The Incredible Hulk is an American television series based on the Marvel Comics character, the Hulk. The series aired on the CBS television network and starred Bill Bixby as David Banner, Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk, and Jack Colvin as Jack McGee.
In the TV series, Dr. David Banner, a widowed physician and scientist, who is presumed dead, travels across America under assumed names (his false surnames always begin with the letter "B", but he keeps his first name), and finds himself in positions where he helps others in need despite his terrible secret: in times of extreme anger, he transforms into a huge, incredibly strong green creature, who has been given the name "The Hulk”. In his travels, Banner earns money by working temporary jobs while searching for a way to control his condition.
The series was originally broadcast by CBS from 1978 to 1982, with 82 episodes over five seasons. The two-hour pilot movie, which established the Hulk's origins, aired on November 4, 1977. It was developed and produced by Kenneth Johnson, who also wrote or directed some episodes.
After the series ended, the fate of David Banner was a cliffhanger until 1988. The franchise was purchased from CBS by rival NBC. They produced three made-for-television films: The Incredible Hulk Returns (directed by Nicholas Corea), The Trial of the Incredible Hulk and The Death of the Incredible Hulk (both directed by Bill Bixby). Since its debut, The Incredible Hulk series has garnered a worldwide fan base
David Bruce Banner, M.D., Ph.D., is a physician and scientist employed at the fictitious "Culver Institute"—presumably headed by Dr. Benjamin Culver (Charles Siebert)—who is traumatized by the car accident that killed his beloved wife Laura. Haunted by his inability to save her, Dr. Banner, in partnership with Dr. Elaina Harding Marks (Susan Sullivan), who also works at the Culver Institute, studies a total of 78 incidents of people who, while in danger, somehow managed to summon superhuman strength in order to save their loved ones. Dr. Banner concludes that high levels of gamma radiation from sunspots are the cause, and the emotional stress experienced in these situations combined with the gamma radiation altered the body chemistry to cause an increase in strength. In a tragic twist, it is revealed that while Dr. Banner's own body would have been the most receptive to the sunspot-based gamma augmentation, the car accident that claimed his wife had occurred on a day with the least sunspot-based gamma activity. To test his theory, Dr. Banner bombards his own body with gamma radiation. Unknown to Dr. Banner, the equipment has been upgraded, causing him to administer a far higher dose of gamma radiation to himself than he had intended. Dr. Banner attempts to lift a heavy object to test his strength, but is unable to, so he leaves the lab in disgust, thinking the experiment failed.
Driving home in a heavy rainstorm, Dr. Banner's car (1971 Toyota Celica) has a flat tire and he injures himself while trying to change it. The anger resulting from the pain triggers his first transformation into the Incredible Hulk, a 7-foot-tall (2.1 m), 330 pound, green-skinned savage creature, with a sub-human mind and superhuman strength. The Hulk/Dr. Banner destroys his car and wanders off into the nearby woods. The next morning, the Hulk stumbles upon a girl who is camping with her father, and attempts to befriend her (a la the Monster in Frankenstein). In the ensuing confusion, the Hulk is shot by the girl's father, but manages to escape. Once calm and unharrassed, the Hulk eventually transforms back into Dr. Banner, with little or no memory of the tire-changing incident or the events thereafter. Unsure of how to proceed, Dr. Banner seeks out his research partner, Dr. Marks. Her amazement at Dr. Banner's healing powers (his gunshot wound is nearly healed) is replaced by shock and horror when Dr. Banner tells her that he bombarded himself with gamma radiation.
Dr. Banner and Dr. Marks relocate to a laboratory isolated from the rest of the Culver Institute but still on its grounds, locking him in an experimental pressure chamber designed for deep underwater use; they hope that if Dr. Banner metamorphoses again, it will hold the Hulk. Dr. Banner initially suspects that his transformation had been caused by the lightning and/or rain, both of which he was experiencing at the time, and they simulate analogous conditions in the chamber. When this fails to induce a transformation, Dr. Banner lies down to get some sleep. Dr. Banner then has his recurring nightmare of the accident that killed his wife, which causes him to transform and the Hulk violently escapes from the chamber. Dr. Marks takes a blood sample from the Hulk's wounded hands and guides him to a couch, where he calms down and reverts to Banner. They then realize that the Hulk has a very high metabolism and healing rate and that the transformation is caused by strong negative emotions, such as anger. Banner summarizes the implications by saying, "That means it's uncontrollable but..."
While Dr. Banner and Dr. Marks try to reverse the process, a reporter for a fictitious tabloid called the National Register named Jack McGee (Jack Colvin), who was previously investigating Dr. Banner's research but is now investigating the reported sighting of the Hulk, intrudes on the lab. When the scientists refuse to speak to him, McGee suspects they know more than they are letting on and sneaks into the lab, hiding in a cupboard where he accidentally knocks over a chemical container. Dr. Banner catches McGee hiding and removes him from the premises, warning McGee with a smile, "Mr. McGee, don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry." (Dr. Banner was implying his transformation into the Hulk when angered.) But as Dr. Banner confronts McGee outside, the spilled chemicals (unseen by Dr. Banner) result in the lab catching fire. Dr. Banner rushes back into the lab to save Dr. Marks, and the stress of the smoke fumes triggers another transformation into the Hulk. The Hulk carries Dr. Marks away from the inferno into nearby woods. Dr. Marks reveals her love for Dr. Banner before she dies from injuries she sustained in the explosion. McGee witnesses the Hulk carrying her away, and surmises that the Hulk started the fire and killed both Dr. Banner and Dr. Marks. Although the authorities are skeptical of the existence of the creature McGee tells them about, he reports the creature to the police and publishes a front-page headline in the National Register that proclaims, "Incredible 'Hulk' Kills 2" before vowing to track down the creature so he can catch it and bring it to the law's attention. The series begins at this point. McGee vows to capture Dr. Marks' and Dr. Banner's killer. Dr. Banner, now presumed dead, is forced to go into hiding while trying to find a cure for his condition.
In a manner vaguely similar to the popular series The Fugitive, this forms the basis of the TV series: Dr. Banner endlessly drifts from place to place, assuming different identities and odd jobs to support himself and sometimes to enable his research. Along the way, Dr. Banner finds himself feeling obliged to help the people he meets out of whatever troubles have befallen them. Often Dr. Banner's inner struggle is paralleled by the dilemmas of the people he encounters, who find in Dr. Banner a sympathetic helper. As Kenneth Johnson stated, "What we were constantly doing was looking for thematic ways to touch [-on] the various ways that the Hulk sort of manifested itself in everyone. In Bixby and his character, Dr. David Banner, it happened to be anger. In someone else, it might be obsession, or it might be fear, or it might be jealousy or alcoholism! The Hulk comes in many shapes and sizes. That's what we tried to delve into in the individual episodes." Despite his attempts to stay calm no matter how badly he is treated, Dr. Banner inevitably finds himself in dangerous situations that trigger his transformations into the Hulk.
Meanwhile, McGee continues to pursue the incredible story of the mysterious monster, whom he believes got away with a double murder. Ultimately, Dr. Banner changes someone's life for the better or even saves a person's life. Nonetheless, Dr. Banner almost always flees the town, scared that publicity over the Hulk's rampages will eventually bring unwanted scrutiny of him from the local authorities or McGee; Banner explained to one girl the Hulk had helped in "Death In The Family", the second made-for-television film, "The creature is wanted for murder—a murder which I can never prove he or I didn't commit, and you would be harboring a criminal."
The episodes usually end with Dr. Banner hitch-hiking down some outbound highway or road, with a strikingly haunting and sad piano solo version of the series theme music, composer Joseph Harnell's "The Lonely Man", playing as the ending credits visualize. The mood conveys Dr. Banner's inner sense of hopelessness: the quest of a man desperate to one day find the cure that will bring him peace, an end to his endless running, and the ability to reclaim a normal life.
As the series progressed, Banner's character and the animalistic nature of the Hulk were frequently explored and expanded upon, with the viewer continuously learning more about the psychology of both Banner and the Hulk. The Hulk's personality was shown to still reflect Banner's good and compassionate nature, meaning he will typically restrict his wrath to villains threatening him, but will also restrict himself to simply tossing them aside, instead of killing them. Although the Hulk's intelligence is low, he retains the same motivations and priorities as Banner, always managing to protect people or objects that Banner deems important as well as attacking those he feels fear or hostility toward. The Hulk also has a soft spot towards women, children and animals. However, as Banner's normal personality becomes dormant to the Hulk's in that form, and he has no memory of the creature's actions, Banner lives in constant worry of what damage the Hulk causes during those episodes, fearing that someday the Hulk may unwittingly hurt or kill an innocent person.
The character of the antagonist Jack McGee underwent significant development throughout the course of the series. Although initially perceived as cynical and conniving in the beginning, the viewer's sympathy for McGee increases as the series progresses, as McGee gradually comes to realize over time that the Hulk may not be as dangerous as he initially thought, particularly following several instances in episodes such as "The Hulk Breaks Las Vegas" in which he has his own life saved by the creature. In season two's two-part episode "Mystery Man", McGee finally learns the shocking truth that the creature he has been pursuing for the past two years is in reality a man most of the time, making things more difficult for Banner from then on as he now subsequently finds McGee's pursuits more difficult than ever to avoid as McGee is now on a constant lookout for the man as well as the creature. In the same episode, we learn that McGee hopes to catch the Hulk so that the inevitable media sensation will advance his own dwindling career. However, subsequent episodes such as season three's "Proof Positive" show that McGee's real intentions lie much deeper than this, and that his main motive is purely to understand this fascinating creature (to whom his references as the Hulk are not shared by other characters) for himself, for his amazement at the existence of such a remarkable creature has caused him to become totally obsessed with the Hulk to the extent that it has ruined his personal life; the Hulk is permanently on his mind, and his annoyance over his lack of success in catching the Hulk is exacerbated by other people's refusal even to believe that the Hulk actually exists—not even his own colleagues at the National Register take the story seriously, and they view him as a laughing stock for believing that the Hulk is real.