ⓘ The Incredible Hulk (1978 TV series)


ⓘ The Incredible Hulk (1978 TV series)

The Incredible Hulk is an American television series based on the Marvel Comics character The Hulk. The series aired on the CBS television network and starred Bill Bixby as Dr. David Bruce Banner, Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk, and Jack Colvin as Jack McGee.

In the TV series, Dr. David Banner, a widowed physician and scientist, who is presumed dead, travels across America under assumed names, and finds himself in positions where he helps others in need despite his terrible secret: in times of extreme anger or stress, he transforms into a huge, savage, incredibly strong green creature, who has been named "The Hulk". In his travels, Banner earns money by working temporary jobs while searching for a way to either control or cure his condition. All the while, he is obsessively pursued by a tabloid newspaper reporter, Jack McGee, who is convinced that the Hulk is a deadly menace whose exposure would enhance his career.

The series two-hour pilot movie, which established the Hulks origins, aired on November 4, 1977. The series 80 episodes were originally broadcast by CBS over five seasons from 1978 to 1982. It was developed and produced by Kenneth Johnson, who also wrote or directed some episodes. The series ends with David Banner continuing to search for a cure.

In 1988, the filming rights were purchased from CBS by rival NBC. They produced three television films: The Incredible Hulk Returns directed by Nicholas J. Corea, The Trial of the Incredible Hulk, and The Death of the Incredible Hulk both directed by Bill Bixby. Since its debut, The Incredible Hulk series has garnered a worldwide fan base.


1. Premise

David Bruce Banner, M.D., Ph.D., is a physician and scientist employed at California’s Culver Institute, who is traumatized by the car accident that killed his beloved wife, Laura. Haunted by his inability to save her, Banner and his research partner, Dr. Elaina Marks, study people who were able to summon superhuman strength during moments of extreme stress. Obsessed with discovering why he was unable to exhibit such super-strength under similar conditions, Banner hypothesizes that high levels of gamma radiation from sunspots contributed to the subjects increase in strength. Impatient to test his theory, Banner conducts an unsupervised experiment in the lab, bombarding himself with gamma radiation. However, the radiology equipment has recently been recalibrated, and Banner unknowingly receives a massive overdose. He initially thinks that the experiment has failed, but, when he injures himself while changing a flat tire, Banner’s anger triggers his transformation into a 7-foot-tall 2.1 m, 330-pound 150 kg, green-skinned, superhumanly strong creature who is driven by rage, and has only a primitive, sub-human intelligence. The creature reverts to Banner when he calms down, and, since Banner is unable to remember what occurs while in his transformed state, he goes to Marks for help. The two of them slowly piece together what happened and investigate the nature of the metamorphosis - and the possibility for a cure. Their efforts are hindered by tabloid reporter Jack McGee, who was initially investigating Banner and Marks’ superhuman strength research, but now suspects them of being connected to the reports of a green-skinned monster roaming the area. While snooping around their laboratory, McGee unknowingly triggers a fire, and Banner rushes back into the lab to save Marks, only for the creature to emerge from the fire with her in his arms, dying. Mistakenly believing that Banner was killed in the fire along with Marks, and that the creature was responsible for their deaths, McGee publishes a story naming the "Incredible Hulk" as their killer, and urges law enforcement to capture him. Believed to be dead, Banner grimly resolves to travel from place to place, assuming different identities and odd jobs to support himself and to enable his search for a cure. He also finds himself feeling obliged to help the people he meets out of whatever troubles have befallen them. Meanwhile, McGee continues to obsessively pursue the mysterious creature across the country. Toward the end of each episode, Banner almost always flees, fearful that the Hulks rampages will bring unwanted scrutiny from the authorities or the ever-persistent McGee.


1.1. Premise Opening narration

The opening narration is provided by Ted Cassidy.

Dr. David Banner - physician, scientist.searching for a way to tap into the hidden strengths that all humans have. Then an accidental overdose of gamma radiation alters his body chemistry. And now, when David Banner grows angry or outraged, a startling metamorphosis occurs. The creature is driven by rage and pursued by an investigative reporter.

"I gave a description to all the law enforcement agencies; they got a warrant for murder out on it!"

A murder which David Banner can never prove he or the creature didnt commit. So he must let the world go on thinking that he, too, is dead, until he can find a way to control the raging spirit that dwells within him.


2. Cast


  • Bill Bixby as David Bruce Banner, physician and scientist, based on the Marvel Comics character Bruce Banner
  • Jack Colvin as Jack McGee, a reporter tracking the Hulks trail
  • Ted Cassidy as the voice of the Hulk seasons 1-2; uncredited
  • Charles Napier as the voice of the Hulk after Cassidys death in 1979 seasons 2-5; uncredited
  • Lou Ferrigno as Hulk, a large, mindless, immensely strong green monster whom Banner becomes when enraged or stressed


  • Walter Brooke as Mark Roberts, McGees boss at the National Register seasons 3 & 4

3. Themes

Often Banners inner struggle is paralleled by the dilemmas of the people he encounters, who find in Dr. Banner a sympathetic helper. Producer Kenneth Johnson stated, "What we were constantly doing was looking for thematic ways to touch the various ways that the Hulk sort of manifested itself in everyone. In Dr. David Banner, it happened to be anger. In someone else, it might be obsession, or it might be fear, or it might be jealousy or alcoholism! The Hulk comes in many shapes and sizes. Thats what we tried to delve into in the individual episodes".


4.1. Production Development

In early 1977, Frank Price, head of Universal Television known today as NBCUniversal Television, offered producer and writer Kenneth Johnson a deal to develop a TV show based on any of several characters they had licensed from the Marvel Comics library. Johnson turned down the offer at first, but then, while reading the Victor Hugo novel Les Miserables he became inspired and began working to develop the Hulk comic into a TV show.

Johnson made several changes from the comic book; this was partly to translate it into a live-action show that was more believable and acceptable to a wide audience, and also because he disliked comics and thus felt it best that the show was as different from the source material as possible. In the characters origin story, rather than being exposed to gamma rays during a botched atomic testing explosion, Banner is gamma-irradiated in a more low-key laboratory mishap during a test on himself. Another change was Banners occupation, from physicist to medical researcher/physician. Although the comic book Hulks degree of speaking ability has varied over the years, the television Hulk did not speak at all - he merely growled and roared. Hulk co-creator Stan Lee later recounted, "When we started the television show, Ken said to me, You know, Stan, I dont think the Hulk should talk. The minute he said it, I knew he was right. ever heard". On the DVD commentary of the pilot, Johnson says that it was a way to honor his son David. "Bruce" ultimately became the TV Banners middle name, as it had been in the comics. It is visible on Banners tombstone at the end of the pilot movie, and that footage is shown at the beginning of every episode of the series.

In an interview with Kenneth Johnson on the Season 2 DVD, he explains that he had also wanted the Hulk to be colored red rather than green. His reasons given for this were because red, not green, is perceived as the color of rage, and also because red is a "human color" whereas green is not. However, Stan Lee, an executive at Marvel Comics at the time, said that the Hulks color was not something that could be changed, because of its iconic image.

Stan Lee told Kenneth Plume on a June 26, 2000 interview, The Hulk was done intelligently. It was done by Ken Johnson, whos a brilliant writer/producer/director, and he made it an intelligent, adult show that kids could enjoy. He took a comic book character and made him somewhat plausible. Women liked it and men liked it and teenagers liked it. It was beautifully done. He changed it quite a bit from the comic book, but every change he made, made sense."


4.2. Production Casting

For the role of Dr. David Banner, Kenneth Johnson cast Bill Bixby - his first choice for the role. Jack Colvin was cast as "Jack McGee", the cynical tabloid newspaper reporter - modeled after the character of Javert in Les Miserables - who pursues the Hulk. Arnold Schwarzenegger auditioned for the role of the Hulk but was rejected due to his inadequate height, according to Johnson in his commentary on The Incredible Hulk – Original Television Premiere DVD release. Actor Richard Kiel was hired for the role. During filming, however, Kenneth Johnsons own son pointed out that Kiels tall-but-underdeveloped physique did not resemble the Hulks at all. Soon, Kiel was replaced with professional bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno, although a very brief shot of Kiel as the Hulk remains in the pilot. According to an interview with Kiel, who saw properly out of only one eye, he reacted badly to the contact lenses used for the role, and also found the green makeup difficult to remove, so he did not mind losing the part.

The opening narration was provided by actor Ted Cassidy, who also provided the Hulks voice-overs mainly growls and roars during the first two seasons. Cassidy died during production of season two in January 1979. The Hulks vocalizations for the remainder of the series were provided by actor Charles Napier, who also made two guest-starring appearances in the series.


4.3. Production Guest stars and cameos

During the series five-season run, many actors familiar to viewers, or who later became famous for their subsequent works, made appearances on the series, including but not limited to: future Falcon Crest and Castle co-star Susan Sullivan in the original pilot; Brett Cullen, also of Falcon Crest ; Kim Cattrall, of Sex and the City fame; Ray Walston, co-star of Bixbys first series, My Favorite Martian ; Brandon Cruz, co-star of The Courtship of Eddies Father ; Lou Ferrigno, who along with starring as the Hulk, appeared in one episode "King of the Beach" as a different character, Bixbys ex-wife Brenda Benet; and in an uncredited role, the bodybuilder and professional wrestler Ric Drasin played the half-transformed Hulk in "Prometheus" parts 1 and 2.

Mariette Hartley won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for her guest appearances as Dr. Carolyn Fields in the episodes "Married" and "Bride of the Incredible Hulk" in season two.

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the writer and artist team who created the Hulk for Marvel Comics, both made cameo appearances in the series. Kirbys cameo was in the season two episode "No Escape", while Lee appeared as a juror in Trial of the Incredible Hulk the 1989 post-series TV movie.


4.4. Production Make-up

Initially the Hulks facial make-up was quite monstrous, but after both pilots, the first two weekly episodes and New York location shooting for the fourth, the design was toned down. The makeup process used to transform Ferrigno into the Hulk took three hours. The hard contact lenses Ferrigno wore to simulate the Hulks electric-green eyes had to be removed every 15 minutes because he found wearing them physically painful. The green fright wig he wore as the Hulk was made of dyed yak hair.


4.5. Production Music

Joe Harnell, one of Kenneth Johnsons favorite composers, composed the music for The Incredible Hulk. He was brought into the production due to his involvement with the series The Bionic Woman, which Johnson had also created and produced. Some of the series music was collected into an album titled The Incredible Hulk: Original Soundtrack Recording. The shows main theme, "The Lonely Man" - a sad, solo piano tune - is always heard during the closing credits - which usually shows Banner hitch-hiking.


5.1. Broadcast history Syndication

The series first went into syndication in September 1982. It has aired as reruns on the Sci-Fi Channel and was one of the series that the channel showed at its inception in September 1992. It has also aired on Retro Television Network, and on Esquire Network from 2014 to 2015. Series reruns are to begin airing on most MeTV affiliates in February 2016. The series began airing on most H&I affiliates in May 2017. El Rey Network has aired the series in portrait-form since January 2017.


5.2. Broadcast history Made-for-TV movies

Two episodes of the series appeared first as stand-alone movies, but were later re-edited into one-hour length two-parters for syndication. They were produced as pilots before the series officially began in 1978:

  • The Incredible Hulk 1977 distributed in theaters in some countries
  • The Return of the Incredible Hulk 1977 also shown overseas as a feature film – It was retitled Death in the Family for syndication.

After the cancellation of the television series in 1982, three television movies were produced with Bixby and Ferrigno reprising their roles. All of these aired on NBC:

  • The Death of the Incredible Hulk 1990 – David Banner falls in love with an Eastern European spy played by Elizabeth Gracen and saves two kidnapped scientists. The film ends with the Hulk taking a fatal fall from an airplane, reverting to human form just before he dies.
  • The Trial of the Incredible Hulk 1989 – David Banner meets a blind lawyer named Matt Murdock and his masked alter ego, Daredevil. The Incredible Hulk and the Daredevil battle Wilson Fisk The Kingpin of Crime. Daredevil was portrayed by Rex Smith, while John Rhys-Davies portrayed Fisk. This was also set up as backdoor pilot for a live-action television series featuring Daredevil. Stan Lee has a cameo appearance as one of the jury members overlooking Banners trial.
  • The Incredible Hulk Returns 1988 – This marked the first time that another Marvel Universe character appeared in the milieu of the TV series. David Banner meets a former student played by Steve Levitt who has a magical hammer that summons Thor played by Eric Allan Kramer, a Norse god who is prevented from entering Valhalla. It was set up as a backdoor pilot for a live-action television series starring Thor. This project marked Jack Colvins final appearance as McGee.

Despite the apparent death of the Hulk in the 1990 film, another Hulk television movie was planned, Revenge of the Incredible Hulk. It was rumored that in this film the Hulk would be able to talk after being revived with Banners mind, and that it was abandoned due to Bill Bixbys death of cancer in November 1993, but Gerald Di Pego revealed that the film was cancelled before Bixbys health began to decline, due to disappointing ratings for Death of, and that Banner was to have been revived without the ability to change into the Hulk at all, only reverting to still non-speaking Hulk form in the films final act.


6. Reception

The Incredible Hulk was a major ratings success, and even became a hit in Europe, despite superheroes generally being much less popular there than in the United States.

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the two-hour pilot has a score of 57% based on seven reviews, for an average rating of 5.4/10, while the first season has a rating of 75% based on eight reviews, for an average rating of 6.0/10.

A retrospective on the TV series reported that the episodes fans of the show most often cite as the best of the series are "The Incredible Hulk" pilot, "Married", "Mystery Man", "Homecoming", "The Snare", "Prometheus", "The First" and "Bring Me the Head of the Hulk".


7. Home media

All three of the NBC TV movies The Incredible Hulk Returns, The Trial of the Incredible Hulk and The Death of the Incredible Hulk have been available on DVD since 2003; the first two were released by Anchor Bay Entertainment, while The Death of the Incredible Hulk was released by 20th Century Fox Video. A double-sided DVD entitled The Incredible Hulk – Original Television Premiere, which included the original pilot and the "Married" episodes, was released by Universal Studios DVD in 2003 to promote Ang Lees Hulk motion picture. A 6-disc set entitled The Incredible Hulk – The Television Series Ultimate Collection was released by Universal DVD later in 2003. Universal Pictures Home Entertainment released The Incredible Hulk: The Complete Series DVD set in 2005.

Universal released all 5 seasons on DVD in Region 1 from 2006 to 2008; a complete series DVD set was also released.

Fabulous Films released The Incredible Hulk - The Complete Series on DVD in the UK on September 30, 2008. They subsequently released the complete series not including the three post-series TV movies on Blu-ray in December 2016.


8. Other media

The TV series led to a syndicated newspaper strip that ran from 1978 to 1982. It used the same background and origin story as the TV series but narrated stories outside the TV series.

In 1979, a Hulk "video novel" in paperback form was released, with pictures and dialog from the pilot.