Wonder Woman is an American television series based on the DC Comics comic book character Wonder Woman, created by William Moulton Marston. It starred Lynda Carter as Princess Diana/Diana Prince and Lyle Waggoner as Steve Trevor.
Following an abortive attempt in 1967 to create a series in the mold of the then-popular Batman television series and a pilot film in 1974 with Cathy Lee Crosby and Kaz Garas, Wonder Woman debuted in 1975 on ABC as a television movie set during Wonder Woman's early days of World War II. The success of the film led ABC to order first two more special episodes then 11 additional episodes, which aired in 1976, with the roles recast.
Despite its success on ABC, the network was hesitant about picking up the show as a regular series. The producers took the show to CBS, which did pick up the show as a regular series. Wonder Woman, now set in the present day, would air for two seasons before being removed from the CBS schedule.
The first attempt to translate Wonder Woman to the small screen occurred in 1967. The success of the Batman television series led Batman producer William Dozier to commission a pilot script by Stan Hart and Larry Siegel. A portion of the pilot, under five minutes in length, was filmed under the title Who's Afraid of Diana Prince? The piece starred Ellie Wood Walker (Robert Walker Jr.'s wife) as Diana Prince, Linda Harrison as Diana's Wonder Woman alter ego and Maudie Prickett as Diana's mother.
As with Batman, the reel took a comic slant on the character, although while the Batman character himself was played straight, in the proposed series Diana Prince (not Wonder Woman) would have been the focus of the comedy. Diana, an awkward and rather plain young woman, lives with her mother close to a U.S. Air Force base. Much of the film consists of her mother berating Diana about not having a boyfriend. When her mother leaves the room, Diana changes into her Wonder Woman costume and admires her reflection in a mirror. What she sees is not Diana Prince, but rather a sexy super-heroic figure (played by Linda Harrison) who proceeds to preen and pose as the song "Oh, You Beautiful Doll" plays on the soundtrack. The pilot ends with Diana climbing out a window and flying away, indicating that, despite her apparent delusions regarding her alter ego, she does have some super powers. This pilot episode was never broadcast and the project was taken no further. The pilot has been circulated on the Internet and is of interest to Planet of the Apes fans for the early appearance of Linda Harrison, who would later go on to play Nova in the first two films of that series.
Wonder Woman's first actual broadcast appearance was as a guest in an episode of The Brady Kids cartoon series in 1972, entitled "It's All Greek to Me". The Brady kids meet Wonder Woman and together they find themselves accidentally transported back to the time of the Ancient Olympic Games. The kids plan to compete in the marathon and beat the Greek athletes to qualify for the race. Wonder Woman convinces the kids to disqualify themselves, explaining that if they win the race they will change the course of history.
Shortly thereafter Wonder Woman was included in the Super Friends cartoon series, which eventually enjoyed a long and successful run.
Wonder Woman's first appearance in live-action television was a television movie made in 1974 for ABC. Written by John D. F. Black, the film, a pilot prepared for the 1974 television season, resembles the Wonder Woman of the "I Ching period." Wonder Woman (Cathy Lee Crosby) did not wear the comic book costume, demonstrated no superhuman abilities and her "secret identity" of Diana Prince was not all that secret. The film follows Wonder Woman, assistant to government agent Steve Trevor (Kaz Garas) as she pursues a villain named Abner Smith (Ricardo Montalban) who has stolen a set of code books containing classified information about U.S. government field agents.
The pilot aired originally on March 12, 1974 and was repeated on August 21 of that year. Ratings were described as "respectable but not exactly wondrous." ABC did not pick up the pilot, although Crosby would later claim she was offered the series that was eventually given to Lynda Carter. An ABC spokesperson would later acknowledge that the decision to update the character was a mistake and the pilot itself has been labeled one of the "hundred dumbest events in television."
Though not successful at the first attempt, ABC still felt a Wonder Woman series had potential, and within a year another pilot was in production. Keen to make a distinction from the last pilot, the pilot was given the rather paradoxical title The New Original Wonder Woman.
Scripting duties were given to Stanley Ralph Ross, who was instructed to be more faithful to the comic book and to create a subtle "high comedy." Ross set the pilot in World War II, the era in which the original comic book began.
After an intensive talent search, a former beauty pageant winner and Bob Hope USO cast member from Arizona named Lynda Carter was chosen to play the lead role. For the role of Steve Trevor, the producers chose Lyle Waggoner, who at the time was better known as a comedic actor after several years co-starring in The Carol Burnett Show. He was also known to Ross as having been one of the leading candidates to play Batman a decade earlier. Waggoner was also considered a pin-up hunk, having done a semi-nude pictorial in the first issue of Playgirl.
Although the pilot followed the original comic book closely, in particular the aspect of Wonder Woman joining the military under the assumed name of Diana Prince, a number of elements were dropped. While the comic Diana obtains the credentials of a look-a-like nurse, in the pilot Diana Prince appears as a Navy enlisted woman (First Class Petty Officer Yeoman) without explanation. The ancient myths and legends which formed many of the early Wonder Woman comic book stories were lost too, in favour of more conventional stories involving Nazis. And, on a minor note, Steve Trevor was no longer blonde, but dark haired.
One change which was later to become synonymous with the show was the twirling transformation which dissolved Diana Prince into Wonder Woman. Lynda Carter claims to have suggested the move herself.
For television, Wonder Woman also had the ability to impersonate anyone's voice, which sometimes came in handy over the phone. This ability vanishes after the first few episodes.
Unlike the earlier pilot, the comic book origins of the character were emphasized not only by the retention of the character's traditional costume and original setting but through the use of comic book elements. The series' title sequence was animated in the form of a series of comic book panels featuring Wonder Woman performing a variety of heroic feats. Within the show, location and exposition were handled through comic book-style text panels. Transitions between scenes and commercial breaks were marked by animated starburst sequences.
During World War II, Major Steve Trevor bails out during an air battle over the Bermuda Triangle, location of Paradise Island. The island is home to the Amazons, beautiful, ageless women with great strength, agility, and intelligence. Amazon princess Diana rescues Trevor and nurses him back to health. Her mother, the Amazon queen (Cloris Leachman), decrees that games shall be held to select one Amazon to return Trevor to the United States, but she forbids Diana to participate. Diana enters the contest in disguise (a blond wig), and ties for first. The contest is decided through "Bullets and Bracelets," where each of the two take turns shooting at the other, who must try to deflect the bullets. Diana successfully deflects all the shots at her, but her opponent is injured by one of Diana's shots. Diana removes her wig and reveals her identity, and proclaims her loyalty and love to her people, her queen and mother. Her mother agrees to send her with her blessing.
Her costume is designed to feature American emblems in the hope that she will be accepted in her new home and her golden belt will be her source of strength and power. She retains her bracelets, which deflect bullets, and also receives a golden lasso which is indestructible and forces people to obey and tell the truth when bound. Diana is now known as "Wonder Woman," and flies to Washington, D.C. in an invisible plane. After dropping Trevor off at a hospital, the heroine stumbles upon a bank robbery, which she stops. A theatrical agent who sees her in action invites her to take her Bullets and Bracelets act on the road as a theatrical attraction. Diana is hesitant, but she needs money in this society, so she agrees.
Meanwhile, Trevor's civilian secretary, Marcia (Stella Stevens), is revealed as a double agent for the Nazis. She seeks to aid top spies in killing Trevor and opposing the new threat, Wonder Woman, although her first attempt — arranging for an audience member to fire a machine gun at Wonder Woman during her stage show act — backfires when the Amazon easily deflects the multiple bullets. Later, at the hospital, Diana disguises herself as a nurse in order to keep an eye on Steve. As spy activities increase, Trevor leaves the hospital and is captured, prompting his "nurse" to do a spin in the hall where she slowly peels off uniform parts and replaces them with her Wonder Woman costume, before heading off to rescue him. Wonder Woman defeats the villainess and the spies, breaking up the spy ring. The film closes as Steve meets his new secretary, Yeoman Diana Prince (Wonder Woman in disguise).
These episodes scored strong enough ratings that ABC commissioned a further 11 episodes for the 1976-77 season, several of which were used to fill in for the Bionic Woman television show when production on that show had to be suspended while its star, Lindsay Wagner, recovered from a car accident. Notably, two stories (one of them a two parter) introduced Debra Winger as Wonder Girl, in one of her first on-screen roles.
Few changes were made between the pilot episode and specials and the series itself. The most memorable change, indeed what became the 'signature moment' of the show, was the introduction of an explosion effect to the twirling transformation, to change Diana Prince into her super-heroic counterpart. This magical sequence, which appeared at least once in most episodes, has been incorporated into both the comic book and animated versions of the character.
In the original pilot and specials this sequence was performed by fading between two synchronized shots, both filmed with an over-cranked camera to create a slow motion effect. A twirling Diana would gradually dissolve into Wonder Woman. But this sequence was too expensive, in time and money, to maintain. A camera would need to be 'locked off' (secured in place), and Carter's costume, make up and hair altered between shooting the two segments which made up the sequence. The "thunderclap" was added to mask the join between the two segments, allowing each segment to be shot independently, without need for a locked off camera, at more convenient points in the shooting schedule. Apparently, the sound effect is only audible to the audience and to Diana; she uses this change adjacent to a dormitory of sleeping women, in adjoining office spaces, backstage at a live show, in the woods behind a crowd of soldiers, and other locations where she would attract attention if the "boom" was heard. Additionally, there was a scene where she was explaining to Wonder Girl about her dual identity. During this scene, she started off in her "Wonder Woman" costume, then she started to spin. The camera cut to Wonder Girl for a moment, then cut back to Wonder Woman, who was now back in her Diana Prince military uniform. This transformation was not accompanied by any sound or light effects.
Another change involved the relationship between Steve Trevor and Wonder Woman. Although Carter and Waggoner had good chemistry, it was decided to play down the romantic aspects found in the comic, and, ultimately, the characters remained simply good friends. Executive producer Douglas S. Cramer noted the difficulties inherent in maintaining long-term romantic tension between leads, with the resolution of that tension often resulting in the cancellation of the series.
The series began at a time when violence on television was under intense scrutiny. As a result, Wonder Woman was less frequently shown punching or kicking people the way she did in the early episodes. The character would usually be shown pushing and throwing enemies, or using creativity to get them to somehow knock themselves out (jumping high into the air causing pursuers to collide). Despite the wartime circumstances, the character never resorted to deadly force (the only exception occurs in the pilot film when she sinks a Nazi submarine with an explosive plane, although the fate of the sailors aboard is never actually specified).
Wonder Woman herself was occasionally defeated by the Nazis, but she always came back in the second half of the show to save the day. Among the things the Nazis used on her were chloroform and poison gas. Her enemies also occasionally stole away her belt (leaving her without her super strength), her lasso, and her bracelets (leaving her defenseless against gunfire), but Wonder Woman always recovered the respective stolen component by the end of the episode.
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Despite strong ratings, ABC stalled on commissioning a second season causing the show's frustrated production company Warner Bros. to offer Wonder Woman to CBS. While ABC dithered, CBS took the series on condition that the setting be switched to the modern day. Changing the title to The New Adventures of Wonder Woman, the series was nudged away from sophisticated humour towards a more conventional action/adventure take.
Diana Prince, ageless due to her Amazon nature, returns from Paradise Island after a 35-year absence to become an agent with the Inter-Agency Defense Command (IADC), a CIA-like organization fighting criminals and the occasional alien invasion. Infrequent references to her World War II experiences were made in early episodes.
The theme song was re-written to remove references to the Axis, reflecting the series' new present-day setting, and the action depicted in the opening's animated comic book panels was similarly updated. Beginning with the episode "The Man Who Made Volcanoes", the opening title sequence was changed again to an instrumental and more traditional "action scenes" opening.
Trevor was promoted to a desk job midway through the season, leaving Diana to go out on missions alone in most episodes. By this time, Diana was no longer simply Trevor's assistant, but was now an accomplished solo agent.
Unlike the first season, Wonder Woman's sources of power (her belt, bracelets and lasso) were never stolen by villains in any of the CBS episodes.
Several other changes occurred as the second season progressed. Joe Atkinson (Normann Burton), a weathered IADC agent, was dropped after the ninth episode, as was a regular segment showing Diana, Steve and Joe receiving orders from a "Charlie"-like character who is heard but never seen. Midway through the season, this was replaced with regular briefings by IRAC (or more familiarly, "Ira"), IADC's super-intelligent computer, who deduces Diana's secret identity. Saundra Sharp joined the cast as Eve, Steve's assistant (the job held by Diana at the start of the season). Near the end of the season, in the episode "IRAC is Missing," a tiny robot called Rover was added for comic relief. An offshoot of IRAC who performs duties such as delivering coffee and sorting mail, Rover speaks with a high-pitched voice, occasionally makes "Beep Beep" sounds (borrowed from the Road Runner cartoon series) and, like IRAC, is aware that Diana Prince and Wonder Woman are one and the same.
The character of Wonder Woman maintained her no-kill policy, although there were exceptions: in the episode "Anschluss '77" she destroys a clone of Adolf Hitler, and another episode made reference to a villain who was believed drowned following a previous unseen encounter with Diana/Wonder Woman.
Multiple costumes are introduced. Wonder Woman still wears the red-white-and-blue cape for special events or appearances from the first season, but without the skirt. A diving costume is introduced, a navy-blue lycra body suit with matching gloves, gold bracelets, flat boots, and a flexible tiara is featured whenever aquatic activity is necessary. The same costume, with low-heeled boots and a gold helmet, is used to ride motorcycles.
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Wonder Woman was also allowed to become a bit more physical in the third season and could now be seen throwing the occasional punch or kicking. The writers also came up with several unusual ways for Diana to execute her spinning transformation, one of the most notable occurring in the episode "Stolen Faces" in which Diana makes the change while falling off a tall building.
Diana's powers were also increased, particularly in the third season episode "Deadly Dolphin" in which she is shown communicating telepathically with animals and generating "bursts" of some sort to scare away a killer shark.
The animated stars used before and after commercial breaks were dropped.
The show continued to gather a strong audience. In the final episode produced, the writers attempted a "relaunch" of sorts by having Diana reassigned to the Los Angeles bureau of IADC with a new supporting cast and Steve Trevor, whose presence had decreased throughout the season, was finally written out of the series. This new take on the format lasted for merely a single episode ("The Man Who Could Not Die"), which set up an assortment of new supporting characters, including Bryce Candall, an indestructible man (the titular character of the episode), as well as a streetwise youngster named T. Burton Phipps III who for some unexplained reason is allowed to hang out at the IADC. Also added to the cast was a chimpanzee who like Bryce, is also indestructible.
CBS ultimately decided to strengthen its sitcom offerings and Wonder Woman was suspended from the network schedule, though it was never formally cancelled.
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|DVD Name||Ep #||Release Date||Details|
|The Complete 1st Season||14||June 29 2004||All 14 episodes (including the pilot) with commentary by Lynda Carter and executive producer Douglas S. Cramer; New documentary retrospective.|
|The Complete 2nd Season||22||March 1 2005||21 episodes plus a feature-length season premiere; Bonus documentary: "Revolutionizing a Classic: From Comic Book to Television."|
|The Complete 3rd Season||24||June 7 2005||Audio Commentary by Lynda Carter on "My Teenage Idol is Missing"; Featurette:"Wonder Woman: The Ultimate Feminist Icon."|