The Incredible Hulk (TV series)

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Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno
Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno

The Incredible Hulk was an American television series based on the Marvel comic book character of the same name. Two TV movies aired on CBS in 1977, and the show followed, airing from 1978 to 1982. It starred Bill Bixby as Dr. David Bruce Banner and Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk. The concept was developed for television by Kenneth Johnson, who also developed the Alien Nation TV series.



In early 1977, Frank Price, head of Universal 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 saw fit to changed the name of Dr. Bruce Banner to Dr. David Banner. This change was made, according to Johnson, because he did not want the series to be perceived as a comic book series, so he wanted to change what he felt was a staple of comic books, and Stan Lee's comics in particular, that major characters frequently had alliterative names. On the DVD commentary of the pilot of The Incredible Hulk, Johnson also says that it was a way to honor his late son David. However, according to Stan Lee, Universal changed the name because "Bruce Banner" sounded, in the eyes of the network, like a "gay character" name, and David sounded much better ("Bruce" ultimately became the character's middle name, as was the case in the comics. It is visible on David's tombstone at the end of the pilot episode).

Johnson also dropped the supporting characters from the comic (e.g. Betty Ross, Rick Jones, General Thunderbolt Ross, Doc Samson, and Glenn Talbot), opting for more realistic, 'street-level' characters. Secondly, rather than being exposed to gamma rays from an atomic explosion, David received his powers as the result of a laboratory mishap. Another significant change was altering the character's occupation from that of a nuclear physicist to a medical researcher/physician. Though the comic-book Hulk has had varying levels of language ability over the years, the television Hulk does not speak at all, but merely growls and roars. Finally, despite its Marvel Comics roots, fantasy and science fiction elements were kept to a minimum throughout the series (save for appearances from the Hulk himself).


For the role of Dr. David Banner, The producers originally considered Larry Hagman, of I Dream of Jeannie fame, to play Banner. However, Hagman won the part of J.R. Ewing on Dallas. Johnson cast veteran television actor Bill Bixby, the man Johnson himself viewed as his personal first choice. At first, Bixby hadn't wanted to do the series; after reading the script, he quickly signed on. Next, character actor Jack Colvin was cast as Jack McGee. Modeled after the character of Javert in Les Miserables, McGee was a tabloid reporter who relentlessly pursued the Hulk. The most daunting task, however, was finding someone to play the Hulk. Arnold Schwarzenegger auditioned, but was turned down due to his inadequate height. Actor Richard Kiel was hired for the role and production commenced on the pilot movie. However, during filming, Kenneth Johnson's own son pointed out that Kiel's tall but non-muscular physique did not resemble the build of the comic book Hulk. Soon, Kiel was dropped and bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno replaced him, though a very brief shot of Kiel as the character remained in the pilot (according to Johnson in his commentary on a DVD release).

Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk
Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk


The origin of the television series' Hulk differs greatly from his original comic book incarnation. David Banner is a physician/scientist who is traumatized by a fatal car accident which kills his wife. Tormented by his failure to save her, Banner researches incidents of people who temporarily displayed superhuman levels of strength in stressful or frightening situations. He concludes that high levels of gamma radiation from sunspots are the cause. To prove his theory, he purposely bombards his own body with gamma radiation to endow himself with super-strength. Unknown to Banner, his equipment has been upgraded, causing him to administer a far higher dose than he intended. During a rainstorm later that evening, he suffers a flat tire and injures himself while trying to change it. The resulting pain triggers his first transformation into the Hulk. The Hulk destroys Banner's car and wanders all night through the woods. He eventually reverts back to Banner with no memory after the tire-changing incident.

While Banner and Dr. Elaina Marks, his research partner and the only person who knows what happened to him, try to reverse the process, the interference of a reporter named Jack McGee (Jack Colvin) results in the fiery destruction of their laboratory. Dr. Marks dies from injuries received in the explosion, after the Hulk, seen by McGee, carries her away from the burning building. Banner, now presumed dead, is forced to go on the run while trying to find a cure for his condition. In a manner vaguely similar to the popular series The Fugitive, this forms the basis of the TV series, as Banner endlessly drifts from place to place assuming different identities and taking on odd jobs to support himself. Along the way, Banner finds himself feeling obliged to help the people he meets. Despite his attempts to stay calm, Banner inevitably finds himself in dangerous situations which trigger his transformations into the Hulk. Meanwhile, McGee continues to pursue the story of the mysterious monster, whom he believes killed Banner and his associate.

Unlike the comic book incarnation of the Hulk, the television Hulk is not bulletproof. However, he does possess an accelerated-healing ability which enables him to recover from injuries very quickly.

Opening narration

The opening narration to the show (performed by Ted Cassidy) reads as follows:

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. (Bixby: "Mr. McGee, don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry."--a clip from the first pilot) The creature is wanted for a murder he didn't commit. David Banner is believed to be dead, and he must let the world think that he is dead, until he can find a way to control the raging spirit that dwells within him.

The original narration for the second pilot episode, Death in the Family, was fundamentally the same, but with some differences:

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 interacts with his unique 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. (Bixby: "Mr. McGee, don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry.") An accidental explosion took the life of a fellow scientist and supposedly David Banner as well. The reporter thinks the creature was responsible. (McGee: "I gave a description to all the law enforcement agencies; They got a warrant for murder on him.") A murder which David Banner can never prove he or the creature didn't 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.


One of the distinctive elements of this series that set it apart was the musical score used. In particular, the most famous music is a wistful piano piece called "The Lonely Man". It is typically used at the closing credits that show Banner on the road hitchhiking to the next town, burdened as ever with the destructive curse. This kind of quiet motif is unique in superhero television series, which usually end with fast-tempoed and brassy theme music. Joe Harnell was the music composer of the series.

"The Lonely Man" is also a running motif on the Opie and Anthony show on XM Satellite Radio. The hosts play the music when a guest tells a story that is either sad in nature, unfunny, or has gone wrong.

Portions of "The Lonely Man" can be heard in trailers for the 2008 film The Incredible Hulk starring Edward Norton.


In 1981, with a major entertainment union strike on the horizon, the production team continued filming episodes for the show's 5th season directly upon completion of the fourth. However, with seven of these "in the can," CBS cancelled the show due to a slight change in the ratings and budget. Rumors were going around at the time that Bill Bixby's contract was up, and that he wanted to move on. Bixby had wanted to see his character being cured from being the Hulk.[citation needed] Also, both executive producer Kenneth Johnson and producer Nicholas Corea had gone to Harvey Shepard, who was president of CBS entertainment at the time, to ask for clearance to shoot nine unfilmed scripts for the series to give the show a mid-season run.[citation needed] They were turned down, and the pilot and the first four seasons were released into general syndication. By that time the union had gone on strike as expected, and that autumn CBS aired five of the seven "5th season" episodes made, running the last two and repeating three of the others the following summer. That fall, all seven were added to the rerun package. The nine unfilmed scripts included, "Los Indios," Parts 1-2 (Season 3), "Double Exposure," (Season 3), "The Trial of Jack McGee," (Season 5), "David Banner, RIP," (Season 5), "The Steel Mill," (Season 5), "The Survivors," (Season 5), "Killer on Board," (Season 5), and "Eyes of the Beholder," (Season 5). Also, Johnson and Corea had wanted to do a two-hour series finale in which Banner is caught and is found out to be alive, goes on trial for the death of Elaina Marks, resolves things with McGee, and gets cured from his hulk-outs.

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 (pilot) - 1977 (also seen overseas as a feature)
  • The Incredible Hulk: Death in the Family - 1977 (retitled Return of the Incredible Hulk for overseas release)

Six years 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 Incredible Hulk Returns - 1988 David Banner meets a former student (played by Steve Levitt), who has a magical hammer that summons Thor (played by Eric Allan Kramer), a Viking warrior prevented from entering Valhalla. Set up as a back-door pilot for a live-action television series starring Thor. This project marked Colvin's final appearance as Jack McGee, and the character's storyline was left unresolved.
  • 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 the Kingpin of Crime, although he was referred to only by his birth name, Wilson Fisk. Daredevil was portrayed by Rex Smith, while John Rhys-Davies portrayed Fisk. This was also set up as back-door pilot for a live-action television series starring Daredevil. Stan Lee has a cameo appearance as one of the jury members overlooking Banner's trial.
  • 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, and allowing Banner to make a dying declaration.

Despite the apparent death of the Hulk in the 1990 film, more Incredible Hulk television movies were planned, including a proposed Rebirth of the Incredible Hulk to help launch a pilot for Iron Man) and another television movie featuring She-Hulk. In the mid-80s, there was also talk about doing a television movie with the cast from the 1977-1979 live action Spider-Man television series. However, all such projects were cancelled when Bill Bixby died of cancer in November 1993.

DVD releases

 The Incredible Hulk DVD Releases

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 home video. A double-sided DVD entitled The Incredible Hulk - Original Television Premiere, which contained the original pilot and the "Married" episodes, was released by Universal Studios DVD in 2003 to promote Ang Lee's Hulk motion picture. A six-disc set entitled The Incredible Hulk - The Television Series Ultimate Collection was released by Universal DVD later in 2003. This set includes several notable episodes including "Death in the Family," "The First," and "Prometheus".

On July 18, 2006, Universal released The Incredible Hulk - Season One on DVD. This set contains the original pilot movies, the entire first season, and a "preview" episode ("Stop the Presses") from Season Two.

On July 17, 2007, Universal released The Incredible Hulk - Season Two on DVD as a 5-disc set. The set included the entire second season, the Married episodes (AKA Bride of the Incredible Hulk), and preview episode (Homecoming) from season three.

On June 3, 2008, Universal released The Incredible Hulk - Seasons Three and Four on DVD to promote The Incredible Hulk.

Season 5 is now also released to DVD.


  • One episode featured Bixby's My Favorite Martian co-star Ray Walston as an illusionist, and was titled "My Favorite Magician." Bill's The Magician trainer Mark Wilson served as "magic consultant."
  • In the beginning, the full metamorphosis of Banner transforming into the Hulk would be shown until around the start of season 3. Due to production costs and Bill Bixby's refusal to wear green makeup during transformation, no full metamorphosis would be shown other than the triggering of Banner's transformation and the shirt tearing up as his body gains strength, with the Hulk appearing on the next scene.
  • Actor Ted Cassidy was the opening narrator of the series. He also provided the vocal growls and roars of the creature in the opening credits.
  • The "white eyes" were contact lenses that were of white-greenish color. Both Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno have said in past interviews that the lenses were very uncomfortable. Bixby actually had to have pain-killing drops applied to his eyes in order to tolerate them. At the time there were no computer technologies in place to prevent Bixby and Ferrigno from wearing these lenses.
  • To rip out shirts, pants, shoes, etc., Lou Ferrigno would wear clothes that were a size too small, and they were scored to help with the ripping. It was also standard procedure for Banner to wear long-sleeved shirts so Lou could split a sleeve with his bicep.
  • Lou Ferrigno sometimes wore green slippers for his feet during his Hulk scenes, particularly in scenes where the creature had to run on pavement. The slippers are especially notable in the episode "Terror In Times Square"; Ferrigno was reluctant to run through the streets of New York barefoot.
  • In a bit of method-acting, Bixby stated often in interviews that while the Hulk-out scenes were being filmed, he would leave the set, as he didn't want to know what the Hulk had done if his character wasn't supposed to know, either.
  • Executive producer Kenneth Johnson originally wanted the Hulk's skin color to be red, rather than the established green. Johnson believed red would better reflect the character's anger, but Stan Lee, the Hulk's co-creator, rejected this idea. Interestingly, a Red Hulk has started to appear in Hulk comics.
  • Bill Bixby helped and taught Lou Ferrigno acting techniques, and he returned the favor by putting Bixby on a workout regimen to build up his stamina for the series' demanding production schedule.
  • In an interview with the Hulk comic magazine issue 20 April 1980, Johnson had said that they had finished filming a two-part episode called "Los Indios." However, Johnson has since said that those episodes were in pre-production but never made.
  • During the summer of 1980 Universal was trying to cut costs from the show. The studio had wanted the creators of the show to have a mobile home with sets and a new character and only one Hulk-out per episode (this was the same basic plot that CBS employed for their recently-cancelled Saturday Morning series Shazam! where Billy Batson travelled from town to town with his 'Mentor' in a Winnebago and when trouble arose, would transform into Captain Marvel). Kenneth Johnson vocally opposed the move despite the threat of cancelling the series, but finally CBS put more money into the show for better quailty.
  • Jack McGee was created for the TV show. However, in his 1995 novel, What Savage Beast, Hulk writer Peter David had McGee in the novel.
  • Frank Orsatti was Bill Bixby's stuntman in the series. He directed some episodes of the series as well, most notably the two part episode "The First", featuring a man whom was able to transform into a Hulk-like creature thirty years ago, but was cured. Manuel Perry was Lou Ferrigno's stuntman.
  • Bill Bixby did not film scenes for the season 3 episode, "Proof Positive." At the time, he was getting a divorce from his first wife, actress Brenda Benet. Stuntman Frank Orsatti was used for the shots before the Hulk-out scene, and Banner was shown only briefly and from a distance in these scenes. The plotline focused on McGee and was laden with flashbacks from previous episodes, and in one (from "Behind the Wheel"), Bixby-as-Banner can be glimpsed as the driver of a cab the reporter hires.
  • The three NBC made-for-TV movies reviving The Hulk were produced by Bill Bixby, who also directed one episode during the initial 1978-82 series. Bixby directed the latter two of the three movies, with Nicholas Corea directing the first one.
  • Both Bixby and Ferrigno played dual roles during the run, in the episodes "Broken Image" and "King of the Beach", respectively.
  • The Incredible Hulk was the beginning series of the highly-rated Friday-night block on CBS, where it was followed by The Dukes of Hazzard and Dallas. The series lineup began as such in 1979 and remained that way until 1981, when the Hulk moved to a new night during the abbreviated fifth and final season.
  • The set of The Incredible Hulk television program was visited for an episode of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, where Mr. Rogers showed the kids at home how the Hulk was not a monster, just an actor wearing makeup.
  • The episode "Never Give A Trucker An Even Break" is heavily influenced by Steven Spielberg's Duel. In fact, many scenes were taken directly from Duel and edited into the episode. (Careful viewers can tell who'll be driving the small red car by the color of a character's clothes.) Reportedly, Spielberg was so unhappy with his work being used as stock footage, he had his susequent contracts ban such use.
  • Likewise, the episode "747" was built around footage borrowed from the movie Airport 1975, and "Earthquakes Happen" utilized shots from Earthquake. Starlog magazine's episode guide for the series claimed that "On the Line," the 3rd season finale, also contained "much stock footage," but failed to identify the original production.
  • Starlog also said that the second season episode "A Child in Need," was actually filmed as part of the first season's production block.
  • The second pilot episode "Death in the Family" references a drug called Myostatin. This chemical, however, was not named in real-life until 1997-- many years after the episode aired.
  • There is a small debate on the reasons why Banner's first name was changed to David. In the Q & A documentary "Mutants. Monsters and Marvels" with Kevin Smith, Stan Lee claims that Universal TV executives thought the name 'Bruce' wasn't 'manly' enough (Bruce being a stereotypical first name for gay men). Many comics fans accept this as the truth. However, in the DVD commentary for the Incredible Hulk pilot, Kenneth Johnson states the name change in honor of his son, David (and as a signal to fans that the show would not be entirely faithful to the comic). Also, it has been said that Johnson hated "comic book-style names", particularly Marvel editor/writer Stan Lee's habit of alliterative names (e.g., Bruce Banner, Peter Parker, Matt Murdock, etc.).
  • In a 1980 MAD Magazine satire of the TV show, a cartoon panel attempting to explain the reason why Banner's name was changed. In the panel, two TV network executives are shown discussing the need to change his name from Bruce to David, with one saying (as noted above) Bruce wasn't a name that was 'strong or masculine enough'. In the background of the panel, a TV set is drawn broadcasting the Summer Olympic Games, just as the announcer is saying "...and Bruce Jenner wins the Decathlon."
  • In the opening of the show, Dr. Banner is shown looking at his own tombstone which reads "David Bruce Banner" (a mixing of two names- Bruce from the comic and David from the TV version). In a bit of art imitating life on the pardon that President Reagan gave the Hulk in the pages of a 1982 comic book had the named listed as David Bruce Banner.
  • The ending sequence of the series was parodied by maniacal cartoon baby Stewie Griffin in an episode of Family Guy. In that same episode, his father Peter Griffin flawlessly performs "The Lonely Man" while drunk.
  • Another Family Guy episode, Emission Impossible has Peter visiting his wife's sister and bringing out one of her husband's small shirts to which he puts on and asks her to say, "David Banner, I just slashed your tires," to which he "Hulks out" by ripping the shirt.
  • In a third Family Guy episode, Peter attends a funeral in which he says the opening dialog of the show, instead regarding Jesus. At the end he holds up a picture of Jesus which one half of the picture is slowly covered by a green hulk styled Jesus.
  • The Incredible Hulk is very heavily referenced throughout the hit sitcom The King of Queens, in which Lou Ferrigno ostensibly plays himself as the Heffernans' next-door neighbor. As a result, he is often the target of "Hulk jokes" that Doug Heffernan and his friends like to make.
  • Lou Ferrigno is the only actor to film scenes for every episode of the series.
  • On "Shooting Stars", Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer appeared in The Sunderland Independent Film Corporation's version of The Incredible Hulk, in which Dr. David Banner's rage is triggered when he is overcharged for a macaroon.
  • Bill Bixby never let his son watch the show because he thought his son would be scared by the transformation his dad made in the series.
  • Bixby wanted to direct frequently, but the demanding production schedule--particularly the special effects scenes--meant he was able to do this on only one episode, "Bring Me the Head of the Hulk" in the fourth season.
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