Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Bionic Woman

Lindsay Wagner as "The Bionic Woman," 1976

The first in a series of shows from the 70's, 80's, & 90's Retro Series.

The other day while I was at the gym on the treadmill, I had a chance to watch the pilot episode of the 2007 launch of the Bionic Woman. I wanted to see it for a while because I remember watching the original as a little girl and loving it. I have to admit, I liked the 2007 episode. I downloaded an episode of the original Bionic Woman with Lindsay Wagner, "Welcome Home, Lindsay, part one," to refresh my memory and several things struck me, so much so, I was inspired to write down some of my thoughts after doing a little bit of research about the series.

When I was a girl in the 1970's growing up, I remembered that I loved the show because I loved the science of the bionics and I thought Jaime Sommers was really cool. Now, 35 years later, I know why she was really cool. Lindsay Wagner's "Bionic Woman," was a totally character-driven series. The 2007 series with Michelle Ryan in the title role was a plot-driven series.

The original Bionic Woman ran from 1976-78, spending the first 2 years on ABC and then the last year on NBC. In fact, Lindsay Wagner won an Emmy for the role. Aside from capturing the look and feel of the 1970's, the show was very character-driven. "Welcome Home, Jamie, Part one," reflected a lot Jaime's feelings and was centered around her establishing a new life for herself. We see her getting a job, cleaning house, and searching for memories. Quite honestly, it's got the making of good storytelling by weaving in action naturally, not gratuitously.

I got a kick out of where Jaime decided to live – Ojai, CA. It's right in my backyard, down CA route 126. It's still a very rural area. It's also in Hollywood's backyard.

The 2007 series was produced by David Eick, who, at the time, was doing the remake to Battlestar Galactica, which I enjoyed a lot. Now, 30 years later, the Galactica series had a whole new look and feel to it, as did the new Bionic Woman.

I found Michelle Ryan to be "likeable" enough as Jaime Sommers and I liked the more modern up to date plot as well as the feel of the show, and I'm a sucker for good science fiction. I thought the bionics had caught up to the times, however the 2007 show was definitely plot driven and not character driven. Jaime did little reflection on her feelings and was constantly in motion. If anything, that's where the show failed.

Michelle Ryan as "The Bionic Woman" 2007

After 7 episodes, the writer's strike hit and the show fell victim to that. It was not produced after that, but those 7 episodes were plot driven. If you can't hook your audience on the characters, all the action in the world won't save it.

A plot driven story moves at a faster pace and the action is more gratuitous and in your face, but if all you have to care about is the plot, and not the characters, then you aren't going to make much of an impression.

A character driven story moves at a slower pace and the action develops naturally. The audience gets a sense of character – how good (or bad) they are. They see layers – what makes them tick. The highlight of the story is to place the character in a situation outside of their comfort zone to see how they react.

In today's instant gratification world, plot driven series rule, but it's character driven stories that resonates. It's why Lindsay Wagner will always be the only Bionic Woman in the hearts of many.


  1. I too loved the Bionic Woman, for all that you listed.
    She was a character with heart.
    I miss those days. ::sigh::
    Thanks for the sweet bit of nostalgia.
    Another victim of the writers strike was Moonlight. It was going places - and it stopped. There was so much left to explore about the characters.
    Writers strikes seem to drive a stake into many promising series. Who knows, maybe the 2007 Bionic Woman could have matured and grown into itself.
    We'll never know ....

  2. I remember the original Bionic Woman too. I thought Jaime Sommers was the coolest thing going--I loved her house/apartment (some kind of loft or barn or something?) and her independence, and of course, her bionic awesomeness! I tried watching the new series when it debuted, but it just wasn't the same.

  3. Michele, yes, she was a character with heart and even though it had been a while, I saw that retro episode just recently and I couldn't help but just love her all over again because of her heart.

    I think the Bionic Woman 2007 would have done much better on the Sci-Fy network because that audience is more a plot driven audience that would have appreciated the sciene behind the series.

    Susan, I loved her loft/apartment. I agree, the new series was much different, in a way, it took the innocence of the character away and gave her a modern "edge." Interestingly, it was Katee Sackhoff who won raves for her role as Sarah Corvnus in the Bionic Woman 2007. She played Jamie's nemsis. I think Katee brings a natural vulnerablity to her roles that perhaps Michelle Ryan didn't. Just my musings though. I do think ultimately, the reason why the series didn't go further is the writer's strike. And now if TPTB wanted to bring it back, they know they have to do it right.


  4. I remember the old Bionic Woman series. It was wonderful. Never saw the new one. As for plot vs. character driven stories, I think you have to strike a balance. Readers need to care about your characters, but too much internal angst puts me to sleep. It's a challenge to find that perfect combination. Great post!

  5. I never watched the Bionic Woman. But I know that now-a-day almost all movies and many shows are plot-driven. Have you see The Tourist starring Angelina Jolie? Good plot, good action, good-looking actors. No emotion.

  6. I can still hear the Bionic music for when they did crazy stunts like jumping to the top of buildings! I've always been a fan of shows like this, that push the bounds of imagination.

    I found out the difference between plot-driven stories and character-driven stories the hard way. My first books were plotted to the nth degree, but I'd stamped out all the emotion and characterization as I thought it wasn't essential to the action. Those books didn't sell, of course, and I have since trashed those files.

    When people care about a character, they have to know what happens next. I'm not usually a fan of legal dramas, but I got hooked on The Good Wife because of Julianna Margolies character. I don't always agree with her, but I have to know what happens next.

    There were lots of times I dreamed of becoming bionic. Just think how fast stuff could get done. Just think how exciting play time would be. Cue the music, I'm getting ready to leap!


  7. I loved the Bionic Woman with Lindsay Wagner. Never missed an episode. Wished I could be like her!

  8. Janninne, I agree - you've got to find a balance and perhaps that's why the original worked so well, you had a good balance of character/action plot. Too much character driven angst is enough to drive one crazy. Soaps in the 1990's were like that and in the late 90's made a change to plot driven stories. It was a bit abrupt for me as a soap viewer.

    Mona, great example. I haven't seen it, but I've been reluctant to because too many people have said just what you did.

    Maggie, I think that's the key - you've got to care for the character. If you can't connect then it's "Tourist" time as Mona pointed out. I think the original Bionic Woman worked well because viewers came to care for the character.

    PL, yes, I remember enjoying the series very much. I'm very excited I can get episodes o ITunes of the show!


  9. "It's why Lindsay Wagner will always be the only Bionic Woman in the hearts of many." [She is in my heart. I loved that show, even with the touches of kinda hokey.]

    In a way, I think that series was ahead of it's time, and yet not. It was an almost perfect reflection of those times as I experienced them. That is, the deeper dynamics and possibilities of being a woman and being human. Most of those possibilities we've lost as a culture, unfortunately, imo.

    I like action series, but they have to be character-driven or I don't really care about them.

    On the Awakening front. Since the feminine side is rising at this time, this resurgence of the older show and the new look at the Bionic Woman is one more upward swing, and trend for what is to come.

    Great blog and analysis, Steph.

  10. Savanna,
    Thanks for popping in. I totally agree about action series, there has to be a character driven story there or it loses my interest. The 1976 was ahead of it's time, yet it didn't have the technechical know-how to really pull it off convincingly.