“Exo-Man”: This failed 1977 TV pilot featured a wobbly superhero who only used “psychological terror”

By on August 25, 2016

On June 18, 1977, the NBC network aired a two-hour TV pilot called Exo-Man which its creators had hoped would be picked up for a weekly series for the 1977-’78 fall season. Alas, audiences weren’t keen on the idea of a paralyzed university professor who fights crime wearing a laughably clunky “exo” suit that not only enabled him to walk upright but also deflected bullets ahd allowed him to smash through walls like the Kool-Aid Man.

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We thought we’d look back at this somewhat forgotten pilot, from a script written by Henri Simoun and Lionel E. Siegel and based on a story by Martin Caidin, whose Cyborg series of sci-fi novels — the full series comprises Cyborg (1972), Operation Nuke (1973), High Crystal (1974) and Cyborg IV (1975) — had inspired a popular drama for ABC, “The Six Million Dollar Man,” which starred Lee Majors as Steve Austin, as well as it’s spin-off series, “The Bionic Woman,” starring Lindsay Wagner.

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Martin Caidin

Actor David Ackroyd starred in the film as Dr. Nicholas Conrad, a brilliant university physics professor who just happens to be in his bank when a hold-up starts to go down, showing bravery by chasing one of the robbers across the street and holding him for police.

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David Ackyroyd

Turns out, the bank robber is in the mob, who, of course, then announce plans to take him out, which, of course, this being a low-budget TV movie, meant that probably didn’t have a lot of money for things like bullets, so he’s whacked on the back with a lead pipe while doing his laundry.

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José Ferrer

José Ferrer plays the head mobster, Kermit Haas (don’t you love it when mobsters have names like “Kermit”?). That same year, 1977, Ferrer would appear as the Priest of the Brotherhood in the excellent horror flick The Sentinel.

Conrad — now paralyzed below the waist and confined to a wheelchair — is told that if he testifies against the robber in court, the mob’s going to murder his wife (Anne Schedeen).

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Being crippled up and unable to do his work his just makes him mad, and his fear and anger over the mob’s retaliation leads him down the path towards becoming a superhero by completing — with the help of a couple of colleagues — his armoured red exoskeleton suit.

The suit appears to be made a of some sort of hard impenetrable upper-body shell topped by a comically oversized headpiece, which kinda looks like a diver’s helmet.

He seems to be wearing this over a blue leather body suit of some kind, and the whole thing looks like it probably weighed 200 lbs. and it was probably hellaciously hot inside the suit too, that’s our guess.

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When the professor tries it on for size, we see him becoming the Exo-Man of the title.

Alas, he’s not able to walk too fast — forget running — and appears only able to wobble forward at such a slow speed, like a Sleestak, that it seems he could simply tip over at any point.

In addition to providing him with greatly enhanced strength, by the way, the suit requires a semi-portable power-source hauled behind a small truck.

Yes, a truck.

Caidin wrote the first draft for the pilot movie, which was later re-written by another writer before the producer, Lionel E. Siegel, stepped in and cranked out three more drafts, each of them honing in on how the professor dealt with his injury and not being able to walk, which he thought was important to establish early on (we only get to set the actual exo suit a few times).

Caidin, we’re told, took one look at the costume that the exo suit that apparently took ten weeks to develop and cost $100,000 to make, and complained to the people responsible, but was told that the suit was designed by Universal TV’s marketing department with an eye towards mass producing into toy figures, should the series get picked up.

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That series pick-up, of course, never happened, despite relatively good ratings for the movie and adequate promotion by the network when it aired as an installment of “NBC Saturday Night at the Movies” from 8-10pm (both ABC and CBS were airing re-runs that night).

We particularly loved the voiceover in the trailer above telling us that “Exo Man’s main crimefighting tactic was psychological terror. He never actually touched a hair on his enemies heads. All he had to do was show up.”

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.
  • Danny Jones

    OMG. I actually remember watching this when it aired a couple of weeks before I turned eight at my grandmother’s house. It made an impression on me but the wrong kind. I remember finding the suit super creepy and I think I even had a nightmare about it that next week. I hadn’t thought of this forgotten nugget in around forty years.

  • Etone

    Thus the psychological terror. It’s super effective.