WITH KENNETH JOHNSON
note that this interview may not be reproduced on any other web-sites
without my express, written permission.
For those who may not know, Kenneth Johnson was the executive producer
of the Incredible Hulk live action television series. Mr. Johnson
was the driving force behind the Hulk's live action themes, writing
the pilot and a number of significant episodes. I'm an enormous
fan of his work which includes The Incredible Hulk
as well as The Six Million Dollar Man, The Bionic
Woman, V and Alien Nation. On
January 23, 1999, I almost fell out of my chair when I discovered
that an email from Mr. Johnson himself was sitting in my inbox.
The veteran producer was referred to my site from a fan letter by
John Thorp in the United Kingdom. Mr. Johnson had very kind words
to say about my site and also wrote about his current projects and
current relationships with many of the crew members from "the Incredible
Hulk." Mr. Johnson was always quick to respond to email and extraordinarily
courteous in doing so.
But the real shocker came when I asked Mr. Johnson if he'd consider
doing an interview with me about the Incredible Hulk for this site..
I was curious about his views on the hit series and thought that
I might be able to get his answers to questions which had been arising
in the discussion forum. I sent along a few questions in an
email but was flabbergasted when Mr. Johnson not only answered the
questions right away but also took the time out to mail a tape of
the answers to my home address! Now that is the sign of a true gentleman!
He also granted me permission to transcribe the answers and post
them on my site. So, without further adieu, here is THE INCREDIBLE
HULK Television Series Page's interview with Incredible Hulk producer,
is your background in television?
my background in TV is as follows. I started as a production assistant
in CBS in New York. Within a year, I was a director at WPIX-TV in
New York, and a producer as well. Then, I went to Philadelphia to
join the Mike Douglas Show as associate producer and
a year later, I was moved up to executive producer ... I think probably
the youngest in the business. This was at a time when the Mike
Douglas Show was moving up towards the height of its popularity.
By the time I left, we were in 230 markets around the world. I came
to California and my friend Steven Steven Bochco, whom I'd been
in College with, encouraged me to write. [He said that] I would
have more opportunity to direct if I wrote my own stuff. So, I became
a great writer of un-produced screenplays, many of which are still
on my shelf! But, after a few years of keeping body and soul together
producing and directing game shows, Steve introduced me to some
of his pals at Universal, including Steve Cannel who was a story
editor on Adam 12 at the time. I wrote and directed a couple
of episodes for him. I then met Harv Bennett who was producing a
show called The Six Million Dollar Man, which was in its
first full season and sort of sinking. I suggested "The Bride of
Frankenstein" and, in a week's time, had written a script that created
"The Bionic Woman." Harv asked me to join "The Six Million Dollar
Man" as producer and I did, which allowed me to hire myself as writer
and director for many of the episodes - and then, The Bionic
Woman spun off in the middle of it. For a while, I was writing
and producing both The Six Million Dollar Man and The
Bionic Woman ... not an easy challenge!
did you come to be involved with the Incredible Hulk series?
Price, who was running Universal Television at the time, told me
they had acquired the rights to the Marvel Comics super-heroes [and
asked] "which one did I want to do?" I ran screaming from the room
and said "none of them!" But, I was reading Les Miserables
so I had Jan Val Jean and Javert and The Fugitive concept
in my head. I thought, "well - maybe there's a way to take
a little Victor Hugo, a little Robert Louis Stevenson and this ridiculous
premise called The Incredible Hulk and turn it into something,
if they allow me to do it as a psychological drama with real adult
appeal and with strong, classy casting." And they did!
wrote the Hulk pilot in about a week's time. On Easter Sunday of
1977, I sat down at 10:00 in the morning, and by 10:00 that night,
I had written 43 pages of script. Bill Bixby read the script and
enjoyed it. He agreed to come on the show.
you have any favorite episodes?
favorite episodes are probably the ones that I wrote and directed,
which would include the pilot and "Married" - the two hour
piece which Mariette Hartley won the emmy for best actress for.
And later I did a two hour [episode] entitled Prometheus
- which you're probably aware of - which I thought was pretty cool.
My director of photography, John McPherson and gaffer (who is the
key lighting technician) Jack Shlauser did just extraordinary work
in helping me to achieve a real "feature quality" look.
don't know if you're aware, but my Hulk pilot was released overseas
as a foreign theatrical film and for two months, it was the top
grossing movie in Europe! It's sort of a joke ... sort of a Jerry
Lewis of the super-hero set. The episode with Mariette [Hartley],
"Married", was also released in Europe as The Bride Of
The Incredible Hulk and it did quite well as well.
there episodes you are not as fond of?
are always episodes that you're not as fond of as the others, just
because they haven't come together quite as well. But, one of the
ones I was particularly proud of was the one about child abuse ["A
Child In Need"] or spousal abuse that we did - that Jim Parriott
did. It was a big fight with the network. They didn't get it. They
said, "gee ... where are the bad guys!". And I said "You guys don't
understand. The Hulk beating up on an adult is very much like and
adult beating up on a child. There's a wonderful parallel to be
drawn here." Because what we were constantly doing was looking for
thematic ways to touch the various ways that the Hulk sort of manifested
itself in everyone. In Bixby and his character, 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.
I think that's part of the reason that the show was successful on
such a broad base as it was. It had the perfect demographics. Our
largest audience was women; and then men; and then teens; and then
children because, very early on - when the young people turned on
the TV to see the big green man crash through the wall - the adults
who happened to be watching realized "wait a minute ... there's
something more going on here. There's more to this than meets the
eye." And that's what we were constantly endeavoring to do.
is reportedly a lost episode of the Incredible Hulk: a two hour
episode called "Escape From Los Indios." This episode supposedly
involved Banner hiding on a plane with a bunch of schoolgirls. What
is the story behind this episode? How come it never aired?
don't remember "The Escape From Los Indios" thing that you mention.
It may have been one that was written but was not ever produced.
Every one that we produced was eventually on the air.
it true that Richard Kiel shot some scenes as the Hulk for the pilot
are correct. The original Hulk was Richard Kiel. I wanted
somebody that I felt could be an actor and Richard had done very
good acting jobs, whereas Lou Ferrigno - although he looked
mighty - had not really done any acting. I was concerned about
him being able to perform the necessary drama that we needed. After
a week of filming with Dick, we all felt that Lou was going to look
better for what we were trying to do ... so we switched over. There
is one shot remaining in the Hulk pilot of Richard Kiel.
It's at the lake when the Hulk pushes the tree into the water to
help the little girl to safety. There's a high angle shot from the
top of the tree, looking down at him ... that's not Lou. That's
was the cause of the series' demise? There are a number of rumors
surrounding the end of the series including:
That its high cost was too much for CBS absorb when the ratings
slightly in the fourth season.
That a CBS Executive disliked the series and canned it.
That Bill Bixby decided the leave the show to pursue other avenues.
That you decided it was time to move on the other avenues.
story of the series demise was that Harvey Sheppard took over CBS
and felt that the show was getting a little tired, although we had
been continuing to maintain a good percentage in the ratings. We
had six shows - I think - in the can for the following season already,
and I said "Harvey, look: buy seven more and that'll give you 13
episodes and a half a season and you can see what's left." But Harvey,
in his infinite wisdom, decided against it and Harvey was gone from
CBS in about a year because of decisions like that.
you ever approached by CBS about producing a crossover episode with
Spider-Man or Wonder Woman (also on the same network)?
was never any talk about crossover episodes with Spider-Man or Wonder
Woman stuff like that. I felt that - well - I don't deal well
with funny costumes. I had enough trouble dealing with a guy that
ripped his clothes off all the time and particularly with him turning
green! I asked Stan Lee (the creator of the Incredible Hulk character)
why the Hulk wasn't red ... that's the color of rage! I said, "you
really ought to call this the envious Hulk ... he's green!" Stan
told me that the printer, when they were doing the comic books,
said that he thought he could give him a more consistant green than
red. So, that's why he's green! It wasn't exactly an artistic decision,
did Jack Colvin go after the series ended?
Colvin? I haven't seen him in years. I don't know where he is. I
know he's quite a good acting teacher so it may be that he's spending
his time doing that.
were you not involved with the Incredible Hulk television movies
that aired in the late 1980s?
was not involved with any of the later Hulk tv movies. I had moved
on to other things at that point. I think Bixby sort of wanted to
take the credit for executive producing them and have it all to
himself. We remained good friends until the end of his life, though.
do you think of the idea of "resurrecting" the Hulk in an all new
doubt if there's any possibility of resurrecting the Hulk in a new
television series. You know, they've been trying for years to do
a Hulk film which seems to get stalled out every time they get close
to going forward. Even the latest attempt a couple of months ago
bombed out. I don't know where it will go from here.
I do appreciate your enthusiasm for it [The Incredible Hulk television
series] and I'm amazed by all the work that you've done and I hope
that this little tape can be of interest to you and go into your
Hulk chest. Thanks Mark, for your enthusiasm and your diligent work
and I look forward to hearing from you in the future. Take care.
there you have it! My special thanks goes out to Mr. Johnson for providing
Hulk fans all over the world (including myself) with such a wonderful
insight into the series.