MOVIE REUNITES OSCAR, STEVE AND JAIME
by Frank Wooten, of The Post and Courier staff
Richard Anderson, as Oscar Goldman, has often led Lee Majors, as Col. Steve Austin, into international intrigue over the last 20 years.
So it was business as usual in 1990 when Anderson and Majors reverted to character during a canal trip through France. Anderson recalls that as Majors ran on a country road, “I rode up on a bike and I asked, ‘Hey, Steve,’ and he said, ‘Yeah, Oscar. What do you want?’
“And I said, ‘How about one more mission?’ And he said, ‘Well, maybe.’ “
That mission is “Bionic Breakdown,” a Steve Stafford-directed TV movie shooting in and around Charleston through Sept. 7 and airing Oct. 25 on CBS. Executive producer Anderson used persistent persuasion to sell his idea for a third TV movie sequel to ABC’s “The Six Million Dollar Man: (1974-1978) and it’s “Bionic Woman” (1976-78) spinoff.
Impressive rating sharess (more than 30 percent of in use TVs) on NBC for the first two TV movies in this trilogy – “The Return of the Six Million Dollar Man” (1988) and “The Bionic Showdown” (1990) – somehow failed to prompt eager
network reaction for “Bionic Breakdown.”
During a break in filming this week at Bohicket Marina, Anderson explains:
“I believed in it so much. I know audiences loved it. But it’s taken a long time to do it because the whole economy of the film business has changed. Licensing fees of old have changed. It’s increasingly hard to get these pictures made.”
Though it took four years to bring “Bionic Breakdown” to production, it is taking only 20 days to film it. Anderson, who says this is the shortest shoot yet for a “Bionic” TV movie, puts the budget of “Bionic Breakdown” at about $3.7 million, the same cost as “Bionic Showdown.” Anderson says “Return of the Six Million Dollar Man” ran $4.8 million.
Producer Michael Gallant says “Bionic Breakdown” is meeting its tight schedule. Not bad, considering problems with rainy weather and some wary downtown residents.
A 20-day shoot might have sounded good to those working on “Caught in the Crossfire,” a Sept. 14 NBC TV movie (starring Dennis Franz of “NYPD Blue”) filmed here in a mere 16 days during the spring. But Anderson says technological advances have trimmed production time frames.
“We have lighter cameras, better film and we can shoot in places we never used to before,” Anderson says. “They have found that they can make these pictures and shortcut some of the things we used to do when we made movies or in the golden days of television.”
– ‘Landmark’ background –
Hollywood verteran Anderson remembers plenty about the golden days of TV and the movies. He’s properly proud of his roles in several “landmark movies,” including “Escape From Fort Bravo” (1953, William Holden, Eleanor Parker); “Paths of Glory” (1957, Kirk Douglas, Ralph Meeker); “The Long, Hot Summer” (1958, Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward); and “Seven Days in May” (1964, Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Fredric March).
Add frequent appearances on many vintage TV series, particularly westerns, and Anderson is a familiar face. His next role is in “The Glass Shield,” a feature film due for February release.
His favorite role?
“I haven’t played it yet. I’m still trying to find it, although Oscar Goldman hasn’t done wrong by me.”
Oscar Goldman also hasn’t done wrong by Col. Steve Austin, who was critically injured in a test flight of a moon-landing craft to set up the “Six Million Dollar Man” concept. Dr. Rudy Wells (first played by Martin Balsam, then Alan Oppenheimer before Martin E. Brooks assumed the part he still plays) saved Steve by replacing many destroyed natural parts with atomic-powered electromechanical devices capable of superhuman feats. As a cyborg – part man, part machine – Steve took on dangerous tasks, under Oscar’s guidance, of course, for the Office of Scientific Information.
One year into the series, Jaime Sommers (Lindsay Wagner) came in as Steve’s true love, a former tennis pro seriously gravely in a skydiving accident. Hence, the “Bionic Woman.” Jaime and Steve are still smitten nearly 20 years later in “Bionic Breakdown.”
But as they prepare to marry, Jaime discovers she’s dying, apparently from a computer virus. Evil influence emanates from OSI rival Kimberly (former ‘Wings’ regular Farrah Forke) and a terrorist band that seizes control of the U.S. Embassy in Nassau.
– Versatile location –
That’s right – Charleston is a stand-in for Nassau. The Holy City is also a stand-in for Washington, D.C.
Gallant says Charleston was chosen over Jacksonville, Fla., and Wilmington, N.C., as the location that best combined elements of the Bahamas and U.S. capitals.
That choice suits Anderson fine.
“I always wanted to go to Charleston,” says Anderson, born in New York City but a near-lifelong Californian. “The little I’ve seen so far in the walks I’ve taken, it’s a unique city in the world. It has the history. The harbor was the pearl of the republic to start with.”
Like Anderson, Forke says she’s enjoying Charleston, particularly strolling around the Market Street area. She says she already misses playing Alex, the sassy-pilot girlfriend of Brian (Steven Weber), after leaving NBC’s hit sitcom “Wings” earlier this year. BUt she says she likes playing enigmatic Kimberly in “Bionic Breakdown.”
“The character isn’t really bad through and through,” Forke says. “I kind of have a conscience and a little bit of remorse and I end up helping near the end. It’s not like I’m a really bad person.”
Forke says she was a big “Six Million Dollar Man” and “Bionic Woman” fan growing up in Corpus Christi, Texas.
“It was a show that was important to me as a child,” Forke says. “It wasn’t the bioinc thing as much as it was Lindsay and Lee are so charismatic, and the characters they play are so real and human and caring. They’re not mechanical. So it’s kind of a man with a machine thing instead of a man against machine thing.”
That “thing” that draws viewers to the bionic adventures of Steve and Jaime has endured. Anderson says he’s used to being called Oscar.
“Wherever I go, people say to me, ‘The show should have never gone off the air,’ ” Anderson says. ” ‘That’s a family show, it’s a clean show, it also has a medical message and we love the people in it.’ I hear that everywhere. I hear it in Paris, Hong Kong, Mexico, South America, everywhere I go.”
“If I had to analyze it, I would say, yes, it was an action show, yes we were the first ones to bring back the white hat, the here after the anti-hero, Vietnam War era stories,” Anderson says. “The other hook is the medical thing.”
“But when they rate these things 100 years from now we’ll probably go down as one of the top 10 recognizable shows shows right along with ‘Lucy’ and ‘Gunsmoke.’ “
– Isolated resistance –
Producer Gallant says the negotiations for the use of the Mikell House on the corner of Rutledge and Monatagu were “unusually difficult.”
“We had to adapt our script to reduce the number of night scenes and change them to day,” Gallant says. “Some of the residents down there left no doubt about the fact that they did not welcome us with open arms.”
One point of contention was a Mikell House shootout planned for this coming Friday night. Gallant: “It’s not a ‘Die Hard’ kind of thing. There’s a lot of smoke and deception and lights going on and off, but the gunplay is very limited.”
Gallant added: “But that’s the only place we’ve had any problem. I want to emphasize that 90 percent of the people here have been fabulous.”