The Six Million Dollar Man is an American television series about a former astronaut with bionic implants working for the OSI (which was usually referred to as the Office of Scientific Intelligence, the Office of Scientific Investigation or the Office of Strategic Intelligence). The show was based on the novel Cyborg by Martin Caidin, and during pre-production, that was the proposed title of the series. It aired on the ABC network as a regular series from 1974 to 1978, following three television movies aired in 1973. The title role of Steve Austin was played by Lee Majors, who subsequently became a pop culture icon of the 1970s. A spin-off of the show was produced,The Bionic Woman, as well as several television movies featuring both eponymous characters.
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 (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 both featured Majors's 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 these new characters.
The background story of the original novel and the later series is the crash of former astronaut Steve Austin in a “lifting body” craft, shown in the opening credits of the show. (The lifting body craft mostly shown was a Northrop M2-F2; however, in the episode "The Deadly Replay," a Northrop HL-10, identified as such in dialog, was used.) Austin is severely injured in the crash and is “rebuilt” in a title-giving operation that costs at least six million dollars. His right arm, both legs and the left eye are replaced by "bionic" implants that enhance his strength, speed and vision far above human norms: he can run at speeds of 60 miles per hour (100 km/h), and his eye has a 20:1 zoom lens and infrared capabilities. He uses his enhanced abilities to work for the OSI (Office of Scientific Intelligence) as a secret agent (and as a guinea pig for bionics).
Caidin’s novel was a best-seller when it was published in 1972, and he followed it up with three sequels, Cyborg II: Operation Nuke, Cyborg III: High Crystal, and Cyborg IV (with no subtitle), respectively about a black market in nuclear weapons, a Chariots of the Gods scenario, and fusing Austin's bionic hardware to a space plane. None of these plotlines were utilized in the TV series.
In March 1973, Cyborg was loosely adapted as a made-for-TV movie titled The Six Million Dollar Man: "The Moon And The Desert," starring Majors as Austin. 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. Interestingly, the CIA did have an actual 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 does not use the enhanced capabilities of his bionic eye at any time during the film.
The first film was a major ratings success and was followed by two more made-for-TV films in October and November 1973. 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 by the debut, in January 1974, 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.
The show was very popular during its run and introduced many pop culture elements of the 1970s, such as the show’s opening catch-phrase ("We can rebuild him...we have the technology," provided by Richard Anderson in his Oscar Goldman character), 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), but it became far more noteworthy in The Six Million Dollar Man.
(Early episodes, as well as the TV movies, were not consistent in how the bionics effects were presented; such consistency did not begin until the second season.)
In 1975, a two-part episode entitled The Six Million Dollar Man: "The Bionic Woman," written for television by Kenneth Culver Johnson, introduced the character of Jaime Sommers (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, however, 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 barely survived, having been saved by an experimental cryogenic procedure, and she was given her own spin-off series, The Bionic Woman, which lasted until 1978 when both it and The Six Million Dollar Man were simultaneously cancelled.