By EW Staff
Updated August 18, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT
Alan Zenuk

9-10 PM · NBC · Debuts Sept. 26

You can forget that nuhnuhnuh sound: NBC’s reimagining of the Bionic Woman franchise is nothing like the cheese-splattered, slo-mo-heavy 1976-78 Lindsay Wagner show. The new story of Jaime Sommers is the dark fable of a bartender who’s plunged into an underground fighting force after a horrific accident. Their technology saves her life and gives her incredible superpowers, yet also puts her in the (electronic) sights of a rogue bionic subject (Battlestar Galactica‘s Katee Sackhoff) who may want her dead. It’s a tale filled with both reluctance and revenge. ”We’re trying to say something a little more interesting,” explains exec producer David Eick (also of Battlestar Galactica), who cites the Sopranos mythos as one influence for Bionic 2.0.

With those denser themes comes thick discussion of the meaning behind the new incarnation. ”Accepting that women can do what men can do, how do we feel about that?” asks Eick, while exec producer Glen Morgan (The X-Files) looks around at folks using Bluetooth and GPS, then wonders, ”How much are we machine?” Guest star Isaiah Washington (who will appear in five episodes starting Oct. 3 as an operative who encourages Jaime to embrace her inner cyborg) sees other social commentary: ”Her life doesn’t belong to her anymore. She’s saying ‘I’ve gotta have all these guys telling me what to do with my own body?”’ But for the Bionic Woman herself — 23-year-old British newcomer Michelle Ryan (BBC’s EastEnders) — the heart of the series is simple: ”People either expect you to be weak or a bitch. And actually, there are lots of women who are strong and nice.”

It’s taken some reshoots and recasting to balance all those heady concepts and make an hour of TV that’s just plain fun. ”It’s a science-fiction story about someone who became half robot when they didn’t want to be,” Morgan says. ”That has a dark lining, but it’s dark if our stories are without hope, and that’s not gonna be the case.” A further adjustment was the controversial addition of Washington, one of the first major moves by Ben Silverman in his new post as NBC’s entertainment co-chairman. The network and studio brass are confident the former Grey’s Anatomy star’s presence — and past — will not be a distraction for viewers. ”In one-hour-series TV, people watch characters [not actors],” says Universal Media Studios president Katherine Pope. ”Whatever is going on with the person will disappear.”

But producers know that ultimately their fortunes lie squarely on the robotic shoulders of their title character and new leading lady. ”There’s something very effortlessly winning about Michelle,” says Eick. ”And I love that, because I now get to make her do unlikable things and get away with it.” On location in Vancouver, Ryan is training heavily to prepare for all that unlikable ass-kicking to come — and relating to Jaime’s struggles. ”I’m living on my own for the first time, and taking on this huge job,” she says. ”I think I’m realizing more and more that there’s no going back.” —Whitney Pastorek