'The Incredible Hulk' Showrunner Agreed to Make the Marvel Series on 1 Condition

The Incredible Hulk was one of the first successful Marvel TV shows. The ‘70s drama earned numerous accolades, including three Emmy nominations and one win. But surprisingly, when the project came to showrunner Kenneth Johnson, he wasn’t remotely interested. Eventually, Johnson agreed to write and develop the series based on one condition. 

After ‘The Bionic Woman,’ Kenneth Johnson didn’t want to do more sci-fi

In the mid-’70s, Johnson was working on the hit Cyborg-inspired drama, The Bionic Woman. So when he was approached to develop a Marvel series, the producer feared his career would get pushed into one specific niche. 

“Late in the second season of The Bionic Woman, Universal approached me and said they had acquired the rights to five of the Marvel Comic titles and asked which one I wanted to do, I said ‘Gee, none of them,’” Johnson told Starburst. “I wasn’t eager to become known as the sci-fi or superhero guy.”

“I had always envisioned having a more eclectic career, rather than just being stuck in the genre of science fiction,” he added. “And I was not interested in doing something funny costumes, spandex, or primary colors.”

He agreed to do ‘The Incredible Hulk’ on 1 condition

While reading Les Miserables, Johnson was inspired to create a fresh version of Hulk’s story. He liked the idea of the hero being a fugitive, and he told Universal he’d take on the project if they gave him full control of the story and casting.  

“I realized there was a way to take a little bit of Victor Hugo, a little bit of Robert Louis Stevenson, and this ludicrous comic book I’d never heard of before called The Incredible Hulk, and turn it into a really gripping, human drama,” Johnson said to Starburst. “So I told Universal I would do it if everyone would just leave me alone, if the casting would be my choice.” 

Kenneth Johnson made ‘The Incredible Hulk’ palatable for adult audiences

Johnson wanted The Incredible Hulk to be a mature, well-performed drama. And he knew actor Bill Bixby would fit perfectly.  

“Bill Bixby was the first and only actor I sent the script to, as I wanted a classy guy who would bring an adult following to the project, [which] I absolutely intended to be an adult, psychological drama,” Johnson said in his Starburst interview. “And that’s what we did.”

The series went on to become an international hit. It lasted five seasons and was accompanied by three TV movies. And Stan Lee —  who created the Hulk for Marvel Comics in 1962 —  was a big fan of the show and made his first cameo in The Trial of the Hulk in 1989.

“The Hulk television show I thought was wonderful,” Lee told the Television Academy. “It was created and done by Kenneth Johnson, who I think did a brilliant job — He took a character which in live-action television might have been unbearably foolish-looking with nonsensical stories, and he made it as palatable for grown-ups as for kids.”

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