After his work on the remake of Battlestar Galactica, what's next for producer David Eick? Obviously, another remake: The Bionic Woman. The new pilot, filming in Vancouver, is based on a show that ran only two seasons [it actualy ran 3 seasons - alex7000] and is mostly remembered for its cheesy special effects. But then, so was the original Battlestar Galactica. Networks are starting to realize there's creative gold to be mined from remaking old shows that weren't as good as they could have been -- not because of the people who made them, but because of the way they were made.
Clearly inspired by the success of Galactica (which was just renewed for a fourth season), The Bionic Woman is under consideration by NBC; it stars Michelle Ryan (Eastenders) as Jaime Sommers, the mechanized heroine originally played by Lindsay Wagner. Comparisons between current and vintage science fiction shows often focus on the improvements in special effects; there's no doubt that Ryan's Jaime Sommers will be able to do more spectacular things than Wagner's, who could mostly just jump really high in slow motion. But the biggest difference between a science fiction show then and now is not the technology: it's the method of storytelling.
The original Bionic Woman was created at a time when the episodes of every show (except soap operas) had to be complete, self-contained stories. Jaime Sommers would have an adventure, defeat the bad guy, and laugh about it at the end; if she had a romance in one episode, it would be forgotten by the next week. Kenneth Johnson, creator of The Bionic Woman (as well as other science-fiction shows like V and Alien Nation), explains that his show's basic premise was just an excuse for Jaime to "meet interesting people whose lives were improved by her presence." A guest character might change and grow within that week's episode, but the main character had to stay the same.
Today, the expectations are exactly the opposite. A genre series is supposed to have continuing storylines and a ton of continuity between episodes, and the guest stars are less important than the large cast of regulars. The new, more acclaimed Battlestar Galactica extends stories over multiple episodes, and has rebooted the entire premise at several points. Audiences once were upset if they didn't get closure every week; now they're equally upset if they do.
This means that the new format of television drama can bring more thematic depth to an old series. The original Bionic Woman had an interesting metaphor: "I was most interested in exploring how a real woman would deal with her 'handicap' of the special artificial limbs," Johnson says. But the show couldn't fully exploit that theme, because of the virtual ban on character development.
Today, expectations are different, and the central metaphor of a show is part of its appeal. The new Battlestar Galactica brings political allegory to the forefront, and Eick told Variety that the revamped Bionic Woman will be "using the idea of artificial technology as a metaphor for what contemporary women sometimes feel is necessary." Johnson, hearing Eick's description, replies: "I'm not certain exactly what the above statement means." But metaphors can be developed in today's TV world, even if they don't make sense.
There were some advantages to the old format. "The self-contained episodes can be treated more as short stories," Johnson explains, "and the writer doesn't have to be concerned about keeping in sync with long-range storytelling." Also, whereas the original Battlestar Galactica and Bionic Woman made lots of money in syndication, Johnson warns that serialized shows "don't do as well in syndication because the audience frequently knows from the original broadcast what happened eventually." When the new, improved shows go into reruns, they might actually be less popular than the originals.
Still, when you compare the new shows to the old, there's no doubt that today's approach has artistic advantages. And if the networks want to do more of these reconceptualizations, they'll be able to find writers who grew up with these shows and dreamed of improving upon them. Laeta Kalogridis, who has written the new pilot, signed on because, according to Eick, the chance to build a better Bionic Woman "was one of the reasons she got into showbiz in the first place."
And once they're finished with that, maybe they can remake The Bionic Woman's parent show, The Six Million Dollar Man. They can make it better ... stronger ... faster.
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