Rex Smith as Matt Murdock / Daredevil and Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk from the TV film 'The Trial of the Incredible Hulk’, 1989.
‘Trial’ was the second of what would become a trio of made-for-TV films continuing the original live-action Incredible Hulk TV show from 1977 - 1982, and an early attempt to establish a Marvel Cinematic Universe: the Hulk never encountered any other Marvel characters in his original series run (we’ll get to that in a moment), and then ran headlong into Thor and DD in 1988 and 1989.
The telefilms were supposed to serve as ‘backdoor pilots’ for the other heroes to get their own live-action TV series on NBC, who produced the films. Neither Thor or Matt got their chance in the solo spotlight, although DD’s appearance did garner fairly high ratings.
A third film, 'The Death of the Incredible Hulk’, was originally supposed to guest star She-Hulk – who ironically had been created by Marvel as a comic character in 1980 to head off potential conflict with the producers of the TV series, whose deal stated they owned the rights to any characters created specifically for the show – but the original plot with the gamma spawned cousins was abandoned in favor of a Jen Walters-less espionage-related plot.
Yet another Hulk film supposedly would’ve had Tony Stark and Iron Man – the next film in the series would’ve featured Banner and Hulk’s resurrection, undoing the 'death’ of the Hulk in 'Death’ in grand comics fashion – but the plug was finally pulled on this incarnation of the Hulk after NBC was disappointed with ratings on 'Death’, three years before Banner actor Bill Bixby passed away after a battle with cancer in 1993.
'Trial’ was notable for two things: the first appearance of DD’s all-black costume, which didn’t make it to comics lore until Frank Miller and John Romita Jr. retconned it into Matt’s origin in 1993, and the first ever on-screen cameo in a Marvel production by Stan Lee. (Hulk co-creator Jack Kirby made an appearance in the second season of the original TV series in 1979.)
Bonus bit of trivia: one of the main reasons that the Bixby / Ferrigno Hulk series deviated so much from the comics – aside from the fact that a late 1970s TV budget really wouldn’t have done battles between the Hulk and Abomination or the Leader, or General Ross and the U.S. Army’s manic pursuit of the green behemoth, justice – was that writer / producer Kenneth Johnson actively disliked comics and wanted the show to be as different as possible from the source material, so he wanted nothing to do with the printed page beyond the basic concept of gamma radiation creating the Hulk. Johnson had been offered a chance to develop any Marvel character he wanted for television, and had initially turned the deal down, but was reportedly inspired to use the Hulk after reading Les Miserables.
Johnson demanded changes to the Hulk across the board: he reportedly changed Bruce Banner’s to David Bruce Banner because he felt even the gimmick of alliterative names to comic characters – a go-to creative staple Stan Lee was particularly guilty of – was too lame for a wider, non-comic reading audience. (Lee and Ferrigno also claimed that CBS executives supported the name decision because they felt 'Bruce’ was 'too gay’ of a name for a male lead, although Johnson later stated that he named Banner 'David’ as a tribute to his son.)
Not willing to let anything untouched, Johnson also wanted the Hulk to be red – the color of 'rage’ – not radioactive green, but Stan exercised the creative control Marvel had and put his foot down on that one, citing green Hulk was too iconic to be altered, although he supported most of the other changes.
Still, the whole idea of this guy coming up and actually working with Stan on the project, but basically saying that everything Stan, Jack, and other comics creators did with the Hulk was too childish or stupid for a TV audience (and this is coming from the guy who had a hand in creating the Bionic Woman, which last I checked, wasn’t exactly the 1970s equivalent of Dostoyevsky for him to be dissing comics) … I liked the original show, myself, but I’m glad the people making these films and shows now are at least somewhat respectful to the creativity and work the creators of the comics put into these characters.
Well, mostly, anyway, unless you work at Warner Bros., but that’s a whole different Hulk-out.