As a drawn character, Wonder Woman turned 75 this month. Despite her considerable ups and downs in the world of comic books, let’s celebrate another 75 associated with her: the year 1975, when the Wonder Woman TV show debuted as a mid-season replacement for ABC.
In 1975, the Vietnam War ended, the Watergate scandal continued, and the country was at a social tipping point. The U.N. declared it the International Year of Women, and yet the trend known as “jiggle TV” was about to start with Charlie’s Angels and Three’s Company the next season. Somewhere in between, Lynda Carter spun onto television sets and became the ultimate Wonder Woman icon for a generation.
Although the network brass wanted “a beauty queen” and chose Carter for her appearance, her style, strength, and innocence as an Amazon princess captured little girls’ imaginations. According to Tim Hanley in Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World’s Most Famous Heroine, not many girls saw Wonder Woman in the comics in the 1970s. Even if they did, the stories didn’t highlight her as a strong role model like the TV show would do. Television took the simple stance that Wonder Woman was good and villains were evil; no matter what happened, Wonder Woman would prevail. Girls didn’t have many superheroes to admire, and Diana Prince’s true self was instantly appealing. Carter may have been in a tight outfit but as Wonder Woman, she represented much more, as the first season’s theme song stated: “In your satin tights/fighting for your rights/and the ol’ Red, White, and Blue.”
As the show progressed, the word “your” was replaced with “our” to water down any feminist message, but it didn’t matter. She fought evil, both serious (Nazis, of course) and ridiculous (cattle rustlers and disco-based telepaths? Really?) and always emerged victorious. No matter what the villains or the network threw at her, including the ’70s standby of infiltrating a beauty pageant, she took the high road and made an impression. We already knew we could be Diana Prince, humble and unassuming. While we were in our backyards, spinning ourselves dizzy, we were also learning that we could be strong and heroic too. Between the live-action TV show and the animated Justice League of America cartoon, Wonder Woman was here to stay, and we wanted to be just like her, then and now.
The show only lasted three seasons, but since then we’ve measured every live-action Wonder Woman against Lynda Carter. No one has been able to equal her, although we have our fingers crossed for Gal Gadot to inspire another generation of girls to be bold and follow their dreams. To every incarnation of Wonder Woman for the next 75 years, we quote again from the theme: “All our hopes are pinned upon you/and the magic that you do.”