Marvel TV Retrospective: The Incredible Hulk (1978-1982)

Marvel TV Retrospective: The Incredible Hulk (1978-1982)

It's the success of the 70s live-action The Incredible Hulk that launched us towards the superhero-filled movieplexes of today.

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I'm only a few years older than you, and due to Dutch television taking it's sweet time to import new series I can remember seeing this on tv a few times. Even clearer I remember playing The Hulk with our snap fastener coats in elementary school. For a 5 year old, it was a great series.

As I only got into comics at age 9 or 10, this was probably the first "superhero" I encountered.

Despite a speech related issue you say? How about because of one?

In all seriousness I have recently also found I have a much deeper appreciation for The Hulk TV show as I have aged. The irony of that being I am now in the demographic the show was targeting, so I guess they nailed that rather well.

I too was introduced to the Marvel Universe via the 1980's Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends & The Incredible Hulk animated series. But the first time I found out about the live action Incredible Hulk series was the movie trilogy that premired long after the original series went off the air. But, after my grandparents got cable, I got to know the show better via Sci-Fi Channel. It definitely still holds up to this day, mostly due to its charm from the lead actors and memorable episodes like Mystery Man, The First, and Prometheus. Hulu has it playing for free if you want to check it out.

While Ferrigno was great at the action stuff, the thing I find most memorable is his performances during the sections where Hulk got to show his gentler side - usually tenderly laying some young slip of a girl to the ground after ripping a wall off her. I remember finding real emotional depth in those moments, especially given how he only had his eyes to work with.

Admittedly I was probably seven years old at the time so I may not have been at the height of my critical faculties. But some of those scenes do stick in my mind to this day.

There was also that episode where Lou Ferrigno played an actual person on screen, he was an ex-bodybuilder that Bill had to talk into bodybuilding again to stop the bad guys. He did a decent job.

And you can talk about how CGI Hulk is needed, but if Lou came up to me and said "I'm the Hulk!" I'd be perfectly happy to say "Yes sir!"

Next Week should be fun...

I've seen a few episodes of it when Sci-fi channel showed reruns of it... i think it was sometime in the early 2000s... and the show wasn't too bad... a bit out of date obviously, but not that bad

I was too young to remember the TV series (I was 5 when it ended), but I remember the made-for-TV movies very well, being among the only decent representation of live-action superheroes in the era between Superman II and Tim Burton's Batman. Going through a major Conan/D&D-inspired sword and sorcery phase at the time, I mostly enjoyed the scene of Thor in the biker bar (the first 4 minutes of this video) from The Incredible Hulk Returns:

When I saw the first Hemsworth Thor film in theatres, I said to myself going in, "Thor better go drinking in this movie." And he did!


I loved this show as a kid--and I agree it has a lot to recommend it now--but I'm not clear on why MovieBob thinks it is THE definitive "show is what paved the way for superhero movies." I agree it deserves a lot of credit, certainly, but that's a lot of responsibility to lay on this show. Why THIS one to pick?

The Incredible Hulk wasn't seminal... it came out in 1978 according to Wikipedia and thus wasn't the first Marvel TV show--the Spider-Man live action show pre-dates it by a year. Probably there might have been other Marvel shows I'm not aware of. And it's obviously not the first superhero show -- what would be, the Superman TV show that starred George Reeves?

Outside of Marvel, in the 70s, there was also of course Shazam! started in 1974 and shared its "power hour" with another superhero show, Secrets of Isis. Wonder Woman ran from 1975-1979. Arguably, while not comic book adaptations (rather, a sci-fi novel adaptation), The Six Million Dollar Man and its spinoff The Bionic Woman could also be considered superhero shows and also predate Hulk; The Bionic Woman in particular is notable because it won an Emmy -- not sure if any other shows of this genre did at the time. In fact, I'd argue as I think 6Mill predates ALL of the 70s superhero shows, it and the BW's success probably enabled the creation and success of the superhero shows made in the 1970s, including The Incredible Hulk.

Like The Incredible Hulk, all of the superhero shows (Marvel or DC) were "low power" due to budget/SFX restrictions. And all of them generally follwed a similar, gritty cop/adventure show formula dealing with mostly real world villains in the present day -- even Wonder Woman switched from a Golden Age nostalgia fest about fighting Nazis after the first season and basically became a show about a current-day secret agent who once an episode spun into the Star Spangled Bathing Suit to help beat up largely run of the mill bad guys (with the VERY occasional alien or science-accident-created supervillain like Formicida the Ant Queen).

I mean, what I'm getting at here is that The Incredible Hulk didn't really do anything THAT new in terms of format--i.e., in terms of presenting a superhero dealing with a seemingly real world. All of those shows did that. You don't get enough into what makes TIH stand out against those that came before it. I hope you get into that in the ensuing articles.

I DO think the Incredible Hulk did cover the "superpowers can be a curse" theme really well, and I think it did deal with a sadder and grittier world than some of the other shows -- I've only seen one episode of Shazam!, and it was a bloody awful PSA about the evils of stealing cars for joyriding. I remember watching the live action Spider-Man but I don't remember it well enough to judge what it was like. I love Wonder Woman -- for me it was the show that got me into comics and superheroes in general -- but I'll totally admit the show tended to be pretty shallow on the character development side (not uncommon for action shows of that time), and only occasionally dealt with some serious topics and then often brushed over them at best -- although some exceptions, like Wonder Woman dealing with a Japanese-American "villain" embittered by his treatment as a child in the Nissei camps, are good to take note of (if for no other reason, it's kind of edifying to see Wonder Woman's new network criticizing the old one for glorifying WWII without touching on some of its darker consequences).

So what I'm getting at is I agree with you, TIH deserves some props, especially as it got into "Bruce David Banner's" angst at a time when angst was not a thing you saw on television. But I'd love to see some clarification on why YOU think it should be the conversation starter on what led to superhero movies, and not, say, some other superhero TV show that predated it. Thanks for the article.


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