TV chronicler tackles original 'Bionic' TV series

Linda Quinlan

Long before the new "Bionic Woman" NBC series debuted on TV this fall, Herbie J Pilato was immersed in television "bionics."

The author of "Bewitched Forever" (2005) and "The Bewitched Book" (1992) has recently had two new books on popular television shows released. One of the books is called "The Bionic Book," and subtitled "The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman Reconstructed."

He says he started "The Bionic Book" in 1993 and finished it in 1995 – long before the new series was conceived. It wasn't until recently that he found a new publisher, BearManor Media, which also has simultaneously released his book on the TV series "Life Goes On." That book is titled "Life Story: The Book of Life Goes On -- TV's First and Best Family Show of Challenge."

"I chose the shows because I wanted to continue the theme that popular TV can be educational," Pilato said. "To me, they (all three shows) teach us to look beyond our differences and to concentrate on what makes us the same."

In the two original bionic series, both from the 1970s, both the title characters, Steve Austin and Jaime Sommers, felt different or isolated, "just like Samantha the witch in 'Bewitched,'" Pilato said. "They were superheroes, but accessible ... people first who happened to be bionic.

"I did this out of love for these shows and out of love for the possibilities of television."

Pilato thinks that TV is an untapped resource for education – and he's not talking just public television or the history channel.

"I like the 'saving grace' in shows," and these three had it, the Irondequoit resident said. He's not so sure about the new "Bionic Woman" series.

"I want it to succeed, but the episodes I've seen so far, it appears to be knocking the original shows," Pilato said. "And one reason 'Spider-Man,' for instance, has been successful is that the (new movies) have respected the mythology of the original comic book, then added the contemporary edge."

Not so with the new bionic series, he said, adding that he believes, "If they want to succeed, they've got to knock off knocking off the old show."

Pilato, who has also written two books on the "Kung Fu" TV series, is now using the half-dozen books to his credit as the basis for a new creation: Media seminars he titled "TV And Self-Esteem." He has been bringing the lecture series to schools, colleges, community, business and senior citizen organizations.

For the latter, he explains, "I wanted to use acting techniques to bring self-esteem to them in a theatrical way ... I want them to feel alive, not neglected."

A caregiver for 15 years, Pilato helped care for his father, who died of lung cancer in 1995; an aunt, who had heart problems and died in 2003; and is now caring for his mother, who has Alzheimer's disease.

It was in 1992 that Pilato released his first book, "Bewitched Forever," a companion to the situation comedy about a witch trying to live a normal family life in suburbia.

Revised editions have come out three times in the past 15 years.  Pilato was also invited to Los Angeles to consult on the motion picture version of "Bewitched."

More than "trivia" books, Pilato says his books talk about the reasons for the shows' popularity.

"The Bionic Book" also includes interviews with the series stars, Lee Majors and Lindsay Wagner. It even includes a foreward by Richard Anderson, who played the bionic duo's supervisor, Oscar Goldman, in the series.

"The Bionic shows were the first to bring back heroes to television after the tumultuous 1960s," he wrote, and "retain a sci-fi element found to a  medical message of home."

Now, Anderson writes, Pilato "retells the story of how it all began and what it's become, and the results are both stoic and sensitive, as if to signify the very essence of Steve and Jaime themselves."

With shows like the "Bionic" series, "Bewitched," "Kung Fu" and "Life Goes On," Pilato said, "writers took the time to develop strong characters."

With "Life Goes On," for instance, "Corky (the main character) put a face on Down's Syndrome and made it mainstream." The show also tackled issues like Aids, he said, "and did more for Aids education in one night than any number of organizations in one year."

It all goes to his point, Pilato said, that TV can have a positive influence.

His next book won't be about a TV series, however, but about his own experiences as a onetime page, in Los Angeles, for NBC.

"It'll be a mock memoir," he said with a grin.

He has also started writing some scripts, admitting that he doesn't watch as much TV today as he used to.

Asked what TV shows today might be worthy of future books, "you've stumped me," he replied.

Pilato's new books may be ordered through most bookstores and Amazon.com, but for a signed copy, you may order them at HerbieJtvbooks@aol.com.