By Jim Beard
Photos courtesy Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Super hero television theme music shouldn't make a thirteen year-old boy want to bawl like a baby.
Burned into a multitude of TV viewer brains for its haunting, ghostly notes, that poignant piano piece at the end of each "Hulk" episode, entitled "The Lonely Man", will forever more encapsulate the utterly lonely and soul-searching David Bruce Banner.
Luckily, that isn't the only thing that plants "The Incredible Hulk" TV series firmly in the bedrock foundation of latter-20th century pop culture. A few other aspects formed the show into Marvel's longest running – and arguably most-popular - television series to date. And with mere months remaining until ol' green genes bashes up big screens nationwide beginning June 13, what better time to take a look back on this small screen classic?
Bill Bixby as David
Banner and Lou
Ferrigno as the Hulk
1977 saw the introduction of Marvel's green-skinned goliath to the boob tube in the form of two Universal Television stand-alone movies, "The Incredible Hulk" (ostensibly the pilot episode), and "The Incredible Hulk: A Death in the Family." Early 1978 brought the beginning of the ongoing series, which ran until mid-1982—culminating in 82 episodes. What Spider-Man, Captain America, and Dr. Strange all failed to accomplish in the 70s, the Hulk smashed into a success. Who says it isn't easy being green?
At its core, the show more than benefited from its stars. Talented actor Bill Bixby played scientist Dr. David Banner with humble charm and just the right touch of gravitas. We might've been treated to Larry Hagman in the role but a character named J.R. Ewing came a'callin' and the rest is TV history. The Hulk role was greatly filled out by muscle-bound bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno, though James Bond's nemesis "Jaws", tall guy Richard Kiel, first had the part. Kiel wasn't ripped enough, reportedly, but Ferrigno jumped in and made us believe the Hulk was not only real but someone you didn't want to get in the way of.
Week after week, viewers tuned into "The Incredible Hulk" and witnessed a man on the lam. Dr. Banner had anger-management issues ("…don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry.") and Hulked-out due to a self-administered dose of gamma radiation. His life shattered and accused of a murder he didn't commit, Banner traipsed across the back lot – err, countryside, desperately hoping to control his inner monster and avoid a nosy reporter dead set on a scoop. The premise resembled another popular show of the past, "The Fugitive", and the same vicarious thrill that people received peeping at a hunted man translated into solid ratings for the verdant-hued Hulk.
Kids who watched the show and also followed the Hulk's Marvel comic book adventures noticed a few differences between the TV star and their four-color hero. There was no gamma bomb explosion for David Banner, only a funky laboratory with what passed in the 70s for high-tech equipment. The Hulk didn't speak in the episodes, nor was he bullet-proof – though he did have a curiously Wolverine-like healing factor. General "Thunderbolt" Ross and his lovely daughter Betty were also absent, as well as infamous Hulk foes such as the Leader or the Abomination, and the Jade Giant did not bound effortlessly through the air like a hyperactive kangaroo. Unlike his comic book counterpart, a studio budget dictated the limits and constraints of the TV Hulk's life.
Bill Bixby as
One could make merry at Ferrigno Hulk's penchant for wearing little green slippers (only when running on concrete, mind you!) or at the producer's loathe to call his central character "Bruce" (not "manly" enough, reportedly!) but in all, "The Incredible Hulk" entertained millions of viewers week-in and week-out for five whole years. Few super heroes can claim such a successful translation into a medium outside their stapled, paper stomping grounds. The Hulk's out-stomped 'em all.
The show was brought to a close in 1982 but ol' Jadejaws managed to irradiate his broadcast future in the form of three original TV movies in 1988, '89, and '90. Bixby and Ferrigno leaped back into their Jekyll & Hyde personas and trotted out what amounted to something of an ersatz "Marvel Team-Up" for television.
"The Incredible Hulk Returns" introduced the Mighty Thor to live-action and the wonders of a gamma-spawned partner. It wasn't exactly the comic book Thor that most people could identify with and hopes for a Thor spin-off got hammered. Next up was "The Trial of the Incredible Hulk" and the TV debut of the Man Without Fear, Daredevil. The Hulk didn't seem to think much of Rex Smith's portrayal of Matt Murdock and viewers turned a blind eye on more spin-off wishes. 1990's "The Death of the Incredible Hulk" was aptly named – David Banner finally finds a cure for his Hulk outs: the cessation of life.
A good character never dies, though. The Incredible Hulk breathes again on DVDs of the original show, reminding us all of a simpler time when a big, green humanoid could run around growling and bending a whole lot of steel bars, sticking like Cupid's arrow in the hearts of millions.
Lou Ferrigno as
This summer brings the big-budget theatrical release of "The Incredible Hulk." Maybe it isn't exactly a remake of the TV series, but its creators are on record as being fans of Bixby, Ferrigno & Co. Though we may not witness a CGI Hulk tromping and stomping around in tiny green slippers we can be sure that the spirit of the TV show lives on in its 2008 cousin.
Cue "The Lonely Man".
Need some Jade Giant right now? Read classic Hulk stories in Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited! And remember: "The Incredible Hulk" comes to a theater near you on June 13!