Marvel Comics Promotes Its Television Adaptations

The late 1970s saw the premier of two weekly television series based on Marvel Comics characters: The Incredible Hulk and The Amazing Spider-Man. Both aired on CBS and both began as made-for-TV movies. A ninety-minute telefilm called Spider-Man, starring Nicholas Hammond, was broadcast on Wednesday, September 14th, 1977 from 8-9:30PM. Several weeks later, on Friday, November 4th, The Incredible Hulk was aired from 8-10PM, starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno. A second made-for-TV movie, The Return Of The Incredible Hulk (also known as A Death in the Family), followed on Monday, November 28th from 8-10PM.

In the spring of 1978, weekly series based on both characters debuted. The Incredible Hulk premiered on Friday, March 10th, The Amazing Spider-Man on Wednesday, April 5th. The Incredible Hulk would stay on the air until November of 1981, with another two episodes burned off in May of 1982, while The Amazing Spider-Man wrapped its brief first “season” in May of 1978; a second batch of episodes were broadcast sporadically between September of 1978 and July of 1979.

In the sixth issue of its Man from Atlantis comic book, published in July of 1978 (meaning it was likely in stores sometime in April or perhaps late March), the “Bullpen Bulletins” page mentioned the premieres of both The Incredible Hulk and The Amazing Spider-Man. Here’s a scan:

Marvel Comics Bullpen Bulletins
Marvel Comics Bullpen Bulletins
Copyright © Marvel Comics Group, 1978 [1]

Dr. Strange, the made-for-TV movie said to be airing in April, wasn’t broadcast until Wednesday, September 6th, 1978. It starred Peter Hooten and ran from 8-10PM. Nothing ever came of the Savage Sub-Mariner special, perhaps because of NBC’s Man from Atlantis series, which was not only similar to the character of Namor the Sub-Mariner but also a failure. In 1979, CBS aired two made-for-TV movies based on Captain America, starring Reb Brown. The first, Captain America, aired on January 19th. The second, Captain America II: Death Too Soon, was aired in two parts on Friday, November 23rd from 8-9PM and Saturday, November 24th, also from 8-9PM.

It would be decades before Marvel Comics saw this much interest in its characters, only this time it was on the big screen.

Image Credits:


1 From Man From Atlantis #6, July 1978, Page 30.

24 Comments

  • Barry I. Grauman says:

    I believe Marvel Comics was VERY disappointed with the way “CAPTAIN AMERICA” pilots turned out, and declared a “moratorium” on future adaptations unless THEY had a direct say as how to properly adapt them for a “live-action” series…naturally, the cartoon versions of those comics [“Saturday morning” and syndicated/cable series] continued to be produced, right through this very day…

  • DuMont says:

    This was Marvel’s most marvelous era for getting their characters on television, with a bevy of backdoor pilots and series orders. Unfortunately, all were mis-executed or mis-handled in one way or another, except for the Hulk character.

    Marvel really needs to get somebody with a passion for their huge inventory of superhero properties who can help them in translating them into television series and getting them on broadcasters or cablers. I’ve had just about enough of ‘Smallville’, which has more or less dominated the entire past decade.

    =================
    The Amazing Spider-Man:
    =================

    SPIDER-MAN backdoor pilot Wed.Sep.14/1977, 8-9:30pm: 17.8HH/30%

    ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ series:

    1977-78 1st season: 21.3HH average (a Wednesday at 8pm shortflight spring try-out of 5 one-hr episodes)
    1978-79 2nd season: a 7-episode “floating series” (no fixed time period) with the following ratings:
    1. Tue.Sep.05/1978: 12.8HH/23% (aired against NBC’s LITTLE MO and fresh ‘Laverne & Shirley’ on ABC)
    2. Tue.Sep.12/1978: 12.7HH/21% (aired against fresh one-hour ‘Happy Days’)
    3. Sat.Nov.25/1978: 15.3HH/26% (aired against fresh ‘Welcome Back Kotter’ and ‘CHiPs’ episodes)
    4. Sat.Dec.30/1978: 19.1HH/32%
    5. Wed.Feb.07/1979: 16.2HH/24%
    6. Wed.Feb.21/1979: 12.6HH/19%
    7. Fri.Jul.06/1979: 13.9HH/30% (final 2-hour episode aired over July 4th weekend)

    The “floating” second season strategy came about for two reasons. First, I think even though ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ rated higher than ‘The Incredible Hulk’ in their first spring tryouts, ‘The Incredible Hulk’ was easier to get up and running to series as it was somewhat easier to film and made comparatively less use of stunts and special effects — ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ had these live-action sequences with Mr. Hammond’s stunt double climbing up the sides of buildings, for Heaven’s sake. So ‘The Incredible Hulk’ got the full season order and a choice Friday timeslot (out of the similarly-themed ‘New Adventures of Wonder Woman’ ABC pick-up), whereas the superiorly-crafted ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ was given a limited 8-episode order with no fixed timeslot.

    Secondly, I think with ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’, CBS was trying to copy the strategy Mr. Fred Silverman had used for the first two seasons of ‘The New Original Wonder Woman’, which were aired as specials in various timeslots until ABC cut the series loose and CBS picked it up. That being said, ABC did a much better job promoting the irregularly-aired ‘Wonder Woman’ episodes than CBS did with ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’. When fans managed to find the program, it got good ratings; when not, it foundered.

    =============
    The Incredible Hulk:
    =============

    THE INCREDIBLE HULK backdoor pilot, Fri.Nov.04/1977, 8-10pm: 18.9HH/33%

    THE RETURN OF THE HULK, second backdoor pilot, Mon.Nov.28/1977, 8-10pm: 23.2HH/34%

    ‘The Incredible Hulk’ series:
    1977-78 1st season: : 20.4HH average (shortflight spring try-out of 10 one-hr episodes on Friday at 9pm)
    1978-79 2nd season: 18.1HH average (18.5HH on Fridays at 9 pm, 15.5HH on Wednesdays at 8pm)
    1979-80 3rd season: 18.7HH average (Fridays at 8pm)
    1980-81 4th season: 16.9HH average (Fridays at 8pm)
    1981-82 5th season: 17.5HH average (CBS aired a shortflight number of episodes during the November and May Sweep periods)

    ========
    Dr. Strange:
    ========

    DR. STRANGE backdoor pilot, Wed.Sep.06/1978, 8-10pm: 12.3HH/22%

    I remember this being one of those movies I heard about after it aired, as I don’t think CBS aired even the faintest whiff of promotion for it. Given that it was an end of summer airing from the 1978 development season, it was more than likely a burn-off of a pilot that CBS had no intention of ordering up to series. CBS also never encored the telefilm.

    ===========
    Captain America:
    ===========

    CAPTAIN AMERICA backdoor pilot, Fri.Jan.19/1979: 20.8HH/33%

    CAPTAIN AMERICA II: DEATH TOO SOON – PART 1 second backdoor pilot, Fri.Nov.23/1979, 8-9pm: 16.1HH/27%

    CAPTAIN AMERICA II: DEATH TOO SOON – PART 2 second backdoor pilot, Sat.Nov.24/1979, 8-9pm: 15.6HH/26%

    If there were any advocates for a ‘Captain America’ series sitting around the Black Rock executive table, then they were put to rest with a rather mean-spirited encore airing of the CAPTAIN AMERICA backdoor pilot, which CBS brought back the following June for an additional encore airing in two parts:
    Part 1 on Wed.Jun.04/1980, 8-9pm: 9.1HH/18%
    Part 2 on Wed.Jun.11/1980, 8-9pm: 11.5HH/23%

    One can almost hear the smug “I told you so”‘s whispered in CBS corridors on the Thursday morning after June 4th overnights rolled off of the telex machine.

  • pBOB says:

    Spider-Man was also canceled because it was very costly to produce. CBS canceled the 1990’s Flash series for the same reason. Makes you wonder why they bother putting them on the air if they couldn’t afford them?

    Another reason why the Hulk was successful because it was created and produced? by Kenneth Johnson who had some major pull back in those days. Something the other pilots didn’t have.

    BTW CBS never “officially”canceled The New Adventures of Wonder Woman. As Linda Carter herself has said in the past in so many words the series just took a very long hiatus.

  • Barry I. Grauman says:

    Yep, “hiatus”. That’s why Lynda appeared as “Wonder Woman” for the last time, at the beginning of her first CBS variety special in January 1980. As far as they were concerned, the series was “dead and buried”.

    Now, HAD “THE FLASH” achieved a bigger audience, CBS would have easily renewed it for another season. But it didn’t, and the network said, “Eh! Throw it away, we can’t afford it anymore…”.

    One reason why “THE INCREDIBLE HULK” stayed on the air? Ratings (and demographics)..and the fact that MCA/Universal, probably THE most powerful TV production outfit back then, was behind it. You rarely said “no” to them if they wanted to place a series on your network [NBC was their biggest “customer”]- that’s one reason why CBS bought “HOUSE CALLS” as a mid-season replacement from them in late 1979 {besides, it seemed like a better fit with “M*A*S*H” than “WKRP IN CINCINATTI”}.

  • Jeremy A. Patterson says:

    That is also why CBS made a huge mistake this season when they chose to air ‘Sabrina: The Animated Series’ on their ‘Cookie Jar TV’ block and it got even worse in April when they added another airing of THAT show at the expense of cutting Noonbory and Busytown Mysteries down to ONE showing each! Because of that, Cookie Jar TV is definitely THE bottom cellar-dweller of this season’s SatAM race, as I feel that even QUBO is beating the crap out of Cookie Jar TV!

    I hope they boot Sabrina out of Cookie Jar TV permanently in preparation for the fall!

    J.A.P.

  • Barry I. Grauman says:

    I hear you, Jeremy. But the schedule that currently makes up “Cookie Jar TV” on CBS Saturday mornings is the one that’ll appear through the rest of the season. There’s also the fact that Cookie Jar Entertainment itself is facing financial difficulties AND a lawsuit from American Greetings over their failure to follow through on a deal to acquire the rights to “Strawberry Shortcake” and “Care Bears” from them- apparently, Cookie Jar can’t afford to schedule a “new” series in their line-up right now…hence, TWO episodes of “SABRINA: THE ANIMATED SERIES”, back-to-back. I recall at the start of the season, they scheduled THREE episodes of “BUSYTOWN MYSTERIES” every week {a ploy sometimes known as “papering the gaps in the wall”}. Why didn’t they schedule “THE DOODLEBOPS ROCKIN’ ROAD SHOW” at the beginning of the season, as they SHOULD have? And now, I hear Cookie Jar is planning to create prime-time series as well, setting up a production outfit called “The Jar”. WHERE is the funding for those kind of projects going to come from?

  • DuMont says:

    @ pBOB Says:
    Another reason why the Hulk was successful because it was created and produced? by Kenneth Johnson who had some major pull back in those days. Something the other pilots didn’t have.

    @Barry I. Grauman Says:
    One reason why “THE INCREDIBLE HULK” stayed on the air? Ratings (and demographics)..and the fact that MCA/Universal, probably THE most powerful TV production outfit back then, was behind it. You rarely said “no” to them if they wanted to place a series on your network [NBC was their biggest “customer”].

    ^^^

    You’re both absolutely right about the power of larger, more favoured corporate suppliers to get series on the air and keep them there, especially back in that era. The producer of ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ was Charles Fries Productions, the independent production shingle of Mr. Charles W. Fries, who is still active in the production business.

    Before establishing his company, Mr. Fries executive produced a variety of issues-oriented tele-movies and series, including the overlooked ABC series ‘Firehouse’, the syndicated ‘Dusty’s Trail’ and ABC summer series ‘The Super’. Mr Fries was also Production Manager on ‘The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau’.

    The Charles Fries Productions production shingle produced a significant number of made-for-television movies/miniseries in the ’70s/early ’80s, but produced only two series, ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ and ‘Baby, I’m Back’, both on CBS. But a look over the made-for/miniseries titles that Mr. Fries was responsible for, and one is reminded of many of the defining productions of the era, including ABC’s groundbreaking ‘Wednesday Movie of the Week: GO ASK ALICE’.

  • Barry I. Grauman says:

    Sure, but what’s Chuck Fries doing THESE days? The last TV series I remember him producing was ABC’s “SUPERCARRIER”, in 1988. And some of the copyrights on the TV movies he produced in the early ’70s (including the syndicated “DUSTY’S TRAIL” sitcom, which he co-produced with creator Sherwood Schwartz) weren’t renewed when they were supposed to- which means “DUSTY’S TRAIL”, the “Firehouse” 90 minute pilot, and his other esoteric “goodies” are in the public domain, reproduced endlessly by different distributors on “dollar DVDs” over the years….

  • Jeremy A. Patterson says:

    Cookie Jar has earned themselves the 2009 Douchebags of the Year award for the mishandling of Cookie Jar TV!

    I hope they boot Sabrina out of it this fall!

    J.A.P.

  • Barry I. Grauman says:

    Just as powerful as the movie/TV conglomerates controlling most of what we see these days, are several publishing conglomerates- like Archie Comic Publications. They want constant exposure for “Sabrina”- no matter WHAT version of her they’re “pushing” these days {until recently, it was the “Japanese manga”-inspired comic book}. And that means repeats of “SABRINA: THE ANIMATED SERIES” will definitely continue on the “Cookie Jar TV” schedule this fall, Jeremy. I don’t care for that as much as you do, but what can we do?

  • Jeremy A. Patterson says:

    Barry, I HATE SABRINA! The property is DEAD, PERIOD! I would have rather seen animated shows based out of more profitable Archie properties like the Mighty Crusaders or even That Wilkin Boy! If Archie wanted Cookie Jar to air Sabrina: The Animated Series somewhere, they should remove it from Cookie Jar TV and place it on one of their other E/I blocks (Cookie Jar Toons or Cookie Jar Kids Network). Cookie Jar DOES own some rights to the UltraForce animated series from 1995 (which DIC produced), and that would make a better choice for Cookie Jar TV! And they own DIC’s two mid-1990s Power Rangers cash-ins (Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad and Tattooed Teenage Alien Fighters Fron Beverly Hills), and they could make better choices for Cookie Jar TV!

    The Strawberry Shortcake show currently on Cookie Jar TV will be part of a new channel called the Hub that will debut this October! For more on The Hub, go to: http://www.thatguywiththeglasses.com/videolinks/ir/marzgurl/ane/22415-ep-28-anime-on-tv

    J.A.P.

  • Barry I. Grauman says:

    Again, Jeremy, because “Cookie Jar TV” is supposed to fulfill a three-hour “E/I” (educational/informational) quota of children’s programming for CBS every week, “ULTRAFORCE” and the others you mentioned don’t fall into that category because they’re more “entertainment” than “this is fun, but it’s also GOOD for you- you’ll learn something”. No doubt they’ll turn up on other Cookie Jar networks, but NOT on CBS. The idea is to present “responsible” programming, with as little violence and mayhem as possible. Sad, but true. It’s the equivalent of “Here, honey, eat your bowl of nice mush, it’s GOOD for you”. “I don’t WANT mush, I want Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs!!!”. “But they’re bad for you..”. “I don’t care, I WANT THEM!!!”. “Well, I care, and you’re not going to have them!”. Blah-blah-blah….

  • Jeremy A. Patterson says:

    Barry, it is because of that kind of mentality that Cookie Jar TV is constantly being DEAD LAST every week this season, even when compared to Qubo or even Fun Town!

    The only way that Cookie Jar TV can redeem itself for next season is to boot out Sabrina: The Animated Series as it has effectively killed the 2009-2010 roster!

    J.A.P.

  • Jeremy A. Patterson says:

    Cookie Jar TV may be getting worse: They may be dropping every show but Busytown Mysteries and Sabrina!

    J.A.P.

  • Jeremy A. Patterson says:

    Well, the Doodlebops Rockin Road Show is officially off Cookie Jar TV!

    Which show will be replacing it!

    J.A.P.

  • Jeremy A. Patterson says:

    More bad news for Cookie Jar TV: We have already lost the Doodlebops Rockin Road Show, but Strawberry Shortcake will make its final appearance on the block this weekend. It is probaly due to the fact that Strawberry Shortcake is moving to the new cable channel called The Hub! (The lawsuit over the property is also to blame!)

    The Cookie Jar TV line-up is reverted to the same line-up we had at the beginning of the season! PLASTERING THE GAPS IN THE WALL INDEED!

    J.A.P.

  • Jeremy A. Patterson says:

    Remember the rumored changes in Cookie Jar TV? Well, they lied about dropping DRRS and Strawberry Shortcake! In fact, they are keeping the exact same line-up they had since April, with TWO AIRINGS of SABRINA: THE ANIMATED SERIES, and only one airing of everything else!

    Anybody else angry at this news?

    J.A.P.

  • Jeremy A. Patterson says:

    There is hope for Cookie Jar TV: They might be dropping some of the current shows, replacing them with these great shows: Sailor Moon, Where’s Waldo, and Pingu. Also, Sonic X might be leaving CW4Kids and join up with Cookie Jar TV!

    That is great news, given that CJTV is struggling this season: I will compare their 6/25/2010 rating against those of Qubo: CJTV’s highest-rated show is once again one of the airings of SABRINA: THE ANIMATED SERIES with a rating of 0.3 (down from 0.5 last week), while Qubo’s highest-rated shows are TURBO DOGS and JANE AND THE DRAGON, both with ratings of 0.5 each. The lowest ratings for CJTV is 0.1, while the lowest Qubo got was 0.2! CJTV are getting beaten by Qubo this season!

    Getting back to Marvel and Television, Marvel hired Jeph Loeb to head up new TV projects, so good luck to them!

    J.A.P.

  • Jeremy A. Patterson says:

    Cookie Jar TV has gotten worse: The new fall line-up will feature an hour of Doodlebops reruns (Not sure which version), an hour of Sabrina reruns (the episodes are from Sabrina’s Secret Life), and an hour of Busytown Mysteries reruns!

    At least Qubo is still showing new episodes this coming season, even if it is of only one measly show (Turbo Dogs)!

    J.A.P.

  • Syfy will be airing BOTH 1979 Reb Brown Captain America movies within an hour today! Starting at 5 PM Eastern/4PM Central!

    J.A.P.

  • There are four Marvel Comics-related shows in development for the broadcast networks. Three of them are for ABC:

    The Incredible Hulk

    Aka Jessica Jones (An adaptation of Brian Micheal Bendis’ MAX series ‘Alias’ which debuted in 2001!)

    And ‘Mockingbird’.

    In addition, they are pitching a ‘Punisher’ series to Fox!

    Jeremy.

  • Jeremy Aron Patterson. says:

    Given the state of Cookie Jar TV, we are expecting a line-up change in February!

    It is time to get rid of the ‘double portions’ of ‘BUSYTOWN MYSTERIES’ and ‘HORSELAND’!

    Jeremy Aron Patterson.

  • Jeremy Aron Patterson. says:

    Hey, Barry Graumann: Do you think Cookie Jar TV SHOULD change its line-up in February?

    J.A.P.

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