Thursday, August 22, 2013

Classic TV: The Incredible Hulk (1977)

In the Bullpen Bulletins pages of Marvel Comics in the late 70's, Stan Lee and the crew were gushing over The Incredible Hulk, which Universal obtained a license for in 1977 to adapt for television. When you consider how different the series was from the comic books, you'd have reason to smile, too.

Producer Ken Johnson (The Bionic Woman) decided to build the series around a variation on the concept of The Fugitive. David Bruce Banner (Bill Bixby, ex-The Magician) wandered from city to city, staying one step ahead not of the police, but rather a tabloid journalist (Jack Colvin), who was looking for the big story that would give him a Pulitzer Prize for journalism, or so he thinks. The famed origin is not included in the series. Instead, Hulk (Lou Ferrigno) is accused of murder, making him a fugitive himself.

The scenes where Banner "Hulks out" are the stuff of legend. Bixby was given green contact lenses for those scenes, and as soon as you see his eyes turn green, you know what's next. Hulk smash, but Hulk not talk. The hearing impaired Ferrigno would've needed someone to dub over his dialogue in order for Hulk to actually speak like he did in the comics in those days. These days, they've made Hulk more intelligent, merging more of Banner's personality with the brute.

Lee had created Hulk with Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde in mind, then turned around and created a Mr. Hyde of his own for another of his heroes, but that's another story for another time.

The series began with a pair of TV-movies. In the first, Banner gives himself an overdose of gamma radiation, as summarized in the intro sequence you'll soon see. Of course, long time fans know that really wasn't the case. Johnson and the Universal suits opted for the simpler approach rather than add a teen idol prospect to play Rick Jones, who was a central figure in the "birth" of the Hulk. In 1978, the series was installed on Fridays, airing in between Wonder Woman & Dallas. Even with the Amazing Amazon dismissed in favor of The Dukes of Hazzard, Hulk retained the genre audience, and would linger around until 1982. Of course, he wouldn't be gone for long, as an animated series, produced by Marvel and narrated by Lee, bowed on NBC that September.

Here's the intro, narrated by Ted Cassidy (ex-The Addams Family):

Next month, Marvel dives back into primetime with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., a spin-off from last year's "Avengers" movie. They have to hope it can last 5 years, just as the Hulk did.

Rating: A.


magicdog said...

We used to love watching this show and making it into a take off of The Fugitive made it work.

I didn't mind Lou Ferigno's Hulk not talking - it seemed to fit fine as it was! It would be tricky enough to find a guy who could be the hulked out version of Banner anyway. Plus, Bill Bixby was always a likeable actor - not unlike Scott Bakula actually. I didn't miss Rick Jones either, although if the character had been included, I could see it still working.

I never felt like I was watching a cartoon either. I don't recall if Banner ever got a cure - it would have been nice if he got that much after 5 seasons - comics canon be damned!

hobbyfan said...

There were a few false starts with cures, as per normal. Other than that, it could've lasted maybe a year or two more, since there were plenty more stories to be told, IMPO.