When bionics fail, don’t blame Rudy Wells—blame the television network

jaime-and-steve

After spending this past year watching every Bionic season on DVD, joyfully revisiting the legacy of The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman, it amazes me to realize as an adult how short lived these series were (particularly that of Jaime Sommers). When I was a kid, these shows were HUGE. HUUUUGE I tell you. So huge that when Jaime’s season 2 and Steve’s season 4 crossed over for Fembot and Bigfoot 3-part episodes, both series saw their highest ratings EVER. So then why is it that one year later, both shows were canceled? In Jaime’s 3rd season, she again ‘faced-off’ against the Fembots, while in Steve’s 5th season, he reunited with Bigfoot. Obviously, these were surefire ratings grabbers. So why did the shows bite the bionic dust? It seems pretty clear it was due in large part to one of the dumbest moves in television history.

Both Steve and his spinoff sweetheart Jaime made ABC their home originally, which was the ideal condition for crossover episodes. Both bionic hotties reported to Oscar Goldman and Rudy Wells, so sometimes they even made small cameos on each other’s shows, which helped viewers keep alive that spark of hope that they would get together in the end. After all, the highest rated episodes of each series were the ones that focused heavily on the relationship, both personally and professional, between Steve and Jaime, so fans were most definitely fans of their love.

But something went horribly wrong in their relationship. Despite Lindsay Wagner winning an Emmy for season 2, ABC decided NOT to renew The Bionic Woman for a 3rd season. Why? WHY??? But hope was not lost. NBC kept Jaime alive for a 3rd season while Steve stayed on ABC for his 5th season. Oscar and Rudy were featured on both shows on different networks, Jaime was living with Steve’s parents, but because the bionic hotties were suddenly in competition, Jaime and Steve were never to cross paths again after the season 2 Fembot episode—a dropped story arc that I believe was the downfall of each show. In fact, Jaime was never mentioned by Steve Austin in his 5th and final season, at which point he became a total manwhore. In the first Bionic reunion movie, Jaime points out that it was Steve’s whoring ways that drove a wedge between them (a half-hearted bandage on a decade of relationship limbo to help ease fans’ pain).

But Jaime was no saint in her final season either. I remembered quite well that Jaime had moved on to a man named Chris (played by actress Dee Wallace Stone’s late husband Christopher Stone, who was a very mustached Lee Majors type at the time), but her bionics jumped the bones of several other men that final season—even WHILE she was in a relationship with Chris!!!! Based on the continuity as written into the first reunion movie, he was the man she finally settled with before becoming a widow when he died during a mission. As for season 3 of the series, Steve is mentioned just once in an early episode, when Max, the awesome bionic dog, suffers side effects that cause Rudy concern for what this could mean for Steve and Jaime. But, when similar concerns come up later in the season, Rudy ONLY mentions concern for Max and Jaime. The bionic bond was broken for good. Steve and Jaime’s strained relationship was a strain on viewers and ratings, and both shows were canceled. Tragic.

While Steve’s show didn’t get a ‘wrap-up’ episode, Jaime’s did. The final episode of The Bionic Woman concerned Jaime having a mental breakdown because the O.S.I ‘owns’ her and her bionics. It’s quite a downer of an episode to end the series. In order to ‘escape’ her O.S.I. prison, she goes on the run, leaving Oscar, Rudy, Max, and her bo Chris behind—and to make matters worse, Oscar’s regular secretary Callahan is supposedly on vacation, so they have a replacement secretary! No Callahan in the FINAL episode??? I wanted to CRY. And the final knife in the heart is when an APB is put out for Jaime and mentions that careful watch should be kept on all the people closest to Jaime both personally and professionally. We see shots of Oscar, Rudy, Chris—but NO Steve Austin. Come on! No mention of Steve at all when the woman he served up for bionic replacement runs away because she resents those bionics? Steve Austin should have been the one heading out to look for her! But instead, Chris chases after her. In the end, Jaime does come back to work for the O.S.I., with the conditions that it will be on her terms. I watched the entire episode grieving over the absence of Steve (and Callahan).

Just to demonstrate how unresolved the issue was with fans, not one, but THREE reunion movies were made between 1989 and 1994. “Return of”, the first movie, brought Steve and Jaime back together—and we learn manwhore Steve knocked up some bionic-less be-otch at some point, which resulted in a son! While it was somewhat satisfying to have Jaime and Steve back together—and to have Rudy mention Max the bionic dog—it ended up being a pretty lame ‘crossover’ (maybe they should have brought back Bigfoot or the Fembots for old times’ sake). “Bionic Showdown”, the second movie, should have been called Bionic Letdown. It was an awful attempt to reboot the bionic series with new characters. Steve and Jaime were simply a subplot, and none other than Sandra Bullock was the focus. This just wasn’t the closure diehard fans needed. So FINALLY, “Bionic Ever After” was made, and Steve and Jaime tied the knot at last! Sadly, we didn’t get to see any bionic sex. That would be some kind of show.

To this day, I wonder if anyone got fired over the horrible decision to split up Steve and Jaime. Ironically, during the same time period, ABC drove into the ground another favorite show of mine that was also a HUGE ratings grabber: The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries. After one season in which their episodes were alternated between weeks, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys began doing crossover episodes that resulted in record ratings. But then ABC decided Nancy would no longer have her own solo episodes and only appear on occasional Hardy Boys episodes. As much as I was furious with Pamela Sue Martin at the time, I think she made a smart move in ditching her roll as the girl detective after that change. A new Nancy was brought in, but by season’s end, Nancy was dumped completely—and the Hardy Boys returned on their own for a weak 3rd and final season that only lasted for 10 episodes.

Yeah. I hope several people received harsh punishment at ABC between 1978 and 1979….

About Daniel

I am the author of the horror anthologies CLOSET MONSTERS: ZOMBIED OUT AND TALES OF GOTHROTICA and HORNY DEVILS, and the horror novels COMBUSTION and NO PLACE FOR LITTLE ONES. I am also the founder of BOYS, BEARS & SCARES, a facebook page for gay male horror fans! Check it out and like it at www.facebook.com/BoysBearsandScares.
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