Today In Pop Culture: The Incredible Hulk Crushes It On TV

Published on March 10th, 2016 in: Comics, Movies, Today In Pop Culture, TV |

By Less Lee Moore

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Although actor Mark Ruffalo is the one many now associate with The Incredible Hulk, thanks to the Avengers series of movies directed by JJ Abrams, it’s not the first time the green rage monster has appeared onscreen.

Eric Bana portrayed Dr. Bruce Banner and The Incredible Hulk in Ang Lee’s much-derided 2003 Hulk movie (remember the Hulked-out poodles?). When that film didn’t thrill audiences like they hoped, Marvel tried again, this time in 2008 with Edward Norton as the titular character and Louis Leterrier (The Transporter) behind the camera. Although both films doubled their budget in ticket sales, and received about the same amount of critical acclaim, the latter film was much more popular with audiences, at least according to Rotten Tomatoes.

You’d have to go back to the late 1970s for the small-screen version of The Incredible Hulk, and for many members of Generation X, it’s the one they still hold dear. Preceded by two made-for-TV movies in November 1977, the first episode of CBS’s The Incredible Hulk premiered on March 10, 1978.

Showrunner Kenneth Johnson worked with Stan Lee, The Hulk’s comic book father, to develop the show, and together they made minor changes. Dr. Bruce Banner was changed to Dr. David Banner, his job as physicist was changed to medical doctor, and his transformation into the Hulk was no longer an accident from an atomic-testing explosion, but one that resulted during lab tests.

Dr. Banner lost his wife Laura in a car accident after he was unable to save her. Knowing the history of people who suddenly developed super-strength in a crisis, he performed tests with gamma radiation to see if he could replicate the results. When he accidentally bombards himself with massive doses of gamma radiation and still sees no change, he is perplexed until the simple frustration of changing a flat tire in the rain provokes the rage transformation into The Hulk, something which Banner cannot remember or control. It also made the following line iconic for most kids in the late ‘70s: “Mr. McGee, don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”

Bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno portrayed the Mean Green version of Banner, after Arnold Schwarzenegger was considered too short and Richard Kiel was considered not buff enough. Bill Bixby, best known to audiences of the time as the star of My Favorite Martian and The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, portrayed Banner.

Every kid I knew watched The Incredible Hulk in the ‘70s. Even if we secretly thought that The Hulk’s green body paint was goofy looking, we didn’t care. The combination of the human element of Dr. Banner’s struggles to understand and control his condition along with his continual pursuit by a truly annoying villain, tabloid reporter John McGee, made for riveting television. The theme music, composer Joe Harnell’s “The Lonely Man,” never failed to make me get teary-eyed, especially in episode one of Season Two, “Married.”

The Incredible Hulk lasted for five seasons on CBS (the last two only had 18 and 5 episodes respectively), but it will last forever in our hearts. (Come on, you know you love The Incredible Hulk.)

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