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The Incredible Hulk (1978 TV series)

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 Bruce Banner, Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk, and Jack Colvin as Jack McGee.

The Incredible Hulk
Based on
Developed byKenneth Johnson
Narrated byTed Cassidy (opening narration)
Ending theme"The Lonely Man Theme" (Harnell)
Composer(s)Joe Harnell
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
No. of seasons5
No. of episodes80 + 5 TV movies (list of episodes)
Executive producer(s)Kenneth Johnson
Running time47–50 minutes
Production company(s)Universal Television
Marvel Television
DistributorNBCUniversal Television Distribution
Original networkCBS
Picture format480i (4:3 SDTV)
Original releaseNovember 4, 1977 (1977-11-04) –
May 12, 1982 (1982-05-12)
Followed byThe Incredible Hulk Returns (1988)

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: in times of extreme anger or stress, he transforms into a huge, incredibly strong green creature, 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 CBS by rival NBC. They 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 series has garnered a worldwide fan base.[1]


David Bruce Banner, M.D., Ph.D., is a physician and scientist employed at the Culver Institute in California who is traumatized by the car accident that killed his beloved wife, Laura. Haunted by his inability to save her, Banner studies people who summoned superhuman strength in order to save their loved ones. Banner hypothesizes that high levels of gamma radiation from sunspots contribute to the subjects' increase in strength. Impatient to test his theory, Banner conducts an unsupervised experiment in the lab, bombarding his own body with gamma radiation. This triggers his transformation into a 7-foot-tall (2.1 m), 330-pound (150 kg), green-skinned savage creature, with a sub-human mind and superhuman strength. Banner and his colleague investigate the transformation but when she is killed in an accident and he disappears, a reporter publishes a story blaming the "Incredible Hulk" for both his and his colleague's apparent deaths. Banner endlessly drifts from place to place, assuming different identities and odd jobs to support himself and sometimes to enable his research. He finds himself feeling obliged to help the people he meets out of whatever troubles have befallen them. Meanwhile, McGee continues to pursue the mysterious monster, whom he believes got away with a double murder. Towards the end of each episode, Dr. Banner almost always flees the town, scared that publicity over the Hulk's rampages will eventually bring unwanted scrutiny from the local authorities or McGee.

Opening narrationEdit

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.



  • Bill Bixby as David Bruce Banner, physician and scientist, based on the comic book character Bruce Banner
  • Lou Ferrigno as Hulk, a large, green, muscular creature that is the mindless angry alter-ego to David Banner
  • Jack Colvin as Jack McGee, a reporter tracking the Hulk's trail
  • Charles Napier as the voice of the Hulk (after Cassidy's death in 1979) (50 episodes; uncredited)[2][3]


  • Walter Brooke as Mark Roberts, McGee's boss at the National Register (seasons 3 & 4)


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".[4]



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 TV show based on any of several characters they had licensed from the Marvel Comics library.[5] 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.[6][7]

Johnson made several changes from the comic book, in part to translate it into a live-action show that was more believable and acceptable to a wide audience, and in part because he disliked comics and thus felt it best that the show was as different from the source material as possible.[8] 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."[8]

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.[8] 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.[8]

Johnson changed the name of the Hulk's comic book alter ego, Dr. Bruce Banner, to Dr. David Banner for the TV 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.[9] According to both Stan Lee[8] 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".[10] On the DVD commentary of the pilot, Johnson says that it was a way to honor his son David. "Bruce" ultimately became the TV 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,[8] 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 because red, not green, is perceived as the color of rage, and also because 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.[9]

Stan Lee told Kenneth Plume on 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."[11]


Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk, from the 1978 episode "Married"

For the role of Dr. David Banner, Kenneth Johnson cast Bill Bixby[12]—his first choice for the role.[13] Jack Colvin was cast as "Jack McGee", the cynical tabloid newspaper reporter—modeled after the character of Javert in Les Misérables[6]—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.[14]

The opening narration was provided by actor Ted Cassidy,[15] who also provided the Hulk's voice-overs (mainly growls and roars) during the first two seasons.[10] Cassidy died during production of season two in January 1979.[15] 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.[2][3]

Guest stars and cameosEdit

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 but not limited to: 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 played the half-transformed Hulk in "Prometheus" (parts 1 and 2).[16]

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 episodes "Married" and "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.[17] 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.[10]


Joe Harnell, one of Kenneth Johnson's favorite composers, composed the music for The Incredible Hulk. He was brought into the production due to 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 hitch-hiking.[18]


SeasonEpisodesOriginally aired
First airedLast airedNetwork
Pilot moviesNovember 4, 1977 (1977-11-04)November 27, 1977 (1977-11-27)CBS
110March 10, 1978 (1978-03-10)May 31, 1978 (1978-05-31)
222September 22, 1978 (1978-09-22)May 25, 1979 (1979-05-25)
323September 21, 1979 (1979-09-21)April 11, 1980 (1980-04-11)
418November 7, 1980 (1980-11-07)May 22, 1981 (1981-05-22)
57October 2, 1981 (1981-10-02)May 12, 1982 (1982-05-12)
MoviesMay 22, 1988 (1988-05-22)February 18, 1990 (1990-02-18)NBC

Broadcast historyEdit


  • March 1978 – January 1979: Fridays, 9:00 PM (ET)
  • January 1979: Wednesdays, 8:00 PM
  • February 1979 – November 1981: Fridays, 8:00 PM
  • May – June 1982: Wednesdays, 8:00 PM


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 on Esquire Network from 2014 to 2015.[22] Series reruns are to begin 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 has aired the series in portrait-form since January 2017.[citation needed]

Made-for-TV moviesEdit

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:

  • The Incredible Hulk (1977) (distributed in theaters in some countries)
  • The Return of the Incredible Hulk (1977) (also shown overseas as a feature film) – It was retitled Death in the Family for syndication.

After the cancellation of the television series in 1982, three television movies were produced with Bixby and Ferrigno reprising their roles. All of these aired on NBC:

  • The Incredible Hulk Returns (1988) – This marked the first time that another Marvel Universe character appeared in the milieu of the TV series. David Banner meets a former student (played by Steve Levitt) who has a magical hammer that summons Thor (played by Eric Allan Kramer), a Norse god who is prevented from entering Valhalla. It was set up as a backdoor pilot for a live-action television series starring Thor. This project marked Jack Colvin's final appearance as McGee.[25]
  • The Trial of the Incredible Hulk (1989) – David Banner meets a blind lawyer named Matt Murdock and his masked alter ego, Daredevil. The Incredible Hulk and the Daredevil battle Wilson Fisk (The Kingpin of Crime). Daredevil was portrayed by Rex Smith, while John Rhys-Davies portrayed Fisk. This was also set up as backdoor pilot for a live-action television series featuring Daredevil. Stan Lee has a cameo appearance as one of the jury members overlooking Banner's trial.
  • The Death of the Incredible Hulk (1990) – David Banner falls in love with an Eastern European spy (played by Elizabeth Gracen) and saves two kidnapped scientists. The film ends with the Hulk taking a fatal fall from an airplane, reverting to human form just before he dies.

Despite the apparent death of the Hulk in the 1990 film, another Hulk television movie was planned, Revenge of the Incredible Hulk.[26] 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 due to Bill Bixby's death of cancer in November 1993,[27] but 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, due to disappointing ratings for Death of, and that Banner was to have been revived without the ability to change into the Hulk at all, only reverting to (still non-speaking) Hulk form in the film's final act.[8]


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.[28]

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,[29] while the first season has a rating of 75% based on eight reviews, for an average rating of 6.0/10.[30]

A retrospective on the TV series reported that the episodes fans of the show most often cite as the best of the series are "The Incredible Hulk", "Married", "Mystery Man", "Homecoming", "The Snare", "Prometheus", "The First" and "Bring Me the Head of the Hulk".[8]

Home mediaEdit

All three of the NBC TV movies (The Incredible Hulk Returns, The Trial of the Incredible Hulk and The Death of the Incredible Hulk) have been available on DVD since 2003; the first two were released by Anchor Bay Entertainment, while The Death of the Incredible Hulk was released by 20th Century Fox Video. A double-sided DVD entitled The Incredible Hulk – Original Television Premiere, which contained the original pilot and the "Married" episodes, was released by Universal Studios DVD in 2003 to promote Ang Lee's Hulk motion picture. A 6-disc set entitled The Incredible Hulk – The Television Series Ultimate Collection was released by Universal DVD later in 2003.

Universal released all 5 seasons on DVD in Region 1 between 2006-2008. Additionally, a complete series DVD Set was released as well.[31]

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 on December 12, 2016.[32]

Other mediaEdit

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.[33]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Hulk Smash Television!". IGN. Ziff Davis. Retrieved September 9, 2010.
  2. ^ a b "The Official Charles Napier Website". Illumina Productions. Archived from the original on May 11, 2013. Retrieved September 13, 2013. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  3. ^ a b zanemathews (January 22, 2015). "10 Things You Didn't Know About 'The Incredible Hulk'". KOOL 107.9 FM.
  4. ^ "Interview with Kenneth Johnson". Archived from the original on June 13, 2008. Retrieved June 13, 2008. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  5. ^ Heffernan, Virginia (August 18, 2006). "Before the Fall: TV of Seasons (Just) Past". New York Times. Retrieved August 11, 2010.
  6. ^ a b "A Look Back: The Incredible Hulk on TV". Film School Rejects. June 8, 2008. Archived from the original on February 14, 2009. Retrieved February 25, 2009. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  7. ^ Mark Rathwell (January 23, 1999). "The Incredible Hulk television series page: Interview with Kenneth Johnson". Archived from the original on January 6, 2009. Retrieved February 25, 2009. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h Glenn, Greenberg (February 2014). "The Televised Hulk". Back Issue!. TwoMorrows Publishing (70): 19–26.
  9. ^ a b Cronin, Brian. "Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed #62". Comic Book Resources, August 3, 2006.
  10. ^ a b c Keck, William. "Lou Ferrigno looks back, and luckily, not in anger". USA Today, June 17, 2008, p. 2D.
  11. ^ Plume, Kenneth. "Interview with Stan Lee". IGN Entertainment, Inc.
  12. ^ Oliver, Myrna (November 23, 1993). "Bill Bixby, Star of TV's 'Incredible Hulk,' Dies". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 6, 2010.
  13. ^ Fary, Lisa (June 7, 2007). "Interviews: Kenneth Johnson (Part 1 of 2)". via Archived from the original on April 11, 2013. Retrieved April 11, 2013. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  14. ^ Richard Kiel interview.
  15. ^ a b Reesman, Bryan (August 1, 2007). "Forty-five years later, the Hulk is still our favorite green giant". American Way. Archived from the original on July 18, 2011. Retrieved December 13, 2010. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  16. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions. Who Played the Demi-Hulk?" Archived December 16, 2010, at the Wayback Machine. The Incredible Hulk Television Series site. Retrieved on December 28, 2010.
  17. ^ Gerani, Gary, "'The Incredible Hulk'", Starlog Photo Guidebook: Television Episode Guides Volume 2, Starlog Press, Inc., January 1982, pp. 66–67.
  18. ^ "The Incredible Hulk: Music From the Television Pilot Movies". Archived from the original on December 29, 2014. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  19. ^ Brooks, Tim; Marsh, Earle (2007). The complete directory to prime time network and cable TV shows, 1946-present (9th ed.). New York: Ballantine Books. p. 664. ISBN 978-0-345-49773-4.
  20. ^ Jicha, Tom. "Sci-fi Channel Approaching Launch". Retrieved March 14, 2013.
  21. ^ "Cable companies air 1980s reruns". Gannett. October 23, 2010. Retrieved April 8, 2015.
  22. ^ "Esquire Network Schedule". Archived from the original on April 2, 2015. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  23. ^ "The Incredible Hulk". Retrieved January 30, 2016.
  24. ^ "The Incredible Hulk". Retrieved June 2, 2017.
  25. ^ O'Connor, John J. (May 20, 1988). "TV Weekend; Incredible Hulk Meets Mighty Thor". New York Times. Retrieved August 10, 2010.
  26. ^ "Comics Screen", Comics Scene, October 1990, Starlog Communications International, Inc., pp.69–70.
  27. ^ Jankiewicz, Patrick. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry. Duncan Okla.: BearManor Media. ISBN 1593936508.
  28. ^ Cimino, John (Summer 2018). "The Legends and Lore of the Incredible Hulk, Stretch Armstrong, and the Mego Elastic Superheroes". RetroFan. TwoMorrows Publishing (1): 9–13.
  29. ^ "The Incredible Hulk (1977)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved December 14, 2018.
  30. ^ "The Incredible Hulk: Season 1 (1978)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved December 14, 2018.
  31. ^ The Incredible Hulk DVD news: Release Date for The Incredible Hulk – Season 5 and The Complete Series Archived July 20, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  32. ^ The Incredible Hulk - The Complete Collection
  33. ^ "The Incredible Hulk: A Video Novel".

External linksEdit