Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Will the Hulk return to television?

Disney-owned ABC made some noise on Tuesday, but not just with the announcement of their fall schedule.

In fact, they're actually looking ahead to the 2013-4 season, and the prospect of bringing back a fan favorite series from the 70's and early 80's that didn't air on the network the first time around. That would be The Incredible Hulk.

In the late 70's, Marvel Comics, now owned by Disney as well, saw the opportunity to have some of their heroes cross over to the small screen, but not just on Saturday mornings. The Amazing Spider-Man didn't even last a full season at CBS in 1977, and some episodes have surfaced on cable as TV-movie compilations in the intervening years since. Prior to that, the web-spinner had appeared on PBS' Electric Company, with Danny Seagren playing a largely silent Spidey, whose dialogue flashed on the screen in the form of thought balloons, the kind used in the comics. That made Nicholas Hammond the second actor to don the webs, not the first, and certainly not the last, the latest being Andrew Garfield in the forthcoming feature film.

Spidey had the misfortune of having independent producer Charles Fries holding the rights, and the network airing the show on the wrong night (Wednesdays, as I recall). Hulk, seemingly, enjoyed favored nation status, since a major studio---Universal---picked up the license, and got a healthy run anchoring CBS' Friday night lineup, which also included Dallas & The Dukes of Hazzard. There've been two animated series since for Hulk, while we've lost track of all the Spider-toons that have landed in the 35 years since the live-action show crashed & burned. Universal also produced TV-movies starring Captain America (2) and Doctor Strange, but when Incredible Hulk ended, so did the union between Marvel & Universal.

The runaway success "The Avengers" has enjoyed since first opening overseas three weeks ago certainly has created a renewed interest in reviving Hulk as a primetime series, but the tricky part is finding the right actors to play both the green goliath and his "puny" alter-ego, Dr. Bruce Banner. Disney has to understand that they have to find the right combination to please the fans of the franchise, else this version could wind up like the revivals of Bionic Woman, Knight Rider (both on NBC), Night Stalker, & Charlie's Angels (both ABC), and end up cancelled after 1 season.

It also requires finding the right place on the schedule. Fridays, which the Hulk ruled before, could still be a fertile ground. Coupling Hulk with a new breakout hit like Once Upon a Time on Sundays would actually be a ratings boost for ABC. We'll see in about a year's time just how it plays out.

That's just my opinion. Your actual mileage may vary.

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