The Boob Tube #43: The Incredible Hulk

Once upon a time, The Incredible Hulk was my favorite TV show.  I hated the David Banner scenes - they bored my ADD raddled mind to tears.  If I'd had it my way, it would have been the Hulk for the full hour; beginning to end, wall to wall Hulk.  The reality was that the show centered around Banner, and the Hulk was only in it for a few precious minutes (mid-episode and at the end). Yet, those two scenes were so damn awesome that it was still worth it.  Perhaps, the boring Banner scenes added to the anticipation, and made Hulk's arrival all the sweeter.

What's really kind of sad is that, with my 2013 perspective, the Hulk actually seems kind of..... well, dumb looking.  I mean, Ferrigno was ripped, but nothing like the comics or the modern day CGI Hulk.  The giant Peter Gallagher eyebrows and goofy haircut don't help matters.  Yet, when the show originally aired, it was the coolest thing I'd ever seen.

I think the original intent of the show was to demonstrate a real human drama with Bill Bixby and really play down the Hulk action. Indeed, to separate itself from the comic book, the producer, Kenneth Johnson, changed the name from Bruce Banner to David Banner (a symbolic gesture) and even wanted the Hulk to be red instead of green (but Stan Lee put his foot down).  

But as the seasons wore on, things became a bit silly.  Season 3 is arguably the best - the perfect equilibrium of seriousness and campy fun. 

Mardi Gras
Despite it's transgressions, The Incredible Hulk holds up over time, and at the end of the day I'd have to say it's a damn fine show.  I'd put it above both 21st century Hulk films.  For all their CGI effects and bloated budgets, they were empty vessels.  They didn't have the heart that this show had.  So, while the effects of the TV series were perhaps lacking, and the storyline prone to silliness, it still drew the viewers in and made you care about the faces on the screen; something that the kabillion dollar blockbusters couldn't do.

(Note: I thought Mark Ruffalo in The Avengers did a fine job; but this wasn't a Hulk movie per se, so it would be wrong to draw comparisons.)

Here's a few more Hulk screen caps...

Remember the Michael Douglas movie, Coma?  I remember seeing the movie preview which showed  dozens of bald naked people hanging from the ceiling by string. The imagery gave me nightmares.  I was an impressionable lad.

The Hulk and Loni Anderson - my dream combo.

Unlike many of its contemporaries, The Incredible Hulk didn't bombard you with cameos and guest stars.  The Love Boat and Fantasy Island were the biggest perpetrators, but even shows like C.H.i.P.s and Wonder Woman were wall-to-wall with washed-up actors.  You'd never catch Donny Most on The Incredible Hulk.

Although, you could catch Mackenzie Phillips playing a Gene Simmons type rock star (which is exactly what Donny Most played on the Halloween episode of C.H.i.P.s).  Mariette Hartley turns up in an episode, as do  Gordon Jump, Pat Morita, and Rick Springfield.... but that's neither here nor there.

One of the best things about the show was the variety it threw at you.  Sure, it followed the same formula week after week of two, always exactly two, Hulk transformations.  Yet, the plots were widely different thanks to Banner's nomadic existence.  One episode is about boxing, another a haunted house, then a rodeo, a traveling circus, a hunter who hunts humans, truck driving, Vegas, voodoo, etc.  The show never got stale until the 4th season when it started running out of ideas - by season 5 it was done.

This episode is one of my favorites, not just for the disco action, but it also contains a hilarious bit of gratuitous cheesecake.  Our green hero inadvertently rips off the dress of a disco dolly....

The camera closes in on Hulk quizzically staring at the torn dress in his hand, and then pans over to the screaming defrocked damsel.  They just don't make'm like this anymore.

She's a-lookin' and she's a-likin'.


Buy every damn season


  1. "They didn't have the heart that this show had."

    Agreed. And they also didn't have Jack McGee, who was a great character!

  2. Bill Bixby also had the "Incredible" ability to seem so real and emotionally intense. You believed him in any role. And when I was a kid I wanted to have hair just like his, hell I still do.

    1. Well said. He could have played it with tongue firmly planted in cheek, but he went all in.

  3. Even at 10 years old, I knew this wasn't the Hulk I knew and loved from the comics, but I was pretty forgiving. Any chance to view my Marvel characters on the small screen (I could never hope for the big screen, that would *never* happen) was more than enough. I suffered through Spider-man, Captain America and Doctor Strange, but the Hulk I actually enjoyed. I knew his hair and false brow were silly and his legs were too skinny, but when he started throwing people around, I didn't care. I watched the pilot episode a while back and surprisingly, it holds up.

  4. MoncynnesJune 21, 2013

    If you get a chance, it's worthwhile to listen to producer Kenneth Johnson's commentary track on the pilot episode. He explained that his concept of David Banner was that he was a man who was cursed with the ability to help others, but never himself. Johnson also heaped praise on Bill Bixby, who was able to use the darkness within his own life to bring immeasureable depth and soul to his character. I thought Edward Norton and Mark Ruffalo were great Bruce Banners (even Eric Bana did okay) -- but Bill Bixby will always be the Hulk's human alter-ego to me.

  5. We're still working through season 1 at out house. Scratch that, we just started season 2 when Banner get married! She dies of course. My kids always want to turn off the melancholy music at the end of the show, but I always want to hear it. I think it adds that touch of poignancy that makes the show so great, if simultaneously silly.

  6. Oh, God bless that poor, doomed boxer trying to throw a left hook at the Hulk's ribs. He a boxer, that what he is, an' he's a-gonna die as he lived... boxing.

  7. Oh dear, I could go on and on and on about how much I love this show, but that's a subject for my own blog :)

    I will say a few things:

    Re the commentary by Kenneth Johnson: his obvious disdain for the source material always bothers me.

    The man standing next to Loni Anderson is the same actor who played Sherlock Holmes for the BBC and PBS in the 90s.

    Gerald McRaney holds the record for most Hulk guest appearances. I've counted him in at least five episodes, a different character every appearance!

    The Rick Springfield episode (also starring McRaney) was meant to be a backdoor pilot for Springfield's own series that went unsold.

    Other episodes featured former Bixby colleagues Ray Walson (My Favorite Martian) and Brandon Cruz (The Courtship of Eddie's Father).

  8. I gave one of your screenshots the meme treatment: http://www.quickmeme.com/meme/3uy065/

  9. The Demolition Derby episode was my favorite. Too bad we can't go back in time and add The Hulk to The Courtship Of Eddie's Father. It would've made that show watchable. Seeing Mrs. Livingston run from The Hulk would've been awesome.

    1. Plus, how many shows these days have demolition derbies? None, I bet. Well, except reality shows like X Factor or whatever, which are the destruction of TV.

    2. Or have Bixby turn into the Hulk whenever he'd get frustrated at Uncle Martin in My Favorite Martian.

      If only Bill hadn't gone on to direct Blossom, he'd have gone down as a personal hero.

  10. Magic KennyJune 24, 2013

    The theme music - timeless. Can hear that lonely piano melody, note for note, even today.

  11. AnonymousJuly 02, 2013

    I recall something about the name change from Bruce to David. Something about the producers felt that "Bruce" was to much of an effeminate sounding name. In the '70s, there were a lot of stereotypical gay jokes/characters that used the name Bruce.

  12. The Hulk looks really cute and sexy. Love his green feet too! Mmmm!!!!