'Bionic Woman' Needs Dose of Adrenalin

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- With the fall season upon us, Ad Age TV Editor Brian Steinberg casts a critical eye on some of TV's new and continuing series to help marketers determine which may prove to be the best showcases for their ads and products. Tonight, NBC premieres "Bionic Woman," an update of the Disco-era spinoff of the "The Six Million Dollar Man" that, alas, has too much of this era's dark, sci-fi moodiness.
Michelle Ryan as Jaime Sommers, who is not bionically powered enough in this plodding remake of the '70s-era TV show.
Michelle Ryan as Jaime Sommers, who is not bionically powered enough in this plodding remake of the '70s-era TV show. Credit: Carol Segal/NBC

"Bionic Woman"

Where/When you'll see it: NBC, Wednesdays, 9 p.m.

What you'll see: When I heard NBC was remaking "Bionic Woman," the 1970s spinoff of "The Six Million Dollar Man" that starred Lindsay Wagner as bionically powered tennis star Jamie Sommers, I was warmed by feelings of Disco-era nostalgia. Imagine my surprise when I watched the first episode of this plodding remake. "Bionic Woman" has little to do with the program from which it derives its title. Instead, it reels in elements from the more recent past. Viewers will be greeted with warmed-over dialogue and story concepts that are more reminiscent of ABC's recently cancelled "Alias." Make that "Alias" on Qualudes.

Alas, Jennifer Garner makes no appearance as young spy Sydney Bristow. Michelle Ryan is here instead, playing lone heroine Jaime Sommers, who must cut through a conspiracy, using only her own tenacity and inner strength. (J.J. Abrams, who created and produced "Alias," ought to get royalties.)

The Jaime Sommers of this modern-day remake is a bartender whose mother is dead, who is estranged from her father and who has to rear a defiant younger sister, Becca. The flip side? She's dating a handsome young doctor. But all this comes crashing down one night -- literally -- as the two are driving at night and are suddenly walloped by an oncoming vehicle (a shocking visual effect seen in recent ads for Volkswagen).

The young doctor, as it turns out, is a specialist in the field of bionics. He gives Jaime some while she is under the knife and -- voila! -- instant killing machine. Not so fast, though. Turns out there's another bionic woman -- a renegade -- on the loose. There's some other stuff handed out in subplots, side scenes and flashbacks that are so wooden and convoluted that it was hard to muster enough attention to get the details that would help fill in the holes. The special effects don't seem like anything to write home about either (and this is the network that gave us "Heroes"?).

Truth to tell, I found about five minutes of "Bionic Woman" worth watching: a fight between Jaime and her predecessor at the top of a building. Otherwise, it's one dreary thing after another: a bad relationship with a churlish sister (imagine if she were deaf, as she was in the original scenes NBC showed off in the pilot last spring); scenes shot in winter grey and midnight blue; a background of espionage and clandestine organizations that we can't bring ourselves to care much about; and leaden acting.

Better bring "Bionic Woman" to the fix-it shop. It's supposed to be the linchpin of NBC's new fall programming offerings, which also include "Journeyman," "Chuck" and "Life." "Bionic" has been heavily promoted, and looks very expensive to produce. Unless the series gets a dose of adrenalin, however -- and fast (Ben Silverman, NBC's co-president-entertainment, has already hired actor Isaiah Washington for a role to debut in coming weeks) -- I can't imagine that even a bionic Hollywood programmer could make this thing work quickly enough to bring in the ratings.

What's at stake: Big bucks. "Bionic Woman" is NBC's most buzzed-about entry into the fall season, and it squares off on what is perhaps the most competitive night of the week. Elsewhere on the dial at the same time, you've got "Private Practice," the ABC spinoff of "Grey's Anatomy." CW's "Gossip Girl" is also present, as is a slightly retooled "Criminal Minds" on CBS.

Who's on board: At first glimpse, "Bionic" looks like an odd fit for some of NBC's top sponsors, which in the first half of 2007 included Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson. The network typically caters to viewers with higher-than-average income and interest in more-intelligent-than-usual TV fare. The same holds true here, though "Bionic" would appear to skew more male, making it a good place for NBC's big auto sponsors, such as Toyota and GM, NBC's top auto advertisers.

Your ad here? This is a dark, moody sci-fi drama that ought to bring in big bucks from movie studios. But consumer-packaged goods companies might want to put more emphasis behind something that is more sunny and light. As for product placement, manufacturers of computers and medical-equipment should investigate how their goods might best be displayed during what are sure to be frequent sessions to tune up Jaime's mechanics.

Media buyer's verdict: "Bionic Woman" isn't typical NBC fare, said Shari Anne Brill, senior VP-director of programming at Carat. The show is "a little younger and maybe a little more male-skewing," she said. "It could get younger viewers and nerds." She predicts heavy sampling in the show's first few weeks and predicted it could take "second place in the hour, and possibly first in persons aged 12 to 24."
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