THE BIONIC WOMAN SEASON 1 Studio: Universal Original Airing: First eps with character aired early 1975, Series began airing in January 1976 Length: 13 Episodes (10 hrs, 2 mins) plus 5 Bonus Episodes Genre: Science Fiction Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Full Frame Color/B&W: Color Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1 (at 448 kbps) Subtitles: English SDH Rating: Unrated (TV Safe Action) Release Date: October 19, 2010 Rating: 3 Starring: Lindsay Wagner, Richard Anderson and Martin Brooks (Bonus Episodes star Lee Majors) Executive Producer: Kenneth Johnson Based upon the novel “Cyborg” by Martin Caidin Directed by: Various The Bionic Woman: Season 1 is a 4-disc DVD set including the complete first season of the series and five episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man that introduce the central character here, Jaime Sommers. To save a little suspense here, I’ll say right off that this is a really nice gift to the fans of both series, in that the origin episodes have been helpfully included, and that we are provided with no less than 4 scene specific commentary tracks for several episodes, including the very first episodes to introduce Jaime. The series itself is quite dated at this point, but the amount of care and good humor that went into the episodes shows clearly throughout. I have no problem recommending this set for purchase by fans of this series. But I’m probably already too late on that one, even with the set not hitting store shelves til Tuesday. I’m willing to bet that the serious fans have had this set on pre-order ever since it was announced. The history of The Bionic Woman is an interesting story in and of itself. I still remember very early in my K-12 days just how popular The Six Million Dollar Man was in its day. I remember many kids having lunchboxes with Lee Majors’ Steve Austin all over them. And I remember many girls having Bionic Woman lunchboxes with Lindsay Wagner’s Jaime Sommers on those, natch. These were fun adventure shows back in the day, and in the case of The Bionic Woman, there were always episodes that explored social issues whenever possible. The ball got rolling during the second season of The Six Million Dollar Man when writer Kenneth Johnson pitched an idea essentially modeled on The Bride of Frankenstein. Initially titled “The Bionic Woman”, and then retitled “Mrs. Steve Austin”, the episode was intended to introduce the tragic love of Steve Austin’s life, a woman who suffers an accident as bad as his and who is rebuilt with bionics in much the same way he has been. The catch is that nobody intended this character to survive the episode – the whole point was to have her tragically die (a la Love Story), have nobody say they were sorry, and move on with more adventures with Steve Austin. Except that when this two part episode aired in early 1975, it got a huge audience, and a much bigger response than anyone anticipated. Once the audience saw the ending, the angry mail flooded in to ABC, leading to an unprecedented resurrection of Jaime Sommers, and quickly afterward, a spinoff series of her own, led by Kenneth Johnson, who had created her in the first place. Exactly how the first batch of episodes got produced is probably worth an article in and of itself (and I’m willing to bet that the various Bionic websites have accounts of this), but the credits indicate to me that the Six Million Dollar Man crew filmed the first episode, or at least the first part of it, since it was a two hour affair. Then an interim crew filmed the next several episodes, while Six Million Dollar Man wrapped up its third season. Then the Six Million Dollar Man crew, for the most part, took over for the rest of the first year of The Bionic Woman. Things would get more ironed out for the following year, but this seems to be how the producers were able to somehow generate a second series right out from under the first one. Keep in mind that at the time the Universal lot was literally humming with around 20 episodic series filming there on any given day. A friend of mine who worked in the Construction Department at the time described reporting for work with his toolkit, and literally being told each day which stage to go to, and essentially what fire needed to be put out. If you’re thinking this sounds like factory production, you’re not far off. But it was a system that worked extremely well, and resulted in many of the series we have come to know and love, like The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman. I should note that this first season does not in itself include crossovers with The Six Million Dollar Man. There are the initial episodes that introduce the character, to be sure, but the big crossovers like “The Return of Bigfoot” and “Kill Oscar” didn’t happen until the 2nd Season, which I understand should be coming to DVD at the start of next year. (And that isn’t counting the upcoming Six Million Dollar Man megaset which I think will be including all those episodes as well.) What is here is a pretty solid effort to establish the new series, and to center it around the performance of Lindsay Wagner, which was strong enough to earn her an Emmy for the show’s 2nd Season. I should also note that executive producer Kenneth Johnson has a pretty good track record when it comes to this sort of thing. He shepherded the production of two series that saw an actress earn an Emmy Award within two years in the 1970s. One award went to Lindsay Wagner here, and the other one went to Mariette Hartley for her episode of The Incredible Hulk. The DVD set includes all 13 episodes, plus 5 Bonus episodes in full frame and 2.0 mono sound, along with four commentaries, a retrospective featurette, a quick gag reel and a photo gallery. Not a bad assemblage for a 35 year old series. VIDEO QUALITY 3/5 The Bionic Woman: Season 1 is presented in a full frame transfer that gives us the best possible picture quality we can expect from 35 year old episodes, and it’s quite acceptable. The episodes of both series on these discs are presented as we would have seen them on TV back in the day, notwithstanding the fact that our TVs today are of a much higher quality. . AUDIO QUALITY 3/5 The Bionic Woman: Season 1 is presented in an English Digital 2.0 mono mix that preserves the sound we heard from the original airings. The dialogue is clear, as are the trademark music and mechanical sound effects for the Bionic hijinks on screen. DISC BY DISC: As I regularly do with television series sets, I’ll account for what can be found on each disc, in order. DISC ONE: The first disc is actually taken up mostly of episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man. The final episode is a different story, but we’ll get there in a moment. Episodes: Bionic Woman, Part I – Here we have the episode of The Six Million Dollar Man that introduced Jaime Sommers. It also features some singing by Lee Majors and some location shooting in Ojai. (Writer Kenneth Johnson provides a detailed scene-specific commentary.) Bionic Woman, Part II – The concluding part of the story is presented here, complete with Jaime’s death scene in the operating room with Alan Oppenheimer as the first Rudy Wells of the series. (Kenneth Johnson provides another detailed scene-specific commentary to round out the story.) The Return of the Bionic Woman, Part I – The 3rd Season Premiere of The Six Million Dollar Man is presented here, with the discovery that Jaime Sommers has somehow survived, and that Alan Oppenheimer has been replaced by Martin Brooks. The Return of the Bionic Woman, Part II – The 3rd Season Premiere completes the return of Jaime Sommers to the land of the living, and of OSI. Welcome Home Jaime, Part I – This episode is the official launch of The Bionic Woman series, although there is debate about whether this was aired as an episode of The Six Million Dollar Man on Sunday night first. Documentation seems to show that it was scheduled to air in the Sunday timeslot, but was instead aired in the Wednesday night timeslot for The Bionic Woman. The crew listed in the credit was certainly from The Six Million Dollar Man, but the intention appears for this to have been an episode of the new series. Regardless, the titles here are for The Bionic Woman, as a copy of the episode with the other series’ titles has not been found. There’s also a menu of previews for other Universal television DVD releases, including Eureka, Friday Night Lights, Heroes, House, Law & Order, Miami Vice, The Office and Warehouse 13. DISC TWO: Episodes: Welcome Home Jaime, Part II – The first regular episode of the new series concludes. Angel of Mercy A Thing of the Past Claws The Deadly Missiles DISC THREE: Episodes: Bionic Beauty Jaime’s Mother Winning is Everything Canyon of Death This disc also contains: Gag Reel – (1:44, Full Frame) An excerpt from the show’s gag reel is presented here, with blown takes from “Claws” and “The Ghosthunter”. The picture and sound quality is quite poor, but it’s fun to see, nonetheless. Bionic Beginnings – (24:32, Anamorphic) This featurette mostly consists of interview footage conducted this year with Kenneth Johnson, Lindsay Wagner, Richard Anderson, Martin Brooks, James Parriott, Alan J. Levi, and a few others, covering the creation of the series, its cancellation by ABC and its resurrection by NBC. DISC FOUR: Episodes: Fly Jaime The Jailing of Jaime Mirror Image – This episode follows a woman who has been surgically altered to look like Jaime – essentially doing the usual “Evil Twin” idea. (Writer James Parriott and director Alan J. Levi provide a funny scene-specific commentary.) The Ghosthunter – The final episode of the first season finds Jaime dealing with what appear to be ghosts haunting a small town, and particularly a young girl. The episode features Universal Studios’ famous Collapsing Bridge for one of Jaime’s bionic set pieces at the episode’s climax. (Writer/Director Kenneth Johnson provides a scene-specific commentary for this, his first hourlong series television episode as a director.) The disc also contains Photo Gallery – A series of publicity and on-set photos of Lindsay Wagner and other cast members are included here for posterity. Subtitles are available in English. There are no chapter menus for the episodes, but there are chapters at three places within each episode. IN THE END... The Bionic Woman: Season 1 is a nicely assembled package for the fans of the series who have patiently been waiting for it for some time. I was happily surprised to see the four commentaries included here, along with the “Bionic Beginnings” featurette – this could easily have just been a collection of episodes with no frills. For this reason, I am pleased to recommend this title for purchase by the show’s fans. Although, as I said earlier, I’m probably late on that recommendation, as the fans mostly likely ordered it the moment it was announced. Kevin Koster October 17, 2010.