To the modern Hulk, that would be the equivalent of stubbing his toe on an inflatable mattress …
… but back then, it was enough to do him in. Banner dies and the creators dodge a false advertising lawsuit.
It was a brave choice … and one they didn’t truly make. There were plans for another TV movie, The Revenge Of The Incredible Hulk, which would have brought Banner back to life, presumably with all of the cleverness of a lie from a guilty toddler. But it never happened, because of Death getting poor ratings and/or the declining health and eventual actual death of star Bill Bixby, depending on who you ask. Whatever the reason, Death was the end of the franchise, and TV Hulk became one of the very few superheroes to die and stay dead forever. All it took for them to make this courageous creative choice was the audience leaving and the star dying.
And Guess What? The Ending Works Perfectly.
The TV movie portrays David “My Name Means I Love Titties” Banner as tired, jaded, and sick of living on the run. When he dies, he tells the love interest who gave him a brief taste of normalcy that he feels free. He’s a superhero who made the ultimate sacrifice to save the day, who did good things under terrible circumstances, and whose only reward is the satisfaction of having done it. It’s the heroic sacrifice story arc that superhero movies never have the guts follow through on. Instead we get the tearjerker goodbye from Bruce Wayne, even though he knows he’s going to eject before the bomb explodes and then go live in luxury with Catwoman while still getting remembered as a heroic Christ figure back home. What an asshole!
Likewise, TV Hulk’s entire character arc would have been completely ruined by a shitty sequel in which he was brought back to life by a magical space jewel or whatever. You know, like the one the producers wanted to make when they thought there was still some profit to squeeze out of the brand. After all, Agent Coulson didn’t come back to life for story reasons; Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. just needed a recognizable lead.
The first Captain America killed off Cap’s pal Bucky to drive home the cost of war …