For millions around the world Christopher Reeve will always be Superman, Tom Baker will always be Doctor Who and Basil Rathbone will always be Sherlock Holmes. And for millions more there is only one Wonder Woman; the legend that is Lynda Carter.
Although there were two previous Wonder Women in earlier attempts to bring the character to the small screen played by Linda Harrison of Planet of the Apes fame and Cathy Lee Crosby, respectable ratings gave executives the idea that there was still mileage in the character; they just hadn’t found the right format or story yet. So when Crosby declined a series they found Lynda Carter, after a search as extensive as the one for Harry Potter. She would be Wonder Woman from 1975-1979 and to this day, despite a couple of attempts to revive the character, one from Joss Whedon, the other from Ally McBeal creator David E. Kelley which even got as far as an abandoned pilot, although photos of the new costume as modelled by Adrianne Palicki are widely available on the internet (or to the left – ed).
Producers decided to start right back at the beginning, placing Diana Prince and Wonder Woman back in World War 2 where it all began. However, this changed as the series progressed bringing her right up into the present with Steve Trevor playing Lyle Waggoner and being explained as the son of the Steve we met in the World War 2 setting. And if history had been a little different, he would have played Batman rather than Adam West but as my mother and Pierce Brosnan said ‘What’s for ya won’t go past ya.’ A very true saying.
If there’s one thing the television series did more successfully than any other television super hero show was not only embrace its roots but show them off every week. From its distinctive theme song (it works here, doesn’t with Enterprise) which everybody could sing and I still remember the words, “You’re a wonder, wonder woman! With the power you possess! We’re so glad you’re on our side!”.
This was laid against the comic strip montage title sequence where the both Lynda and Lyle morphed from comic strip to real life with a white smile that glinted to the camera. And yes, we even did that too but could never get the glint. It was almost a disco theme song which has burned its way into our memories, although the version we all know didn’t really come into it until season 3 (below), and caused many a fan to throw their wrists up in front of their faces to deflect bullets. Thankfully no one ever took that to the extreme of testing that out in real life.
Wonder Woman laid its heart out to the audience so you knew what you were getting. But did you know that the one thing most associated with the show was the famous spin when Diana changed into Wonder Woman was actually Lynda Carter’s idea? Producers needed a way to show the transformation on set so Lynda suggested the spin where she would be engulfed in a golden explosion and appear in her famous costume to save the world. So successful was the idea that it was incorporated into the comic books as part of the official lore and yes, many a fan did do the spin and the explosive noise when no one was looking, me included. And before you younger people snigger and point, things like this are the mark of a good show that people are enjoying. Just as kids today pretend to be Daleks or delete like the Cybermen, Wonder Woman fans spin.
Launching under the title of the New Original Wonder Woman, it would see Lynda Carter dominate the airwaves in a series of mad adventures that were a good mix of comic book drama and spy stories, at least in the beginning. She was kicking Nazi ass long before Dr Jones. However the network ABC were reluctant to renew the series despite strong ratings and the order for around 12 additional episodes. So Jerry lieder, president of the Warner network back then, went to CBS with the suggestion of transforming the series to the present day, in which format it stayed for the remainder of its run. The war effort stories had quickly become limited in their scope even with the introduction of Debra Winger as Diana’s younger sister who arrived from Paradise Island as Wonder Girl. The new format however proved very successful with audiences and could kick the show in new directions previously unseen and a move was made to make Diana a force that did not kill and less violent than in her first appearances.
Another neat trick was to do what they did with the Bionic man and woman and that was to use sound effects whenever she used her powers. Like the bending of metal to punching holes in walls to super jumps, they were sounds that kids could easily copy and pretend to use in the playgrounds.
Now the show was called the New Adventures of Wonder Woman, it sees Diana Prince return after 35 years and work as an agent for he ADC, the Inter Agency Defence Command, alongside Steve Trevor junior, the son of Steve Trevor that worked with Wonder Woman in the war and he was the spitting image of his dad which was handy. He had heard stories of Wonder Woman from his dad but they came across as a strange mix of good friends and almost lovers. And this time Diana’s identity was protected by a pair of Deirdre Barlow glasses, as big as reentry shields (left). Well, it worked for Clark Kent long enough.
We had a robot dog nowhere near as cute as K9 , sounded exactly like the Road Runner and was called Rover and a super computer IRA who knew exactly who Diana really was. Initially paired with Steve, his promotion to her boss allowed Diana to go off on her own and not have to hide her identity change from Steve every other episode. This was a show that was constantly evolving, making changes necessary to help make it the best it could be. And they were never afraid to include the iconic things like the Invisible plane even if it didn’t appear (ahem – ed) for entire seasons at a time.
We also got to see some new outfits such as the swimming all in one piece and the motorcycle outfit which initially involved a double spin but was reduced to a single one. However, fans, myself included, were partial to a double spin. It made it more exciting. And even that was something the writers expanded on. Just as the makers of The Incredible Hulk dreamed up new ways for Banner to Hulk out, so too did the makers of Wonder Woman eg falling off a tall building and trapped in a spinning chair by the Pied Piper.
Wonder Woman could also talk to animals and fire energy bolts when the need arose and woebetide anyone that got caught in her lasso of truth. Wonder Woman was also a very on the nose series as writers used environmental concerns, teenage fads of the time eg skateboarding as springboards for new stories. ratings were good, audiences loved the show and it looked like a fourth season was on the cards. In anticipation of this, a new revamp was laid out in the Man Who Couldn’t Die where Diana ended up teamed up with a super chimp and an indestructible man. A new supporting cast were also introduced as Diana was relocated to Los Angeles but t’was not to be. Eager not to be seen as the superhero network, both Spider-man and Wonder Woman were cancelled. However fans could buy their very own doll with fashion outfits which is a hotly sought after collector’s item and before anyone asks, no I haven’t got one – yet.
As I said, Wonder Woman was a series that knew it had to keep evolving to make itself better and more audience friendly. It wasn’t afraid to use fads of the time whether it be disco or fairgrounds Disco Devil and the Phantom of the Rollercoaster, Nazi versions of herself, spies and aliens including one that looked remarkably like a certain Sith Lord, the Zardor. There were threats from time travellers, computer thieves, car thieves, viruses and even the monsters that are sci-fi fans in the episode Spaced Out. But no matter how outlandish the plot, Lynda Carter was taken to the audience’s hearts with her portrayal of the titular character and to this day remains the face of Wonder Woman. She was effortless in distinguishing both Diana Prince and Wonder Woman although how nobody caught her on with that smile that would terrify any toothpaste advert is beyond me, yet remains part of the appeal. The minute she whipped off those Barlow glasses and the famous music started up you knew this girl was about to kick ass. but she also brought a vulnerability to the role which made you believe that maybe Wonder Woman may not be able to save the day. Whether it be against a giant gorilla based on a comic book story, Gargantua, or the Pied Piper, there was always a sense of danger to the character’s safety.
In the two part The Boy Who Knew Her Secret, small silver pyramids are used by aliens to replace people like the Body Snatchers and when Wonder Woman is attacked by the pyramid and she fights to stop her mind being sucked dry, there’s a real sense of danger that she will fall to the alien threat as she battles them inside their own mindscape which is threatening to consume her. Similarly in the Mind Stealers, when she is caught in the crossfire of an alien plot, she is attacked in her home by the Zardor, a Darth Vader-like monster from the Skrill. Aliens were ten a penny for the series making her Earth’s champion in more ways than one. But mankind returned her faith in them when a teenager sees her change but keeps her secret. And through it all you just knew this was as true to the character and the comic books as we were going to get while at the same time being universally appealing to all demographics, making her as successful as the Incredible Hulk to television audiences, something Spider-man couldn’t even do.
And somehow I don’t think anyone will ever take Lynda’s crown, not this side of eternity.