What Could Have Been: Rebirth of the Incredible Hulk by Jerry Whitworth
With 1990’s The Death of the Incredible Hulk, television’s Incredible Hulk featuring Bill Bixby as Dr. David Banner and Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk was, effectively, dead. While the film’s title alludes to this as being the desired effect, the truth was that a sequel essentially starting off a new series of television films was planned immediately afterward beginning with “Revenge of the Incredible Hulk.” Therein, Dr. Banner was revived and cured of his condition only to be forced to make gamma creatures. Banner would have been forced to repeat the experiment that turned him into the Hulk but Ferrigno claimed he would have retained his scientist mind after his transformations. Sadly, the ratings for Death were so bad, the sequel was shelved. A spin-off in She-Hulk was also planned to the degree filming had begun with former Baywatch star Mitzi Kapture as Jennifer Walters and volleyball player Gabrielle Reece as her green alter ego. Bixby returned as Dr. Banner who was forced to transfuse his blood to a dying Walters to save her life while afflicting her with the same gamma condition he suffered from throughout his television run. Studio executives, however, weren’t confident in Kapture’s star power and abandoned the project (leaving Kapture to become a star instead in the series Silk Stalkings). A She-Hulk film starring Brigitte Nielsen as the titular character was later put into development only to also be dropped. In the wake of the cancellations, Bixby managed to secure Fox (who had already picked up Marvel’s Power Pack pilot dropped by NBC) to produce another television film only for the star to then sadly die from prostate cancer in 1993. But, what could have a new Hulk television film meant for the future of that brand?
Little is known as to what Bill Bixby had planned for his new Hulk television film for Fox. Popular speculation has it that Tom Selleck was being eyed to portray Tony Stark/Iron Man in the new project (though, some have erroneously attributed the 1977 television movie Exo-Man as depicting proposed footage of the planned costume). Rumors exist of finally teaming the brand with Spider-Man for the project. Interestingly enough, such almost happened in 1984 before the Incredible Hulk Returns (1988) and the Trial of the Incredible Hulk (1989). Nicholas Hammond, who played Peter Parker for two seasons of the Amazing Spider-Man from 1977 to 1979, was set to return. The project eventually fell through, allegedly because Universal (who had the Hulk rights) didn’t want to work with Columbia (who had the Spider-Man rights). Spider-Man and Hulk represented several Marvel properties adapted for CBS, Captain America (portrayed by Reb Brown) starring in two TV films and Doctor Strange (played by Peter Hooten) in a pilot film. All save the Hulk were canned because CBS didn’t want to be viewed as the superhero network irregardless of the ratings success (New Adventures of Wonder Woman getting the ax due to sliding ratings around the same time). Of note, had “Revenge of the Incredible Hulk” materialized, Elizabeth Gracen (who later gained fame as Amanda in Highlander the Series) likely would have returned as former Russian spy Jasmin who fans speculated was a last minute switch from being the Black Widow (formerly, Angela Bowie tried to produce a Daredevil and Black Widow TV series starring Ben Carruthers and Terry O’Neill, respectively, in 1975). Whomever guest star(s) could have materialized, these ideas certainly set the stage for an early version of the Avengers.
With Eric Allan Kramer as Thor and Rex Smith as Daredevil from the first two Hulk television films in addition to the aforementioned Spider-Man, Hulk, Dr. Strange, Captain America, and Jasmin/Black Widow (with two unproduced She-Hulks) and Tom Selleck rumored as Iron Man, the line-up was certainly there for an Avengers television film in the 1990s prior to the box office success of such movies as Blade (1998) and X-Men (2000). One could almost put the 1994 Fantastic Four film into the mix but considering Marvel officially wanted that project buried, you’d have a higher likelihood of Howard the Duck or the Punisher showing up (which would be no chance). There was a Captain America film starring Matt Salinger as the titular character planned for theatrical release in 1990 but it was considered so bad, it ended up being dropped direct to VHS release in 1992 instead. As such, a possible Avengers television film may have more likely adopted the Reb Brown portrayal as he was more well known to audiences. Speaking of which, it should be noted again that the various CBS Marvel adaptations did not fail due to ratings but to perception of the network catering to the superhero genre (which, in the modern day, has worked to great benefit for a network such as the CW and its Arrowverse). Sadly, the closest we’ll ever get to such a project is a viral video by YouTube user quarv called “The Avengers ’78 movie promo” teaming the Hulk, Captain America, and Thor with various stand-ins for other characters.