BURBANK – Plans to remake a popular science fiction show from the 1970s called The Six Million Dollar Man and rename it The Six Billion Dollar Gender-Neutral Person prompted public backlash this week after television viewers intended for the broadcast protested Hollywood’s perceived discrimination against their tastes.
Television producers working for a start-up company called Omnilens announced plans Monday to produce a pilot episode of The Six Billion Dollar Gender-Neutral Person after determining through a focus group that viewers desire a shake-up of the typical milieu of dramas, sitcoms and action series major networks usually offered in their lineup, which led to several members of the focus group criticizing the company following its announcement for the new series for misinterpreting their remarks.
The resulting confusion transformed into a firestorm of controversy that the show’s producers have struggled to manage this week.
“Members of our science fiction focus group told us they wanted a show that was deep, bold, beautiful and imaginative, so we decided to take their advice and go in a whole new direction with the sci-fi genre,” said Jenifer Lang, 52, the executive producer who green-lighted the pilot for The Six Billion Dollar Gender-Neutral Person. “Unfortunately, what our focus group members meant in our meetings seems to have differed slightly from what we provided in our announcement. We’re working hard to address any misunderstanding.”
Art Bellow, 61, retired mechanic, said he was surprised by the producers interpretations of the focus group’s input after five meetings were held with Bellow and dozens of other individuals for the past several months to discuss what science fiction viewers sought in their television programming.
“What Lang said is only partially true,” said Bellow. “We want new shows that are deep, bold, beautiful and imaginative, not knock-offs from yesteryear that maybe earn an easy buck for the networks but provide little of the substance we crave. It’s time Hollywood stop being so Hollyweird and start to offer more original content. After all, anyone – even a sci-fi junkie like me – can only watch so many Spider-Man or Transformer sequels before getting bored.”
Claudia Jones, 26, a graduate student, said she was excited to be part of the focus group but was not impressed when she heard Monday producers planned to make a pilot for a show called The Six Billion Dollar Gender-Neutral Person.
“I went to a high school where there were a few transvestites and lots of gays and lesbians, including me,” said Jones. “I totally appreciate the sensitivity surrounding the sexual rights issue in this country and the need for a broader social conversation about it, and I am just not sure this proposed series is the proper format through which such an important national dialogue should take place.”
In The Six Million Dollar Man, a former astronaut, Colonel Steve Austin, portrayed by actor Lee Majors, has superhuman strength due to bionic implants. Austin is employed as a secret agent by the United States government.
The Six Million Dollar Man was a successful regular episodic TV series on the ABC network for five seasons from 1974 to 1978.
Along with Monday’s announcement, producers provided a teaser for the first episode of The Six Billion Dollar Gender-Neutral Person, currently in production. The teaser featured the main character, Tet, portrayed by actor Pat Willis.
In the show, Tet is a Beverly Hills-based plastic surgeon who has used his own breakthroughs in biotechnology to enhance memory and other cognitive abilities. Tet also can augment skin tone and skeletal-muscular features at will thanks to a series of elective surgeries Tet’s staff performed on the wealthy chief executive officer.
In the show, Tet’s net worth is $6 billion.
Tet’s transhuman qualities make Tet highly adaptable to various social situations and an extremely resourceful business person. The ability to change identity allows Tet to spy on prominent individuals during corporate board meetings, political rallies and celebrity events.
Tet’s knowledge and insight into the inner workings of the American economy earns the gender-neutral person the envy of allies and ire of competitors.
During the teaser, an executive from a rival biotech company confronts Tet at the VIP section of a Morrissey concert. After a brief altercation, the executive kicks Tet in the genitals.
Tet grins as the executive demands, “Well, did that hurt you … you … you bastard? Did that hurt you … you … you bitch? Did that hurt you … you … you whatever the hell you are, or do you even have anything there that can hurt you anymore?”
At that point the words ‘To Be Continued’ appeared on the screen.
David Challs, 32, software engineer, said as a focus group member one issue he might have with a series called The Six Billion Dollar Gender-Neutral Person is that in order to address any issues related to sexuality, including any character’s lack of it, the show’s creators had to be ready to redefine what sexy means for the general public, something Challs believed a large audience could not handle at this time.
“I can imagine one aspect of The Six Million Dollar Man that made it successful was that the show was driven by male bravado, which caters to a large audience then as it still does now,” said Challs. “I am not sure most viewers are ready to abandon traditional notions of sexuality, even for a show that might be deep, bold, beautiful and imaginative. What else can I say? The Six Billion Dollar Gender-Neutral Person is just too wordy and doesn’t have a nice ring to it, at least not yet.”
Challs’ sentiment rang partially true for Rebecca Lynch, 35, stay-at-home mother, who was the only member of the focus group to publicly endorse The Six Billion Dollar Gender-Neutral Person following this week’s outcry of criticism.
“In fifty years, the rich will genetically engineer their offspring in labs, their embryos will grow in artificial wombs, and sexual reproduction as we know it will become obsolete,” said Lynch. “How will we define sexuality then? Who will be the heroes portrayed on screen? Who will be the villains? What will these characters be like as individuals, regardless of their sex or gender or whatever the hell you want to call it – or lack of it?
“I suspect the main issue I will have with The Six Billion Dollar Gender-Neutral Person is that it will turn out to be too ahead of its time.”
Ari Lem, May 8, 2017