INTERVIEW WITH KENNETH JOHNSON

Please 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, Kenneth Johnson.


What is your background in television?

Mark, 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!

How did you come to be involved with the Incredible Hulk series?

Frank 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!

I 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.

Do you have any favorite episodes?

My 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.

I 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.

Are there episodes you are not as fond of?

There 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.

There's 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?

I 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.

Is it true that Richard Kiel shot some scenes as the Hulk for the pilot
episode?

You 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 Richard Kiel.

What was the cause of the series' demise? There are a number of rumors  surrounding the end of the series including:
a) That its high cost was too much for CBS absorb when the ratings
dipped slightly in the fourth season.
b) That a CBS Executive disliked the series and canned it.
c) That Bill Bixby decided the leave the show to pursue other avenues.
d) That you decided it was time to move on the other avenues.

The 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.

Were you ever approached by CBS about producing a crossover episode with  Spider-Man or Wonder Woman (also on the same network)?

There 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, was it!

Where did Jack Colvin go after the series ended?

Jack 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.

Why were you not involved with the Incredible Hulk television movies that aired in the late 1980s?

I 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.

What do you think of the idea of "resurrecting" the Hulk in an all new  television series?

I 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.

But, 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.



And 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.

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