Wonder Woman Film/TV

Tagged: TV

Media adaptations began with a variously named US tv series (1974-1979) and its pilot films, all based on Wonder Woman, the Comic book created by William Moulton Marston for DC Comics in 1942. Warner Bros TV for ABC, then for CBS. The complex Television production history falls into three parts, being sections 1 to 3 below.

1. Wonder Woman. US tv film (1974 tvm). ABC/Warner. Produced by John G Stephens. Executive producer John D F Black. Directed by Vincent McEveety. Written by Black. Cast includes Cathy Lee Crosby, Kaz Garas, Ricardo Montalban and Andrew Prine. circa 75 minutes. Colour.

Unsuccessful ABC series pilot. Sent from an all-woman Island community of Immortals to persuade the outside world that it should recognize women's sensitivity over the crassness of men, Wonder Woman (Crosby) becomes secretary to Trevor (Garas) – who knows much of her secret – at the US War Department, taking the name Diana Prince. She recovers stolen lists of spies from international arch-crook Abner Smith (Montalban) and his psychopathic sidekick George Calvin (Prine). The plot is complicated by Angela, another woman from the island, who has come into our world intent on crime. The fantasy elements in this cheaply made movie almost always occur off-screen; Wonder Woman's Superpowers are restricted to keen vision, skill in martial arts and general strongness; her secretarial role numbingly reflects the corrosive sexism of the time. Aside from the fantasy premise, this is barely distinguishable from other trendy spy/crime capers of the time. [JGr]

2. The New, Original Wonder Woman. US tv film (1975). Bruce Lansbury Productions/Douglas S Cramer Company/Warner Bros/ABC. Produced by Douglas S Cramer. Directed by Leonard J Horn. Written by Stanley Ralph Ross. Cast includes Lynda Carter, Cloris Leachman, John Randolph (General Philip Blankenship), Stella Stevens (Marcia) and Lyle Waggoner. 90 minutes. Colour.

This second pilot movie based on Wonder Woman – the first was 1 above – returned to the original World War Two setting and look of the early DC Comics books. While flying over the Bermuda Triangle, US pilot Steve Trevor (Waggoner) is forced to bail out over supposedly empty ocean. Luckily, he lands on the uncharted Paradise Island, the hidden home of the Lost Race of Amazons, and their Queen (Leachman) holds a contest to find a warrior to return with him to fight the Nazis. The winner is Princess Diana (Carter), who as the Queen's daughter must compete wearing a mask and who reveals herself only after winning. She takes the identity of Diana Prince, an aide to Trevor, and together they battle to stop a deadly Nazi plot.

This movie was far more successful than its predecessor, due largely to the casting of Lynda Carter in the lead role, for her skimpy costume helped draw the desired male audience. One of the more memorable effects was the transformation from Diana Prince to Wonder Woman – a rapid spinning, so fast that she blurred, which returned the Amazon warrior to her true Identity. The story continued the following year in the series The Adventures of Wonder Woman. [BC]

3. The Adventures of Wonder Woman. US tv series (1976-1979; vt The New Adventures of Wonder Woman). Douglas S Cramer Company/Bruce Lansbury Productions/Warner Bros/ABC, CBS. Produced by Wilfred Lloyd Baumes, Charles B Fitzsimons, Mark Rodgers; supervising produced Bruce Lansbury; executive producers Baumes, Douglas S Cramer; directed by Jack Arnold, Bruce Bilson, Michael Caffey, Barry Crane, Leonard J Horn and many others. Writers: Alan Brennert and many others. Cast includes Lynda Carter, Carolyn Jones (Queen 1976-1977), Ed Begley Jr (Harold Farnum), Cloris Leachman (Queen 1976-1977), Beatrice Straight (Queen 1977-1979), Lyle Waggoner and Debra Winger (Drusilla/Wonder Girl 1976-1977). 59 60-minute episodes. Colour.

The series began by continuing the successful formula of the second pilot movie – 2 above – and is initially set during World War Two. Most of the early plots centre on battles against the Nazis – who in one episode create their own Wonder Woman – and against saboteurs and spies. Following thirteen episodes on ABC, the series moved to CBS, where it was re-titled The New Adventures of Wonder Woman. With the change of networks, the setting became the present. The new story begins with Steve Trevor's son, Steve Jr (both conveniently played by Waggoner), crashlanding on Paradise Island. Wonder Woman returned there after the war, but Steve brings her back to fight a new set of Villains.

Once again Wonder Woman (Carter), bringing with her a golden belt (for strength) and a golden lariat allowing her control over those she lassoes, adopts the disguise of Diana Prince. Both she and Steve work as agents of IADC, the Inter-Agency Defense Council, fighting a wide variety of problems. Several stories deal with mind-enslaving Aliens; others feature a Telekinetic Japanese soldier who does not know the war is over, political blackmailers, a Mad Scientist who can create volcanoes, and a Time Traveller taking advantage of Wonder Woman's knowledge of the past. Perhaps the most unusual episode finds her helping a leprechaun recover his stolen gold. When the new version appeared, the ongoing comic, which had been shifted back to the past to parallel the series, was returned to the present.

The ABC series The Adventures of Wonder Woman was perhaps the best of Wonder Woman's three television phases; its writers included Jimmy Sangster, and its directors Herb Wallerstein and Stuart Margolin. It was scheduled erratically by ABC, so never really had a chance to win an audience. The less absorbing The New Adventures of Wonder Woman from CBS was shown on a regular schedule, and became the most commercially successful phase; it was the version that was most widely circulated outside the USA. Writers included Stephen Kandel and Anne Collins. In both these phases Wonder Woman appears a figure of fantasy remote from William Moulton Marston's original conception [see Wonder Woman for details], rather resembling a busty, glitzy cheerleader. As with so much sf on Television, there was an air of camp Parody about the whole thing (rather as in the Batman series whose great success 1966-1968 set the pattern for this sort of Superhero-on-tv enterprise); it might be noted, however, that mocking female pretensions (see Feminism) from a position of power has a radically different effect than guys spoofing guys. [BC/PN]

4. Wonder Woman (2009). Warner Bros direct-to-DVD animated feature. Directed by Lauren Montgomery. Written by Gaile Simone and Michael Jelenic. Cast includes Nathan Fillion, Alfred Molina and Keri Russell. 75 minutes. Colour.

This film is loosely based on the Wonder Woman continuity of the 1987 DC Comics reboot under George Pérez (1954-    ), in particular the "Gods and Mortals" story arc, leading to such Science and Sorcery bizarreness as the War god Ares (voiced by Molina) leading an army of the undead – including Wonder Woman's (Russell's) own long-deceased Amazon kin – in an assault on Washington, District of Columbia. In retaliation the US President, mistaking the origin of the threat, orders a nuclear strike on Paradise Island (now renamed Themyscira) which is narrowly averted by Steve Trevor (Fillion) in the traditional invisible jet plane. All eventually ends well. The novelization is Wonder Woman (2009) by S D Perry. [DRL]

see also: Joss Whedon.


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