An engineer creates a robot that looks like a human girl and, despite her decidedly monotone voice, herculean strength and the fact that she never changes clothes, passes her off as his adopted daughter, with his friends and neighbors none the wiser. As TV premises go, it’s got to be one of the silliest. The storylines, dialog and set dressing were equally as corny. Yet, “Small Wonder” resonated with audiences and became something of a cult favorite. As writer Mel Sherer said of the show, which aired from 1985 to 1989, “It was just so obviously not good that there was no way of fixing it. The ratings confounded us.”
The girl robot at the center of the story is Vicki (Tiffany Brissette), or V.I.C.I., which her “father” Ted Lawson (Richard Christie) explains stands for Voice Input Child Identicant. As the theme song tells us, “She’s fantastic, made of plastic,” though Ted informs his wife, Joan (Marla Pennington), and their son, Jamie (Jerry Supiran), that she is actually built from a synthetic material used for artificial limbs that feels just like skin.
Frothy construct aside, “Small Wonder” was somewhat groundbreaking in both its genre (comedy science fiction sitcom) and its production. Created for first-run syndication by television stalwart Howard Leeds, the show served as a guinea pig for the New Program Group (a conglomeration of independent TV stations headed up by Metromedia Television), as cable channels set out to create original programming in the mid-80s. The first of its kind, “Small Wonder” proved a successful experiment, quickly becoming one of the highest-rated syndicated series and a far more economical option for New Program Group than paying to air reruns of other networks’ shows.
“Small Wonder” was also unusual in that it did not make use of establishing shots or many locales outside of the Lawson home (which was just a set built at the now-defunct Metromedia Square in Hollywood). In fact, the only actual location to regularly appear on the series was United Robotronics, the electronics company where Ted worked, which in reality is a building at Warner Center Corporate Park in Woodland Hills. It was there that Ted initially began to build Vicki (though he had to complete the project at home as his boss did not think a human-looking robot was a worthwhile task).
For more Dirt on United Robotronics from “Small Wonder,” click over to the gallery.