'Bionic Woman' Remake Reflects Cultural Shifts This fall, one of the promising new TV shows is a remake of The Bionic Woman. The developer of the new series says the role of women in society has changed since the original aired in the 1970s — and so has the message of The Bionic Woman.
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'Bionic Woman' Remake Reflects Cultural Shifts

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'Bionic Woman' Remake Reflects Cultural Shifts

'Bionic Woman' Remake Reflects Cultural Shifts

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From a new version of a video game to a new version of a TV action show, one definitely from the pre-"Halo" era, the "Bionic Woman." It's back on NBC, revamped for the 21st century. The first "Bionic Woman" was a symbol of change in the 1970s when the Equal Rights Amendment and women's place in the work force were hot-button issues.

NPR's Neda Ulaby wondered, does the new "Bionic Woman" say anything about women today?

NEDA ULABY: If you don't remember the "Bionic Woman," here's what you need to know. Jamie Sommers was a tennis pro back when Billy Jean King was busting gender barriers on the courts.

Jamie was almost killed at a skydiving accident and was bionically rebuilt. She became a secret government operative who went dangerously undercover as a Las Vegas showgirl, fought Fembots, and saved the unfortunates trapped behind the iron curtain.

(Soundbite of TV series "The Bionic Woman")

Unidentified Woman #1: Why did they send you to rescue me? You're a woman.

Ms. LINDSAY WAGNER (Actress): (As Jamie Sommers) Well, I guess they figured they figured they need a woman's touch.

ULABY: It's still the early phases of the women's movement and television is struggling to figure out how to deal with feminism.

Professor Susan Douglas studies representations of women on TV. She says "The Bionic Woman" was a sister of sorts to shows like "Wonder Woman" and "Charlie's Angels." They were a way for the networks to acknowledge the women's movement.

Professor SUSAN DOUGLAS (Communication Studies, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor; Co-Author, "The Mommy Myth"): One of the responses was to give women power but it had to be in a sort of science fiction or cartoonish setting, not in reality.

(Soundbite of music)

ULABY: The kids who idolized Jamie Sommers didn't care if the show was cartoonish. They are now in their 30s and 40s, but some can still do Jamie's slow-motion run and remember the sound effects.

Ms. JONAH RASKAN(ph) ("The Bionic Woman" Fan): (Unintelligible) Bio-woman audio microsystems catalog.

Mr. GORDON FRANK(ph) ("The Bionic Woman" Fan): Yeah.

Ms. CHRIS GOZEL ("The Bionic Woman" Fan): (Unintelligible).

ULABY: Meet Jonah Raskan, Gordon Frank and Chris Gozel(ph). They gathered to watch a preview of the new "Bionic Woman" and were shocked by the changes to the upbeat show of their youth.

Ms. RASKAN: Oh, oh, no. It's already brutally violent. Oh, no.

Ms. GOZEL: Look at those stunts. It's only been, what, 20 seconds?

ULABY: Chris Gozel thinks the new show reflects a profound shift in attitude towards technology. Back in the days, she said, computers, Walkmans, the space shuttle, technology was thrilling. Today's Jamie Sommers feels literally overwhelmed by it.

Ms. GOZEL: She's bionic and she's out of control. It's too much technology for her to handle.

Mr. FRANK: Right.

Ms. GOZEL: Whereas Jamie's like, this is fun, this is interesting and new.

Ms. RASKAN: Yes.

Ms. GOZEL: Computers are new. Technology's new and exciting. I'm going to go with it. And here, she's like, I can't handle it, I'm a monster who's tearing people heads off.

Mr. FRANK: She can't handle it all.

ULABY: This new "Bionic Woman" reminded fan Jonah Raskan of the characters in the show "Heroes." Like them, Jamie is haunted by her powers. Raskan and Gordon Frank enjoyed the new "Bionic Woman," but they were surprised that she's brunette and by her youthful demeanor.

Mr. FRANK: I wanted a "Bionic Woman" in her 30s.

Ms. RASKAN: Oh, yes, yes.

Mr. FRANK: I don't want a 20-year-old "Bionic Woman" because I can't relate to that.

Ms. RASKAN: And she looks about what? Seventeen? Eighteen?

Mr. FRANK: Sixteen.

Ms. RASKAN: It's the "Bionic Woman." She's not a woman yet.

ULABY: But that may draw a new generation of fans who's helped make hits of "Heroes," "24," and "Alias," says Professor Susan Douglas.

Prof. DOUGLAS: The producers of the show clearly want, I think, a younger audience. They don't want those of us who actually saw the first "Bionic Woman" and are looking for a retroversion of it. They want new viewers who may be weren't even born when the first one was on.

ULABY: Douglas liked the new "Bionic Woman," so did fan Chris Gozel, as long as she didn't have to compare it with the original. But she can imagine little girls wanting to be this Jamie Sommers.

Ms. GOZEL: I wouldn't feel comfortable watching this current "Bionic Woman" with my nieces and nephews.

Ms. RASKAN: No.

Mr. FRANK: This is very adult. They won't be doing lunchboxes.

ULABY: But if they do lunchboxes, Gordon Frank says he's the type of fan who would probably buy one.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

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