The Incredible Hulk Tv Series: The First and Most Definitive Live Action Adaptation of The Hulk That The Rest Have Followed.
“Mr. McGee, don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry”. And thus, an iconic series was born from a phrase that would become so iconic that it’s been parodied on just about every movie and tv show since, including two feature film adaptations in 2003, 2008 and 2012:
It all started when iconic comic book writer Stan Lee got an offer to have one of his and Jack Kirby’s most famous and beloved characters come to life on the small screen. It’s no secret how much the late great Stan Lee adored the Hulk. If they were gonna do a weekly tv series it was gonna get done right as far as Stan was concerned. It was all about the stars aligning, God smiling down on them etc. all the right elements had to happen for the show to have any chance at all of working. But first, he needed someone to produce and write a pilot.
Producer\writer Kenneth Johnson who just so happened to create V, The Bionic Woman and Alien Nation, got the job and was obviously right guy for the job too. He produced and wrote a pilot movie for CBS in 1977 called The Incredible Hulk.
Johnson was no comic book fan and initially turned down the offer for him to develop the Hulk for television, but what ultimately drew him to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s incredible story were two things: 1.The classic Victor Hugo French literature Les Miserables and how he could take the tragedy of the Banner\Hulk story and do his own version of that. 2. The chance to turn what he saw as a ridiculous, absurd comic booky story to a real, highly emotional and compelling drama for television. The next big step was casting David Banner… Yes, David Banner, not Bruce Banner, which was a decision Johnson made because 1. His disdain for anything comic book connected and 2. He just liked the way David Banner sounded. Bill Bixby was the first and only choice for what would become his most iconic role, but he turned it down initially because he wasn’t interested in doing what he saw as a goofy kids show with men in tights, superpowers etc. But after reading Johnson’s pilot script Bixby was impressed enough to sign on…as long as Johnson stayed on the show the whole time and kept providing strong scripts, which he did for all five seasons.
Bill Bixby as David Banner:
We’ve had such acclaimed and talented actors such as Eric Bana, Edward Norton and Mark Ruffalo take a stab at the iconic role of Bruce Banner, each bringing their own specific elements to the role that make each of their interpretations unique. But for this guy, and I know for many others there’s just no topping what Bill Bixby did with the character. Bixby was an immeasurably talented actor who brought such humanity, heart and high intellect to the role of David Banner, that you’d believe he actually was this tragic scientist. The show gave Bixby so many wonderful opportunities to display his supreme acting skills and emotional depths, that it’s a real bogus move that he never received an Emmy for his iconic performance. But forget those fools, Bixby was David Banner and David Banner was Bill Bixby. What I like best about Bixby in the role is how he took what could’ve been a stereotypical socially awkward nerdy scientist trope and turned Banner into a cool, resourceful and sensitive everyman with a heart of gold, yet had a underlying toughness that kept him going through all his tragedies.
Lou Ferrigno as The Incredible Hulk:
We’ve had Hulk in several mediums: From comic books to video games, to animated series and multiple movies, but none of them ever had the Hulk portrayed by a flesh and blood human being painted Green with a big green wig before or since. Lou Ferrigno was a big time Bodybuilder back in the 70s and when it came time to cast the incredible hulk, Lou got the honors to bring the big green giant to live action for the very first time. While yes, the show being set before any type of CGI and advanced special effects does make certain aspects of the show a little cheesy and dated, I think there is still something both charming and special having a real live person playing Hulk, giving him more authentic human qualities and just being unique from all the other versions. Lou Ferrigno wasn’t an actor but his performance as the Hulk week in and week out was always so good, and that’s because Lou brought a softness, heart and child like innocence to the character as much as he brought the brute strength and ferociousness. While we’ve gotten many great interpretations of the incredible hulk in more modern times, my favorites being the 2008 movie Hulk and 2012 Avengers Hulk, Like Bill Bixby as Banner, Lou Ferrigno will always be the first and most definitive Hulk, setting the foundation that all other live action Hulks would follow. It also says a lot about Lou’s association as the Hulk being so iconic that he was brought back to voice Hulk in the 1996 animated series and the 2008 movie.
Jack Colvin as National Register newspaper reporter Jack McGee:
Every good show or movie, book or play needs a strong antagonist and Mr. Jack McGee was certainly the perfect one for this show. Played to perfection by Jack Colvin, Jack McGee was the Lt. Gerard to Banner’s Richard Kimble, for all you The Fugitive fans out there. For five seasons and one tv reunion movie, McGee chased the Hulk across the country to bring what he thinks is a murderer to justice. Colvin took a role that could’ve easily been just a one note villain and made him an honorable, funny and even likable antagonist who really did mean well, although still desperate for a hot scoop. One of the biggest oversights in both the 2003 and 2008 Hulk films was that nobody thought to include McGee who was a very essential character and an important antagonist in the lives of Banner and the Hulk. If they had put him in the movies there’s no doubt in my mind who should’ve played him: The one and only Willem Dafoe (aka Norman Osborne aka Green Goblin) who is a dead ringer for the late great Colvin. They could be twins.
In closing, a lot of people grew up with the Bixby\Ferrigno Hulk series that really set such high standards for the characters of Banner and Hulk as well as their story that every other interpretation is measured against. The show itself, the characters and the actors in the roles have all become household names for millions, and that’s thanks to the overall timeless quality of the story, acting and overall themes of the series. Even if you have never seen or even heard of this version of The Incredible Hulk I guarantee you that you have at least once heard the phrase “Don’t make me angry. You won’t like me when I’m angry”, at some point of your life and recognized where it’s from. We tragically lost Bill Bixby back in 1993 due to complications from Prostate Cancer, but his legacy still lives on through this show.