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Wednesday, November 23, 2011


"You don't need a parachute to skydive. You only need a parachute to skydive twice" (Old Skydiver Joke)
* * *

"Here's the problem in a nutshell, guys: Fucking Lou is afraid of heights."

Afraid Of Heights?
The person speaking was Nick Corea. And the "Lou" he was referring to was none other than Lou Ferrigno - Bill Bixby’s big green alter ego in The Incredible Hulk.

"No shit," Chris said. "So that explains it."

"Explains what," Corea wanted to know.

"Why you bounced our story about the High Steel Hulk a little while back."

Chris was referring to what we thought was a perfectly good story idea: an episode of the Hulk involving the very dangerous and thrilling occupation of the guys who build our skyscrapers. It would also have given us a last act Hulkout in midair, which the kid in us really wanted to see. (The idea for the story was inspired by one of Chris' favorite books: On High Steel: The Education Of An Ironworker by Mike Cherry.)

Nick grimaced. "Well, I couldn’t exactly admit that Lou soaks his jock when he’s more than five feet off the ground."

Although we all laughed, with Lou being over 6’5" and over 300 pounds, the prospect of a fall from any added height might give even a Strongman pause.

"I don’t get it," I said. "If he’s acrophobic, why did you promise the network a skydiving Hulk story?"

"Fuck if I know," Nick admitted. "We were pitching the new season and it just sort of worked its way into the pitch."

Nick Corea
Nick was Ken Johnson's El Segundo on The Incredible Hulk. A superb story man. Possibly the best in the business. Give him any fact and any character and he could spin a yarn in three seconds flat that would tickle the fancy of the dimmest Network Suit. (It is a previously unheralded fact that the combined IQ of all the Suits at all the Networks might - just might - equal that of a brain-cell challenged chimp) However, his talent sometimes caused him trouble - such as the Skydiving Hulk episode we were now discussing.

"But, that’s not all," Nick continued. "There’s another problem. Maybe an even more serious one."

"Wait a minute," Chris said. "I’m still back on Lou fainting at the sight of a ladder. What about Manny? Is he afraid of heights."

Manny Pearl was the black stuntman who doubled for Lou.

"Fuck no," Nick said. "If you look up 'Big Brass Ones' in the Dictionary Of American Slang, you’ll find Manny’s picture there."

"So, why not just have Manny jump in at the last minute like he always does," Chris said, "and fall into an airbag or whatever?"

"That brings us to the second problem, Nick said. "Bixby says there is no way his character would ever jump out of an airplane."

That made sense. The David Banner character hated turning into the Hulk. In the internal logic of the show purposely triggering a skydiving adrenalin spike that would bring on the big green man was out. Bixby, a thorough professional, would never allow such a violation of his character.

An aside: It was our impression that as the seasons went by, Bill and Lou started to take on more and more characteristics of the parts they played. In short, they began to dislike each other. We were told that Bixby was always wanting to do an episode where the Hulk never appeared. And Lou kept lobbying to do an episode in which there was no David Banner. All that changed when the show ended and it is my understanding that they remained friends until Bixby’s untimely demise.

"Among the reasons I asked you guys in," Nick added, "is that you are the only writers I know who have ever jumped out of an airplane."

This was only partly true. I was with Lou. Nothing could ever tempt me to engage in the sport of damned fools. Chris, on the other hand, had been an airborne ranger in his Army days and had belonged to a skydiving club in civilian life. He used to joke: "Didn’t know that airplanes actually landed until I mustered out."

"Let me get this straight," I said. "You want us to write a story about David Banner joining a sky diving team - which Bixby says he’d never do. And Lou turning into the Hulk while parachuting - without Lou ever getting any higher than the first rung of a very short ladder."

"You game?" Nick asked with a wolfish grin.

Chris and I looked at each other. Shrugged.

"What the fuck," Chris said. "The fall will probably kill us anyway." (A line we loved to steal from William Goldman's Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid. Sums up the choices in life so well, don't you think?)

After that things got complicated. We had to have an airshow, complete with wildly cheering and whistling audience. The Hulk was already special effects heavy, which meant that before you even began shooting, your budget was stretched tighter than a Hollywood starlet’s tank top.

So, how to have an airshow when we couldn’t afford to stage one, and there was no chance of ever finding an event that just happened to be occurring during our shoot?

Producers Jill Sherman Donner,
Jim Hirsch And Karen Harris
I believe it was Karen Harris and her partner, Jill Donner who came up with the solution. They did most of the actual work on the Hulk, rushing around to pick up the pieces that Nick scattered about when he was having one of his attacks of brilliance.

Somehow they tracked down footage of a recent airshow in Palm Desert, or some such place. It included shots of small planes taking off in front of bleachers filled with skydiving fans. Skydiving teams - dressed in team colors - climbing into those planes. Shots of skydivers leaping out into the wild blue whatchamacallit. Helmet shots of skydiving tricks. Parachute landings. Crowds applauding. And so on.

Chris and I studied that footage until - without benefit of inducements - our eyes were a ghastly red. We took careful notes, making sure that we had every detail straight, including the colors the various teams wore so they could match our actors' costumes. And we worked out some scenes with very tight shots so they only had to build a tiny piece of the bleachers, filled with our own people, that they could match to the stock footage. And so on.

Finally came the day for first draft notes. Everybody agreed that we had solved the problems. We had delivered a story that got around Bixby’s objections and Lou’s fear of heights.

But, Nick said, there were a couple of fuzzy logic points they’d like to clear up.

Chris raised a warning hand: "Fine, Nick. But be careful. This thing is held together with spit and bailing wire. Pull one string and the whole fucking thing is likely to come apart."

Nick saw his point.

And so they shot the script.

They got Reza Badiyi - one of the best in the TV business - to direct the episode (titled Free Fall) and some superb guest stars. You can get the complete list here.

But the real work was in the editing room, matching live action to the stock footage of the airshow. In the end, you couldn’t tell that a plane never once took off, that no one ever was in an airplane, much less jumped out of one.

And the midair Hulkout was the stuff of every kid’s dreams. doesn’t offer that episode for free any longer, thanks to the greedy so-and-so’s at Universal Studios. But if you want to see how Free Fall turned out, and don’t mind paying $1.99 for it, click on this link. here. (The full season goes for $12.99)

Full disclosure: if you choose that route, thanks to several Writers Guild Strikes I get about .000000000000000000000000004 cents in residuals. If about a zillion of you go for it, Kathryn and I will take it all and fly to Rio for the Carnival



The MisAdventures began humbly enough - with about 2,000 readers. When it rose to over 50,000 (we're now knocking at the door of 110,000) I started listening to those of you who urged me to collect the stories into a book. Starting at the beginning, I went back and rewrote the essays, adding new detail and events as they came to mind. This book is the result of that effort. However, I'm mindful of the fact, Gentle Reader, that you also enjoy having these little offerings posted every Friday to put a smile on your face for the weekend. So I'll continue running them until it reaches the final Fade Out. Meanwhile, it would please the heart of this ink-stained wretch - as well as tickle whatever that hard black thing is in my banker's chest - if you bought the book. It will make a great gift, don't you think? And if you'd like a personally autographed copy you can get it directly through my (ahem) Merchant's Link at Click here. Buy the book and I will sign it and ship it to you. Break a leg!


Two new companion editions to the international best-selling Sten series. In the first, learn the Emperor's most closely held  cooking secrets. In the other, Sten unleashes his shaggy-dog joke cracking sidekick, Alex Kilgour. Both available as trade paperbacks or in all major e-book flavors. Click here to tickle your funny bone or sizzle your palate.    


Relive the fabulous four-day Stregg-laced celebration.  Alex Kilgour's Worst Joke Ever. New recipes from the Eternal Emperor's kitchen. Alex Kilgour's Worst Joke Ever. Sten's thrill-packed exploits at the Emp's castle. How to make your own Stregg. And, did I mention, Alex Kilgour's Worst Joke Ever?

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