Maybe we're attracted to television because on TV no one ever dies.
It used to be that shows simply went into syndicated reruns forever. Now they can also be reincarnated as limited series. "Perry Mason" thrives in both forms.
And this week, "The Incredible Hulk" is back. That's good news for Bill Bixby. He can act in a series on a reasonable schedule. He can continue to direct as he has for nearly 20 years. It's a brave New World. Everything's Marvel-ous.
Bixby's back, looking much the same as he did when "The Hulk" ended its network run in 1982 after four seasons. Lou Ferrigno returns as the Hulk, looking hulkier than ever.
All of this is from New World productions, which owns Marvel comics, which owns the Hulk character. The idea is to produce a limited run of new "Hulk" adventures, allowing Bixby to direct and star in them, all the while spinning off Marvel super-heroes for possible series of their own. First candidate: Thor, played by Eric Kramer.
But that's all down-the-road stuff. The news here is that a TV character -- two TV characters, really -- that captured a certain audience in their prime time are back for a second go.
Or, as Bixby enthused, "Old white eyes is back!"
Bixby resumes his role as Dr. David Banner, a soft-spoken research scientist who has accidentally suffered an overdose of gamma rays. As a result, Banner is transformed when angered, becoming The Incredible Hulk, a raging green beast of a man, with white eyes and enough muscles for four or five regular folks.
Ferrigno is back as the alter ego, donning green body paint, a fake forehead, false teeth, a wig and white contact lenses to play the part. The lenses leave him nearly sightless, so rehearsals are serious business.
"He's bigger than ever," said Bixby. "He added 45 pounds for this movie. He's awesome! His shoulder muscles are so large, he looks like he's trying to grow another head."
In "The Incredible Hulk Returns" (Sunday at 9 on NBC), we rejoin Banner, who has been rather mellow of late. "We discover he has not had a Hulk-out in a couple of years," said Bixby. And he's on the verge of a scientific breakthrough. He believes the gamma ray transponder he invented may cure him of his Hulk problem for good.
"But then," said Bixby in a melodramatic tone, "something goes wrong!"
One of the things that often goes wrong is that just when Dr. Banner is having a hard time keeping the Hulk under wraps, a nosy reporter shows up, a fellow named Jack McGee who senses something weird is going on. Jack Colvin is back as McGee.
And suddenly Thor is in the picture. A fellow researcher of Banner's, played by Steve Levitt, has become the psychic channel for the Viking thunder god. Thor stirs up the Hulk. Bad-guy industrialists go after the transponder. Banner's girl friend is kidnapped. A shot rings out. The maid screams.
You get the idea.
Underlying the comic-strip action of "The Hulk" has always been a more sensitive, slightly melancholy story line. It is, after all, the continuing story of a tormented man who can't live in close harmony with those around him, who can't totally live with himself, and who is driven from town to town by the relentless McGee. It is the story of a loner.
Bixby credits "Hulk's" original TV producer, Kenneth Johnson, for the show's distinctive signature. "I always made him promise to direct the first show of each season to re-establish the feel of the series," said Bixby. "We maintain it in this show, too."
Bixby himself is now keeper of the flame (he'll direct the other "Hulk" sequels). When he hasn't been in series like "Goodnight, Beantown," he's been directing shows, including alternate episodes of "Sledgehammer!"
He would consider doing another half-hour series, but an hour show, he pointed out, siphons off too much time and energy. He's been approached about doing sequels to two other series, "My Favorite Martian" and "The Courtship of Eddie's Father," but decided to pursue "The Hulk" with its production-direction challenge.
He also shot a pilot starring Morgan Fairchild and Hunt Block, a romantic comedy called "Some Kind of Woman," and found time to take a year off and devote it to improving his golf game. He would go as far as Hawaii to play, and reduced his handicap from 17 to 10.
Now, at 54, he's back in the "Hulk" business, balancing the fun and adventure of the story with the Frankenstein overtones.
"We don't make fun of the characters," said Bixby. "That would cartoon it.
"From the beginning we decided to make it an adult show that kids are allowed to watch, rather than a childish show adults are forced to watch."
But he doesn't take it too seriously. "It's an old-fashioned action-adventure," he said. "Don't tell me, people of America, that we have to do a deeply meaningful story about kids on the street. Let's kick back and have an enjoyable evening."