Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Incredible Hulk!

Are there any shows on for kids anymore? I don’t watch as much TV as I used to but it seems to me that most, if not all, of primetime television shows are geared toward older teens and adults. I certainly wouldn’t want my kids (if I had any) watching my favorite shows like LOST, PRISON BREAK, HOUSE or THE SARAH CONNER CHRONICLES until they were in, say, high school. Even Saturday morning cartoons are going the way of the VCR and dial telephone. The FOX network has plans to do away with their kids programming block in favor of paid programming (infomercials.)

What the hell happened?

When I was a kid, there was a wealth of programming suitable for my age group that also played well with adults. THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN was probably my favorite. (I remember “running” around the yard in slo-mo, picking up empty cardboard boxes and throwing them, making the obligatory “nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh” sound.) But there was also PLANET OF THE APES, STAR TREK, DUKES OF HAZZARD...and THE INCREDIBLE HULK.

I remember how excited I was when I saw the first promo for the pilot movie. Even then, I knew how difficult it could be for Hollywood to adapt a character like the Hulk as a live-action show. But, judging by the previews, they’d pulled it off. And once I saw the movie (Mom let me stay up late, as she often did when something “special” was on.) I wasn’t disappointed. Obviously, they’d made some changes. I was baffled as to why he didn’t talk and why bullets actually hurt him. But I was mesmerized by the huge green guy with the white irises. Lou Ferrigno instantly became my idol. I wasn’t stupid. I knew there was Hollywood trickery afoot but for that one hour each Friday night (once the series was picked up) I completely bought into the idea that he and Bill Bixby were the same guy and that Ferrigno was actually seven feet tall and green. Ferrigno is about 6’ 5” tall so, with some creative camera work, this wasn’t hard to pull off. And, at the time, we didn’t have a color tv (just a 13” black and white) so I couldn’t really see the seams in the makeup. Or the spots where it would come off on whatever he picked up. Usually, a damsel in distress.

Mike’s friend Carlton wasn’t as appreciative of the character design as I was. He hated the eyes, the large nose they gave him (as did Ferrigno, I’ve heard) and described the wig as looking like something they found dead on the side of the road, dyed green and perched on his head. Looking back, he was right. Over the five seasons the show was airing, the makeup was slowly refined and improved but they never quite got the wig right.

But the show was really very good. The writing was good for it’s time and Bixby took the show seriously, grounding the show with his heartfelt, earnest performance. Obviously, it’s a little dated now. For budgetary reasons, the writers had to follow a strict formula of two “hulk-outs” per episode (at :25-after and :10-till) that never lasted more than a few minutes. The one time I can remember them breaking this formula was in one of the best episodes produced: “Married.” (SPOILERS!!) This featured one of the most heart-breaking scenes in the series in which Banner has to chase his new (and terminally ill) bride through a hurricane and becomes the Hulk from the stress. The creature finally tracks her down and she dies in his arms. When he changes back, she’s gone and he never got to say good bye. It was an incredible (n.p.i.) moment and, if I’m not mistaken, that episode won an emmy.

When I was a kid, I waited impatiently for each hulk-out to see Lou in all his glory, smashing walls and bending pipes. But I’ve been watching a few of the episodes on and now I can see that Bixby really was the star of the show.

Also slightly dated but really, surprisingly good is the music by the late Joe Harnell. Everybody knows the music played over the end credits called “The Lonely Man Theme” (referred to by Stewie Griffin as “the sad, walking away music from THE INCREDIBLE HULK...” but Harnell provided quite a few wonderful cues for the series. Each character, even the annoying but noble reporter Jack McGee had one. Harnell really doesn’t get enough credit for the work he did on the series. Since most of the Hulk’s scenes were shot in slow motion, really slowing the pacing, he used his music to add an element of excitement to the proceedings. I loved how, as Lou would emerge from wherever he’d just “changed”, Harnell’s familiar Hulk theme (bum...bum...BUMMMM...bummmm) announced the creature’s arrival. And, as he was chasing down frightened bad guys and pitching them into stacks of empty cardboard boxes or gingerly picking up Papier-mâché rocks with his fingertips (so as not to smear his makeup), this would be playing.

I could go on and on about how much I loved that show as a kid and how Lou Ferrigno (as the Hulk) inspired me in part to drop all the extra pounds in high school so I could play football and blah blah blah. But this post is getting long and I haven’t even mentioned my sketch at the top. I kind of like how it turned out, though I screwed up on part of the torso. That’s what I get for trying to ink in the dark. (Damn, the sun is going down early, isn’t it?) It reminds me of something but I can’t put my finger on it.

Anyway, if you haven’t checked out HULK show lately, do yourself a favor and head on over to the awesome Hulu site and watch an episode. Try to watch it with the era it was made in mind. Obviously, Lou Ferrigno in makeup can’t compete with a 12-foot tall CG creature but he sure did his best. And it was a heck of a lot of fun watching him do it.

If you’re interested in picking up some of Joe Harnell’s music, check out his memorial website and buy one of his CD’s. This site, incidentally, is where I got the music clips.



Josh said...

I remember watching The Incredible Hulk, apparently in syndication in the early 80s, since it ended in about 1979. I wasn't even five yet so when I saw the Hulk he kind of scared me. I remember hiding behind a chair peeking out at the tv. But I enjoyed watching Hulk. That shark on Sesame Street scared me too.

Christian D. Leaf said...

Nicely done, ol' bean. See you snuck in some of that white pen, too.

My brother Andy and I loved us some Hulk and watched it with religion. The scene that always stuck with me was the Hulk got away from whatever puny human had aggravated him, but had hurt his hand in the ordeal. He stopped and sat down to mull the situation over as only the Hulk when a ragged ol' dog came up and started licking Hulk's wounded mitt. The Hulk shared a moment with Poochy and all was right with Hulk's world for that instant.

Heywood Jablomie said...

Man that's a helluva pic matt!!!

And your pin-up came out great also in the last post. That book looks great can't wait to check it out.

The Hulk was the shit. I'd like to get the seasons, they're all around $20 a pop at Wal-Mart now. Dated or not, to me it still holds a special place.

Warren said...

Nice Hulk pic! I love the expression on his face.

The Hulk TV show wasn't a direct adaptation of the comic book. It was more like the New Universe version of what the Hulk would be like. But it was a great show. I was in high school when it came out, but I still thought it was awesome!

Bill Bixby was one of those actors whose presence on a project would automatically raise the quality. He had another excellent comic-booky series, the Magician, where he performed his own escapes and tricks. It was a great show, but only lasted one season. It has a very interesting Wiki entry as well --

Anyway thanks for the trip down memory lane, Matt!

Matt Wieringo said...

Thanks for the link, Warren. I have fond memories of staying up late to watch reruns of THE MAGICIAN on the late show. That's where I first "met" Bill Bixby. It's amazing how influential that show was considering how brief it's run was. Check this out:

Anonymous said...

Yeah, as soon as I saw your pic, I thought about the tv show...and then you wrote all about it...good stuff!
I remember catching all the re-runs in the 80's as well...good thing is they are showing it on a channel here everyday...sci-fi use to have it on all the time as well.

My favorite episode is a two parter that had the old-man Hulk fighting the new Hulk at the end...I remember being freaked out about the old-man Hulk, and was happy when the Ferrigno Hulk wupd him.

The pic, btw, kicks ass!

renecarol said...

I LOVED the Hulk as a kid it was my all-time favourite tv show... with Dukes of Hazzard coming in at a close 2nd. I loved seeing Lou Farrigno Hulk out and smash stuff. It was so much fun to watch. When the first Hulk movie came out a couple of years ago I was really disappointed as it was so unlike the tv show. I liked the 2nd Hulk movie better but I think I also wasn't EXPECTING it to be like the tv show.

todd said...


what a beautiful tribute top an obviously much loved show! i, naturally, dug all over the hulk back in the days and remember playing hulk and six million dollar man and especially kung fu with my brother. all of these involved us wrestling and/or beating each other up. we also played a very weird version of planet of the apes when that became a tv series--i remember being both thrilled and a little scared being the human being chased by a gang of the neighborhood kids trying desperately not to be caught.
and the magician--wow! i loved that show!
thanks for the trip!

cath said...

That was a great picture.Two thumbs up! I also love watching the TV series