When NASA astronaut Steve Austin is severely injured in the crash of an experimental lifting body aircraft, he is "rebuilt" in an operation that costs six million dollars (just over 34 million in 2017 dollars.). His right arm, both legs and the left eye are replaced with "bionic" implants that enhance his strength, speed and vision far above human norms: he can run at speeds of 60 mph (97 km/h), and his eye has a 20:1 zoom lens and infrared capabilities, while his bionic limbs all have the equivalent power of a bulldozer. He uses his enhanced abilities to work for the OSI (Office of Scientific Intelligence) as a secret agent.
Caidin's novel Cyborg was a best-seller when it was published in 1972. He followed it up with three sequels, Operation Nuke, High Crystal, and Cyborg IV, respectively about a black market in nuclear weapons, a Chariots of the Gods? scenario, and fusing Austin's bionic hardware to a spaceplane.
In March 1973, Cyborg was loosely adapted as a made-for-TV movie titled The Six Million Dollar Man starring Majors as Austin. The producers first choice was Monte Markham. (When re-edited for the later series, it was re-titled "The Moon and the Desert, Parts I and II".) The adaptation was done by writer Howard Rodman, working under the pseudonym of Henri Simoun. The film, which was nominated for a Hugo Award, modified Caidin's plot, and notably made Austin a civilian astronaut rather than a colonel in the United States Air Force. Absent were some of the standard features of the later series: the electronic sound effects, the slow-motion running, and the character of Oscar Goldman. Instead, another character named Oliver Spencer, played by Darren McGavin, was Austin's supervisor, of an organization here called the OSO. (In the novels, "OSO" stood for Office of Special Operations. The CIA did have an Office of Scientific Intelligence in the 1970s.) The lead scientist involved in implanting Austin's bionic hardware, Dr. Rudy Wells, was played in the pilot by Martin Balsam, then on an occasional basis in the series by Alan Oppenheimer, and, finally, as a series regular, by Martin E. Brooks. Austin did not use the enhanced capabilities of his bionic eye during the first TV movie.
The first movie was a major ratings success and was followed by two more made-for-TV movies in October and November 1973 as part of ABC's rotating "Suspense Theater" series. The first was titled The Six Million Dollar Man: "Wine, Women and War", and the second was titled The Six Million Dollar Man: "The Solid Gold Kidnapping". The first of these two bore strong resemblances to Caidin's second Cyborg novel, Operation Nuke; the second, however, was an original story. This was followed in January 1974 by the debut of The Six Million Dollar Man as a weekly hour-long series. The last two movies, produced by Glen A. Larson, notably introduced a James Bond flavor to the series and reinstated Austin's status from the novels as an Air Force colonel; the hour-long series, produced by Harve Bennett, dispensed with the James Bond-gloss of the movies, and portrayed a more down-to-earth Austin. (Majors said of Austin, "[He] hates...the whole idea of spying. He finds it repugnant, degrading. If he's a James Bond, he's the most reluctant one we've ever had.")
The show was very popular during its run and introduced several pop culture elements of the 1970s, such as the show's opening catchphrase ("We can rebuild him; we have the technology," voiced over by Richard Anderson in his role of Oscar Goldman), the slow motion action sequences, and the accompanying "electronic" sound effects. The slow motion action sequences were originally referred to as "Kung Fu slow motion" in popular culture (due to its usage in the 1970s martial arts television series).
In 1975, a two-part episode entitled "The Bionic Woman", written for television by Kenneth Johnson, introduced the lead character Jaime Sommers (played by Lindsay Wagner), a professional tennis player who rekindled an old romance with Austin, only to experience a parachuting accident that resulted in her being given bionic parts similar to Austin. Ultimately, her body "rejected" her bionic hardware and she died. The character was very popular, however, and the following season it was revealed that she had actually survived, having been saved by an experimental cryogenic procedure, and she was given her own spin-off series, The Bionic Woman. This spin-off ran until 1978 when both it and The Six Million Dollar Man were simultaneously cancelled, though the two series were on different networks when their final seasons aired.
Steve Austin and Jaime Sommers returned in three subsequent made-for-television movies: The Return of the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman (1987), Bionic Showdown: The Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman (1989) which featured Sandra Bullock in an early role as a new bionic woman; and Bionic Ever After? (1994) in which Austin and Sommers finally marry. Majors reprised the role of Steve Austin in all three productions, which also featured Richard Anderson and Martin E. Brooks, and Lindsay Wagner reprising the role of Jaime Sommers. The reunion films addressed the partial amnesia Sommers had suffered during the original series, and all three featured Majors' son, Lee Majors II, as OSI agent Jim Castillian. The first two movies were written in the anticipation of creating new bionic characters in their own series, but nothing further was seen of the new characters introduced in those produced. The third TV movie was intended as a finale.
Universal Pictures developed a screenplay in 1995 with Kevin Smith, but the outing never materialized. In December 2001, it was announced that Universal had pacted with Dimension Films on the project after Dimension president Bob Weinstein saw its potential as a franchise. Universal retained film rights to the original TV show, while Dimension purchased the rights to the Cyborg novel, as well as Caidin's three other novels in the series: Operation Nuke, High Crystal and Cyborg IV. Larry Gordon and Scott Faye were going to produce with Paul Rosenberg's Collision Entertainment.
In October 2002, Trevor Sands was hired to write a new screenplay, titled The Six Billion Dollar Man, but Dimension scrapped it when actor Jim Carrey pitched a comedic take on the material for him to star in, with Scot Armstrong as writer and Todd Phillips as director/co-writer. Filming was expected to begin in 2004.
In a July 2006 interview at Comic Con, Richard Anderson (who played Oscar Goldman in the series) stated that he was involved with producing a movie of the series, but the rights were at the time in litigation between Miramax and Universal. Smith's screenplay was later adapted for The Bionic Man, an ongoing comic book series launched in 2011 by Dynamite Comics.
On November 6, 2014, it was announced that a feature film, tentatively titled The Six Billion Dollar Man, would go into production. Mark Wahlberg was set to play Colonel Steve Austin, and Peter Berg as director. Filming was to begin in early 2015, for a theatrical release the following year. On November 2, 2015 it was reported that Berg had left the film and had been replaced by Damian Szifron, who will also write the film. Filming was to begin in September 2016 with a December 22, 2017 release date.
The dialogue spoken by actor Lee Majors during the opening credits is based upon communication prior to the M2-F2 crash that occurred on May 10, 1967: ("Flight com, I can't hold her! She's breaking up! She's break—"). Test pilot Bruce Peterson's lifting body aircraft hit the ground at approximately 250 mph (402 km/h) and tumbled six times. But Peterson survived what appeared to be a fatal accident, though he later lost an eye due to infection. In the episode "The Deadly Replay", Oscar Goldman refers to the lifting body aircraft in which Austin crashed as the HL-10, stating "We've rebuilt the HL-10." In the 1987 TV film The Return of the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman, Austin refers to the craft as the "M3-F5", which was the name used for the aircraft that crashed in the original Cyborg novel.)
In the opening sequence, a narrator (series producer Harve Bennett) identifies the protagonist, "Steve Austin, astronaut. A man barely alive." Richard Anderson, in character as Oscar Goldman, then intones off-camera, "Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to make the world's first bionic man. Steve Austin will be that man. Better than he was before. Better...stronger...faster." During the first season, beginning with "Population: Zero", Anderson, as Goldman, intoned more simply, "We can rebuild him. We have the technology. We can make him better than he was. Better...stronger...faster." During the operation, when he is having his bionics fitted, a list of items and numbers is displayed and lists his powerplant as "atomic".
Dusty Springfield, backed by Ron "Escalade" Piscina, sang the theme song written by Glen A. Larson which was used in the opening and closing credits for the Wine, Women & War and The Solid Gold Kidnapping telefilms. The song was also used in the promotion of the series, but when the weekly series began the song was replaced by the instrumental theme by Oliver Nelson. The first regular episode, "Population: Zero", introduced a new element to the opening sequence: a voiceover by Oscar Goldman stating the rationale behind creating a bionic man. The first season narration was shorter than that used in the second and subsequent seasons.Steve Austin (played by Lee Majors), the lead characterOscar Goldman (played by Richard Anderson), Director of the OSIDr. Rudy Wells (played by Martin Balsam in pilot; Alan Oppenheimer, seasons 1 & 2; Martin E. Brooks, seasons 3–5, as well as on The Bionic Woman and in three movies), Austin's physician and primary overseer of the medical aspects of bionic technologyJaime Sommers (played by Lindsay Wagner—recurring)Peggy Callahan (played by Jennifer Darling—recurring), secretary to Oscar GoldmanOliver Spencer (played by Darren McGavin), Director of the OSO in the pilot
To maintain the show's plausibility, producer Kenneth Johnson set very specific limits on Steve Austin's abilities. He elaborated, "When you’re dealing with the area of fantasy, if you say, ‘Well, they’re bionic so they can do whatever they want,’ then it gets out of hand, so you’ve got to have really, really tight rules. [Steve and Jaime] can jump up two stories but not three. They can jump down three stories but not four." Austin's superhuman enhancements are:A bionic left eye:
It has a 20.2:1 zoom lens along with a night vision function (as well as the restoration of normal vision). The figure of 20.2:1 is taken from the faux computer graphics in the opening credits; the figure 20:1 is mentioned twice in the series, in the episode "Population: Zero" and "Secret of Bigfoot". Austin's bionic eye also has other features, such as an infrared filter used frequently to see in the dark and also to detect heat (as in the episode "The Pioneers"), and the ability to view humanoid beings moving too fast for a normal eye to see (as in the story arc "The Secret of Bigfoot"). One early episode shows the eye as a deadly accurate targeting device for his throwing arm.In Caidin's original novels, Austin's eye was depicted as simply a camera (which had to be physically removed after use) and Austin remained blind in the eye. Later, Austin gained the ability to shoot a laser from the eye. The Charlton Comics comic book spin-off from the series also established that Austin's bionic eye could shoot a laser beam (as demonstrated in the first issues of the color comic), but neither function was shown on television.Bionic legs:
These allowing him to run at tremendous speed and make great leaps. Austin's upper speed limit was never firmly established, although a speed of 60 mph (97 km/h) is commonly quoted since this figure is shown on a speed gauge during the opening credits. The highest speed ever shown in the series on a speed gauge is 67 mph (108 km/h) in "The Pal-Mir Escort"; however, the later revival films suggested that he could run approximately 90 mph (145 km/h). A faster top speed is possible, as an episode of the Bionic Woman
spin-off entitled "Winning is Everything" shows female cyborg Jaime Sommers outrunning a race car going 100 mph (161 km/h). In "Secret of Bigfoot" it's stated that he can leap 30 feet high. In the later TV movies, Austin is shown leaping what clearly appears to be heights far in excess of this.A bionic right arm:
It has the equivalent strength of a bulldozer; that the arm contains a Geiger counter was established in "Doomsday and Counting", the sixth episode of the first season.
The implants have a major flaw in that extreme cold interferes with their functions and can disable them given sufficient exposure. However, when Austin returns to a warmer temperature, the implants quickly regain full functionality. The first season also established that Austin's bionics malfunction in the micro-gravity of space, though Austin's bionics are later modified to rectify this. The bionic eye is vulnerable to ultrasonic attack, resulting in blindness and dizziness.
To indicate to viewers that Austin was running or using his bionic arm, sequences with him using these abilities were presented in slow-motion and accompanied by an electronic "dit dit dit dit" sound effect. (This characteristic sound effect was actually first used in season 1 episode 4, "Day of the Robot", not during use of Austin's bionics but with the robotic clone of Major Fred Sloan, played by actor John Saxon, during the final fight scene.) When the bionic eye was used, the camera would zoom in on Austin's face, followed by an extreme close-up of his eye; his point of view usually included a crosshair motif accompanied by a beeping sound-effect. In early episodes, different ways of presenting Austin's powers were tested, including a heartbeat sound effect that predated the electronic sound, and in the three original made-for-TV movies, no sound effects or slow-motion were used, with Austin's actions shown at normal speed (except for his running, which utilized trick photography); the slow-motion portrayal was introduced with the first hour-long episode, "Population: Zero."
Martin Caidin wrote four novels featuring his original version of Steve Austin beginning in 1972 with Cyborg. Although several other writers such as Mike Jahn would later write a number of novelizations based upon the TV series, in most cases these writers chose to base their character upon the literary version of Austin rather than the TV show version. As a result, several of the novelizations have entire scenes and in one case an ending that differed from the original episodes, as the cold-blooded killer of Caidin's novels handled things somewhat differently from his non-killing TV counterpart. For example, the Jahn book International Incidents, an adaptation of the episode "Love Song for Tanya", ends with Austin using the poison dart gun in his bionic hand to kill an enemy agent; since the TV version of the character lacked this weapon, the villain was simply captured in the episode as broadcast.
(all by Martin Caidin)Cyborg (1972)Operation Nuke (1973)High Crystal (1974)Cyborg IV (1975)
(Of the above, only Cyborg was adapted for television.)Wine, Women and War – Mike JahnSolid Gold Kidnapping – Evan RichardsPilot Error – Jay BarbreeThe Rescue of Athena One – JahnThe Secret of Bigfoot Pass (UK title, The Secret of Bigfoot) – JahnInternational Incidents – Jahn (this volume adapted several episodes into one interconnected storyline)
Charlton Comics published both a color comic book and a black and white, illustrated magazine, featuring original adventures as well as differing adaptations of the original TV movie. While the comic book was closely based upon the series, and geared toward a young audience, the magazine was darker and more violent and seemed to be based more upon the literary version of the character, aimed at adult readers. Both magazines were cancelled around the same time the TV series ended. Artists Howard Chaykin and Neal Adams were frequent contributors to both publications. Steve Kahn, who had previously published magazines on the Beatles and the teen fan magazine FLiP, worked with MCA and Charlton in overseeing and publishing these books.
A British comic strip version was also produced, written by Angus P. Allan, drawn by Martin Asbury and printed in TV comic Look-In. A series of standalone comic strips was printed on the packaging of a series of model kits by Fundimensions based upon the series. In Colombia, a black and white comic book series was published in the late 70s, with art and stories by Jorge Peña. This series was licensed by Universal studios to Greco (Grupo Editorial Colombiano), then known as Editora Cinco, now part of Grupo Editorial Televisa. In France, Télé-Junior, a magazine devoted to comic book adaptations of all sorts of TV series and cartoons also featured a Six Million Dollar Man comic (under its French title, L'Homme qui valait trois milliards) with art by Pierre Le Goff and stories by P. Tabet and Bodis. A tradepaperback reprinting several episodes from the magazine was released in October, 1980.
Peter Pan Records and its sister company Power Records published several record albums featuring original dramatized stories (including an adaptation of the pilot film), several of which were also adapted as comic books designed to be read along with the recording. Three albums' worth of stories were released, one of which featured Christmas-themed stories. Individual stories were also released in other formats, including 7 in (18 cm) singles.
In 1996, a new comic book series entitled Bionix was announced, to be published by Maximum Press. The comic was to have been an updated version of both the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman and feature new renditions of the two characters. Although the magazine was advertised in comic book trade publications, it was ultimately never published.
On August 24, 2011, Dynamite Comics published the first issue of The Bionic Man, an adaptation written by Kevin Smith based upon a screenplay he'd written for a never-produced 1990s motion picture version of The Six Million Dollar Man. After concluding the adaptation in the spring of 2012 the comic series moved on to original stories, as well as a re-imagining of the original TV series' Secret of Bigfoot storyline. A spin-off comic re-imagining The Bionic Woman followed a few months later, and in January 2013 Dynamite launched a crossover mini-series, The Bionic Man vs. The Bionic Woman. The artwork in these series, covers and interiors, varies between Austin being rendered in the likeness of Lee Majors and not. As 2014 began, Dynamite discontinued its reboot titles and replaced them with a new ongoing series, The Six Million Dollar Man Season 6, continuing the adventures of Austin from the conclusion of the 1977-78 season and featuring not only the likeness of Lee Majors, but also other recurring actors such as Richard Anderson, as well as Darren McGavin as Oliver Spencer from the first TV movie. Jaime Sommers was reintroduced from issue 3, with a spin-off comic series, The Bionic Woman Season 4, announced in June 2014 with a scheduled launch in the fall of 2014.
In the animated cartoon show The Venture Bros on Adult Swim, a character named Steve Summers satirizes The Six Million Dollar Man. The character mimics the appearance, mannerisms and bionic implants of the popular television series in a comical fashion.
The Six Million Dollar Man spawned a number of toys, two Parker Brothers boardgames ("The Six Million Dollar Man", "Bionic Crisis"), and other licensed merchandise. Everything from lunch boxes and running shoes to children's eyeglasses and bedsheets all carried images of Steve Austin. The 12 in (30 cm) tall Steve Austin action figure marketed by Kenner in the mid-1970s was particularly popular and intact Six Million Dollar Man and Bionic Woman toys continue to attract premium prices on the collector's market. Besides the lead characters, 12 in (30 cm) scale action figures were also produced of Oscar Goldman, equipped with an "exploding" briefcase similar to the type used by James Bond in From Russia with Love; "Maskatron", an android character based on a robot duplicate of one of Austin's friends, Major Fred Sloan (both Sloan and his robot double were played by John Saxon in the first-season episode "Day Of The Robot"); a Fembot (from a Bionic Woman episode); and the recurring character of Bigfoot (Bigfoot doll was more than 12 in (30 cm) high). Associated merchandise for use with the action figures included a rocketship that could transform into a bionic repair station, an inflatable command base, auxiliary bionic arms (critical assignment arms) with different features (such as one that included a flashlight), auxiliary bionic legs (critical assignment legs) with different features.
Fully intact Steve Austin action figures are rare. The bionic right arms of the dolls/action figures were covered in an elastic, skin-like material that was intended to be rolled back to reveal bionic modules underneath, and this material tended to deteriorate over time. Early versions of the arms also included removable bionic modules that could be easily lost; later versions of the action figure included modules that could not be removed.
Bally Manufacturing produced a Six Million Dollar Man coin-operated pinball machine in 1978. This was the only pinball machine they produced that could be played by up to six players at a time.
In Brazil, under the military dictatorship, some important government officials – previously elected by direct suffrage – were appointed by the President, or elected indirectly, out of a shortlist picked by the President. These politicians were called "bionic" (biônicos), due to the series' popularity, and the association with the perceived extraordinary power and influence held by the appointed officials. Between 1964 and 1985, Brazil came to have "bionic" senators, governors and mayors. With the 1988 Constitution of Brazil, all "bionic" appointments were abolished.
In Israel, the series was re-titled The Man Worth Millions since "six million" evoked memories of The Holocaust—specifically the most commonly quoted estimate of the number of Jewish victims.
In 2003, Lee Majors won TV Land's "Superest Superhero" award.
Universal Playback released the first two seasons of The Six Million Dollar Man on DVD in Region 2 and Region 4 in 2005–2006. The first three seasons were also released on the Italian market (Region 2) in late 2008. The season 1 release also features the three pilot movies that preceded the weekly series.
The Region 1 (North America) release, along with that of The Bionic Woman was one of the most eagerly awaited; its release had been withheld for many years due to copyright issues regarding the original novel. In fact, with the exception of a few episodes released in the DiscoVision format in the early 1980s and a single VHS release of the two-part The Bionic Woman storyline that same decade, the series as a whole had never been released in North America in any home video format.
On July 21, 2010 however, Time–Life (under license from Universal) announced the release of a complete series box set of The Six Million Dollar Man on DVD in Region 1 for the first time on November 23, 2010. The 40-disc set features all 99 episodes of the series as well as the three pilot films and the three reunion TV-movies which also feature Jaime Sommers, along with several episodes of The Bionic Woman that were part of inter-series crossovers (i.e. part one aired on one series, and part two on another) in order to include complete storylines. In addition, the set features extensive bonus features including interviews and featurettes with all major cast members and the set comes encased in collectible packaging that includes a sound chip, activated when the box is opened, that plays back part of the first season opening credits dialogue. The release is available directly through Time-Life's "6mdm" website as well a through several third-party on-line vendors.
In November 2011, Universal Studios Home Entertainment began releasing individual season sets of the series on DVD, available in retail stores. It has subsequently released all five seasons. The fifth and final season was released on February 18, 2014.
Several episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man actually saw their North American DVD debut several weeks in advance of the box set, as Universal Home Video included the three "crossover" episodes that helped launch The Bionic Woman as bonuses on the October 19, 2010 DVD release of Season 1 of The Bionic Woman.
On October 13, 2015, Universal Studios released a retail version of The Six Million Dollar Man- The Complete Series on DVD in Region 1.
In Region 2, Fabulous Films acquired the rights to the series in 2012 and subsequently released seasons 3-5 on DVD on October 1, 2012. It also re-released the first two seasons on February 25, 2013. A 40-disc complete series boxset was released on April 2, 2012.