DC and Marvel come to TV in the conclusion of our trip through the 70’s!
Nov 7, 1975 – Sept 11,1979 60 episodes
Produced By Douglas S Cramer, Bruce Landsbury (seasons 2-3)
Starring Lynda Carter and Lyle Waggoner
After passing on the Cathy Lee Crosby pilot, ABC returned to Wonder Woman in 1975 with a series more closely related to the comic book version created by William Moulton Marston and Harry G Peter in All-Star Comics #8. The series was set during World War II and had the familiar story of Diana rescuing Steve Trevor and returning to America with him. Trevor was played by Lyle Waggoner who ten years before had been in the running to play Batman in the 1966 series. He had also done a semi-nude layout for Playgirl but was best known for his role on the Carol Burnett Show. Diana joined Steve in the War Department as Yeoman Diana Prince serving with Colonel Steve Trevor combating Nazi terrorism on the homefront. They reported to General Philip Blankenship (Richard Eastham). Actress Beatrice Colen played Etta Candy, the General’s secretary, and provided comic relief. Debra Winger, in one of her earliest roles, played Wonder Woman’s little sister, Drusilla (Wonder Girl), in three guest star appearances. Wonder Woman’s mother, the Amazon Queen Hippolyta, was first played by Cloris Leachman and later by Carolyn Jones then Beatrice Straight. Guest stars included Roddy McDowall, Robert Reed, Eve Plumb, Bradford Dillman, Gavin MacLeod and Gary Burghoff.
The show came with a catchy title song by Charles Fox (music) and Norman Gimbel (lyrics). When the show was moved to contemporary times, the song was rewritten to remove the Nazi/WWII references. Then, with the episode “The Man Who Made Volcanoes” the theme was changed again to an all-instrumental piece and the song was dropped.
Despite taking on a more comic book tone, Wonder Woman fell into the same trap as most of the television heroes before her, fighting mundane, ordinary criminals, spies, and would-be world conquerors. Only three super villains from the comics made it to the show: Baroness Paula Von Gunther, Morgana and Fausta Grabels.
ABC hesitated on deciding whether to renew the series or not so CBS swooped in and grabbed it up. They moved the setting up to the 1970’s and changed the title to The New Adventures of Wonder Woman. Technically, the only character to make the transition was Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman. Lyle Waggoner was the only other actor to join her but he now played Steve Trevor Jr, the son of the original Steve Trevor who died somewhere in the 35 years between shows. CBS felt it was a little too odd for Diana to be involved with the son of her previous beau so her relationship with junior was a platonic one which also had the effect of pushing Steve Trevor jr more into the background. The two of them now worked for the Inter-Agency Defense Command or IADC. When Diana inputs her Diana Prince profile into the IADC’s supercomputer IRAC–Information Retrieval Associative Computer–the machine deduces she is Wonder Woman but keeps the secret to itself. Towards the end of season 2, a small robot offshoot of IRAC named Rover was introduced for comic relief. Rover also knew Diana’s real identity. After receiving a promotion to Director of the IADC, Steve Trevor faded even further into the background.
As CBS tried to skew the series toward a younger, teenage audience, Wonder Woman received some variations on her costume including diving and skateboard versions.
In what would have been the season 3 finale but was aired out of order, CBS attempted a reboot of the series changing the locale to Los Angeles and adding a new cast of supporting characters including a new boss, a streetwise youth named T Burton Phipps III who somehow was allowed to hang around the top-secret agency and a genetically enhanced man who was indestructible. They also added an indestructible chimpanzee because, well, who doesn’t love super powered chimps? Season 3 ended up being the last season of the show but it has maintained a devoted cult following to this day. In a 2005 interview, Lynda Carter revealed she was the one who came up with the iconic spin that showed Diana turning into Wonder Woman. Most recently, Lynda Carter has made guest appearances on the CW Supergirl series.
The Incredible Hulk
Nov 4, 1977 – June 2, 1982 CBS 82 episodes
Developed By Kenneth Johnson
Starring Bill Bixby, Jack Colvin, Lou Ferrigno
In 1977, Universal Studios Television had acquired several Marvel Comics characters and asked producer Kenneth Johnson (“V”) to develop a series. After an initial turn down (he disliked comics), Johnson came back with a proposal for a show based on Stan Lee’s and Jack Kirby’s The Incredible Hulk. To make the show more believable and to attract a wider audience, Johnson threw out most of the comic book elements of the Hulk. First, Bruce Banner became Dr. David Banner because Johnson didn’t care for the alliterative comic book name and CBS felt the name Bruce sounded too gay (Lou Ferrigno said that was “the most ridiculous thing he ever heard”). The gamma bomb explosion became a laboratory experiment gone awry.
For the Hulk to be taken seriously by audiences, Kenneth Johnson greatly reduced the Hulk’s strength to a fraction of his comic book counterpart. He also took away the Hulk’s ability to speak, limiting him to growls and roars, something Stan Lee thought was a good idea for a TV show. But when Johnson wanted to change the Hulk’s skin color to red to represent anger and rage, Stan Lee put his foot down saying the green color was too iconic to the character.
Lou Ferrigno, a champion bodybuilder was the third choice to play the Hulk. Arnold Schwarzenegger auditioned for the role but wasn’t tall enough. Richard Kiel was hired but didn’t quite have the right physique and also had problems with the contact lenses the Hulk had to have. The Hulk’s grunts and growls and roars were supplied by Ted Cassidy (David Cassidy’s uncle) and he also was the voice of the narrator in the opening title sequence. Cassidy died during season 2 of the show and Alan Napier took over the growling.
Bill Bixby was Johnson’s first choice for the role of David Banner and is undoubtedly the reason the show was so popular. Already an audience favorite for his roles in My Favorite Martian and The Courtship of Eddie’s Father (co-stars Ray Walston and Brandon Cruz would eventually guest star on The Incredible Hulk), Bixby brought a very real sense of pathos to the tragic character of Dr. Banner.
All the other characters from the comic book were jettisoned and a new character, Jack McGee who was an investigative tabloid news reporter was created. McGee was played by actor Jack Colvin. Originally, McGee believed he was chasing a monster like Big Foot. In the two-part episode “Mystery Man” David is in a car accident and suffers amnesia. He is admitted to a hospital as “John Doe”. McGee believes this mystery man may have clues regarding the Hulk but when he meets up with him David’s face is covered in gauze bandages from his injuries in the car crash
McGee arranges for John Doe to see a doctor who can cure his amnesia but during the flight where the plane is hit by lightning and goes down in a forest. With a forest fire encroaching upon them, they must help each other in order to survive. During their journey, Jack McGee witnesses John Doe transform into the Hulk and realizes this is why he hasn’t been able to find the creature and how he keeps popping up all over the country.
Other notable episodes: In the season 2 two hour premiere “Married” (aka “The Bride of The Incredible Hulk”), David seeks out noted psychologist Dr. Carolyn Fields in Hawaii whose techniques may offer him a way to control the Hulk. Soon the two of them fall in love and are married but Carolyn is in the end stages of a disease the Hulk could help cure. Mariette Hartley won an Emmy for her portrayal of Dr. Fields.
In another two-parter “Prometheus”, David is exposed to radiation from a meteor and becomes stuck midway in transformation–half man and half Hulk. He gets captured by the military who think he’s an alien!
Bill Bixby gave one of his most poignant performances in another two-part episode in season 4 called “The First”. In this episode, David learns there may have been another “Hulk” and seeks out a Dr. Jeffrey Clive who might have an antidote. When David arrives at Clive’s home/lab he learns the doctor is dead from an elderly handyman named Dell Frye who had been the subject of Clive’s experiments years before. Old, frail and bitter, Frye tricks David into returning him to his monstrous alter ego. There is one memorable camera shot on David when the last remaining vial of the antidote is broken and you see the tears coming from his eyes that just makes you want to cry along with him. It’s a testament to Bill Bixby’s acting that he is able to convey just how sad and tortured David Banner is to have this creature of rage inside him always waiting to be released.
Fun Factoids: David Banner’s wife, who is seen only in flashbacks and is the reason David begins his research into the “untapped strength all humans have” when he is unable to save her from a fiery car accident, is played by Lara Parker best known for her role as the witch Angelique who turned Barnabas Collins into a vampire on Dark Shadows.
Both Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had cameos on The Incredible Hulk. Kirby appeared in the season two episode “No Escape” and Stan Lee was a juror in the TV movie The Trial of the Incredible Hulk.
Other notable guest stars included: Susan Sullivan (Falcon Crest), Kim Cattrall (Sex in the City), Ray Walston (My Favorite Martian), Brandon Cruz (The Courtship of Eddie’s Father), Lou Ferrigno sans make up guest starred in the episode “King of the Beach” and Bixby’s ex-wife Brenda Benet.
Joe Harnell composed the music for the series including the haunting piano piece “The Lonely Man” which closed out each episode of the series (usually while David Banner is seen hitch-hiking). “The Lonely Man” was also heard in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk movie starring Edward Norton and in Thor Ragnarok (2017).
Three TV movies were produced after the series ended beginning with 1988’s The Incredible Hulk Returns (introducing Thor), The Trial of The Incredible Hulk (introducing Rex Smith as Daredevil/Matt Murdoch and featuring John Rhys-Davies as The Kingpin) and The Death of The Incredible Hulk.
Bill Bixby (born Wilfred Bailey Everett “Bill” Bixby III) had a career that spanned more than three decades. He was an actor, director, and producer who appeared on stage, television, and film. He died of prostate cancer on November 21, 1993, at the age of 59. The Incredible Hulk television series has had a lasting legacy for over 40 years and was seen as an unofficial prelude to the Marvel Universe film of the same name. It can still be seen in reruns in many areas and you can often find Lou Ferrigno signing autographs for his fans at conventions.
The Amazing Spider-Man
Sept 19, 1977 – July 6, 1979, 2 Seasons 13 episodes
Developed By Alvin Boritz
Starring Nicholas Hammond, Robert F Lyons
“They left out the humor. They left out the human interest and personality and playing up characterizations and personal problems,” -Stan Lee.
With the success of The Incredible Hulk, Universal turned to another Marvel hero that they had the rights to Spider-Man. They cast Nicholas Hammond, one of the Von Trapp kids in The Sound of Music, as Peter Parker, a college student who gets bit by a radioactive spider and gains superpowers. But there was nothing super about the show.
Once again, the supervillains (which Spidey had some of the best of) were thrown out in favor of having him fight everyday criminals. The special effects were clunky, to say the least. When he was wall crawling it looked like one of those scenes of Batman and Robin scaling a wall in the 1966 Batman series. He never actually swung through the city on his web line. The webbing he shot from his web shooters looked more like a thick rope. Creator Stan Lee hated the show….”…they didn’t have the ability, the special effects. They couldn’t make it look like he was sticking to the wall as he crawled up the wall. Those little things. When they tried the special effects, they looked a little corny because it was too soon. They hadn’t been invented yet. And also, they didn’t have a big budget. It wasn’t as good as it should have been.”
The Amazing Spider-Man pilot garnered fairly large ratings for CBS but the network wasn’t sure about ordering a full series so they produced only 5 more episodes for the first season. The show finished 19th overall for the season but CBS still didn’t want to give it a slot on the fall schedule opting to produce just 7 more episodes for the second season which were shown sporadically, usually in place of an episode of The Incredible Hulk. The only characters from the comics to appear were Peter/Spider-Man, J Jonah Jameson and Aunt May. David White played JJJ in the pilot, replaced by a softer Robert F Lyons in the series. Aunt May was played by a different actress each time she appeared.
Sept 6, 1978 (TV Movie)
Directed By Philip DeGuere
Starring Peter Hooten, Jessica Walter, John Mills
Dr. Strange was a TV movie and unsold pilot. Though based on the Marvel Comics character it was completely re-imagined for TV. In it, Stephen Strange is a psychiatrist. He wears a ring his parents gave him when he was young so that one day he would find an Englishman named Lindmer (aka The Ancient One) and fulfill his destiny. Out to stop this from happening, in an unearthly realm is what looks like a claymation creature called The Nameless One who sends his disciple Morgan Le Fey to stop him.
It’s not a bad movie but the Doctor is as far removed from the comics as the Hulk was. It does have a much more fantasy style than any of the other Marvel/Universal shows had. Jessica Walter turns in a good if hammy, performance as Morgan Le Fey. The set, for what would be the Doctor’s Sanctum Sanctorum is very well done. To avoid racist stereotyping, Wong is handled more as an apprentice than a housekeeper. Veteran actor John Mills isn’t too bad but comes across tired, like he should be retired and in a nursing home. The costumes and effects are decent. They should have done a second movie instead of doing a second Captain America TV movie. In 2016 we finally got the Dr. Strange movie we deserved.
January 19, 1979 (TV Movie)
Directed By Rod Holcomb
Starring Reb Brown, Heather Menzies
Captain America and its sequel which aired the same year was by far–we’re talking really, really far–the worst adaptation of a superhero on television or the movies. Ever.
It may even be worse than the 2015 Fantastic Four movie.
The movies starred hunky Reb Brown in the title role. Heather Menzies who died recently co-starred. There really isn’t much more to say about this than avoid at all costs!
And that concludes our look at the 70’s heroes. Join us next time as we check out the heroes of the 80’s!
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