It is one of the most recognizable sounds in the history of American television. The inner child of '60s and '70s babies need only hear a few seconds of the famous
theme before breaking into slow-motion running, jumping, and choreographed fights.
After more than a decade of Internet requests and television spoofs, Time Life is releasing on Tuesday a 40-DVD set of the Six Million Dollar Man. All five seasons, 100 one-hour episodes, three pilot TV movies, three sequels, and hours of bonus features ($239.95, 6MDM.com).
What started as a made-for-TV movie in 1973 starring Lee Majors spawned an iconic television series that ran until 1978 and changed the face of sci-fi.
Col. Steve Austin, a NASA pilot, is maimed after his experimental plane crashes. He becomes an experiment of his own as government scientists arm him with two bionic legs, a bionic right arm, and a bionic eye that can see a mile away. And with out-of-this-world strength and speed, Austin battles Big Foot, Fembots and other notorious foes after becoming a special government agent. A superhero is born - fighting the good fight each week while sharply decked out in slacks and stylish jean sets.
The handsome and charismatic Majors set the tone for future cybernetic heroes and villains, like those seen in Blade Runner, RoboCop and the Terminator series.
The success of the Six Million Dollar Man also led to the wildly popular spin-off, Bionic Woman, which starred Lindsay Wagner as his bionic counterpart. Several crossover episodes with that show are featured in the new DVD collection as well.
Six Million, produced by Universal, has been unseen since it went off the air in 1978, tied up in a rights dispute with author Martin Caidin, whose novel Cyborg inspired the character. Time Life secured rights to distribute the material for one year.
After all these years, Majors, now 71, is still an expert in covert operations. He taped an episode of Oprah last Thursday in which he is sent on a super-secret mission to surprise a couple of his biggest fans. It airs the day before Thanksgiving.
Speaking by phone from Chicago last week, he revisited the role that catapulted him to fame.
Question: What kind of reaction do you get from people in the street who recognize you?
Answer: I was in a restaurant in Chicago last night and two young waiters did the Bionic sound as I walked past. That always feels good to see that people of all ages know about the show.
Q: What does that mean to you to be considered a television icon?
A: I never thought of it that way. I have always felt lucky just to be a part of it. I never knew how big it was at the time. We worked so many hours every day that they got me an apartment on the lot at Universal Studios so that I didn't have to go back and forth to Malibu. So for years I didn't get out much to see the impact of what we were doing. In the last 10 years I've realized just how big the show was. I'm proud that it was a family show that 5-year-olds and up could watch. We never killed anyone or used blood and we only used bionics when we had to go after the evil people.
Q: You were certainly a stylish sci-fi star. How were you able to save the world while looking like a GQ cover?
A: I just remember running through the woods and trying not to get my bell bottoms caught up in the brush. The '70s were out there with the leisure suits and swinging bell bottoms. I always tried to look cool because I knew it was going to be in slow motion, but I was really running my ass off."
Q: Would you ever do Dancing With the Stars?
A: If I had two bionic legs I would be right there, but my knees wouldn't let me do it. I played football in high school and college and all of the running over the years working has left bone on bone. I even had to give up golf a few years ago, so no dancing for me. I can't even do the Chubby Checker twist anymore."
Q: You're the favorite hero of all time to so many people, but who are your television favorites?
A: My favorites are actually Steve McQueen and Paul Newman. Anything they did, I was there. Luckily, I became friends of theirs before they passed away. They were great guys and I respected and admired their work. All of the cowboy stars were my heroes as well when I was young. We didn't have Iron Man, we had Roy Rogers.
Q: What do you think of the more recent government-agent action stars on television?
A: I enjoyed Jack Bauer (of 24) because I know how hard he had to work and how draining it is. He deserves whatever praise he got for that show because it was well done. But when they tried to redo Bionic Woman some years ago it didn't work because I feel like it was too dark and too violent. She [Michelle Ryan] always wanted to kick butt and move too fast without a real story being developed.
Q: So when is the last time you spoke to the Bionic Woman?
A: I saw Lindsay last week and we were kidding about the new boxed set coming out and the three TV reunion movies we've done. The only thing left for us to do is The Bionic Divorce. We laughed at how we would both be living in an old-age home taking turns pushing Oscar around in a wheelchair. She would have big glasses on to see and I would have a big hearing aid on to hear since I didn't have a bionic ear.