The Six Million Dollar Man (1973-1978): Gone But Not Forgotten

We look back at the classic seventies science fiction show, The Six Million Dollar Man, starring Lee Majors as Steve Austin.

Last Updated on June 25, 2024

The 70s were a time when television would seem to try anything at least once.  Science Fiction was one of the main genres where this was very true.  Thanks to the success of series like Star Trek, and Lost in Space there was a deluge of, off beat and actually good genre TV (as we explored on last week’s Land of the Lost episode). Typically it was with some sort of toy tie-in or angle to get children to watch and/or buy something.   And just wait until Star Wars happened.

But, the early 70s would find a new kind of hero to grab the hearts and minds of kids across the country and he’d bring with him some of the coolest toys around. Because, he was literally made up of metal and plastic himself.  

The Six Million Dollar Man would jump into television history with a premise that was brilliant, cutting edge, and perfect TV fodder.  It would also make a heartthrob and icon out of a guy named Lee Majors. Who would eventually play the father to our lord and savior Ash Williams…but that’s another show.

On this episode of Gone But Not Forgotten, we have the technology and capability to make the first episode all about The Six Million Dollar Man.  This will be that episode!

The Six Million Dollar Man actually started as a novel named Cyborg and no this has no connection to Jean Claude Van Dams’s 1989 cinematic masterpiece.  Cyborg was written by Martin Caidin and was followed fairly closely by the eventual TV series.  In the book Steve Austin is an astronaut who is horribly maimed after an plane crash from which he somehow survives.  After the accident Dr. Rudy Wells, a master of high-tech bionics who works with the Office of Strategic Operations, along with Oscar Goldman, one of the high ups at the OSO, put Steve back together again.

The book veers from what would happen in the TV series somewhat, with Austin having some “interesting” augmentations like a radio in his rib, a removable eyeball with a camera in it and a finger that can shoot poison darts.  

While yes, there is a lot to poke fun at here, the book doesn’t shy away from the more serious aspects of Steve Austin’s resurrection as it were.  When he realizes how injured he is, he tries to kill himself. He hates, basically being made into an indentured servant in order to payback the costs for his new body and abilities.  But Steve would wind up accepting his new enhancements and becoming a more willing and happy to participate spy and agent for the OSO.  

The Cyborg book series would actually continue on, while the Six Million Dollar Man TV series was airing. But, it would not actually follow the storyline of the show.  The world of the novels was far different with a total of three books following the original.

The Six Million Dollar Man was a made for TV movie of the week which would be used as a jumping off pilot that aired on ABC on March 7th 1973.  In the pilot episode, as in the novel, Steve Austin is injured during an accident that nearly kills him.  He loses his right arm and both legs and is blinded in his left eye.  

Austin is put back together by Rudy Wells for the OSO. In this first film there are some definite differences from what would later be associated with the series.  There were actually three made for TV movies that preceded the show and the first had some notable cast differences and characters.  The biggest would be the lack of Oscar Goldman played by Richard Anderson.  In the TV movie,  the character who is in charge of the OSO is Oliver Spencer was played by the always awesome Darren McGavin.  

Also in this version Rudy Wells would be played by TV character staple Martin Balsam.  The character of Rudy would change over the course of the films and series three times.  First with Balsam, then Alan Oppenheimer and Martin E Brooks.  The iconic sound effects wouldn’t be a part of this first entry into the series either.   

The TV movie was a ratings smash and was followed by two more TV films that same year.  The 2nd film, airing in October, would give us Oscar and Alan Oppenheimer as Rudy 2.0.  This would also see the introduction of the OSI.  

In November the 3rd made for TV movie would air.  As said, these original films would be edited to two parters and added to the series run with some additional content.  The titles for the made for TV films would be: 

The Six Million Dollar Man

The Moon And the Desert

Wine, Women and War

The Solid Gold Kidnapping

The official first episode of The Six Million Dollar Man would air on January 18th 1974.  The series would follow Austin as he would go on missions for the OSI and would be filled with spy work and rescues along with some interesting surprises along the way.  

Of note, the 2nd film was written by TV legend Glen A Larson.

The first season of the series would quickly introduce the familiar sound effects and special effects that fans are familiar with.  You know the ones.  Slow motion fast running, the eyeball thing, the bionics thing, and the all-important intro where Oscar tells us that “We can rebuild him.  We have the technology.  We can make him better than he was.  Better, stronger, faster.” 

the six million dollar man

It’s interesting to note, the first voice you hear during that opening narration is actually producer Harve Bennett saying “Steve Austin, astronaut.  A man barely alive.” Bennett worked in the TV industry for YEARS and would be responsible or involved with some of the classics of TV world with the likes of Mod Squad and a number of made for TV movies under his belt.  He’d go on to bring to the big screen one of the best sci-fi movies of all time. Certainly the best Star Trek film ever made The Wrath of Khan in 1982.

Along with Bennett’s future connection to Star Trek, The Six Million Dollar Man would have connections throughout the genre and also get some major accolades.  The first TV movie would be nominated for a Hugo Award.  Some of the writers throughout the series would include D.C. Fontana, Peter Allan Fields, Mark Frost, and Kenneth Johnson.

Kenneth Johnson would be one of the shows producers and is the man behind a few shows we’ve showcased here on Gone But Not Forgotten.  But as a writer and producer on The Six Million Dollar Man, Johnson would contribute one of the biggest pieces of the series history. When he introduced Jaime Sommers in season two’s 2 parter The Bionic Woman.  

Jaime would become a love interest for Steve. Lee Majors would actually sing the love theme for the duo called Sweet Jaime in multiple episodes just like he’d sing the theme for The Fall Guy a few years later. Who would share a similar tragic fate which would lead to her becoming said Bionic Woman. When a sky diving accident nearly kills the tennis player, Janie goes through the same procedure as Austin.  Jaime would become a returning character on the show after supposedly dying in part 2 of the storyline which would also include Steve proposing to Jaime.  

I don’t want to go too far into the world of The Bionic Woman as well…she got her own series and deserves her own episode…so keep an EYE out for that.

Needless to say, Jaime Sommers would become a major player in the franchise and other bionic characters, both good and bad, would become part of the lore.  One of the more interesting of these would be Barney, the 7 Million Dollar Man.  Barney is played by actor Monte Markham, who ironically was who the producers originally wanted to play Steve Austin before Lee Majors won the role.  

Some other standouts from the series episodes are of course…the fembots.  The creepy robot wiring revealed faces of these things are just…well…creepy.  The fembots were part of a recurring group of robots who would fight both Steve and Jaime over the course of the series. 

One of the most well known, insane, and neat episodes from the show though are “The Secret of Bigfoot” written by yet again Kenneth Johnson.  This episode has Steve taking on Bigfoot. Interesting fact he was played this first time by the legendary Andre The Giant. The design and look of Bigfoot in this is pretty awesome and more than a little scary for a kid. The story involves Bigfoot, Aliens, and earthquakes.  It’s a fan favorite and there’s lots of reasons why… But, you only really need to remember Andre The Giant is Bigfoot and that should be enough. The episode was so popular that a hilarious homage of it was on The Venture Brothers.

Bigfoot would return again the following season in The Return of Bigfoot. This would actually be a crossover event with The Bionic Woman that season. Butt instead of Andre The Giant, Ted Cassidy would take over the role of Bigfoot AKA Sasquatch.  

Lee Majors real life wife and fellow TV icon the late Farrah Fawcett would appear in a number of episodes of the show as different characters.  While Steve and Jaime were the bionic power couple that didn’t stop Steve or Jaime for that matter finding other love interests.  But we always knew they’d end up together eventually.

Lee Majors was, before being cast as Steve Austin, really known for westerns.  He had a major role in the series The Big Valley and had done turns in Gunsmoke and other TV series and films.  But it was really The Six Million Dollar Man that made him into the pop culture icon and TV legend he is today.  Majors is still acting and even got nominated for a Saturn award for his co-starring role as Bruce Campbell’s daddy in Ash Vs Evil Dead, I mean who else could have done it? Right?

lee majors

Lindsay Wagner would play Jaime Sommer. Wagner, like Majors, had done some film work, most notably in The Paper Chase, and several TV guest roles before bringing Jaime to life.  

Richard Anderson who portrayed Oscar Goldman had a ton of films under his belt before becoming part of the OSI, at one point appearing on an episode of The Big Valley with Majors.  But, it would be as Oscar Goldman that he’d be best known for, playing the boss of the bionic crew who himself had a heart of gold.

The show would have a list of guest stars a mile long of familiar faces and massive talent.  Besides the aforementioned Farrah Fawcett and dueling Bigfoots there would be John Saxon, William Shatner, George Foreman, Sonny Bono, Erik Estrada, and Greg Evigan just to name a few.  Glory in the 70s kids, it was a magic time.

The Six Million Dollar Man would last for a total of 5 seasons.  In that run it would become a massive hit and would release some of the greatest toys ever.  

Maskatron was a sort of meshing of all the robot nemesis in the show and came with faces you could switch including Oscar and Steve.  I think this other face is supposed to be John Saxons but I’m not sure.  You could pop his head off.  The Steve Austin doll is just freaking neat and had an eye you could look through like a telescope and a removable arm plate.  There are different versions of him with different bionic abilities. Bigfoot got his own toy as well which could pop open his chest to show all of his electronics inside.  Oscar got his own toy which came with…rather oddly…an exploding briefcase.

There were playsets and even extra bionic parts for Steve which you could buy and pop off his legs and put on. There were vehicles too as well as a Play Doh set.  Basically The Six Million Dollar Man knew how to make some bank when it came to the kids.  Books, records, comics, you name it you could probably find Steve Austin on it.

The series would end in 1978 but it actually sort of didn’t.  Flash forward to 1987 and NBC brought back together Steve and Jamie for The Return of the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman.  It was quite the family affair with Lee Majors the II, Majors son, playing an OSI Agent, but funnily enough not Steve Austin’s son in the TV Movie.  That role went to Tom Schanley who, in a continuing wave of bad luck for the Austin’s, gets nearly killed in a crash and has bionics added to his body just like his father.  The film had a pretty decent budget of nearly 5 million dollars. It was actually a possible pilot for a new series focusing on Steve’s newly bionic son Michael.   Martin Landau played the lead villain who was part of a new group called Fortress.

While the series never materialized the TV film was a big enough hit to get another one made.  Bionic Showdown: The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman was released in 1989 and would see production moved to Canada. But, also joining the bionic family is a gal by the name of Sandra Bullock.  Yep, that’s right Sandra Bullock.  Once again, this was another attempt at a new series, this time with a newly bionic woman in the guise of Bullock’s character Kate.  But, as the previous film, there wasn’t enough interest in producing a full series.  But also like the last film there was enough to do one more TV movie.

Bionic Ever After aired in 1994 and follows the dual proposal of marriage from Showdown with Steve and Jaime planning on getting married. But, of course there’s always some sort of hostage situation to put a wrench into the works.  Also Jaime’s bionics are failing, and she needs an upgrade.  This would be the last of the bionic films. Wagner mandated that she and Majors get married in this one or she wouldn’t do it.  Also a nice bit of trivia, this aired on CBS which means The Six Million Dollar Man has appeared on all three of what used to be the major networks of the day.  Just as one more aside, I honestly thought this one was filmed in Canada too, but it appears it was South Carolina.  I bring this up because the also awesome Geordie Johnson plays one of the main bad guys here.  So yes, Dracula and Klaus from Dracula the Series were two of the last villains to take on Steve Austin.

Bionic Ever After was a nice ending for two of TV’s unique and greatest heroes who deserved their happy ending.  The Six Million Dollar Man has never been remade or retooled.  Not to say no one hasn’t tried.  Mark Whalberg has been ready to take on the Six BILLION Dollar Man for a while now, Kevin Smith’s failed screenplay was adapted to a great comic series, but there has been no traction on the property for years. So the feature film version of Steve Austin has yet to take flight and crash as would need to happen.  

Honestly, I’m sort of glad.  Lee Majors was great in this role and this type of series, one with aliens, robots, and spy tech really can’t be replicated today without someone doing it to just mock it or wink at the camera.  The Six Million Dollar Man relied on a good and fun story that just happened to have a neat gimmick.  It was entertaining but also well written with characters that you cared about.  It was a natural progression from shows like Star Trek and Batman.  Technology that could be, and now actually is, shown helping people.  It was great for younger and older viewers which is why it was able to be as big a hit as it was and still be a favorite for fans today.  

The series was released on DVD and is now available to stream on Peacock and it looks great.  If you’ve never checked out The Six Million Dollar Man, I highly recommend it.  Lee Majors created a likable and fantastic character in Steve Austin.  Yes, he was a rugged type but he also had a heart and cared about the people he loved.  He was funny and charming and made a fantastic toy.  It’s one of those roles that would be hard to replicate or recast.  I just can’t see it.  So yes, sometimes you can’t make it better or stronger.  Sometimes it’s perfect just the way it is.

About the Author

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Jessica was raised on a diet of Dark Shadows, Doctor Who, and a lot of things she saw way too young. She’s been writing for nearly a quarter of a century about the world of entertainment and her own fiction (and that sound you heard was her bones turning to dust.) Jessica loves being a JoBro as well as creating content for her site/channel/Podcast Fangirl Magazine/Fangirl Radio. Her favorite things are writing, movies/tv, video games, reading, and trying to summon the ghost of Vincent Price.