title, L'Homme qui valait trois milliards) with art by Pierre Le Goff and stories by P. Tabet and Bodis. A tradepaperback reprinting several episodes from the magazine was released in October, 1980.
Peter Pan Records and its sister company Power Records published several record albums featuring original dramatized stories (including an adaptation of the pilot film), several of which were also adapted as comic books designed to be read along with the recording. Three albums' worth of stories were released, one of which featured Christmas-themed stories. Individual stories were also released in other formats, including 7-inch singles.
In 1996, a new comic book series entitled Bionix was announced, to be published by Maximum Press. The comic was to have been an updated version of both the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman and feature new renditions of the two characters. Although the magazine was advertised in comic book trade publications, it was ultimately never published.
The Six Million Dollar Man spawned a number of toys, a Parker Brothers boardgame, and other licensed merchandise. Everything from lunch boxes and running shoes to children’s eyeglasses and bedsheets all carried images of Steve Austin. The 12-inch tall Steve Austin action figure marketed by Kenner in the mid-1970s was particularly popular and intact Six Million Dollar Man and Bionic Woman toys continue to attract premium prices on the collector’s market. Besides the lead characters, 12-inch scale action figures were also produced of Oscar Goldman (with an "exploding" briefcase similar to the type used by James Bond in From Russia with Love), "Maskatron" (an android character based upon a cyborg played by John Saxon in several episodes), a Fembot (from a Bionic Woman episode) and the recurring character of Bigfoot (the Bigfoot doll was more than 12 inches high). Associated merchandise for use with the action figures included a rocketship that could transform into a bionic repair station, an inflatable command base, auxiliary bionic arms (critical assignment arms) with different features (such as one that included a flashlight), auxiliary bionic legs (critical assignment legs) with different features.
Fully intact Steve Austin action figures are rare. The bionic right arms of the dolls were covered in an elastic, skin-like material (intended to be rolled back to reveal bionic modules underneath) and this material tended to deteriorate over time. Early versions of the arms also included removable bionic modules that could be easily lost; later versions of the action figured included modules that could not be removed.
Universal Playback has released the first 2 Seasons of The Six Million Dollar Man on DVD in Region 2 for the first time. It has yet to be released in Region 1 for unconfirmed reasons. In fact, with the exception of a few episodes released in the DiscoVision format in the early 1980s, and a single VHS release of the two-part "The Bionic Woman" storyline, the series as a whole has never been released in North America in any home video format.
- The aircraft seen crashing in the opening sequence of the show is real and the dialogue spoken by actor Lee Majors during the opening credits is reportedly based upon communication prior to a crash that occurred on May 10, 1967: (“I can’t hold her; she’s breaking up! She’s breaking—”). Test pilot Bruce Peterson lost an eye due to infection following the crash, but likewise also miraculously survived what appeared to be a fatal accident even though his lifting body aircraft hit the ground at approximately 250 mph (400 km/h) and tumbled six times.
- André the Giant was the first to play Bigfoot in the two-part episode "The Secret of Bigfoot". Ted Cassidy played the characters in several sequel episodes.
- During filming of the 1977 episode “Carnival of Spies,” which was shot at a real-life carnival, a crewmember was moving what was thought to be a wax mannequin. When the mannequin’s arm broke, it was discovered that it was in fact the mummified remains of a man. Researchers discovered that the body was that of one Elmer McCurdy, an outlaw who had died in a gunfight in 1911.
- The exterior shots of the "OSI" Building are actually the Russell Senate Office Building as seen from the Senate side of the Capitol, across Constitution Avenue in Washington, DC.
- A character introduced in the episode "The Seven Million Dollar Man" was a man given bionics after Steve Austin. The character's name in his first appearance was "Barney Miller." However, when the character made an appearance in a subsequent episode, the name had been changed to "Barney Hiller" since at the time ABC had another series called Barney Miller about a New York policeman.
- The episode Outrage in Balinderry was thinly disguised IRA propaganda. The IBA want a free Balinderry (Ballymena Londonderry) and are misunderstood freedom fighters who only want peace. The people walk around dressed like Irish people, even Steve Austin but at least he doesn't use an Irish accent like the rest. The army have British accents.
- In Latin America, the 6 Million Dollar Man show was called "El Hombre Nuclear", Spanish for nuclear man; presumably implying that Steve Austin was nuclear powered. The premiere hour-long episode, "Population: Zero" states that Austin's bionics are atomic powered.