Automan was a science fiction show that ran for 12 (of 13) episodes on ABC from 1983 to 1984. It starred Desi Arnez Jr., Chuck Wagner and Heather McNair. It was produced by prolific television produced Glen A. Larson, who also produced the original Battlestar Galactica, The Fall Guy, Magnum P.I., and Knight Rider.
Automan follows the story of Walter Neibcher, a police department computer programmer who wants to see some of the real action on the street. His superior, Captain Boyd, a technophobe, wants Walter on a desk so he can utilize his computer expertise without having to deal directly with the machine. So Walter creates an artificial intelligence program for an “automatic man” or Automan, which creates a three dimensional hologram that can interact with the real world. He appears as a human head and a body of glowing lights and circuitry boards, which can appear as normal clothing as well. To fool his police colleagues, he creates the identity of “Otto J. Mann”, an FBI friend of Walters’. Automan could wrap himself around Walter, essentially merging with him, and providing him with Automan’s invulnerability. Automan could also manipulate and retrieve computer records.
Automan’s “sidekick” is Cursor, a glowing polyhedron that can literally draw things into reality. The most often created objects are a car, a Lamborghini Courtach, a plane and a helicopter, a modified Bell Jetranger, all of which shared Automan’s blue glowing color scheme. Cursor also created glowing airplanes, guitars and distinctive firearms. Cursor also had the ability to become more mundane objects as a way to hide itself. The vehicles were capable of 90 degree turns, which didn’t affect Automan, but any passengers tended to get thrown around the vehicle. Automan’s weakness was that he used a great deal of electricity and (inexplicably), rarely operated in the daytime.
Walter and Automan got into any number of adventures and Auto’s unfamiliarity with reality caused occasional problems, as when his personality began to change after watching daytime soap operas. Auto had to pose as a male stripper, a vigilante cop, an actor and a criminal all aided by Automan’s camouflage abilities and Cursor. However, Walter was never able to take any credit for the crimes they solved, so he was always destined to be right back in front of his computer screen.
I can’t endorse this show at all. It was absolutely horrible, the acting was ridiculous, and the premises were typical 80’s tripe. The main character’s name was nearly a Yiddish insult, for pity’s sake! The special effects were not only laughable; they were a near rip-off of the movie Tron. And don’t even get me started on how the physics and science behind the show could be dispelled by an 8th grader. The one redeemable part of this is the notion of “What if?” What if this show had been made today, with the computer technology that we have on hand today? Just imagine what Industrial Light and Magic could do with this…no actor in a lit-up suit, but a true manufactured man interacting with the regular actors, pulling off actions that wouldn’t have even been dreamable, let alone executable in the 80’s. Strip the basic premise to its core and rebuilt it with the nuance and attitude of today and give ILM free reign to create and that could truly be a glorious program.