“Fridays, on ABC….The Six Million Dollar Man, an incredible merging of man…and machine.”
Forty years ago tonight, after three successful TV movies which introduced viewers to Steve Austin, the world’s first bionic man, the first weekly episode of The Six Million Dollar Man premiered.
In his initial hourly outing, “Population: Zero,” Austin finds himself pitted against an aggrieved scientist with a score to settle against the unappreciative government who shunned him and the weapon he created, which uses high-frequency sound waves to disable or–if enough power is used–kill enemy forces. The scientist, Stanley Bacon, has already demonstrated his weapon on a small California town. He only rendered the town’s population unconscious, but now he’s demanding ransom money or else he’ll turn the weapon’s full power on another target.
Of course, Bacon hasn’t counted on a bionic man disrupting his plan.
“Population: Zero” is the first episode to give viewers the now iconic series theme music and opening credits sequence and narration. The credits have always been the perfect vehicle for introducing Austin’s backstory and origins, and they would continue to be enhanced and tweaked throughout the show’s five seasons.
As for the episode itself, it does introduce one aspect of the bionic technology which will be revisited throughout the series: Extreme cold deteriorates the abilities of bionic components. This, of course, is used in a bid to incapacitate Austin at one point during the episode, but we get to see that he also has a pretty savvy brain in that not-bionic noggin of his, and he’s able to craft a method of escape which would make Angus MacGyver proud.
Then he gets to go do bionic stuff.
Though we won’t be hearing the familiar bionic sound effects for quite a while yet, this episode does give us the first true display of Austin running and with slow-motion used to convey bionic speed or power. Mix in some of Oliver Nelson’s awesome music and Lee Majors giving it 150%, running balls-out all across fields and hills as Austin chases down Bacon and his henchmen, and the effect is still pretty impressive even after all these years.
Lee Majors: The manliest running stride in the history of running men.
After having had the chance to revisit the show thanks to the DVD sets, “Population: Zero” remains one of my favorite episodes of the entire series. My daughters also like it, though they refer to it by its proper name, “The one where Steve’s cold.” What are the odds that we’ll watch this one together at some point today?
Pretty good, I’d say.
When friends John S. Drew and Paul K. Bisson started up their Cyborgs podcast, they invited me to guest host when they revisited “Population: Zero,” and we spent what’s probably an inordinate amount of time recalling this favorite bit of our childhood. Check it out, if you’re so inclined: Cyborgs: A Bionic Podcast – “Population: Zero”