The late 70s and early 80s were popular times for superhero TV shows. We had it all; Wonder Woman, The Incredible Hulk, a live action Spider-Man – and of course The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman.
The Six Million Dollar Man (SMDM from now on) started off as a TV movie loosely based on the Martin Caiden novel Cyborg – about Steve Austin, a near-dead astronaut crash victim given superhuman bio-mechanical limbs. With his special new abilities, Austin is conscripted into a government organization known as the OSI (Office for Scientific Intelligence – ran by Oscar Goldman) where be acts as an agent for difficult and often secret missions.
The movie was so successful that they made two more movies and eventually parried the movies into a full-time series that subsequently ran five seasons. The show spawned The Bionic Woman spinoff featuring parachute accident victim (and Austin’s high school sweetheart) Jamie Sommers (Lindsay Wagner). Both characters visited the other’s TV series in what is known as a “cross over” episode. Often a two-part episode would start on one series, then finish on the other show.
Bionics quickly became a household phrase and the SMDM (and to a lesser extent, the Bionic Woman) became firmly planted into pop culture. Toys, lunch boxes, action figures – you name it – you could get it branded with a bionic superhero.
The TV adaptation of the SMDM was also borrowed from the 1967 near-fatal crash of test pilot Bruce Peterson who crashed a test craft into the ground at over 250mph. The dialog featured during the haunting and icon intro to the TV show (rated as the all time best intro of all time by yours truly in my article Television Intros: A Look at 25 All-Time Greats) was lifted from the pre-crash transcripts:
Peterson said that seeing this TV show every week was akin to reliving the crash over and over again.
After the cancellation of the SMDM (five seasons) and The Bionic Woman (three seasons), the bionic duo continued making the occassional TV movie – the last one in 1989.
About the Series
If you’re intimate with the series, you may want to skip down to the next segment of the review.
Colonel Steve Austin (Lee Majors) was test piloting a military test plane when he lost complete control of the craft and plummeted to a certain death. While Austin survives the crash, he lays near death.
Oscar Goldman (Richard Anderson), the front man of the Office of Scientific Intelligence (OSI) orders Dr. Rudy Wells (originally Alan Oppenheimer, later Martin E. Brooks) to save Austin by replacing his shattered limbs with bionics – nuclear powered mechanics covered with realistic looking skin. Austin’s lost eye is also bionically replaced.
Upon his recovery, Austin now has a right arm capable of superhuman strength and his new legs allow him jump great heights and run at speeds of up to 60mph. His eye allows him to see 20x farther and even features infrared capabilities.
At the cost of six million dollars, there are some strings attached. Goldman needs a super agent to handle the more difficult tasks of the OSI – and Austin is conscripted.
During the show, scenes of bionic prowess are shown in slow motion (like the action scenes in the immensely popular of the time Kung Fu series with the late David Carradine) backed with the now legendary electronic “bionic” sound effects. Only during the introduction of the SMDM do you ever see Austin actually running in full speed of 60mph. This has been lampooned and satired in numerous TV shows and movies since.
Some of the more iconic episodes of the show feature Steve against an alien-built Bigfoot, a near-indestructable super robot designed for Mars exploration and of course the beautiful (and deadly) fembots. The Bionic Woman also began as a SMDM episode (several, actually) before she was spun off.
Richard Anderson and Martin E. Brooks reprised their roles for The Bionic Woman – and continued to do so, even when the show moved to a new network! It was the first (and possibly only) time that two shows featured the same characters across two different networks. So popular were Anderson and Brooks that they became almost as recognizable as Lee Majors and Lindsay Wagner. In fact, in The 40 Year Old Virgin, the Oscar Goldman doll is quoted as being much more valuable than the Steve Austin doll.
The Bionic Woman reboot was attempted with great failure because while Universal owned the name, they did NOT own the rights to the concepts of bionics – so they had to greatly deviate from the original show. It’s failure probably stopped Universal from ever rebooting the SMDM.
To this day, the SMDM and Bionic Woman continue to have a huge fan following and has firmly inserted itself deeply into our television history.
Unwrapping the Box Set
Here is my original unwrapping of the box set:
Time Life is the only place you can get this boxed set – and it isn’t cheap; the 40 DVDs check in at $240. The price seems outrageous until you check out the laundry list of what is included.
- Every episode from all five seasons (100 shows)
- Expanded syndicated versions of all three full length TV movie pilots
- Every cross over Bionic Woman episode
- All three “reunion” TV movies – including the bionic Sandra Bullock movie
- 17 hours of bonus features including BRAND NEW interviews with Lindsay Wagner and Lee Majors
- 17 featurettes including interviews with Richard Anderson, Martain E. Brooks, Harve Bennett and Kenneth Johnson
- Hologramed case with audio clip of the intro
- And more …
Instead of a barebones set with poor masters, crappy menus and a general who-cares attitude in the production, Time Life treated this beloved material with love and care. The shows have been cleaned and digitally restored. The menus are clean and attractive. Check out some of my screen captures from the menus and show (click any thumbnail for a full sized, full quality image).
The DVD cases themselves are all custom – so be sure you take care of them. Each oversized case contains up to 5 DVDs with custom disc holder hubs as well as a nice booklet featuring great information about the show. I personally find these booklets a really nice treat.
It’s a first class job – Time Life pulled out all the stops and really gave up the goods. While $50 a season is a bit higher than current market pricing (the latest season of Desperate Housewives clocks in at $35, for example) – it’s hard to beat the extras and bonus features that are included. Most special run collections like this DO run a little more because they won’t sell as many of them to recoup their production costs.
Possibly the best part of buying this set from Time Life is the payment plan arrangement. They figured out they would sell more people could make payments on the higher price tag. “Layaway” isn’t a new concept, but unlike traditional layaway, Time Life will ship you the package after your FIRST payment! Subsequent payments are auto charged every 21 days (so far, they haven’t screwed my card over).
If you’re a fan, you must own this. It isn’t really a question. The payment plan makes it obtainable and who knows just how long it will be around? Even when the exclusive rights run out, we’re unlikely to see this kind of deal again – as Universal will likely pump out generic season by season of the show without extras.
The fact that you get EVERY SINGLE show (even if it’s The Bionic Woman) and movie that Steve Austin ever appears in is simply fantastic. To actually own the ENTIRE legacy of the SMDM in one package is phenomenal for fans. As a fan of The Bionic Woman, I wish we could get Jamie Sommers in a box set like this.
The quality of the whole set it top notch – from the video on the transfers (they look incredible for a thirty-plus year old show) to the menus to the packaging to the included reference booklets. I can’t recommend this enough to SMDM fans.