In 1974, I was 16 and curious to see ABC try once again with super-heroes. One fine Tuesday night, I sat at and watched Wonder Woman, horrified at the liberties taken in the backdoor pilot. Cathy Lee Crosby didn’t have the looks or the costume and the most interesting thing about this was Ricardo Montalban as the heavy.
The network somehow still saw the potential in the character and commissioned a more faithful pilot, this time with a comics-accurate costume and perfect casting in Lynda Carter. In the hands of former Batman scribe Stanley Ralph Ross, the show felt right. ABC agreed and a series of Wonder Woman shows were filmed, set in World War II.
This was the beginning of the jiggle era of television, as prime time was filled with busty, often braless actors and they pandered to the women’s movement with female-led shows that didn’t fulfill their promise. Led by Charlie’s Angels and Wonder Woman, ABC favored lip-service to genuine characterization and action over good storytelling. As a result, we have a Wonder Woman series that is fondly recalled more for a catchy theme song and pitch-perfect lead than a good show.
I’m reminded by all this through the Wonder Woman The Complete Collection being released tomorrow for the first time on Blu-ray. Across ten discs, we get all sixty episodes along with special features ported over from the previous DVD release. These include pilot commentary from Carter and Executive Producer Douglas S. Cramer, Season Three commentary from Carter and three featurettes: “Revolutionizing a Classic: From Comic Book to Television”, “Wonder Woman: The Ultimate Feminist Icon”; and “Wonder Woman: The Ultimate Feminist Icon”.
Let’s start with the good news. The remastering makes everything bright and shiny. A series that is colorful in terms of look and performance sparkles. If you haven’t watched the show before or want an upgrade, this affordably priced set is a good investment.
Although the series looked more like the comics, and the pilot, set on Paradise Island, looks very much like Harry G. Peter envisioned. Ross should have brought in more of the villains. One of the joys of the Batman show was, of course, the recurring foes. Other than Baroness Paula Von Gunther (Banacek’s Christine Belford), her rogues are absent. Dr. Poison, Dr. Psycho, and others should have been considered.
On the rare instances that the show revisited Paradise Island, it’s interesting to see the variety of actresses to portray Queen Hippolyta (Cloris Leachman, Carolyn Jones, and Beatrice Straight). We also get a very young Debra Winger as Wonder Girl, oddly named Drusilla, and having zero connection to the Teen Titan.
Instead, we remain in Man’s World as Diana Prince and Steve Trevor (Lyle Waggoner), and company battled the Axis menace wherever it reared its ugly head. They were accompanied by General Blankenship (Richard Eastham) and Corporal Etta Candy WAAC (Beatrice Colen), no longer an overweight sorority girl, because back then, all women had be more average in appearance.
When the series shifted to CBS after one season and set in modern day, it was played far straighter with Waggoner now playing Trevor’s son and no one thought it icky both men romanced the Amazon Princess. Blankenship and Etta were gone, replaced with the colorless Joe Atkinson (Norman Burton). He was gone after nine episodes and Trevor and Diana got promoted, with Atkinson replaced by Eve (Saundra Sharp) as Steve’s assistant. The international espionage angle made it closer to network’s other dramas, reducing its uniqueness.
Like Batman, the final season was the nadir, with a disco beat added to the theme and the stories getting weaker. It proved to be an anomaly on a network schedule that was heavy with cops and family dramas, no other CBS show was led solely by a woman (apparently only the purview of sitcoms). For comic fans on a lonely Friday night, 1978-79 was terrific with Wonder Woman followed by The Incredible Hulk.
Pay attention to the final three episodes, which was an attempted reboot of sorts, but not good enough, airing months after the season officially ended. The overall tone and approach are a marked improvement.
The series rewatch is fun just to catch the guest stars, young and old, some of whom I haven’t seen on anything in ages. There’s Roy Rogers, Gary Burghoff, Red Buttons, Ed Begley Jr., Ron Ely, Dick Gautier, Batman alum Frank Gorshin and Roddy McDowall, Russell Johnson, Gavin MacLeod, and Eve Plumb and her Brady dad Robert Reed. There’s even Martin Mull as the Pied Piper, although this isn’t the Flash’s opponent.
All three seasons ran at a time when all television was vilified for its glorifying of violence, which meant the super-heroics had to be toned down. Fewer punches and more bending of steel. Coupled with the surface female-empowerment, the show did what it could but failed to rise above its competition.
Still, at a time when no one was trying live-action heroes, this was diverting enough. It unfortunately was also the template for the shows that followed, picking up the title character and ignoring the four-color elements that made them so successful (see CBS’ concurrent Spider-Man).
The show is loved for its unique place in pop culture and this collection is a loving tribute. I just wish it featured the strong hero her creator, William Moulton Marston, envisioned, and the times allowed for far better writing.