Hey there superhero fans.
It’s been a hot minute since we talked about the live-action hero shows, but honestly, the 1970’s were insane with action packed good guys from the pages of comics, books, and the inventive minds of some weirdly interesting people.
The 70’s also ushered in the female heroine and convinced studio executives that the superhero fantasy genre could easily hold audiences’ attentions every week.
I know what you’re thinking. “There were always women the shows you mentioned before. Even in the comic books.”
Yes, you’re right, but not until the 1970’s did any have their own show.
Understand the history of the time.
The women’s movement was in full swing, the pill was already a decade old, and more ladies went to college and entered the workforce than ever before.
Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) made it illegal for a woman to be fired from her job because she was pregnant, whether she was married or not AND made it illegal for banks and credit card companies to insist a woman HAD to have a male cosigner on any loan or line of credit she applied for, regardless of her financial status.
(Note: These were argued and won by a real life superhero-Ruth Bader Ginsberg.)
Outside of daytime soaps, working women were quickly becoming a demographic the TV executives wanted to capture. They had to step up their games and get more female viewers to the screens, but how?
They started with a cyborg.
Six Million Dollar Man (1974-1978)
Episodes: 99 (plus original movie in 1973 and 3 TV pilots)
Length: 50-51 min
Lee Majors as Col. Steve Austin
Richard Anderson as Oscar Goldman
Based on Martin Caiden’s 1972 novel, Cyborg, Six Million Dollar Man taught kids how to run in slo-mo before it was a thing.
With a booming intro theme that sounds like the end of a Sousa symphony, the series revolved around NASA Astronaut and US Air Force pilot Steve Austin (Majors), who suffered near fatal injuries when his experimental aircraft crashed and burned.
Far too precious of an asset to allow to die, the government spent $6 million to give him a bionic left eye, right arm, and both legs.
Now, he ran up to 60 mph, saw miles away, and lifted tractors…and spied for the US government as a secret agent for the OSI (Office of Scientific Intelligence).
Before Luke Skywalker had his mechanical arm, Steve Austin plowed his way into pop-culture with his bionic limbs, awesome sight, and amazing hair.
(Seriously, this is a common theme with 70’s heroes. Great hair.)
I didn’t know anyone who didn’t own a Steve Austin lunchbox at least once during their elementary school days and dreamed of slo-mo throwing villains, one-armed across a parking lot, just like our six-million dollar hero.
Even though Steve Austin fought plenty of bad guys and even Bigfoot (Andre the Giant), since he was a role model for so many kids, the violence level went down as the seasons progressed, but he always found a way to succeed with his mission and smile like a rockstar during the ending credits.
You can check out episodes of the Six Million Dollar Man on NBC.
Length: 22 min
Starred: Michael Gray as Billy Batson
Les Tremayne as Uncle Dudley
Jackson Bostwick as Captain Marvel (Shazam)
John Davey as Captain Marvel (Shazam)
When he was known as Captain Marvel, he arrived Saturdays morning to help fight crime and solve difficult situations for young, Billy Batson.
Chosen by the Immortals (Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury), Billy and his mentor, Uncle Dudley, travel around the country in a 1973 Dodge Open Road Motorhome with the Shazam lightening bolt on the front (I am so not kidding), looking for people to help.
Created by Bill Parker and CC Beck, the DC Comics character appeared when young Billy yelled “Shazam!”. Then he transformed into the superhero who could fly, bend metal, and run incredibly fast as well as teach us all a lesson every week.
Secrets of Isis (1975-1976)
Joanna Cameron as Andrea Thomas/Isis
Before Wonder Woman graced our TV screens on primetime, there was Isis who kicked butt on Saturday mornings, making her the first weekly, live-action female titled superhero show.
Often paired with Shazam! during the Saturday Morning Power Hour to bring in more female viewers, Isis openly battled a lot of 1970’s misogyny, rescued multiple impetuous teens from bad decisions, and always had a gentle lesson about (gender, racial) equality and personal responsibility.
Played by actress Joanna Cameron (who strongly resembled Catherine Zeta-Jones IMO), Isis’s alter-ego Andrea Thomas was a “seemingly normal” science teacher who accidentally found the Tutmose/Isis Amulet during an archeological dig in Egypt.
Instead of turning it in, she realized she was a descendant of Queen Hatshepsut because the amulet gave her the power of the goddess Isis.
Her powers included manipulating the elements, communicating with animals as well as take on their abilities, changing molecular density, changing gravity, flying, and strength.
Basically, she could do it ALL and do it looking AMAZING!
At the end of every episode, she’d break the fourth wall and discussed what the episode covered and presented the moral to it, encouraging viewers to make stronger and more positive decisions in their lives.
I never missed an episode of Secrets of Isis and totally bummed that it lasted a whopping one season, but Isis did make a brief appearance in season 10 of Smallville when the goddess takes over Lois Lane’s body.
Checkout her 22 episodes of awesomeness on Prime.
Wonder Woman (1975-1979)
Length: 42-51 minutes
Network: ABC (season 1)/CBS (seasons 2 & 3)
Lynda Carter as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman
Lyle Waggoner as Steve Trevor
Just two months after Isis hit the Saturday morning circuit, Diana Prince arrived on primetime TV with Lynda Carter as the iconic Princess of the Themyscira, direct from the DC Comics created by William Moulton Marston.
Starting in the 1940’s, Diana leaves her idyllic home to end up battling Nazi’s and rescuing allied forces, with one particular officer, Steve Trevor catching her attention.
They spend the majority of the first 14 episodes of the first series rounding up and thwarting the Axis powers, bringing them to justice, but when ABC didn’t renew for a second season, CBS picked it up and changed the timeline.
Bringing Diana and Steve forward to the present day (1970’s) where she worked for him at the Pentagon and both of them looked exactly the same age as they did in the 1940’s.
Ratings fell as the contemporary version wasn’t as favored as her kicking Nazi’s asses each week. Instead, she went after general bad guys and rescued Steve from time to time all while donning her signature colors and variations of her classic boob accentuating costume that included sky and scuba diving suits, motorcycle leathers, and casual everyday wear.
None-the-less, seeing one of my favorite superheroes on a live-action TV show had me begging for my final height to be at least 6′ (I’m 5′ 2″), gorgeous dark flowing hair (mine is red/brown), and one amazing outfit (at least I’ve got several WW t-shirts).
Electro Woman and Dyna Girl (1976-1977)
Length: 12 minutes
Deidre Hall as Lori/Electro Woman
Judy Strangis as Judy/Dyna Girl
The same year Deidre Hall introduced the world to her iconic character Dr. Marlena Evans on the soap, Days of Our Lives, she also starred on the Sid and Marty Croft creation Electro Woman and Dyna Girl.
Appearing on Saturday mornings, the show centered around two reporters, Lori (Hall) and Judy (Strangis) as mild-mannered reporters with no last names and a secret hideout that included tons of amazing gadgetry. They also sported the most amazing wardrobes as reporters driving what looked like a majorly inexpensive car.
When they weren’t investigating general shenanigans around town, they’d don these bright and tight outfits and fight supervillains with the worst names known to the pop culture universe.
For sixteen episodes, Electro Woman and Dyna Girl foiled the plans of The Sorcerer and Miss Dazzle, Glitter Rock and Side Man, or The Spider-Lady with Legs and Spinner.
Seriously, who had the naming villains job. They were terrible.
Cruising the streets in their Electro Car (that resembled a partially compressed Gremlin), they’d wrap everything up within twelve minutes.
Each week, we’d be treated to two shows of their heroics and a subtle dose of feminism.
Original episodes are truly hard to find online, but you can get all sixteen episodes on DVD and listen to the very catchy and 1970’s theme song here.
I swear. It slaps.
Bionic Woman (1976-1979)
Network: ABC (1976-1977) and NBC (1977-1979)
Length: 48 minutes
Lindsey Wagner as Jamie Sommers/Bionic Woman
Richard Anderson as Oscar Goldman
To bring a wider, mostly female, audience to the Six Million Dollar Man universe, the creators of the show believed that the All-American image Steve Austin presented would be perfectly complimented if he had a regular steady.
Enter Jamie Sommers (Wagner), who was not military or even in any sort of in-your-face profession.
No, the soft, waltz-like intro shows a lovely Sommers (Wagner) who taught middle grade and high school and was a former tennis pro who’s injured in a sky diving accident.
How does she get her mechanical limbs?
I’ll tell you.
Steve Austin goes back home to Ojai, California and runs into his high school sweetheart/fiancée, Jamie.
They reconnected and decided the perfect way to cement their reunion was to jump out of a plane for a bit of skydiving, but her chute doesn’t open in time and she hits a clump of trees.
As she laid dying, Steve begs his boss, Oscar Goldman, to help, but Oscar says they can’t…but they put her in a cryogenic sleep and much to Steve’s surprise, they give his former love a new right arm, new legs, and a right ear implant.
Keeping up with her boyfriend was no problem as she could lift a tractor, run along side him, and hear from miles away. Only problem with this situation, the trauma of the crash caused her to lose her memory so she had no idea who Steve Austin was or that they’d been engaged at one time.
But, no worries, the OSI had a job for Jamie in between her teaching middle and high school students and getting in an occasional game of tennis.
She fought kidnappers, Fembots, and a doppelgänger who imprisoned her as she tried to take over her life.
Although we all hoped Steve and Jamie would end up together during the series’s runs, any crossover episodes were difficult.
By the second season of Bionic Woman, NBC owned the show and ABC still had $6 Million Dollar man and neither network wanted to play nice in the sandbox.
Crossover episodes were a rarity in the TV world at the time, but no worries. Jamie finally does remember being engaged to Steve and eventually, they do get their happily ever after in the 1994, TV movie of the week called…wait for it…Bionic Ever After.
Incredible Hulk (1977-1982)
Episodes: 80 + 5 TV movies
Length: 47-50 minutes
Bill Bixby as Dr. David Banner
Lou Ferrigno as The Incredible Hulk
Jack Colvin as Jack McGee
Don’t you hate it when you’re exposed to gamma radiation, are accused of killing your wife, and have to pretend to be dead, all while a reporter is following you to get the real story?
If you do, then you know exactly what Dr. David Banner (Bixby) went through every week on the series The Incredible Hulk.
Just like the mild-mannered scientist we’ve grown to love in the Avengers movies, Banner had a lot of issues to work through. After his radiation exposure caused him change into a large, green massively muscled man-beast, he’s on the run for a crime he didn’t commit.
Working odd jobs and always under assumed names, Banner seeks for the cure to keep him from losing control and transforming into the Hulk and ripping up another nice shirt and pants combo.
Initially, Bixby was supposed to play both parts, but they had trouble making him look like the massive Hulk. Hard to make a lean man under six foot “grow” to a giant.
The part was originally offered to Bond villain Richard Kiel, who was over 7′ tall. Multiple scenes had already been shot, but the producers weren’t feeling it so they searched for another actor.
Enter body builder Lou Ferrigno. His 6′ 4″ height and massively muscled frame easily convinced audiences of the fury and emotional turmoil going on inside Banner’s brilliant mind.
To make sure never to break the fourth wall and illusion of the Banner/Hulk being the same person, Bixby and (green make up) Ferrigno were never photographed together on set, but did have promo photos for the show done.
Fun fact: Per IMDB, in the opening credits when the Hulk flips the car over wasn’t done with stunts or cables. Ferrigno was tired of his 18 hour day.
It was 4am, cold, and raining so he flipped the car without help.
If that’s not a perfect example of why he won the part, I don’t know what is.
Adventures of Spiderman (1977-1979)
Length: 40-45 minutes
Nicholas Hammond as Peter Parker/Spider-Man
Robert F. Simon as J. Jonah Jameson
Chip Fields as Rita Conway
Ellen Bry as Julie Masters
In the 1970’s, Stan Lee, the creator of our favorite wall crawler, sold the rights to CBS to create a primetime live-action series.
Actor Nicolas Hammond, who played Peter Parker (and also the oldest son in the Sound of Music) didn’t want a Batman style comedy, but one that rang more true to the comics.
The plot centered around graduate student, Peter Parker, getting his powers from a radio active spider, earning his job at the Daily Bugle, and for the most part, thwarting real life criminals.
The 90-minute pilot, simply titled Spider-Man, was released in September 1977 and gave CBS its highest rating for the entire year. Despite the high ratings, the network worried that the “lucrative adult demographic (ages 18-49)” weren’t watching and only picked up the show with limited episodes.
Even with continued high ratings, the executives were worried that they would be labeled as a one-dimensional “superhero network” because they had Wonder Woman, Shazam! and The Incredible Hulk TV series along with TV movies Captain America (1979) and Doctor Strange (1978). (World problems, huh?)
After the limited and wildly popular second season, the show was canceled.
Until Sam Raimi brought Toby McGuire to the silver screens in 2002, all Spider-Man TV series were animated.
Finding the TV series online is hit and miss, but for now, you can watch the pilot on YouTube until they take it off line again.
Battlestar Galactica (1978-1979)
Length: 45 minutes
Richard Hatch as Captain Apollo
Dirk Benedict as Lieutenant Starbuck
Loren Green as Commander Adama
Not since Lost In Space in the 1960’s had there been a regular SciFy series, but an indie film in 1977 that talked about lightsabers and the force more than likely motivated the powers that be to get a show with arial dogfights in space out ASAP.
In 1978, we learned of a group of surviving, beautiful humans with amazing hair, who fled from enemies in a ship called the Battlestar Galactica.
Lead by Commander Adama (Greene), they were determined to outrun the vile Cyborgs whose main goal was to wipe out humanity.
Despite the harrowing fight for survival, pilots Apollo and Starbuck sported some seriously coiffed Shawn Cassidy inspired styles. I mean, I think I love the stylists on this ship since they had to be working 24/7 because along with their killer smiles, Apollo and Starbuck were always bringing their best.
The initial 148 minute pilot cruised along until breaking news of the Camp David Accords being signed by Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, witnessed by U.S. President Jimmy Carter, interrupted.
Creator Glen A. Larson decided to change the movie to a weekly series, throwing his staff off guard and putting in a lot of long hours.
Even with incredible style, killer smiles, and a determination to beat the Cyborgs, Battlestar only lasted one season.
A 125 minute theatrical version of the pilot was released in May 1979 and the reboot of the series hit TV screens in 2004 with Katie Sackhoff as Pilot Starbuck and Edward James Olmos as Admiral Adama.
The newer series lasted four seasons and seventy-six episodes.
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979-1981)
Length: 60 minutes
Gil Gerard as Buck Rogers
Erin Grey as Col. Wilma Rudolph
Pamela Hensley as Princess Ardala
The classic 1929 comic came to life again in the late 1970’s, but the two seasons were as bumpy as riding out a meteor storm.
Initially, released in theaters in March 1979, the pilot grossed a respectable $21 million.
This prompted a weekly show where Buck Rogers (Gerard) arrived back from his mission, only to realize he’d been gone for about 500 years.
Floating in his spaceship, Buck was found by Princess Ardala of Planet Draconia, who was a frequent foe and always wore such amazingly small outfits that I’m truly surprised got past the censors.
Even though he resists joining the Defense Directorate (good guys), he does help them in an unofficial capacity because what else would he do other than think about being 500 years older than everyone else?
The success of the movie didn’t easily translate to the small screen. The language had to be toned down and character Col. Wilma Rudolph (Grey) couldn’t be as “balsy”. She could be strong, smart, and competent, but not too manly.
A romantic relationship between Buck and Wilma was insinuated during season one, but never materialized, which is probably a good since Buck was meeting a lot of new friends each week.
The show did hit hot button topics like evolution, ecology, racism, war, pollution, and religion, there were many issues behind the scenes like the writers’ strike, which put the series on hold, and disagreements with Gerard about the storylines.
After two seasons, Buck Rogers sailed off into a galaxy far, far away, but now you can watch him on NBC.
See what I mean? The 1970’s were an insane time for live-action comic book characters to find their places on episodic TV.
And if you think the 1970’s were busy, check out the 1980‘s and discover (or re-discover) those shows that had everyone talking in the lunchroom over their Steve Austin lunchboxes the next day.
In the meantime, what show did I have that you’d either never watched or never heard of?
How do you think the 1990’s played out?
Drop your comments below.