When people think of superheroes, they often have their favourite interpretations. For Batman, some people may think of Michael Keaton, while others may remember Adam West more fondly. The same situation applies with Superman, ranging from Christopher Reeve to Henry Cavill or from George Reeves to Tom Welling. However, when people think of Wonder Woman they often associate her with Lynda Carter's unforgettable portrayal of the character from the 1970's TV Series. To this day, there has never been a version of the character that has come close to Carter's. With Gal Gadot's upcoming appearance in Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, (which will lead to her own feature film) I'm going to take a look back at the on-screen history of the character, highlighting the reasons why nobody will ever come close to knocking Lynda Carter from memory.
In the beginning...
People often forget that Lynda Carter was not the first actress to portray Wonder Woman. The first attempt at an on-screen Wonder Woman came in the form of a 1967 TV pilot, entitled Who's Afraid of Diana Prince? Commissioned by the creators of the hugely successful Batman TV series, the pilot mimicked the tongue-in-cheek tone of Batman and was more comedic than dramatic. Wonder Woman/Diana Prince was a shell of her comic book persona and appeared obsessed with her 'beauty', spending most of the short admiring herself in the mirror. Mockingly, the reflection is a more attractive Wonder Woman (played by Linda Harrison), perhaps alluding to the unjust stereotypes associated with women during the time period. Similarly, Diana's mother mentions being disgraced by the fact that her daughter was unmarried, reflecting the social norms of the time. Thankfully, the series never saw the light of day. It's somehow satisfying to know that Who's Afraid of Diana Prince? was shelved. Wonder Woman is associated with being a strong female icon and this pilot completely missed the point of the character, undermining her all on the basis of her being female.
The first serious attempt at Wonder Woman came several years later in the form of the 1974 TV movie Wonder Woman, starring Cathy Lee Crosby. Barely resembling the comic book character, Crosby had blonde hair and wore a full body suit. The characterisation was completely different, Wonder Woman was more agent that superhero and never exhibited any super human abilities. Despite being a huge improvement from the 1967 attempt, Crosby's Wonder Woman never really took off. Ratings were described as "respectable but not exactly wondrous."
Originally comissioned as a potential pilot, this TV movie has since been released on DVD. An ABC spokesperson would later acknowledge that the decision to update the character was a mistake. However, the network showed continued interest in the character and almost immediately put another pilot into production. This one would change the character of Wonder Woman forever.
"You're a wonder, Wonder Woman"
ABC quickly put a new Wonder Woman movie into production. Unlike the first attempt, they remained truthful to the comic book character, setting the narrative during the Second World War. The pilot would see the character leave her native home of Paradise Island and travel to Washington, to protect the world from the Nazis. Lynda Carter was chosen to play the title character and the TV movie premiered to huge success, prompting ABC to order several more special episodes. It appeared to be third time lucky for Wonder Woman, as ABC eventually gave the show a weekly slot. In the series, Wonder Woman would assume the secret identity of Yeoman First Class Diana Prince, working for the War Department alongside Major Steve Trevor. When the country was under attack, Diana would transform into Wonder Woman and swoop in to save the day.
The weekly plots consisted of Wonder Woman taking on Nazi's or Nazi sympathisers. Apparently due to a lot of effort from Carter herself, Diana often showed initiative and intelligence, highlighting that she should not be held back due to her gender (an important characteristic that Who's Afraid of Diana Prince? clearly overlooked). Carter became a sex symbol and a star. Moreover, Carter is responsible for creating the spin transformation that is now so synonymous with the Wonder Woman character. The spin has even been used in Justice League Unlimited.
Despite being a ratings success, ABC was reluctant to renew the series for a second season. Their reasoning was that, despite the success, Wonder Woman was a period piece and remained expensive to recreate the 1940's setting. While ABC made up it's mind, Warner Bros listened to an offer from rival network CBS, who agreed to pick the series up only if the setting was updated to the then current 1970's. The series was retitled The New Adventures of Wonder Woman and Carter's outfit was updated, becoming more sexy and less conservative. The character became less naive and well aware that she could use her beauty to persuade people to talk. Originally mirroring the first season's comic-like approach, the series eventually dropped all comic references, including the animated credits and began to resemble more of a procedural detective drama (as was common with shows during the 1970's). Diana Prince's dowdy disguise was also eventually dropped and, this time around, she worked for the Inter Agency Defence Command (or IADC for short).
Aftermath and Legacy
The series finished it's run after three seasons with sixty episodes produced. To this day, it remains the most successful on-screen attempt at the character. Several years ago, there were rumours of a Wonder Woman film, with Joss Whedon at the helm, that never came to fruition. Adrianne Palicki plays Wonder Woman in a 2011 unaired TV pilot that would have become a series. The network did not pick it up. It was also panned by critics and fans alike after it was leaked online.
Lynda Carter's Wonder Woman redefined what it meant to be a female superhero. Following on from what Yvonne Craig accomplished a decade earlier in Batman, Carter provided a female role model who could stand toe-to-toe with men, proving that her gender difference did not put her at a disadvantage but gave her the upper hand. As well as the super-heroine, Diana Prince (specifically the CBS reincarnation) highlighted how a woman could hold a high profile job in a profession that was often considered to be male dominated. The series spat in the face of Who's Afraid of Diana Prince? by highlighting that women could be bold, beautiful and intelligent. Carter's Wonder Woman had both brains and beauty, whereas the earlier incarnation appeared to have neither.
The show is still considered revolutionary as Carter's Wonder Woman was the first time ever that a female superhero had a show of her own. Moreover, the series is still in syndication around the world, being shown on MeTV in the US and on the horror channel in the UK. Supergirl star Melissa Benoist has said her own series is the first time that a female superhero has helmed her own show since Wonder Woman. Moreover, Supergirl borrows several elements from the Wonder Woman series, most notably Kara's disguise is reminiscent of Diana Prince's. Marvel's Agent Carter also bares several similarities to the series, specifically the 1940's setting, as well as Peggy's playful sarcasm with her colleagues. Furthermore, the incredibly popular Justice League animated series incorporated the spin transformation into the character of Wonder Woman. Lynda Carter's Wonder Woman continues to be a pop culture icon, being mentioned in several TV series, including Queer as Folk. British soap opera EastEnders continues to make several references each year as one of the soaps main characters is called Linda Carter (played by Kellie Bright). On more than one occasion, she has even dressed up as the superhero. The show is still prevalent with the online community too, as several of the fan-made posters that emerge online feature Carter's Wonder Woman opposite fan favourites such as Christian Bale's Batman and Henry Cavill's Superman.
Another point of interest is the show's availability: Wonder Woman has been widely available on home video format for many years. During the 1990's, almost every episode was released on VHS format which was unheard of at the time (Complete collections and boxsets are still relatively new). The three episodes that were omitted from the VHS collection contained musical performances from artists, suggesting that their omission was for copyright reasons. As the DVD format overtook VHS, Warner Home Video released two single DVD's called The New Adventures of Wonder Woman. Each DVD contained six episodes from the CBS series (season two). Two years later, all three seasons of Wonder Woman were released on DVD, complete with special features and behind-the-scenes documentaries. This set included every episode. More recently, all sixty episodes have been remastered in 16:9 HD widescreen (the show was filmed for 4:3 television sets, as was the norm in the 1970's), meaning that new audiences can discover the show for generations to come. This HD version of the series is currently available for purchase on iTunes.
As of 2015, the show was somewhat resurrected in the form of the new comic series Wonder Woman '77. Lynda Carter allowed the series to use her likeness. The comic does a great job of capturing the tone of the CBS series, following the adventures of Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor. Wonder Woman '77 has been praised and has proven popular with fans of the series. The series is still on going.
Despite all the on-screen failures surrounding the character, Lynda Carter made Wonder Woman a worldwide cultural phenomenon. Her portrayal not only did 'wonders' for the character, but it gave women a role model, conveying that females are equally as powerful as males, showing that women could stand out in a male dominated society. Wonder Woman proved that womankind "is stronger than ever" and Carter made the character a female icon. Isn't that what Wonder Woman is all about?
We are all eagerly awaiting Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman, who is set to make her first appearance in Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice. Considering that the character has had more on-screen failures than any other superhero, this could go either way. Despite being optimistic that Gadot will be great, I know one thing for sure: What Lynda Carter did for the character, and ultimately what she did for the portrayal of women and female superheroes, is why she will forever maintain the crown as the one true Wonder Woman.