The Incredible Hulk (1978 TV series)

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The Incredible Hulk
Based onThe Hulk by
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Developed by Kenneth Johnson
Narrated by Ted Cassidy
(opening narration)
Ending theme"The Lonely Man Theme"
Composer Joe Harnell
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
No. of seasons5
No. of episodes80 + 5 TV movies (list of episodes)
Executive producerKenneth Johnson
Running time47–50 minutes
Production companies
Distributor NBCUniversal Syndication Studios
Original network CBS
Original releaseNovember 4, 1977 (1977-11-04) 
May 12, 1982 (1982-05-12)
Followed by The Incredible Hulk Returns (1988)

The Incredible Hulk is an American television series based on the Marvel Comics character the Hulk. The series aired on the CBS television network and starred Bill Bixby as Dr. David Banner, Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk, and Jack Colvin as Jack McGee.


In the TV series, Dr. David Banner, a widowed physician and scientist who is presumed dead, travels across America under assumed names and finds himself in positions where he helps others in need despite his terrible secret: Following an accident that altered his cells, in times of extreme anger or stress, he transforms into a huge, savage, incredibly strong green-skinned humanoid, who has been named "the Hulk". In his travels, Banner earns money by working temporary jobs while searching for a way to either control or cure his condition. All the while, he is obsessively pursued by a tabloid newspaper reporter, Jack McGee, who is convinced that the Hulk is a deadly menace whose exposure would enhance his career.

The series' two-hour pilot movie, which established the Hulk's origins, aired on November 4, 1977. The series' 80 episodes were originally broadcast by CBS over five seasons from 1978 to 1982. It was developed and produced by Kenneth Johnson, who also wrote or directed some episodes. The series ends with David Banner continuing to search for a cure.

In 1988, the filming rights were purchased from MCA/Universal by New World Television for a series of TV movies to conclude the series' story line. The broadcast rights were, in turn, transferred to rival NBC. New World (which at one point owned Marvel) produced three television films: The Incredible Hulk Returns (directed by Nicholas J. Corea), The Trial of the Incredible Hulk , and The Death of the Incredible Hulk (both directed by Bill Bixby). Since its debut, The Incredible Hulk has garnered a worldwide fan base. [1]


David Banner, M.D., Ph.D., is a physician and scientist employed at California's Culver Institute, who is traumatized by the car accident that killed his beloved wife, Laura. Haunted by his inability to save her, Banner and his research partner, Dr. Elaina Marks, study people who were able to summon superhuman strength during moments of extreme stress. Obsessed with discovering why he was unable to exhibit such super-strength under similar conditions, Banner hypothesizes that high levels of gamma radiation from sunspots contributed to the subjects' increase in strength. Impatient to test his theory, Banner conducts an unsupervised experiment in the laboratory, bombarding himself with gamma radiation. However, the radiology equipment has recently been recalibrated, and Banner unknowingly receives a massive overdose. He initially thinks that the experiment has failed, but, when he injures himself while changing a flat tire, Banner's anger triggers his transformation into a 7-foot-tall (2.1 m), 330-pound (150 kg), green-skinned, superhumanly strong creature who is driven by rage, and has only a primitive, sub-human intelligence. The creature reverts to Banner when he calms down, and, since Banner is unable to remember what occurs while in his transformed state, he goes to Marks for help. The two of them slowly piece together what happened and investigate the nature of the metamorphosis, and the possibility for a cure. Their efforts are hindered by tabloid reporter Jack McGee, who was initially investigating Banner and Marks' superhuman strength research but now suspects them of being connected to the reports of a green-skinned monster roaming the area. While snooping around their laboratory, McGee unknowingly triggers a fire, and Banner rushes back into the laboratory to save Marks, only for the creature to emerge from the fire with her in his arms, dying. Mistakenly believing that Banner was killed in the fire along with Marks and that the creature was responsible for their deaths, McGee publishes a story naming the "Incredible Hulk" as their killer and urges law enforcement to capture him. Believed to be dead, Banner grimly resolves to travel from place to place, assuming different identities and odd jobs to support himself and to enable his search for a cure. He also finds himself feeling obliged to help the people he meets out of whatever troubles have befallen them. Inevitably, doing so puts him in perilous situations that trigger his transformations into the Hulk, which in turn attracts the attention of McGee, who is obsessively pursuing the mysterious creature across the country, both to prevent further violence and to bring legitimacy to his story.

Despite the Hulk's rampages usually helping put some wrong right, Banner flees the town at the end of each episode, fearful that the Hulk's appearance will bring unwanted scrutiny from the authorities or the ever-persistent McGee.

Opening narration

The opening narration is provided by Ted Cassidy:

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.

[Banner]: "Mr. McGee, don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry".

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.

Prior to the beginning of the series, a different version (also provided by Cassidy) was used for the second pilot movie, The Return of the Incredible Hulk (later re-titled "Death in the Family"):

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.

[Banner]: "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 out on it!"

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.


SeasonEpisodesOriginally aired
First airedLast airedNetwork
Pilot movies November 4, 1977 (1977-11-04)November 27, 1977 (1977-11-27) CBS
1 10March 10, 1978 (1978-03-10)May 31, 1978 (1978-05-31)
2 22September 22, 1978 (1978-09-22)May 25, 1979 (1979-05-25)
3 23September 21, 1979 (1979-09-21)April 11, 1980 (1980-04-11)
4 18November 7, 1980 (1980-11-07)May 22, 1981 (1981-05-22)
5 7October 2, 1981 (1981-10-02)May 12, 1982 (1982-05-12)
Movies May 22, 1988 (1988-05-22)February 18, 1990 (1990-02-18) NBC






In early 1977, Frank Price, head of Universal Television (known today as NBCUniversal Television), offered producer and writer Kenneth Johnson a deal to develop a television show based on any of several characters they had licensed from the Marvel Comics library. [4] Johnson turned down the offer at first, but then, while reading the Victor Hugo novel Les Misérables , he became inspired and began working to develop the Hulk comic into a TV show. [5] [6]

Johnson made several changes from the comic book; this was partly to translate it into a live-action show that was more believable and acceptable to a wide audience, and also because he disliked comics and thus felt it best that the show be as different from the source material as possible. [7] In the character's origin story, rather than being exposed to gamma rays during a botched atomic testing explosion, Banner is gamma-irradiated in a more low-key laboratory mishap during a test on himself. Another change was Banner's occupation, from physicist to medical researcher/physician. Although the comic book Hulk's degree of speaking ability has varied over the years, the television Hulk did not speak at all—he merely growled and roared. Hulk co-creator Stan Lee later recounted: "When we started the television show, Ken said to me, 'You know, Stan, I don't think the Hulk should talk'. The minute he said it, I knew he was right. [In the comics], I had the Hulk talking like this: 'Hulk crush! Hulk get him!' I could get away with it in a comic, but that would have sounded so silly if he spoke that way in a television show". [7]

The Hulk's strength is far more limited than in the comic book, which Johnson felt was necessary for the show to be taken seriously by viewers. [7] The Hulk still retained a healing factor, however. For instance, in "The Harder They Fall", Banner is in a serious accident that severs his spinal cord, leaving him paraplegic, but after his next transformation into the Hulk he is able to walk within minutes while in that form, and Banner's spine is completely restored by the end of the episode. In the majority of episodes, the only science-fiction element was the Hulk himself. Johnson also omitted the comic book's supporting characters, instead using original character Jack McGee. [7]

Johnson changed the name of the Hulk's comic book alter ego, Dr. Bruce Banner, to Dr. David Banner for the television series. 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. [8] According to both Stan Lee [7] and Lou Ferrigno, it was also changed because CBS thought the name Bruce sounded "too gay-ish", a rationale that Ferrigno thought was "the most absurd, ridiculous thing [he had] ever heard". [9] On the DVD commentary of the pilot, Johnson says that it was a way to honor his son David. "Bruce" ultimately became the television Banner's middle name, as it had been in the comics. It is visible on Banner's tombstone at the end of the pilot movie, [7] and that footage is shown at the beginning of every episode of the series.

In an interview with Kenneth Johnson on the Season 2 DVD, he explains that he had also wanted the Hulk to be colored red rather than green. His reasons given for this were that red, not green, is perceived as the color of rage, and also that red is a "human color", whereas green is not. However, Stan Lee, an executive at Marvel Comics at the time, said that the Hulk's color was not something that could be changed, because of its iconic image. [8]

Stan Lee told Kenneth Plume in a June 26, 2000, interview: "The Hulk was done intelligently. It was done by Ken Johnson, who's a brilliant writer/producer/director, and he made it an intelligent, adult show that kids could enjoy. He took a comic book character and made him somewhat plausible. Women liked it and men liked it and teenagers liked it... It was beautifully done. He changed it quite a bit from the comic book, but every change he made, made sense". [10]


For the role of Dr. David Banner, Kenneth Johnson cast Bill Bixby [11] —his first choice for the role. [12] Jack Colvin was cast as "Jack McGee", the cynical tabloid newspaper reporter—modeled after the character of Javert in Les Misérables [5] —who pursues the Hulk. Arnold Schwarzenegger auditioned for the role of the Hulk, but was rejected due to his inadequate height, according to Johnson in his commentary on The Incredible Hulk – Original Television Premiere DVD release. Actor Richard Kiel was hired for the role. During filming, however, Kenneth Johnson's own son pointed out that Kiel's tall-but-underdeveloped physique did not resemble the Hulk's at all. Soon, Kiel was replaced with professional bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno, although a very brief shot of Kiel (as the Hulk) remains in the pilot. According to an interview with Kiel, who saw properly out of only one eye, he reacted badly to the contact lenses used for the role, and also found the green makeup difficult to remove, so he did not mind losing the part. [13]

The opening narration was provided by actor Ted Cassidy, [14] who also provided the Hulk's voice-overs (mainly growls and roars) during the first two seasons. [9] Cassidy died during production of season two in January 1979. [14] The Hulk's vocalizations for the remainder of the series were provided by actor Charles Napier, who also made two guest-starring appearances in the series. [3] [2]

Guest stars and cameos

During the series' five-season run, many actors familiar to viewers, or who later became famous for their subsequent works, made appearances on the series, including: future Falcon Crest and Castle co-star Susan Sullivan in the original pilot; Brett Cullen, also of Falcon Crest; Kim Cattrall, of Sex and the City fame; Ray Walston, co-star of Bixby's first series, My Favorite Martian ; Brandon Cruz, co-star of The Courtship of Eddie's Father ; Lou Ferrigno, who along with starring as the Hulk, appeared in one episode ("King of the Beach") as a different character; Bixby's ex-wife Brenda Benet; and in an uncredited role, the bodybuilder and professional wrestler Ric Drasin as the half-transformed Hulk in "Prometheus" (parts 1 and 2). [15]

Mariette Hartley won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for her guest appearances as Dr. Carolyn Fields in the episode "Married" (aka "Bride of the Incredible Hulk") in season two.

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the writer and artist team who created the Hulk for Marvel Comics, both made cameo appearances in the series. Kirby's cameo was in the season two episode "No Escape", while Lee appeared as a juror in Trial of the Incredible Hulk (the 1989 post-series TV movie).


Initially the Hulk's facial make-up was quite monstrous, but after both pilots, the first two weekly episodes and New York location shooting for the fourth, the design was toned down. [16] The makeup process used to transform Ferrigno into the Hulk took three hours. The hard contact lenses Ferrigno wore to simulate the Hulk's electric-green eyes had to be removed every 15 minutes because he found wearing them physically painful. The green fright wig he wore as the Hulk was made of dyed yak hair. [9]


Joe Harnell, one of Kenneth Johnson's favorite composers, composed the music for The Incredible Hulk. He was brought into the production because of his involvement with the series The Bionic Woman , which Johnson had also created and produced. Some of the series' music was collected into an album titled The Incredible Hulk: Original Soundtrack Recording . The show's main theme, "The Lonely Man"—a sad solo-piano tune—is always heard during the closing credits, which usually shows Banner hitchhiking. [17]


Often Banner's inner struggle is paralleled by the dilemmas of the people he encounters, who find in Dr. Banner a sympathetic helper. Producer Kenneth Johnson stated: "What we were constantly doing was looking for thematic ways to touch the various ways that the Hulk sort of manifested itself in everyone. In Dr. David Banner, it happened to be anger. In someone else, it might be obsession, or it might be fear, or it might be jealousy or alcoholism! The Hulk comes in many shapes and sizes. That's what we tried to delve into in the individual episodes". [18]

Broadcast history

CBS [19]


The series first went into syndication in September 1982.[ citation needed ] It has aired as reruns on the Sci-Fi Channel and was one of the series that the channel showed at its inception in September 1992. [20] It has also aired on Retro Television Network, [21] and ran on Esquire Network from 2014 to 2015. [22] Series reruns began airing on most MeTV affiliates in February 2016. [23] The series began airing on most H&I affiliates in May 2017. [24] El Rey Network started airing the series in portrait-form in January 2017.[ citation needed ]

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:

After the cancellation of the television series in 1982, Bill Bixby retained an interest in producing new adventures featuring the Hulk for television. In 1984, just two years after the cancellation of the weekly series, he made a proposal to Nicholas Hammond, who had played Peter Parker in the 1977–79 TV series The Amazing Spider-Man , to develop a new TV movie featuring both the Hulk and Spider-Man. [25] Although nothing came of this idea, three television movies were eventually produced with Bixby and Ferrigno reprising their roles. All of these aired on NBC:

Despite the apparent death of the Hulk in the 1990 film, another Hulk television movie was planned, Revenge of the Incredible Hulk . [27] It was rumored that in this film the Hulk would be able to talk after being revived with Banner's mind, and that it was abandoned because of Bill Bixby's death from cancer in November 1993. [28] However, Gerald Di Pego (writer/executive producer of The Trial of the Incredible Hulk, The Death of the Incredible Hulk, and Revenge of the Incredible Hulk) revealed that the film was cancelled before Bixby's health began to decline, owing to disappointing ratings for Death of, and that Banner was to have been revived without the ability to change into the Hulk at all, reverting to (still non-speaking) Hulk form only in the film's final act. [7]

Home media

Universal released all 5 seasons on DVD in Region 1 from 2006 to 2008; a complete series DVD set was also released. [29]

Fabulous Films released The Incredible Hulk - The Complete Series on DVD in the UK on September 30, 2008. They subsequently released the complete series (not including the three post-series TV movies) on Blu-ray in December 2016. [30]


Critical response

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the two-hour pilot has a score of 57% based on seven reviews, for an average rating of 5.4/10, [31] while the first season has a rating of 75% based on eight reviews, for an average rating of 6.0/10. [32] Writing for the Tallahassee Democrat , Steve Watkins noted that Lou Ferrigno "did the strong, silent type like nobody’s business", and was "natural" in the titular role. [33]

A retrospective on the TV series reported that the episodes that fans of the show most often cite as the best of the series are "The Incredible Hulk" (pilot), "Married", "Mystery Man", "Homecoming", "The Snare", "Prometheus", "The First" and "Bring Me the Head of the Hulk". [7]


The Incredible Hulk was a major ratings success, and even became a hit in Europe, despite superheroes generally being much less popular there than in the United States. [34]

Other media

The TV series led to a syndicated newspaper strip that ran from 1978 to 1982. It used the same background and origin story as the TV series but narrated stories outside the TV series.

In 1979, a Hulk "video novel" in paperback form was released, with pictures and dialog from the pilot. [35]

See also

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