The Six Million Dollar Man

“The Six Million Dollar Man” is an interesting tangle of sci-fi media from the ’70s and not just for that unique “dit dit dit dit” sound effect playing over slow motion footage whenever Lee Majors’ Steve Austin used his suite of bionic abilities.

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The show’s can be traced back to Martin Caildin’s science fiction novel “Cyborg.” Indeed, the first film adaptation of Cyborg was the basis for the television show to the point its sometimes titled “Cyborg: The Six Million Dollar Man.” While Caldin wrote three sequels to Cyborg, none of their plots were adapted for television. Both Cyborg and The Six Million Dollar Man tell the tale of how NASA Colonel Steve Austin suffers a traumatic injury and bionic science is used to improve him in service to his country.

It was not until the third of three pilot films starring Lee Majors’ NASA colonel turned bionic man that the well-remembered weekly television series would come into existence. The television series lasted for seasons, totaling up to 99 hour-length episodes.


Steve Austin was a bionic man with bionic powers. But just what sort of powers did he have and how did they differ from the original material presented in Cyborg?

Bionic Eye

Beyond regaining depth perception and the ability to see with both eyes, Austin’s left eye could magnify images by up to 20 times; while the opening credits of the show indicate a zoom as high as 20.2, the ability is stated to stop at a flat 20x zoom in the episodes “Population: Zero” and “The Secret of Bigfoot.” Austin could also use the bionic eye for night vision and infrared viewing, as seen in the episode “The Pioneers.” The Secret of Bigfoot also highlights Austin’s ability to follow objects that are moving faster than what a normal person is able to see. The eye has also been shown to be capable to giving Austin’s throwing arm a level of accuracy that would make Marvel Comics’ Bullseye a jealous man.
Cyborg’s Version: Caldin’s version of the eye was just a removable camera; Austin remained blind in his left eye. Later material would add offensive capabilities, allowing Austin to use it as a laser. This latter feature was later mentioned in the Charlton Comics that were part of the same continuity as the television show.

Bionic Legs

This ambitious pair of bionic limbs allowed Austin an auspicious affinity for athletic aptitude. While his top running speed was never set in stone, a speedometer shown during the opening credits reveals the figure of 60 miles per hour. The highest noted speed on the show, 67 mph, was mentioned in “The Pal-Mir Escort.” The technology involved in Austin’s restoration was also used to revive Jaime Sommers, the Bionic Woman; “Winning is Everything,” an episode from her series reveals that Sommers could outrun a race car speeding at 100 mph. When covering Austin’s ability to jump beyond the abilities of a normal human, “The Secret of Bigfoot” outright states that Austin can jump as high as 30 feet, later made-for-TV films show Austin jumping significantly further.

Bionic Arm

“Doomsday and Counting,” an episode from the first season of the show, explains that Austin’s bionic right arm is equipped with a Geiger counter. The arm has also been stated to be as strong as the weight limit of a bulldozer.

Bionic Skull

In the books, portions of Austin’s skull had to be replaced with metal plating. This would be one of the few augmentations that the show did not bother bringing over from Cyborg, especially when one considers how many times Austin would be incapacitated from head injuries.


No hero is satisfying without some weaknesses to drive tension in a show and Steve Austin was no different.

  • Exposure to extremely cold temperatures could impair or disable the functionality of Austin’s bionics. This flaw was easily overcome by bringing Austin into a warm area.
  • While season one explained that cosmic radiation found in space inhibited his bionic strength, this weakness was eventually overcome through upgrades.
  • The bionic eye had its own unique flaw in that ultrasonic assaults could either scramble Austin’s balance or render him completely blind.
  • Austin’s parts are nuclear-powered. One episode featuring Bigfoot shows the cells burst open and irradiating Austin. This feature seems a tad curious when its stated that his bionic arm contains a geiger counter.

Legacy and Spin-Offs

While the most immediate continuation of this franchise would be the distaff counterpart of The Bionic Woman, this show survived into several films and even a comic books after the television series went off the air in 1978. Here, we highlight the major highlights connected to this particular show.

The Catchphrase

Richard Anderson’s “We can rebuild him, we have the technology” is one of the most well-known elements of this show. Commercials for both “America Online” and the Nintendo 64 video game “Battletanx” made direct references to the phrase and the show’s opening sequence.

The Bionic Woman

After the successful response to 1975’s “The Bionic Woman” two-parter, the eponymous character, killed off due to complications from her bionic prosthetics, was revived in a new stand-alone series. In order to walk back the apparent death that Sommers suffered on The $6 Million Man, her origin story explained that she had been placed in cryogenic stasis to fix any issues. This seems curious when it was established that bionic implants are greatly impaired when exposed to extreme cold. While this series was also shuttered in 1978, it spent its latter days on NBC and CBS as the parent show was cancelled on ABC.

Holocaust Aversion

When this show aired in Israel, its name was translated as “The Man Worth Millions.” Allegedly, this was done to avoid coincidental association with the Holocaust; it is commonly believed that six million Jews lost their lives in that abominable pogrom.

Comics Media

Charlton Comics produced two comic books connected to this franchise, one in color and one in monochrome. Dynamite Comics would revive the comic book facet of the franchise in 2011, switching between graphic novel retellings of the show to functioning a sixth season that picked up from where the television series left off in 2014.

Reunion Films

Three made-for-TV films were made that focused on the relationship between Steve Austin and Jaime Sommers. While the ’80s films were intended to establish new characters to extend the franchise beyond its peak success of the ’70s, “Bionic Ever After?” served as a series finale. The specials all feature Lee Majors’ son, Lee Majors II as Jim Castillian, an agent affiliated with OSI.

  • The first special, released in 1987, showcased a return of the two characters.
  • 1989’s “Bionic Showdown,” focused on a “battle of the sexes” approach, pitting Sommers’ bionic abilities against Austin’s. This film also featured Sandra Bullock in her first role in television and film, playing a new Bionic Woman.
  • “Bionic Ever After?” released in 1994 and ended things with a bionic marriage.

Big Screen Film

While the series began life on television as a trio of made-for-TV films, people have been trying to bring Steve Austin’s bionic adventures to the big screen as far back as 1995. A large degree of the development hell of this project can be traced back to how much is taken from the television show versus the what Martin Caldin wrote. As of the time this is written, it seems that the newest attempt involved Mark wahlbergw, will be titled “The Six Billion Dollar Man,” and is planned to hit theaters some time in 2019.