Classic Sci Fi TV: The Incredible Hulk (1977)

By | July 13, 2018

Looking back as classic sci fi and fantasy shows that aired from 1949 to 2010.

Description: After Dr. David Banner loses his wife in a car accident, he starts conducting studies on the ability of some humans to demonstrate great feats of strength in extreme circumstances. He believes that gamma radiation may be the key to this, and he conducts an unauthorized experiment in which he exposes himself to high levels of gamma rays. This causes him to transform into a large, green-skinned creature known as the Hulk. After an accident in the lab, Dr. Banner’s partner is killed and Banner is presumed dead and the Hulk is blamed for the deaths. Dr. Banner then goes on the run while also trying to find a cure for his condition that causes him to turn into the Hulk when he becomes angry.

Aired: 1977-82, 4 Seasons Totaling 81 Episodes (Plus 5 Movies)

Starring: Bill Bixby, Lou Ferrigno, Jack Colvin

Developed By: Kenneth Johnson

Is It Must-Watch Sci Fi? Not necessarily. The first two movies and several of the pivotal episodes from the series are worth watching, but the show got rather redundant throughout its five-year run.

The Skinny: Back in the late 70’s and early 80’s, this was the one reliable television shows for sci fi-starved fans to tune into on the U.S. broadcast networks (Doctor Who reruns were available over on PBS). It started up right as Star Wars had revitalized the genre and it outlasted high-profile and high-budget shows like Battlestar: Galactica and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. The Incredible Hulk was not as sci fi-oriented as genre fans might have preferred, and it diverged notably from its comic book source material, but it provided solid entertainment that rarely slipped into camp even if it also rarely realized its potential. The series was essentially The Fugitive with a genre twist, and recycled stock television stories that often had little in the way of genre elements. It also became rather formulaic in the way that it employed Dr. Banner’s eventual “Hulk Out”–once he had been pushed to his limits–to provide a smash-it-up resolution to the episode. That said, the show did at least offer some good drama when it was at its best and Bill Bixby was definitely up to the task of carrying the show as he did for 90% of the episode before the Hulk would show up. This one does not necessarily count as a great sci fi show because it tended to avoid genre elements more often than not–a typical trend in “sci fi” television at that time.  But it is well-remembered as a decent enough show that you could turn to when there was almost nothing else of interest to genre fans during the years it aired, and it did produce its fair share of good episodes.

Cancelled Too Soon? Perhaps. This show had a solid run of four seasons and began filming Season 5 episodes immediately after the conclusion of its fourth year because a major strike in the entertainment industry threatened to shut down all television production. Seven episodes of the fifth season were completed when CBS abruptly decided to cancel the show citing ratings declines in the face of high production costs and they also believed the show had run its course. Johnson tried to convince the network to greenlight nine more episodes for the fifth season and Bill Bixby tried to interest the other networks in picking it up, but to no avail. The final seven episodes were aired sporadically throughout the show’s fifth season, but it ended without Johnson’s planned finale where David Banner found a cure for his affliction.

Revival: NBC revived The Incredible Hulk in the late 80’s and produced three made-for-TV movies, two of which introduced other Marvel characters (Daredevil and Thor) with the possibility of spinning them off into their own shows. The third of these movies gave us the death of the Incredible Hulk (no that’s not a spoiler because that is the title of the movie), but there were still plans to produce another movie with the Hulk revived and Dr. Banner’s mind still intact. This film was cancelled, though, due to Bill Bixby’s declining health and we unfortunately lost that talented actor to cancer in 1993. There was an animated series which more closely followed the comics that ran for two seasons in the mid-90’s. Lou Ferrigno voiced the Hulk in that series.

Should It Be Rebooted? The character of the Incredible Hulk has already been rebooted for the big-screen and has played an important role in the Marvel Universe movies. They could potentially do a series based on the character that might better explore the duality of the nature of Dr. Banner and his green-skinned alter ego, something the originally series never fully tapped into. It would be hard to do that on a television budget, but it might just work if they could figure out the financials.

Interesting Fact: In the comics, Dr. Banner’s first name is Bruce, not David. Kenneth Johnson claims he changed the name because he wanted to distance the show from its comic book origins. But both Stan Lee and Lou Ferrigno claim that CBS insisted on the change because they believed Bruce sounded too gay. Bruce was still used as Dr. Banner’s middle name in the show, though.

Where Can You Watch It? Seasons 1 through 3 are available for streaming on Hulu, and those include the original move and some of the show’s best episodes. All five seasons plus the three revival movies are available on DVD, though I don’t know believe they are all collected together in any one set. The show is not available on Blu-ray yet, but I expect that we will see that at some point.

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