Based on the Marvel Comics character, the show followed Bill Bixby’s Dr Banner after he bombards himself with gamma radiation in an attempt to unlock the superhuman strength he believes lies within all humans.
Unfortunately for him, when he encounters strong negative emotions — like anger — he transforms into a seven-foot-tall green-skinned monster (played by muscle-man Lou Ferrigno) with massive strength. After the Hulk is suspected of murdering Banner and a colleague, Banner goes on the lam, helping others in need while trying to control his condition.
The show would go on to spawn three TV movies in the late 1980s, as well as several feature films all based on Stan Lee’s comic book creation — but no doubt inspired by the original Bill Bixby series, proving that moviegoers liked Dr Banner even more when he was angry. – AJW
TV movie pilot review: ‘Incredible Hulk’ is lots of fun
By Kevin Thomas, Los Angeles Times – November 4, 1977
“The Incredible Hulk” (CBS tonight at 8) is incredible, all right—but that doesn’t mean it isn’t also lots of fun and even poignant besides. Distraught over the death of his wife in a car crash, scientist Bill Bixby immerses himself in research to discover why some individuals can summon superhuman strength in crisis while others cannot.
Whereas one of his subjects (Susan Batson) was able to hoist her overturned, burning car and save her son (Eric Deon), trapped inside, Bixby had not been able to do the same for his wife, whom he loved just as deeply as this woman loves her son.
After lots of hours at the computer with his colleague (Susan Sullivan), Bixby learns that Miss Batson and others like her had been exposed to gamma rays during their crises while Bixby had not. Bixby can’t wait to give himself a 300-unit dose of gamma rays.
It turns out, however, that the machinery involved hadn’t been properly calibrated, so he actually received a whopping 2 million units. Therefore, in his first burst of anger after the gamma-ray bombardment, Bixby turns into a veritable Jolly Green Giant (Lou Ferrigno, the gigantic body-builder who will be remembered as the shy, earnest fellow who lost the 1975 Mr. Olympia title to Arnold Schwarzenegger in the documentary feature “Pumping Iron”).
Once the anger subsides, Ferrigno turns back into Bixby, who has no memory of what happened to him. Will Bixby be able to return to normal with Miss Sullivan’s help?
Not surprisingly, “The Incredible Hulk,” based on the exploits of the popular Marvel comic book hero, was written, produced and directed by Kenneth Johnson, who gave us The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman.
Wisely, Johnson has played everything absolutely straight, which makes various moments of unintended humor all the funnier, but also gives this Universal TV film a serious enough tone to keep it from sliding into outright camp.
To be sure, our first sight of Ferrigno, who has been given, besides a green tinge, a grotesque, Neanderthal visage, is hilarious, as are various bits of dialogue, such as Miss Sullivan’s remark to the raging Ferrigno, “Just let me get a blood sample. It won’t hurt you.”
However, despite such lapses — which, after all, only add to the fun — “The Incredible Hulk” has been painstakingly crafted and effectively invokes primordial motifs from “Frankenstein,” “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and “King Kong.”
Actors never get prizes for performances in shows like this, but Bixby and Miss Sullivan, a witty, elegant beauty who reminds one of Lauren Bacall, are certainly deserving of accolades.
Within an often outrageous context, their parts are well-written, and they draw upon the resources of their craft impressively to make “The Incredible Hulk” as persuasively credible as it is. The only other prominent character is an abrasive reporter for a sensational national tabloid, well-played by Jack Colvin.
THE INCREDIBLE HULK: A CBS Friday Night Movie presentation of a Universal TV production. Writer-producer-director Kenneth Johnson. Camera Howard Schwartz. Music Joseph Harnell. Art director Charles R. Davis. Film editors Jack Schoengarth, Alan Marks. Featuring Bill Bixby, Susan Sullivan, Jack Colvin, Lou Ferrigno, Susan Batson, Charles Siebert, Mario Gallo, Eric Deon, Jake Mitchell, Lara Parker, William Larsen, Olivia Barash, George Brenlin, June Whitley, Terrence Locke. Airs tonight at 8…
‘Hulk’ actor Bill Bixby depends on fantasy
News-Journal (Mansfield, Ohio) July 5, 1978
Whether its public television’s “Once Upon a Classic” or commercial TV’s “The Incredible Hulk,” Bill Bixby fans tune him in for a world of fantasy, the actor says.
“Everyone fantasizes. We all want to be something we’re not,” said the slight star, who sometimes hosts his public broadcasting series wearing blue jeans.
Bixby is known for his role as David Bruce Banner in the CBS “Hulk” series. But he also appeals to imaginations in “Once Upon a Classic,” a PBS show which is filmed in part in Pittsburgh.
The weekly public television series presents four literary masterpieces and eight adventure films each year. It’s rated among PBS’s top three programs for both children and adults. “‘Classics’ is fantasy,” said Bixby. “But it’s not a kid’s show. Adults are supporting ‘Classics’ not just for their children, but for themselves.”
In his first season as host, Bixby introduced audiences to such old-time fables as “Robin Hood” and “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. He was in Pittsburgh recently to film segments at WQED-TV for the upcoming season, which will include “Pinocchio” and “The Secret Garden,” the tale of a young girl who befriends an old gardener and learns the joy of helping others. “TV’s been good to me,” Bixby said in an interview between taping sessions.
“‘Classics’ is my way of paying my dues to TV.” Bixby recently signed a second two-year contract for the series, which is co-produced by the British Broadcasting Co. and Time-Life Television.
All those shows have depended on the preposterous to get across a social message. “Hulk” is no different, he said. “The Hulk is today’s fantasy,” he said. “There’s a bit of the Hulk in everybody. That’s why the show’s become popular so quickly.”
Based on a comic strip character, “The Incredible Hulk” premiered as a two-hour movie in mid-season, and quickly became a weekly series. It now ranks among the top 10 commercial shows.
Bixby laughed when CBS asked him to star in the series. “I went from Eddie’s Father, to ‘Steam Bath,’ to ‘Rich Man, Poor Man,” he said. “How could I do the Hulk?”
But he read the script and didn’t laugh. He was cast as the doctor who became a raging green creature when upset. Bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno, a deaf former Mr. Universe, plays the formidable Hulk.
The show reminds adult viewers of their childhood fantasies, he said. And “Once Upon a Classic” does the same. “Childhood innocence is very important,” Bixby said. “My shows bring back fantasies that adults once had.”
Lou Ferrigno: Making a green monster out of a nice, young actor (1977)
Berkshire Sampler (Pittsfield, Mass.) October 30, 1977
How do you make a seven-foot green monster out of an attractive young actor, avoiding the ludicrous and the bizarre, but retaining the sense of realism that the actor, and the production, insist upon?
This was the problem facing the producer of “The Incredible Hulk” in bringing the popular Marvel Comic Book character to the screen in a two-hour special to be broadcast Friday, Nov. 4 (8:00 – 10:00 pm) on the CBS Television Network.
The actor in the starring role, Bill Bixby, had been signed after being assured that the venture would be played seriously. But Bixby is many inches short of the required height when he turns from mild-mannered David Bruce Banner into the raging Hulk, so the producers arrived at a novel solution: The starring role would be shared by two different actors, Bixby and towering Lou Ferrigno. Ferrigno, at 6’5″ weighs 270 well-distributed pounds.
Audiences would probably recognize him from his role in the highly-acclaimed documentary film about bodybuilding, “Pumping Iron,” or from the Mr. America, Mr. Universe or Mr. World contests — all of which he has won — if they could see beneath his makeup.
Last season, Ferrigno was a defensive tackle for the Toronto Argonauts in the Canadian Football League, and this fall. he is appearing in the broadcasts of “The World’s Strongest Men” on “CBS Sports Spectacular.” Currently, he is in the film capital actively pursuing an acting career.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, Ferrigno has been deaf since the age of three, the result of a severe ear infection. Rather than interfering with his life, this handicap has helped inspire him in his pursuit of honing his capabilities. He hopes his own success as a bodybuilder will convince other handicapped kids that there are ways to overcome their own limitations.
But Ferrigno is a healthy, sun-tanned hunk of a man, not a green-colored Hulk, so the makeup man had to do his part in the transformation of Bixby’s sincere Banner character into Ferrigno’s raging Hulk, a metamorphosis which takes place every time Banner gets angry.
It starts when Banner’s eyes turn green (colored contact lenses) and ends, through the benefit of camera magic, with the Hulk’s green skin (makeup), green hair (wig), and massive physical bearing (Ferrigno’s own, except for a little putty on the nose to make it as dominating as the rest of his physique).
The result is a human approximation of the Hulk that has delighted comic book aficionados since 1962. But there is still a seven-inch difference between Ferrigno’s 6’5″ and the fictional Hulk’s seven feet.
“We cheat a little,” Ferrigno says, “but even the most rabid ‘Hulk’ fans won’t notice the difference.”