The Man Who Was Worth Three Billion: The Series

By Fabien Rousseau and Christophe Dordain

“Steve Austin, astronaut. A man who is just alive. “Gentlemen, we can rebuild it. We have the technical ability to do so. We are able to give birth to the first bio-ionic man.” Steve Austin will become that man. It will be higher than it was before the accident. The strongest… The fastest… In a word, the best!” (Introduction to the credits of the series “The Man Who Was Worth Three Billion”).

Photo credits: ABC Television - Universal Television - Elephant Films for the Bluray edition

Colonel Steve Austin is an astronaut with the N.A.S.A. During an experimental flight in a prototype aircraft, he was unable to prevent his aircraft from crash-landing. Thus, he came out of this accident seriously injured. He loses the use of his left eye. But also his right arm and both legs. Dr. Rudy Wells, director of the Cybernetics Laboratory, decided to graft bionic prostheses into him. Thanks to science, it is getting stronger, faster. Then, he put his new faculties at the service of the OSI (Office of Scientific Intelligence). It is headed by Oscar Goldman and aims to fulfill various missions.

The series “The Man Who Was Worth Three Billion” finds its starting point with the novel Cyborg (contraction of Cybernetic Organism) by Martin Caidin published in 1972. Universal Television officials entrusted the adaptation to screenwriter Kenneth Johnson. Former American football player, and supporting actor in western-style soap operas, Lee Majors was hired to play the hero. From 1973 onwards, three pilot TV movies were filmed. They want to be part of a James Bond-like atmosphere with exotic locations, pretty girls and adequate credits.

Between the pilots and the series broadcast in September 1973 on the ABC network, the characters quickly changed faces. Dr. Rudy Wells is first played by Martin Balsam (“Psycho“). Then, it will be the turn of Alan Oppenheimer and finally Martin E. Brooks. The head of the top-secret cyborg agents project, the cynical Oliver Spencer (Darren McGavin, the hero of the “Burning Files” series), will be replaced by Oscar Goldman (Richard Anderson).

The Man Who Was Worth Three Billion” gradually finds his true identity by turning to fantasy and science fiction. Indeed, Steve Austin confronts bionic doubles, alien creatures (the famous bigfoot), robots and mutants. However, he also sometimes comes face to face with spies and/or terrorists. The Bondian theme is followed by a more dynamic music by Oliver Nelson that punctuates the hero’s extraordinary motor skills. Other effects such as sound effects and slow motion complement the special effects and serve to highlight its superhuman power.

During the 2nd season, a new character appears. Meet Jaimie Sommers aka “Super Jaimie” (“Bionic Woman“). A former professional tennis player turned spy (played by Lindsay Wagner). Given the popularity of Steve Austin’s adventures, Kenneth Johnson launched a spin-off series in 1976 with this heroine also rebuilt by the miracles of technology. The adventures of this female alter-ego lasted 3 seasons (58 episodes) until 1978. A program in which Richard Anderson will resume his role as mentor. It should be noted that, in each series, Steve Austin and Jaimie Sommers will be reunited for a few episodes.

The bionic man will accomplish his exploits for 5 seasons. It ended in 1978 after more than 100 episodes aired. Steve Austin and Jaimie Sommers would reunite as a duo for three final TV movies: “Bionic Mission / The Return of the Man Who Was Worth $3 Billion and Super Jaimie” (1987); “The Bionic Spy” (1989); “Bionic Marriage” (1994). As for Lee Majors, the series “The Man Who Falls at the Right Time” (1981/1986) allowed him to return to success.

Sometimes sporting a kitsch cachet, the series “The Man Who Was Worth Three Billion” has nevertheless kept its nostalgic side. It is essentially based on the sympathy capital of a charismatic Lee Majors. A believable actor in the shoes of this secret agent with physical superiority, but whose human potential takes precedence above all else. The other interest lies in the variety of plots offering its dose of suspense. This makes it an entertainment close to the spirit of a comic book.

Photo credits: ABC Television - Universal Television - Elephant Films for the Bluray edition.

Based on the book by Martin Caidin (one of whose short stories had already been adapted for the film “The Castaways of Space” directed by John Sturges in 1969 with Gregory Peck, James Franciscus, Richard Crenna, Gene Hackman and David Janssen), the producers of the project “Six Million Dollar Man” first opted for the direction of a TV movie directed by Richard Irving (the same one who had already directed the two pilots of the series “Columbo” in 1968 and 1970).

When it came to choosing the lead actor, the first choice fell on Monte Markham, who was all Martin Caidin’s favorites. However, Markham had already signed up to star in the new version of “Perry Mason” (a series that would eventually air from September 16, 1973 to January 20, 1974 on CBS). Exit Markham! Lee Majors had just had a second major success on the small screen after “La Grande Vallée” (1965/1969) with the legal series “Owen Marshall” (1971/1974) alongside Arthur Hill. Broadcast on March 07, 1973, this first TV movie met with a large audience.

The screenplay written by Terrence McDonnell is very convincing. Also, the ABC network, headed by Frank Price in particular, ordered two new television movies in the euphoria of the moment, which it entrusted to Glen A. Larson to produce. This choice would later prove to be calamitous. Not that Larson is a poor producer, far from it, but the new direction he decides to take the project in is going to have far-reaching consequences. Of course, he decided to entrust Richard Anderson with the role of Oscar Goldman (replacing Darren McGavin), but Larson chose above all to transform the character of Steve Austin into a kind of James Bond.

It is now known that it was at the express request of Frank Price that this new scriptwriting direction was taken in order to take advantage of the general public’s infatuation with the character of 007. A franchise that had just been revitalized with the recruitment of Roger Moore for “Live and Let Die” (1972) and “The Man with the Golden Gun” (1973).

Britt Eklund and Lee Majors / Photo credits: ABC Television - Universal Television - Elephant Films for the Bluray edition

Directed by Russ Mayberry, this second TV movie entitled “Wine, Holidays and Vahinés” aired on October 20, 1973. It was followed by “The Solid Gold Kidnapping” on November 17 of the same year (third TV movie also directed by Mayberry and remained unreleased in France until the DVD edition of the series and now Blu-ray).

At this point in the story, the “Six Million Dollar Man” project is almost buried as the public’s reaction is more than lukewarm. So how do you save Private Steve Austin? It was Harve Bennett who took charge of the perilous rescue mission. The latter had just finished his work as a producer for the series “The New Team” (an Aaron Spelling / Danny Thomas production dating from the period 1968/1973). As a result, Bennett had a lot of questions about starting to produce a long-running series again.

Yielding to Frank Price’s injunctions, he agreed to watch the pilots produced by Larson. Once this was done, he decided to go back to the roots of the project, that of the first TV movie. With the support of Lionel Siegel, the writer and producer associated with this television adventure, Bennett decided to play the Lee Majors card as a hardcore martial hero. The typical soldier as the American public loves him. All this with a minimum of dialogue (Lee Majors is not a very large-scale actor) and a maximum of action.

One detail jumps out at Harve Bennett’s face. In this case, the time constraint. He agreed to produce the first season of “The Man Who Was Worth Three Billion” in November 1973 for a first broadcast scheduled for January 1974. The deadlines are very short and Bennett is well aware of this…

Photo credits: ABC Television - Universal Television - Elephant Films for the Bluray edition

This first season opened on January 18, 1974 with the episode “Population Zero” directed by Jeannot Swarcz. It ends on April 26 with “A Forced Vacation” and after 13 episodes of solid workmanship, well written and effectively directed thanks to the good offices of Jerry Jameson, Reza S. BadiyiJerry LondonVirgil W. Vogel and Alf Kjellin.

The character of Steve Austin is clearly related to the solitary hero and mechanically apart in view of the many bionic prostheses he has to wear. The latter prevent him from being a normal and full-fledged human being. As for Martin Caidin, fully satisfied with the direction the series is now taking, he agrees to see his name appear in the credits. Something he had turned down for the two TV movies produced by Glen A. Larson. In particular, he is sensitive to the fact that Steve Austin does indeed have extraordinary powers, but that those powers are not excessive, not to say disproportionate.

Of course, it’s a given that Steve Austin is capable of lifting a car. It can leap several meters. He can see an object or a man from several hundred meters away. He can run at more than 70 km/h, etc. However, its abilities, already extraordinary enough, are still not those of the superheroes in the Marvel catalog for example. A second season was therefore ordered. However, “The Man Who Was Worth Three Billion” will find himself mired in a disaster that could have been his swan song…

Indeed, the adventures of Steve Austin were offered by ABC on Friday nights with “Kodiak” starring Clint Walker and “Hot Files” starring Darren McGavin. However, this time slot was becoming a clear failure in terms of audience. So Steve Austin found himself trapped in this trap. ABC then decided to take a dramatic step. The suspension of all programs in this Friday night slot!

Concerning “The Man Who Was Worth Three Billion“, two elements will be lifesaving. First of all, the move of the series to Sunday night. Above all, the call to Kenneth Johnson to develop a love story loosely based on the film “The Bride of Frankenstein“. Written by Johnson in a week, the script for the episode “The Bionic Woman” was dense enough that Fred Silverman demanded and got it conceived in two parts. Broadcast on March 16 and 23, 1975, with a good direction by Dick Moder, this double episode was a monumental success. This allows the general public to discover the character of Jaimie Sommers played by the delightful Lindsay Wagner.

Initially, it was planned that it would disappear definitively at the end of this diptych. However, in the face of public hostility that could not understand how such an endearing character could be made to disappear, Frank Price and Fred Silverman pressured Kenneth Johnson to resurrect him. This will be done at the very beginning of the third season.

Lindsay Wagner and Lee Majors / Photo credits: ABC Television - Universal Television - Elephant Films for Bluray Edition

At the beginning of this new season, a major change occurs. It concerns the artistic distribution of “The Man Who Was Worth Three Billion“. The production chose Martin Brooks to replace Alan Oppenheimer as Dr. Rudy Wells. Thus we learn that it was at the request of the management of the ABC network that this substitution was made in favor of a slightly younger player.

This third season also features some changes to the narrative structure of the series. Under the impetus of Kenneth Johnson, a little more humor is introduced into the adventures of Steve Austin. Until then, these had been characterized by their very, if not too serious, aspect. An effort is also made in the choice of guest stars in the different episodes, although the previous season was already very rich on this point. The third season stars Chuck Connors, Sonny Bono, Tim O’ Connor, Radames Pera, Stefanie Powers, etc. That’s pretty good, right?

Two other highlights to note during this new season. First of all, the return of Monte Markham in the role of Barney Miller aka “The Man Who Was Worth Seven Million Dollars” is one more than Steve Austin. The character of Barney Miller had previously appeared in the season II episode, “500 Million More” (directed by Dick Moder and aired on November 01, 1974). Miller would return in the episode “Super Duel” (directed by Leslie H. Martinson and aired this time on November 09, 1975). Did the executives of Universal Television and the ABC network think they were designing new series that would feature new bionic characters? This is possible even if Martin Caidin thought the principle was silly. Especially since, and this is the second highlight, Jaimie Sommers was going to have her own series as part of a crossover with the episode “Welcome Jaimie” (directed by Alan Crosland Jr, broadcast on January 11 for the 1st part, and on January 14 for the 2nd part to launch the new bionic series).

Nevertheless, the arrival on the air of the new series “Super Jaimie” will cause major difficulties for Kenneth Johnson. How to reconcile the two series, each of which required a more than substantial investment? Faced with this dilemma, Johnson chose to focus on the adventures of Jaimie Sommers. What for? It is likely that Johnson found the female bionic character more interesting, less rigid. It is true that Lee Majors’ acting abilities, with all due respect, were far more limited than Lindsay Wagner’s. In fact, Lee Majors was starting to worry about the popularity of “Super Jaimie“. He feared; and rightly so, that the latter does not overshadow Steve Austin a little too much. It is true that both series were among the top 5 most-watched programs in the United States between 1976 and 1977.

Photo credits: ABC Television - Universal Television - Elephant Films for the Bluray edition

After a fully successful fourth season, notably with the introduction of the character of Bigfoot (the latter had appeared for the first time, during season III, in the double episode “The Devil’s Footprint“, directed by Alan Crosland Jr. and broadcast in February 1976, before returning at the opening of season IV with another long-running episode, “The Return of the Scalper“, directed by Barry Crane and broadcast in September of the same year), clearly raised the question of the future of “The Man Who Was Worth Three Billion“… What did Lee Majors want to do? Did he still want to continue his career on the small screen while the big one was constantly calling him with his foot? Richard Landau and Fred Freiberger, the new duo of producers in charge of what would become the final season of the series, had a clear awareness of what was at stake. They were even preparing for an actor change for the role of Steve Austin.

The year is March 1977. Several names began to circulate to fill Lee Majors’ replacement. For example, Gil Gerard, under contract with Universal (and the next “Buck Rogers” to be released by Glen A. Larson in 1979) was among the applicants. Even more astonishing is the mention of Harrison Ford’s name! Yes, you read that right! The future Han Solo and Indiana Jones was once tipped to be the new Steve Austin. But Universal flatly refused, on the grounds that he wasn’t qualified enough to star in an action series! It’s hard not to smile when you read this relevant review, isn’t it? Anyway, two months later “Star Wars” was released on the screens and you know the rest about Harrison Ford’s career… In fact, Lee Majors had cleverly upped the ante. All this in order to obtain a substantial revaluation of his contract. This will be done. The fifth season of “The Man Who Was Worth Three Billion” began in September 5 with the double episode “The Sharks“, directed by Alan J. Levi.

It is during this final season that the two-part episodes are the most numerous. But also very successful. Such as “Mission Moon” (directed by Cliff Bole and aired in November 1977) and “The Murder Probe” (directed by Tom Connors and aired in January 1978). On March 06, 1978, Steve Austin appeared for one last adventure, “Operation Double Game” (directed by Don McDougall). After five years of loyal service, the time had come to retire. Finally, it should be noted that the broadcast of “Super Jaimie” will end two months later…

Richard Anderson and Lee Majors / Photo credits: ABC Television - Universal Television - Elephant Films for the Bluray edition

Lee Majors

It was in 1965 that the Americans discovered the young Lee Majors in the series, “The Great Valley“. Born in 1939 in Michigan, Lee Majors started at the age of 24 and found himself very busy with the series. However, he found time to slip away for the filming of Tom Gries’ “Will Penny, the Lonely One” with Charlton Heston, Donald Pleasance and Bruce Dern.

Visibly at ease in westerns, in 1970 he completed the cast of the Virginian for the spin-off: “The Men From Shiloh” broadcast during the 1970/1971 season. He then starred in his first contemporary series: “Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law” (1971/1974). The series will last three seasons and Lee Majors will be directed by a young director named Steven Spielberg. In 1974, he agreed to reprise the role he had played in 3 TV movies scheduled during 1973: “The Man Who Was Worth Three Billion“. That same year, everything smiled on him as he married actress Farrah Fawcett (a marriage that lasted until 1980) and he got a dream contract from Universal for the series since he earned $50,000 per episode.

The Steve Austin years ended in 1978 after 97 episodes and the actor tried a film career in “Nerves of Steel” under the direction of Steve Carver, a film that tells the story of the difficulties of building builders. However, success was not forthcoming and Lee Majors returned to the small screen, under the impetus of Glen A. Larson, who allowed him to play the stuntman Colt Seavers in “The Man Who Fell in Time” from 1981. The series ended in 1986 and the actor became more discreet, playing in a few TV movies, three of which were in which he rediscovered his bionic man’s panoply.

In 1990, he left for Vietnam for the needs of the series “L’Enfer du Devoir” then he continued with “The Raven“, the last remarkable performance of the actor in the universe of series that has been broadcast in France. Since then, Lee Majors has appeared in many series (including “Too Much Sun” in 2000), but they have not made it to Canada except for a few appearances in “Weeds“, “Cold Case“, “Grey’s Anatomy” and “CSI: Manhattan“. It should also be noted that in 2011 he participated in the new version of “La Grande Vallée” playing Tom Barkley.

Photo credits: ABC Television - Universal Television - Elephant Films for the Bluray edition

Richard Anderson

Richard Norman Anderson was born on August 8, 1926 in Long Branch, New Jersey (USA). His parents moved to Los Angeles when he was 10 years old, and it was during this time that he began to take a serious interest in acting. He was fascinated by cinema and decided to try his luck at the MGM studios as soon as he finished high school. The only job he managed to get was a job in the mail department.

However, his desire to become an actor was later put aside, as he had to leave for the army for a year during the Second World War. When the war ended, he returned to Los Angeles where he studied at the famous American Lab in Hollywood. By 1947, he had already acted in several plays. In 1949, Cary Grant’s wife, Betsy Drake, impressed by his acting talent, pistoned him to MGM. He then signed a six-year contract with the studio, during which time he appeared in 26 films.

After numerous appearances in series as a guest star at the end of the 60s, he found in Oscar Goldman, the director of the OSI, the major role of his career, a character that would bring him international notoriety thanks to “The Man Who Was Worth Three Billion” in 1973, then “Super Jaimie” in 1976. He took on Oscar Goldman’s costume for the reunion TV movies made during the 90s. It should be noted that the actor was the narrator of the new version of the series “Kung Fu” between 1993 and 1997.

Actor of only one role in fact with “The Man Who Was Worth Three Billion” and its spin-off, Richard Anderson ceased all activity or almost all activity (since 1998) until the announcement of his death, on August 31, 2017.

Photo credits: ABC Television - Universal Television - Elephant Films for the Bluray edition

Executive Producers: Allan Balter, Harve Bennett, Lionel E. Siegel
Producers: Allan Balter, Douglas Boyle, Joe Cramer, Fred Feiberger, Richard Irving, Kenneth Johnson, Richard Landau, Glen A. Larson, Lionel Siegel, Sam Strangis, Herbert Wright, Sam Strangis, Arthur E. McLaird Associate Producers: Rod Holcomb, Andrew MacLaird
, David Phinney, Arnold Turner
Theme music: Olivier Nelson
Music: Robert Bryant, J.J.. Jonhson, Luchi De Jesus, Benny Golson, Richard Clements
Music Supervision: Hal Mooney
Cinematographers: Enzo A. Martinelli, Ronald W. Browne, Allen M. Davey, Ron McManus, Kenneth T. Williams, Alric Edens
Editing Supervisor: Richard Bielding
Editing : Ralph Schoenfeld, George Ohanian, Bill Parker, Robert Leeds, Carl Pingitore, Jamie Caylor, Jack Schoengarth, Fabian Tordjmann, Douglas Stewart, J. Howard Terrill, Howard Epstein, Robert K. Richard, Frederic L. Kundston, Patrick Ryan, Leon Garber, Vern Shaw
Sound Editing: James A. Bean, Carl J. Brando, Gene Graig, Joe Divitale, Dale Johnston, Don Tomlinson, Don Weinman
Artistic Directors : Alfo Bocchicchio, Jack DeGovia, Alexander Mayer, Norman Newberry, Frank Grieco, Jr., William L. Campbell, Paul Peters Set design: Llowell Chambers, Jerry Adams, Robert C. Bradfield, Bert F. Allen, Mary Swanson, Richard Reams, Ron Jeschke
: Burton Miller
Assistant Directors : Ralph Sariego, Tom Connors III, Jerome Siegel, Cliff Bole, Kevin Donnelly, Phil Bowles, Paul Samuelson, James Garner, Ray Taylor, Louis Race, Lou Watt
Special Effects: Richard Stutsman, William H. Schirmer
Stunt Coordination: Vince Deadrick, Sr.
Stuntmen: Jesse Wayne, Michael Hayne, Terry Leonard, Fred Lerner, Kim Kahana, Dick Warlock, James Winburn, Wesley Lau, Louie Elias, Dave Cass, Everett Creach, Troy Melton, Don ‘Red’ Barry, Bob Minor, Paul Deadrick
Theme design: Jack Cole
Production: Universal Television / MCA / Silverton Productions Inc. (1973/1978)

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