Tuned In: New 'Bionic Woman' goes from dark to lighter tone

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BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- Last fall, American TV viewers soundly rejected dark-themed prime-time series. For this fall, there's a new emphasis on lighter, more optimistic fantasy shows with one glaring exception: NBC's dark re-imagining of "Bionic Woman" from a producer of the bleak "Battlestar Galactica" remake and a producer of last fall's dark drama flop "Kidnapped."

NBC Entertainment's new co-chairman Ben Silverman said he "wouldn't have made some of those dark shows," and he intends to lighten up "Bionic Woman."

"You're going to see it shift a little," he said. "We're going to play with some of the fact that it's fun to be bionic."

Michelle Ryan will star as Jaime Sommers in NBC's "Bionic Woman."
Click photo for larger image.

Tuned In Journal

More coverage from the TV critics summer press tour, including news on "Friday Night Lights," can be found at www.post-gazette.com.

He defended the first episode's darker tone because it features the accident that leads Jaime Sommers (British newcomer Michelle Ryan) to the operation that makes her bionic.

"I am eager to play into the aspirational nature of this, like, 'Oh my God, what would it be like to be bionic?' I want every girl in America and every boy thinking, I want to date the Bionic Woman or I want to be the Bionic Woman."

At a press conference for the show yesterday, executive producer Jason Smilovic ("Kidnapped") said "Bionic Woman" will display more levels in future episodes. Executive producer David Eick ("Battlestar Galactica") disagreed with the widely held contention among the critics that, whether they liked it or not, the original pilot was pretty dark.

"This is the story of a woman coming of age and realizing her potential as a human being while realizing her potential as a hero," Eick said. "It is the Peter Parker ethos of the hero learning to be a hero while learning to be a human being. I think we all think of this as an uplifting show, though that doesn't mean Jaime will always make the right choices or that they won't hurt a little."

Portions of the pilot will be re-shot to incorporate a new actress in the reconceived role of Jaime's sister, who was initially deaf but will not be in the revised pilot.

Fans of the original "Bionic" series might be disappointed by the lack of a slow-motion "dun-dun-dun-dun-dun" sound effect when Jaime runs.

"I suppose if this was campy or retro, it would make sense to do that," Eick said. Instead, the role is being played "pretty straight" with an attempt to accentuate who she is rather than the eye candy of any effects.

Other elements of the original that have been cast aside: There's no Oscar Goldman, and a character named Steve Austin will not be introduced because producers do not have the rights to those names. Eick said Universal, which owns the rights, has plans to make a "Six Million Dollar Man" movie.

With the new "Bionic Woman," as with "Battlestar Galactica," it's a matter of taking "the nucleus of a great story" and finding a new way to tell it, Eick said.

"The original came about at a time when there was a great deal of discussion about the ERA movement, equal pay for equal work. Women's liberation was in the zeitgeist. It was the first television show where the female hero on the action show wasn't the wife of, girlfriend of or mother of the guy," he said. "The statement was very simple: See, women can do what men can do. I don't think we're talking about that anymore. ... Society has changed, and the questions asked are different."

But Eick is not fretting about a fan backlash this time around.

"I don't believe the core of the 'Bionic Woman' fan base is as rabid or certifiable as the 'Battlestar Galactica' core," Eick said, "So I'm not terribly worried about it."

'Law' lives on

NBC's "Law & Order" narrowly avoided cancellation in May, giving it more of a chance to tie "Gunsmoke" for longest-running drama series on television. "Gunsmoke" ran 20 years; "Law & Order" returns for its 18th season in January, airing on NBC's Sunday night schedule.

Executive producer Dick Wolf said the show is going through "one of its major renovations of the past 10 years." Sam Waterston's Jack McCoy gets promoted to district attorney, and actor Linus Roache will join the cast as the new executive assistant district attorney to work alongside assistant district attorney Connie Rubirosa (Alana De La Garza). Jeremy Sisto joins the cast as a new partner for Detective Edward Green (Jesse L. Martin).

"It's a very deliberate shift to hopefully reintroduce or further penetrate a younger demographic," Wolf said. "The show has been skewing older, and we would love it to skew a little younger."

Demos aside, Wolf seems excited about the creative opportunities that will arise from seeing Jack McCoy in a new job.

"[Jack] is not going to be the pragmatist that the elected politicians have been," he said. "He's also going to be somebody who goes through changes in his own attitudes because he's doing a different job. We've talked very openly about what happens to a man of a certain age and stature, when the next generation comes in. There is an aspect of 'The Lion in Winter' to this that is fascinating to any of us who are of a certain age."

On "Law & Order: Criminal Intent," which moves from NBC to USA Network this fall, Alicia Witt comes aboard to partner with Chris Noth for six episodes while Julianne Nicholson is on maternity leave. On "Law & Order: SVU," actor Adam Beach joins the beat as a detective from Brooklyn.

As for "Law & Order" reruns, when actor Fred Thompson officially declares his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination, NBC will be obliged to no longer air reruns that feature him beyond those scheduled to conclude on Sept. 1, Wolf said, adding that the equal time rules do not apply to reruns on national cable networks.

Whither 'Heartland'?

TNT's Pittsburgh-set medical drama "Heartland," created and written by Mt. Lebanon native David Hollander, hasn't set fire to the ratings. Instead, because it's losing so much of its "Closer" lead-in audience, TNT will move "Heartland" to 8 p.m. Monday next week, filling the 10 p.m. slot with the new Holly Hunter drama "Saving Grace."

Michael Wright, senior vice president of Turner Entertainment Networks, said "Heartland" hasn't been canceled even though the ratings have disappointed.

"You have to remember that 'The Closer' casts such a big shadow," Wright said. "We say, how do you define success? If you're holding less than half of the audience, that's a problem, but at the same time, ['Heartland'] ticked up in the second week. The jury's out right now. The real tale will be when it moves to 8 o'clock."

Wright said he's been pleased with the show's creative direction.

"I think the first episode was fine, but we ordered it knowing it had a great chance to become something better. I do think it's gotten better every week as we've gotten to know those characters. David Hollander is a gifted writer, and he's found his way."

Channel surfing

In addition to "High School Musical 2" (coming Aug. 17), there's a docu-series spinoff airing this fall: "High School Musical: The Music in You." Directed by acclaimed filmmaker Barbara Kopple, the program follows kids in a Fort Worth, Texas, summer theater workshop staging "High School Musical." ... Disney Channel will go forward with "Cheetah Girls 3" without Raven-Symone, who starred in the first two films. Production will begin in India in January, with a premiere set for next summer. ... Keith Olbermann will moderate the Democratic presidential candidates forum at 7 p.m. Aug. 7. ... GSN's "National Vocabulary Challenge," hosted by Huntingdon native Dylan Lane, has been renewed for another season and will again be in Pittsburgh seeking student contestants later this year on a date yet to be determined. ... Carnegie Mellon University graduate Alison Crossley will be among the musicians competing in the new show "America's Hot Musician," an "American Idol" for instrumentalists that premieres today online at AmericasHotMusician.org. ... Judy Girard, a program director at WTAE in the 1980s, will retire as president of HGTV by the end of the year.


TV editor Rob Owen is attending the Television Critics Association summer press tour. You can reach him at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com .


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