Recently, my wife and I have been watching series one and two of the original “Bionic Woman.” I’m not sure what motivated us to pick up the DVDs: perhaps just fond childhood memories of the show. Like most boys of my era, I watched “The Six Million Dollar Man” religiously. Steve Austin was my hero. No, not just a hero, but a superhero. With his bionic legs, arm, and eye, he could accomplish feats that mere unbionic people could never hope to accomplish. It didn’t matter who was in danger, or where they were, or how badly the odds were stacked against him: he could always save the day. When Jaime Summers came along, she became a hero in her own right. While softer and more feminine than Steve, her bionics also allowed her to accomplish the unimaginable.
In watching the extras, what surprised me was how "The Bionic Woman” series came about. Producer Kenneth Johnson was trying to establish himself as a writer in Hollywood, and pitched stories to “Six Mil” executive producer Harve Bennett (Yes, the Harve Bennett who later oversaw the “Star Trek” movies). Kenneth suggested a “Bride of Frankenstein” episode. He dubbed it “Mrs. Steve Austin.” Harve Bennett liked the idea so much that he authorized a two-part story eventually entitled “The Bionic Woman,” and in due course Lindsay Wagner was chosen to play Jaime. But there were no thoughts of taking the character beyond that. It was just a two-part episode, no more.
The script went through several rewrites until they got the story exactly right. Kenneth Johnson went along with all the suggested changes, but on one point he dug in his heels. In all his scripts, Jaime Summers survived her problems with “bionic rejection.” Yet the executives remained steadfast in their demand for a tragic ending. So Jaime was finally condemned to death, her body incapable of adapting to the bionic legs, arm, and ear. Steve Austin would mourn the passing of the woman with whom he had planned his future.
This is the way the story was filmed; this is the way the story aired. The executives reveled in the ratings. Yet, as high as the ratings climbed, the “Six Mil” fan letters piled higher.
“How dare you kill her off?” fans wrote in.
“Don’t you realize how much we loved her?”
“My children are traumatized over Jaime’s death!”
Realizing their mistake, the executives turned to Harve and Kenneth.
“Why’d you guys kill her off?” the executives asked.
“Uh, excuse me? What do you mean, we killed her off?”
“Well, bring her back!” the executives demanded.
“How?” cried Harve and Kenneth.
“Who cares? Just find a way, and we’ll build a series around her!”
So this woman—just a fictional character—was brought back to life, a new series was created out of nothing, and America had another superhero: Jaime Summers.
We can never know what will catch on in our lives. It may be that something we thought would be of little value to others proves tremendously important to people’s lives. No job is insignificant; no task beneath us. Those who seem so important and popular now may be forgotten tomorrow, while those who perform the seemingly mundane tasks may later be lifted up, their achievements celebrated, and their worth realized. So regardless of what you do, or the tasks that lie ahead of you this day, remember how Jaime Summers became so important to a nation that she was resurrected. She made Kenneth Johnson’s career in Hollywood. Perhaps her example can inspire you to success as well.
Now, if only I hadn't given away my original Steve Austin action figure!
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Suggested Internet Link:
Kenneth Johnson’s website: This is a treasure trove of information regarding his career. If you loved any (or all) of his shows, write him and let him know. He cherishes hearing from fans, and he will write you back.
Watch episodes at “The Bionic Woman” website.