Sunday, January 12, 2014


Picking up from last time, my 11-year-old daughter Maddie and I continue our overview of The Six Million Dollar Man, which we watched via the superb Complete Collection DVD box set.

NOTE: This “bionic retrospective” was originally intended to run in two parts, but I’ve decided to expand it into a three-parter. This time around, we’ll look at Seasons Three and Four, and we’ll conclude next time with Season Five and the three reunion movies.   


The third season of The Six Million Dollar Man was arguably the most pivotal, as it included some truly key episodes, ones that broadened the scope of the series and expanded its universe and the cast of characters populating it. 

As I mentioned last time, the season kicked off with the two-part “The Return of the Bionic Woman,” which brought back Lindsay Wagner as Jaime Sommers and “undid” the death that traumatized viewers across the nation. Of course, millions of jaws dropped when, during this sequel storyline, the revived Jaime sees Steve Austin for the first time since her “death” and asks plainly, “Who are you?” 

"Who who, who who…?"

Writer/producer Kenneth Johnson did an admirable job reversing the end of Jaime’s origin story, but in the name of compelling drama, he went one step further—he resurrected Jaime, but in wiping out her memory, he also killed the romance between her and Steve.

MADDIE: “I was really happy when Jaime came back, and I was excited to see her and Steve back together. But I was really upset that she couldn’t remember him. I didn’t know what would happen from there. They had carved their initials in a tree, and they were in the newspaper together for their engagement announcement, and Steve’s parents loved her as their own daughter, so it was really complicated!”

To make matters worse for Steve, Jaime has fallen for Dr. Michael Marchetti, the brilliant scientist who used cryogenics to save her life.  

MADDIE: “I hated Michael Marchetti. He was a jerk. He had no business getting involved with Jaime—he was her doctor and she was his patient. That’s not supposed to happen. And I felt really bad for Steve. It must have really hurt him to see the woman he wanted to marry falling for someone else.”

Dr. Michael Marchetti—BOOOOOOOOOOO!

I have to note that when Jaime “died” at the end of “The Bionic Woman Part II” and a heartbroken Steve mourned her, Maddie did not shed a tear. But at the end of “The Return of the Bionic Woman Part II,” when Jaime drives off with Michael to try to forge a new future for herself—with Steve downgraded to the “just good friends” category—Maddie was fairly inconsolable.  

MADDIE: “I was very unhappy when she drove off with Michael Marchetti. I felt that Steve was her soulmate and Michael was not. I didn’t like Michael to begin with. I guess Steve was doing the right thing for Jaime when he convinced her to go away from him, but I didn’t like it. They were the perfect couple and I think if she had stayed, maybe she would have fallen for him all over again.”

“The Return of the Bionic Woman” is a crowd-pleaser—that’s exactly what it was intended to be—and it’s a treat to see Lee Majors and Lindsay Wagner sharing the screen again. The chemistry between them is as strong here as it was in the original two-parter, and it’s very clever how the script puts a completely different spin on their relationship so that they’re not just repeating themselves. Overall, I don’t think “Return” is quite as strong as its predecessor, but it’s still very enjoyable and creative.

Of course, “The Return of the Bionic Woman” led to the weekly Bionic Woman TV series, which launched just four months later. One of the most fondly remembered things about The Six Million Dollar Man is how it interacted with its spin-off series, and how Jaime became a recurring element for the rest of the third season and well into the fourth. (More on that shortly.) 

MADDIE: “I was glad that Jaime got her own series. It was exciting, and the best part was that Steve and Jaime appeared on each other’s shows. Those were the episodes that stood out the most and were among the best  ones.”

But Jaime wasn’t the only bionic character to return in Season Three. In “The Bionic Criminal,” the world’s second bionic man, Barney Miller—his surname now changed to Hiller in the wake of ABC’s launch of the unrelated police sitcom starring Hal  Linden—is back in action, only now he’s being blackmailed and thus forced to commit a series of crimes.  

Monte Markham is back as Barney and is clearly having a good time, but due to the nature of the story—Barney is under duress and functioning as a reluctant antagonist this time around—he’s not quite as over-the-top, and is therefore not quite as much fun, as he was in his previous appearance.

"Mmmmmm, I smell ham—oh wait, it's ME!"

MADDIE: “That was a good one, but not as good as the first episode with Barney. I was scared when they tuned his bionics back up and gave him back his super strength, because I remember what happened last time and how dangerous he was. Though I did always enjoy the moments when Barney was out to show how much better he was than Steve, and that’s what was missing in the sequel.” 

The episode is also notable for the one-shot return of Alan Oppenheimer as Dr. Rudy Wells, presumably because there are flashbacks to Season Two’s “The Seven Million Dollar Man” that feature Oppenheimer’s Rudy. After this episode, Martin E. Brooks would inhabit the role permanently.  

But probably the biggest story of the season, in terms of scope, audaciousness, and popularity, was “The Secret of Bigfoot,” written and produced by Kenneth Johnson. (Note that Johnson also created Jaime Sommers—his value to the series can’t be overemphasized.) In this two-parter, Steve Austin encounters Sasquatch, a super-strong creature that turns out to be the bionic-like protector of a hidden society of extraterrestrials living in the California mountains.

"Chewie, is that you…?"

I watched this when it originally aired, and as I recall, it absolutely blew my mind. It had everything a fan of the show could want: mystery, suspense, action, the lovely Stefanie Powers as alien scientist Shalon, a surprise (and uncredited) guest appearance by Lindsay Wagner as Jaime, and, most importantly, a truly intimidating, worthy—and even downright scary—opponent for Steve in the form of wrestling legend Andre the Giant as Sasquatch. 

"Turn around, bright eyes…"

MADDIE: “This one was very good. I loved the fight scenes between Bigfoot and Steve, because it was one of the very few times where Steve faced an enemy who could really challenge him. I liked the way the aliens could move through time with their little devices, and the whole plot was really strong. It was really different from most of the other episodes, and it was the first time in the series that we really got deep into science fiction. It was a real twist to find out that Bigfoot was a lot like Steve. He was so big, and his eyes were really creepy! I liked that they gave Jaime a little tip of the hat, it was nice to see her. Shalon was very pretty. I liked her character. It was clear she had a crush on Steve, but then again, every episode is like that!”

Stefanie Powers as Shalon. >Sigh<

Ask anyone what they remember most about The Six Million Dollar Man and chances are, Sasquatch will be one of the top three responses. The character was brought back numerous times—more on that later—and was even turned into a Kenner action figure.  

Alas, I never got to own one. >Sniff!<

For fans like myself, who fully embraced the science-fictional “otherworldly” elements introduced in “The Secret of Bigfoot,” and were hoping that the series would continue in that direction from that point on, it was a bit disappointing to see the return to down-to-earth stories focusing on Steve combatting espionage and organized crime. That said, there’s a surprisingly small number of third-season episodes that qualify as genuine clunkers. For me, the weakest of the bunch were:

“The Song and Dance Spy,” in which guest-star Sonny Bono plays Steve’s old college roommate, who has gone on to become a successful singer—and is now believed to be a courier for an espionage ring. It’s a dopey, silly episode no matter what—and the presence of Sonny Bono does not help matters. This isn’t just me looking back at 1970s culture with irreverence. Even as a little kid growing up during that era, I had come to the conclusion that a guest appearance by Sonny Bono meant a weaker-than-usual episode of The Love Boat or Fantasy Island.     

Well, at least Lee Majors seems happy to have him there.

MADDIE: “This was just a stupid episode. I didn’t care what happened in it, and the fight scene at the end was dumb, with Steve’s friend trying to act like he’s tough.”  

“The Wolf Boy,” a riff on Tarzan in which Steve searches for an orphaned boy—the son of a U.S. ambassador and his wife—who is now living amongst wolves.

But the rest of Season Three’s episodes were all compelling enough in their own ways. Among the most notable:  

“One of Our Running Backs is Missing,” the only episode of the series directed by Lee Majors, in which Steve’s old friend, football player Larry Bronco (played by real-life pro football star Larry Csonka) is kidnapped as part of a betting scam. Like “The Song and Dance Spy,” it’s dopey as hell, but I found myself enjoying it quite a bit—and I’m hardly a football fan. 

“The Winning Smile” is another episode in which Oscar Goldman’s secretary Callahan figures prominently. Callahan, played by Jennifer Darling, was one of the best additions to the series, and the episodes featuring her were among the most enjoyable. This time, she’s suspected of leaking top-secret information out of Oscar’s office.  

Lovely lady, lovely smile… awful hairdo.

MADDIE: “I liked this one. I was really scared that they were going to send Callahan to jail because everyone thought that she was guilty. If she was guilty, that meant that her seeming all innocent was just an act, and that would have made me very sad, because I liked her so much. It was very clever that it turned out that her boyfriend, who was also her dentist, was the real criminal. He planted a tiny microphone in her teeth and she had no idea. Callahan picked really bad guys to date—the same thing happened to her on The Bionic Woman!”

“Hocus-Pocus” brings back Audrey Moss, a character introduced in Season Two’s “The E.S.P. Spy.” Audrey, once again played by Robbie Lee, is brought in to use her E.S.P. abilities to act as Steve’s assistant when he goes undercover as a nightclub magician. Their mission: to recover the U.S. Navy’s top-secret code book, which has fallen into the hands of a club-owning mobster. Audrey is somewhat like Callahan—very cute and likable, with a, shall we say, unique speaking voice.  

In “The Golden Pharaoh,” Farrah Fawcett, shortly before the debut of Charlie’s Angels, makes her annual guest appearance, though she’s playing a completely new character—Trish Hollander, an old flame of Steve’s, whom he enlists to help him recover stolen Egyptian treasures. But Steve may not be able to trust her, as it turns out that Trish has her own agenda. Watching Majors work with his then-wife is always interesting. By the way, in one amusing moment, Steve tells Trish, “You’re an angel.” Talk about foreshadowing!

What a difference a year will make...

And Jaime Sommers makes a cameo appearance in both “Love Song for Tanya” and “Big Brother.” I actually remember my seven-year-old self watching “Love Song for Tanya” the night it aired, on February 15, 1976, and being quite excited about seeing Jaime show up—and also thinking guest-star Cathy Rigby, playing a Soviet gymnast wanting to defect to the U.S.—was really cute. The episode itself is not quite as good as I remember it being, but I don’t want to crush my seven-year-old self, so I continue to think of it fondly. 

MADDIE: “I liked when Steve was going to show Tanya how to play pinball and she thought you play by sticking a pin in a ball! She was very funny and cute, and she was fun to watch.” 

Obviously, she's just beaten Steve's high score.

“Big Brother” is a well-meaning episode written by Kenneth Johnson that helps promote the Big Brothers organization (now known as Big Brothers Big Sisters) and features Steve coming to the aid of a troubled ghetto youth. Watching it again, I’d say that the Jaime appearance is the best thing about it.

(Incidentally, Lee Majors returned the favor by appearing as Steve Austin in several episodes of the first season of The Bionic Woman, including “Welcome Home, Jaime, Part I,” “A Thing of the Past,” and, most significantly, “The Deadly Missiles,” which featured Steve in a more prominent role and hinted strongly that there was still a romantic spark between him and Jaime.)  

MADDIE: “I was so happy watching ‘The Deadly Missiles,’ because Steve and Jaime kiss at the end. I was like, ‘Goodbye, Michael Marchetti!’ And it was a good episode anyway!” 

"Hey, speaking of 'deadly missiles'…"

In the third season, The Six Million Dollar Man really came into its own. It is arguably the best season, overall, of the series. And while the subsequent seasons would not maintain a consistent level of quality on a week-to-week basis, there were a number of fine episodes still to come.             


Without a doubt, the fourth season includes some of the most iconic, most fondly remembered episodes that the series ever produced. It also includes some real lame-0s, along with a somewhat desperate attempt to expand the bionic franchise even further. 

But more than anything else, Season Four is notable for being the “mustache season.” That’s the year Lee Majors decided that what Steve Austin really needed was a mustache. But not a cool, thick, bushy, masculine Tom Selleck style mustache. 

No, Steve’s mustache was meticulously groomed and thin, sort of like David Niven’s.   

My theory has always been that Majors was trying to emulate Burt Reynolds, who at the time was the biggest movie star in the world. 

Whatever the reason, I vividly remember that as those fourth-season episodes originally aired, I, and everyone I knew—including my dad, who was ALSO sporting a mustache at the time (and would retain it until the day he died in August 2013)—considered Col. Austin’s new facial hair a distraction and an impairment to his good looks. Apparently, a lot of the viewing audience felt the same way, but Majors stubbornly kept the ’stache for the majority of the season.

Watching the episodes again all these years later, I still find the mustache an unfortunate distraction. And I’m not alone.

MADDIE: “It looked like there was a pencil under his nose. You would just look at his mustache and block out everything else. It didn’t even really look like a mustache, it looked like dirt or a caterpillar under his nose.”

As for the episodes themselves—the highlights of Season Four were undoubtedly the two extended crossover storylines between TSMDM and The Bionic Woman: the two-part “The Return of Bigfoot,” which began in the season premiere of TSMDM and concluded in the first episode of TBW’s second season, and the three-part “Kill Oscar,” which began on TBW, continued in an episode of TSMDM, and concluded in TBW. This kind of storytelling has been commonplace in comic books for many decades, but was—and remains—a rarity in television.

MADDIE: “I liked the idea of the crossovers, because I got to see Steve and Jaime together. It was weird that the stories would jump from one show to the other, but I think they did that to get more people to watch both shows. The crossover episodes were among my favorites.” 

“The Return of Bigfoot,” written by Kenneth Johnson, was a totally obvious choice to kick off the fourth season, in that it took the two most popular elements from the previous year—Bigfoot and Jaime Sommers—and mixed them together into one big story. As a direct sequel to “The Secret of Bigfoot,” it brings back Stefanie Powers as Shalon and continues the story of the aliens that live secretly among us. However, Andre the Giant was apparently not available to reprise the role of Sasquatch, so Ted Cassidy—best known as Lurch from The Addams Family—took over.

"I'm a substitute for another guy…"

Cassidy performs well, but I prefer Andre, both in appearance and in overall approach to the part. 

MADDIE: “I liked the first Bigfoot better. He seemed more fierce and less human.”

The storyline acknowledges Jaime’s brief appearance in the previous Bigfoot story, which helps to bring her into this one in a way that feels organic. Part one, which ends with Steve near death after a brutal encounter with Sasquatch, and Jaime the last remaining hope to save the day, sent chills down my spine when I first watched it as a child. I still consider it very strong storytelling. In part two, Jaime forges a far less adversarial relationship with Sasquatch than Steve ever had, and, with a recovered Steve joining them, they manage to stop a rogue splinter group of aliens from carrying out their plans for world domination. 

"Interesting friends you have, Steve."

Admittedly, all the slow-motion action gets a bit tiresome after a while, and the production budget prevents the key set pieces from being truly impressive, certainly by today’s standards. But it’s exciting to watch Jaime become more immersed into Steve’s world and, of course, it’s always great to see the two of them together. However, their budding romance seems to have cooled somewhat—maybe Jaime didn’t like the mustache either.            

MADDIE: “I thought ‘The Return of Bigfoot’ wasn’t as good as the first Bigfoot story. The fight scenes lagged on a lot, and towards the end of part two, the special effects were pretty bad. But I liked Gillian (played by Sandy Duncan) because she helped Steve and Jaime—she sort of reminded me of Callahan. I liked how Jaime got involved in the Bigfoot storyline, and how she took over when Steve was injured. I liked seeing Shalon again, but I was sad that she ended up very sick at the end. I hope she survived and that her home planet sent more of the miracle drug that she donated to save Steve. She was supposed to use it to save herself.”

“Kill Oscar,” written by Arthur Rowe, introduced the “fembots” into the bionic universe. Created by Dr. Franklin, an embittered former OSI scientist played by John Houseman, the fembots are androids that look exactly like human beings and are designed to infiltrate OSI operations so that Franklin can seize control of an experimental weather control device. Oscar Goldman’s secretary Callahan is abducted and replaced by a lookalike robot, as is Dr. Rudy Wells’s assistant Lynda—and, ultimately, so is Oscar himself. In a reversal from “The Return of Bigfoot,” this time it’s Jaime who is near death at the end of part one, and Steve has to pick up where she left off to confront the threat. 

Talk about a face-off!

Parts one and two are great, thoroughly entertaining, and represent the bionic shows doing what they do best. But the storyline crashes right into a brick wall with part three, a talky, boring, and increasingly tedious exercise. Veteran actor Sam Jaffe shows up as an elderly U.S. Navy admiral, and he gets waaaay too much screen time and seems like he’s about to keel over at any moment. The scenes involving the U.S. military and government officials plotting a strategy against Dr. Franklin are deadly dull. It’s not a totally awful conclusion, but it certainly doesn’t live up to the two parts that preceded it, and is thus a big disappointment. It would also be the last time that Steve Austin and Jaime Sommers would be seen on screen together until the first reunion movie in 1987.

MADDIE: “I loved a lot of ‘Kill Oscar.’ The big twist, where we find out that Oscar has been replaced by a killer robot, was just so good. I did not see that coming. I liked the fight scene in part two, between Steve and the fembots—he throws a pole to destroy the device controlling the fembots, and then the fembots go blank and start walking around like zombies! My expectations for part three were very high, and I was disappointed. There was just a lot of long conversations, I found it hard to follow, and when Steve and Jaime make it to the island where Franklin is hiding, it feels like they’re running around for like a half hour and nothing happens. But parts one and two were really compelling.”

Maddie says she lost some interest in the series following the conclusion of “Kill Oscar,” so she doesn’t have much to say about subsequent installments. But I consider these other Season Four episodes notable:

“Nightmare in the Sky,” in which Farrah Fawcett makes her final appearance in the series by playing astronaut/test pilot Kelly Wood, the character she portrayed back in the Season One episode “The Rescue of Athena One.” Kelly comes under suspicion when her plane—a $15 million aircraft—disappears. She claims the plane had been attacked by a World War II fighter, but no other aircraft was detected in the area. Steve, convinced of Kelly’s innocence, sets out to clear her name.    

“The Most Dangerous Enemy” is a rare chance for Martin E. Brooks as Dr. Rudy Wells to take center stage. Rudy and Steve fly to a remote island to check on a scientist who has been working on a drug to boost human intelligence. Things go very wrong when Rudy is bitten by a chimpanzee that was used as a test subject for the drug—and, like the chimp, he begins to exhibit increased strength and growing mental instability. By this point, despite the fact that Brooks was the third actor to play Rudy, he had proven himself to be a key element that should be used on a regular basis, much as DeForest Kelley had done by the end of the first season of the original Star Trek. It’s interesting to see him and Steve as opponents, especially when Rudy declares, “I made you and only I know how to stop you!”

The doctor is out—of his mind.
The oddball “A Bionic Christmas Carol” is exactly what you think it would be, with Ray Walston as Ebenezer Scrooge—er, I mean Horton Budge, a penny-pinching businessman developing technology for America’s space program. But it seems that the project is being sabotaged, so Steve is sent to check it out—over the Christmas holiday, much to his annoyance. Dick Sargent (Bewitched’s Darren No. 2) plays Bob Cratchit—er, I mean Bob Crandall. Steve ends up functioning as the ghosts from the Dickens story, subjecting Budge to a night that will transform him from a miser to a mensch. I got a kick out of this one, don’t ask me why.

"Bah-onic humbug!"

(By the way, there’s a scene in this episode where Steve is in a department store, and over his shoulder, in the background, you can see an original Six Million Dollar Man action figure on a shelf!) 

The two-part “Death Probe” was another popular storyline, and I remember  loving it when I was a kid. A Soviet space probe accidentally lands in Wyoming, and the Soviets want to get it back before the technology falls into American hands. The probe, however, thinks it’s on Venus, which is where it had been intended to land, and poses a threat to anyone who gets in its way. Steve is sent in to stop the probe, but the machine is damn near indestructible, more than a challenge for Col. Austin. 

"You up for a game of stickball?"

Watching “Death Probe” all these years later, it’s not nearly as exciting or as epic as I thought it was back in 1977. Cool story concept, and the probe itself has an interesting design, but the action gets a little tedious—a result of the limited production budget, no doubt. I’m sure it worked a lot better on paper.   

I liked “Danny’s Inferno,” in which Steve is assigned to protect teenager Danny Lasswell, who has inadvertently created a new form of thermochemical energy—and, as a result, has been targeted for kidnapping. I thought Lanny Horn put in a good, effective performance as Danny—he’s a Hollywood depiction of a stereotypical nerd, to be sure, complete with a bad hairstyle, shlumpy clothes, and oversized geek glasses. But I found him to be a likable character and I was rooting for him. 

This kid would probably be a billionaire today, laughing at the whole lot of us.

For the most part, other episodes in Season Four range from good (“Task Force,” another fun adventure pairing Steve with Callahan) to decent (“The Infiltrators,” guest-starring Yvonne [Batgirl] Craig, in which Steve goes undercover as a boxer and wears a hilariously ridiculous “belly shirt” while training) to mediocre (“Double Trouble,” featuring Flip Wilson, “Vulture of the Andes,” and the two-hour “The Thunderbird Connection”).

I must also mention “To Catch the Eagle,” the next-to-last episode of the season, which is most notable for featuring Steve without his mustache for the first time since Season Three. Perhaps to compensate, Lee Majors then started letting his hair get much longer and bushier.   

But there are two episodes in the fourth season that I place at the very bottom of the barrel, and both are backdoor pilots for new series that deservedly never got off the ground.

“The Bionic Boy,” which originally aired as a two-hour TV movie, takes everything that made the original “Bionic Woman” episodes so great and basically throws all of it out the window. It’s an attempt to capture lightning in a bottle a second time, but that’s never something you can plan for. 

One trip to the well too many.

“The Bionic Woman” wasn’t intended as anything other than a particularly good installment of The Six Million Dollar Man—there were no future plans for Jaime, so there was a lot of freedom to do whatever it took to make the story as strong as possible. Hell, they killed her, with no intention of bringing her back. By and large, the story is about Steve, and how he’s affected by what happens throughout. Steve has a personal history with Jaime right from the start, and we watch their love grow. The chemistry between Majors and Wagner was strong and unique.         

In contrast, Steve is basically a supporting player in “The Bionic Boy,” which focuses on teenager Andy Sheffield, a character with whom Steve has no personal connection. Andy, paralyzed in an accident, is given a chance to regain the use of his legs through bionic implants, and Steve is assigned to help the boy adjust to his new situation. It’s Andy’s story, pure and simple. Steve has no real personal stake here, there are large chunks where he’s not even on screen, and Andy, played by Vincent Van Patten, is just not an interesting enough character to pick up the slack. This was clearly intended as a launchpad for a third bionic series, and in that regard, as a pilot in which Lee Majors guest stars as Steve Austin, it’s effective enough—but as an episode of The Six Million Dollar Man, which is what the audience is actually tuning in to watch, it’s a ripoff.  

And “The Ultimate Imposter” is even worse. This is an even more blatant attempt to use TSMDM to launch another series, with Steve Austin appearing only at the beginning and at the end. The rest of the time, we’re following the exploits of Joe Patton, subject of an OSI experiment to transfer information from a computer directly into a human brain. Patton, played by Stephen Macht, is by and large a charisma-free zone, providing no reason for people to want to watch him on a weekly basis. Once again, people tuning in to watch their favorite bionic man are left feeling cheated.  

Uh… who are you, and why should we care?

Overall, Season Four was creatively uneven, but still, by and large, it was enjoyable. Unfortunately, due to a number of factors, Season Five would not be an improvement.  

NEXT TIME: The end, a new beginning, and another end.

© All text copyright Glenn Greenberg, 2013.


  1. Lee grew the mustache because he was fighting with the studio and that his way showing some rebellion and yes they did not like it but couldn't do anything about it

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. The mustache in season 4 was a rebellion against the studio as Lee was in a fight to the death with Universal and that his way of fighting back this according to Harve Bennett the producer. Lee was glad when this show came to an end