An Appreciation of THE INCREDIBLE HULK

The Incredible Hulk (1978-82) is one of the greatest series ever to grace the TV screen. It was developed by writer/producer/director Kenneth Johnson (The Six Million Dollar Man, The Bionic Woman, V) and based on the popular Marvel Comics character created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee.

The TV series iconic opening credits sequence

Bill Bixby starred as Dr. David Banner, a scientist who, after losing his wife in a tragic car crash, is obsessed with finding a way to tap into a hidden strength certain people have shown in life or death situations. While interviewing subjects who miraculously were able to summon this inner power to save loved ones, David discovers each of the incidents happened during a period of high gamma exposure of which he also experienced but did not benefit from. He then takes his experiments a step further and uses a high dose of gamma radiation on himself to uncover the mysterious strength. Following the procedure, David drives home from the lab during a violent rainstorm, and gets a flat tire. While changing it he hurts himself and flies into a furious rage. Suddenly, he transforms for the first time into “The Hulk”, a giant, angry green monster that has an enormous amount of physical power. When David comes to and realizes what’s happened he immediately seeks help from his friend/fellow scientist Elaina Marks (Susan Sullivan). As the two try to reverse his condition, a nosy, ambitious reporter for a National Enquirer-esque newspaper, Jack McGee (Jack Colvin) who has been alerted about The Hulk’s appearance, begins snooping around. When David finds out about McGee’s agenda he quickly shows his animosity, barring him from the premises. During an experiment to get David back to normal, he suddenly transforms again into the Hulk after which the lab is destroyed killing Elaina in the process. Unfortunately, Jack McGee is a witness to what happens and he believes that The Hulk is responsible. David learns of what has happened and is devastated with guilt. Since he is also believed to have perished in the accident, he decides to take off on the road using a false identity and tries to find a way to solve his dire problem of becoming The Hulk.


Dr. Banner and Mr. Hulk: Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno

Over 5 seasons, Bill Bixby played David Banner with muscleman Lou Ferrigno as his mean green alter ego. Jack Colvin co-starred as Jack McGee, the antagonistic reporter who chases The Hulk across the country intent on getting his big story to finally be taken seriously as a writer. The Incredible Hulk would follow in the tradition of earlier TV shows like The Fugitive (1963-67) as well as Kung Fu (1972-75), both which dealt with main characters on the run from the authorities. This ongoing “road adventure” format combined with a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde who was actually a misunderstood hero, was perfect for a TV series in that it provided ever changing stories and new characters for each episode.


A 1978 newspaper promotional ad

The Incredible Hulk was incredibly bold and entertaining while also being a showcase for intelligent, heartfelt stories about loss, forgiveness and love. A few of the socially relevant topics that were covered included mental illness, child abuse, environmental issues, alcoholism and physical impairment. The balance between Ferrigno’s green skinned, musclebound monster which provided the adrenaline charged action fans wanted to see and Bill Bixby’s outstanding portrayal of Banner, a kindhearted, humorous, highly intelligent man was what gave the show its true strength. Bixby, who endured his own personal tragedies while filming the series, made his character amn extremely memorable part of pop culture/TV history that lives on today. In 2015, even with its modest FX and outdated fashions, the show still resonates and hasn’t lost any of its inherant charm or intrigue.


David tries to control his transformation.

During its run The Incredible Hulk featured a wide variety of guest stars, some of the many famous film and TV faces that appeared on the show include: Gerald McRaney (Simon & Simon), Martin Kove (The Karate Kid), Loni Anderson (WKRP in Cincinatti), Brandon Cruz (Bixby’s co-star on the TV series The Courtship of Eddie’s Father), Mako (Conan The Barbarian), Mariette Hartley (Ride The High Country), Donna Wilkes (Angel), Pat Morita (Happy Days), Sherman Hemsley (The Jeffersons), MacKenzie Phillips (American Graffiti), Esther Rolle (Good Times), Ray Walston (Bixby’s co-star on My Favorite Martian) and Bradford Dillman (Piranha).


The Incredible Hulk Returns (1988): Eric Kramer, Marvel’s Stan Lee and Lou Ferrigno

Following the series’ cancellation which left David Banner’s story unresolved, NBC brought the character back for three Made for TV movies: The Incredible Hulk Returns (1988) featuring Eric Allan Kramer as the super hero THOR, The Trial of The Incredible Hulk (1989) featuring Rex Smith as the vigilante DAREDEVIL and The Death of The Incredible Hulk (1990).

Listen to “The Lonely Man” theme by Joe Harnell


– Lou Ferrigno said that he had become so frustrated on the set one day that he stormed off and drove home while still wearing his full Hulk make-up and costuming. Ferrigno added that the sight of him driving as such resulted in a passing motorist having a minor automobile accident.

– Because David Banner never has any recollection of his actions as the Hulk, Bill Bixby did not watch Lou Ferrigno perform on set, and Ferrigno was never present for Bixby’s scenes.

– In 1984, two years after the series went off the air, Bill Bixby offered Nicholas Hammond a chance to reprise his titular role from The Amazing Spider-Man (1977) TV series in a proposed Hulk/Spider-Man TV-movie crossover that would have been distributed by Universal Pictures and Columbia Pictures. Hammond agreed to the offer, but Universal Studios eventually canceled the project, claiming that Lou Ferrigno was unavailable. However, Ferrigno said that he was never contacted about the project, and had no knowledge of it until he discovered the information while working on his autobiography in 2003.

– Producer Kenneth Johnson wanted the Hulk’s skin color to be red, believing that it would reflect the character’s anger. However, Stan Lee rejected the idea.

– Richard Kiel was originally chosen to play The Hulk. However, as the pilot began filming, the producers felt that he wasn’t bulky enough. Although his scenes were re-shot with Lou Ferrigno, one scene with Kiel as the Hulk in the pilot remains intact, a brief high-angle shot of the Hulk looking up at a tree just before he saves a girl from drowning in the lake.

– While Javert from Les Miserables is cited as the main influence for Jack McGee, McGee also reflected Thunderbolt Ross, an Army General who obsessively pursued the Hulk in the comic book series.



Editor-In-Chief of The Grindhouse Cinema Database and Furious Cinema. Pete is an avid movie geek who enjoys everything from wild n' crazy exploitation and cult films to popular mainstream classics.

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