With further behind-the-scenes details uncovered, we revisit our series The Legacy of the Batman; a broadstrokes look at the origins, production and legacy of the show.
A Greenway Production in association with Twentieth Century Fox Television
Outlaw heroes were very popular during the great depression, because the public had become disillusioned with the political and economic systems, therefore they turned to pulp heroes as a sign of hope. So when Batman was created in 1939, he was written as a murderous vigilante. This characterization of him would eventually change for two reasons. 1. Batman fans were unhappy with the murderous aspect of his character. 2. It was also done to protect National Periodical Publications from potential attacks from critics who had already begun to voice their concerns about comics.
In fact the first national attack on comics happened on May 8th 1940, when the literary critic Sterling North blamed comics for poisoning the minds of America’s youth in an article entitled comics “A National disgrace.”
(Sterling North): Virtually every child in America is reading color “comic” magazines—a poisonous mushroom growth of the last two years. Ten million copies of these sex-horror serials are sold every month. One million dollars are taken from the pockets of America’s children in exchange for graphic insanity … The effects of these pulp-paper nightmares is that of a violent stimulant … Unless we want a coming generation even more ferocious than the present one, parents and teachers throughout America must band together to break the “comic” magazine. (“A National Disgrace”, editorial published in the Chicago Daily News – May 8, 1940)
With more and more children reading comics in 1940, there was a growing hatred for comics among critics who felt that children would possibly be influenced by the violence that was shown in comics.
Around this same time Robin, who was the first teenage sidekick to be introduced in the comics would debut in Detective Comics #38. While some Batman fans believe that no good came from the creation of Robin, his addition to Batman’s Adventures in Detective Comics provided kids with an incentive to read comic books. They couldn’t relate to Batman since he was older than them, but they were able to relate to Robin since they imagined having adventures with Batman through the character of Robin. With Robin added to Batman’s Adventures the sales of Detective Comics doubled.
In the summer of 1941, National Periodical Publications created its own editorial advisory board to protect them from the growing criticisms of comic books. As a result of the changing moral climate National Periodical Publications editor Whitney Ellsworth created a new editorial policy that every artist and writer had to follow. This new policy strongly advised against whippings, hangings, knifings, sexual references, and the use of the word “flick,” which could have been mistaken for something else if the word joined together when written in block capitals. Additionally, villains were no longer allowed to be shot or killed.
The latter rule had a major effect on how Batman was written, as he had been written as a vigilante since his inception and he had killed criminals on various occasions, so in an attempt to get away from his vigilante ways, he had developed a no killing rule and was then turned into a deputized officer of the law. From then onwards, that is how he was presented, although writers were occasionally allowed to ignore Batman’s no killing rule. Even with these changes Batman continued to be successful. By the end of the decade, Batman and Robin were co-stars or individually were the stars of Detective Comics, Batman, World’s Finest Comics, and Star Spangled Comics. They were given recurring roles on The Adventures of Superman radio show. They were the focus of two successful movie serials. And they were featured in a long running newspaper comic strip.
However, with juvenile delinquency on the rise the New York Joint Legislative Committee felt that comics needed to be investigated. They thought that there was a connection between crime comics and the rise in juvenile delinquency. The U.S. Senate Subcommittee had similar thoughts as they also began to suggest a link between controversial comics and juvenile delinquency.
A series of investigations were held by the U.S. Senate subcommittee on April 21st, April 22nd, and June 4th, 1954, to investigate the influence that horror and crime fiction comics had on children.
At the hearings William Gaines a publisher of horror and crime fiction comics claimed to only publish comics that were in good taste. But Senator Estes Kefauver the judge at the hearing, pulled out one of Gaines comics which showed a man holding a dismembered woman’s head on the cover. None of the senators that were present at the hearings knew that the cover of that issue of Crime SuspenStories had already been cleaned up before the comic book was published.
If that wasn’t bad enough the psychiatrist Dr. Fredric Wertham who was a witness at those hearings, claimed to have had patients that confessed to committing crimes that they had seen in comics. In response to this unwanted attention, the comic book industry created its own regulatory body called the Comics Code Authority, which introduced many rules that limited the kind of stories that could be told.
The comic book industry suffered, because some companies were forced to go out of business due to the nature of their content and comics in other companies were either cancelled or were completely re-branded to fit in with this newly developed Comics Code.
In this period we saw the creation of the Bat Family which was supposed to emulate the success of The Marvel Family that had been created for the Fawcett Comics character Captain Marvel. Whose Captain Marvel Adventures comic was outselling every other superhero title in the early 40’s. DC Comics had done the same for Superman with great success. And Wonder Woman was given one of her own in the 60’s. As far as Batman goes in addition to Alfred and Robin Batman’s adventures would now occasionally include Ace-The Bat Hound, Batwoman, and Bat-Mite.
The Science Fiction and Monster movie craze also had an impact on Batman stories in the late 50’s. The popularity of these types of movies played an important part in how Batman and Detective Comics were written in the latter half of the 50’s. Because Jack Schiff the editor of Batman and Detective Comics, was pressurized into using elements of both in Batman stories, so a lot of Batman stories in the late 50’s, included some type of wacky element that was inspired by the popularity of things that were seen in science fiction and monster movies.
Although it has been reported that the sales of Batman and Detective Comics were declining due to the aforementioned things. The sales of superhero comics in general had actually been declining since the end of World War II. During World War II superhero comics were popular with G.I.’s as superheroes were featured in patriotic stories where they fought in the war. Once the war was over the popularity of superhero comics declined so they were overtaken by crime fiction, horror, teen humor, and romance comics. In the aftermath, many superhero comics were either cancelled or were rebranded. Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman were among the few surviving superheroes from this period.
The superhero revival began with the introduction of a reworked version of The Flash in Showcase #4 (October 1956). The success of this updated version of The Flash led to reworked versions of Green Lantern in Showcase #22 (October 1959); Hawkman in The Brave and the Bold #34 (Feb-March 1961); and the Atom in Showcase #34 (Sept-Oct. 1961). It also led to the creation of the Justice League of America in The Brave and the Bold #28 (March 1960).
In response to the renewed success that DC Comics were having with superheroes. Marvel Comics responded with characters that were appealing to teenagers. By creating superheroes with real life dynamics. The first of such heroes was the Fantastic Four who were a team of superheroes at the core they were a family that didn’t always get along.
In addition to the Fantastic Four a lot of Marvel’s other important characters were also created in the 60’s. One of the most important if not most, successful to come out of that period was Spider-Man who was a teenager and a solo hero, which was unlike teenage superheroes of the past who were mostly sidekicks. As Peter Parker his alter ago, he self-obsessed with rejection, inadequacy, and loneliness this was something that young readers could relate to.
After overseeing the success of reworked characters like The Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, and The Atom. As well as the newly created Justice League of America, Julius Schwartz an editor at DC Comics was asked to work his magic once again. When he was asked to sort out the Batman titles which he did by getting writers to write out Bat Family characters like Ace the Bat-Hound, Bat-Mite, Batwoman and Bat-Girl. The Bat-Signal was replaced with the Hotline Phone. Alfred was replaced with Dick Grayson’s Aunt Harriet. And Penguin and The Riddler were brought back.
Further changes included a return to detective stories as opposed to the wacky science fiction stories that Batman was written in the late 50’s and early 60’s. While Carmine Infantino redefined the way how Batman was drawn by giving him a sleeker look. Carmine Infantino also updated Batman’s costume with the addition of the yellow oval around the bat emblem. This wasn’t just an aesthetic change it was done to show that Batman was moving in a new direction.
During this period, which has been dubbed the “New Look” era, the average paid circulation for Batman rose from it’s 1962 average of 410,000 to 453,745 in 1965.
The development of a Batman TV Series
Prior to the existence of William Dozier’s Batman TV Series there was a previous attempt to do a Batman show in the 60’s. It was going to be done by the creator of the Linus the Lionhearted cartoons and lifelong Batman fan Ed Graham. He came close to striking a deal for a Batman show with CBS in March 1965. But the people whom he was negotiating with were replaced. And their replacements had no interest in doing a Batman show so negotiations broke down, he then entered negotiations with NBC, but his hopes of doing a Batman show were dashed when he learned that ABC had acquired the broadcasting rights to do a Batman show of their own.
What hasn’t been mentioned too often is that ABC Executives Harvey Bennett and Doug Cramer had been thinking of doing a Batman show since 1963. What happened next though is anyone’s guess, because there is more than one claim about the origin of the series.
Orgin #1 – The Batman Movie Serials
The common claim is that ABC acquired the rights to broadcast a Batman TV Series after an ABC Executive had witnessed the positive reaction to the 1943 Batman movie serial which was shown at the Playboy Theater in Chicago. For some reason Yale Udoff is the ABC Executive that is mentioned in many of these reports. But he has said that he wasn’t at the Playboy Theater for these showings.
Key Dates: Without access to all of William Dozier’s documents it’s difficult to say when development began on the Batman TV Series. But I’ve been told by the Author Bob Garcia that development for the Batman TV Series began in May 1965.
In July 1965 chapters of the 1943 Batman Movie Serial were shown on weekends at the Playboy Theater in Chicago. On October 9th, 1965 the serial was shown at the Playboy Theater in Chicago once again, this time it was shown in its entirety. In response to the high box office takings of this 2nd showing Colombia Pictures released the 1943 and 1949 Batman Movie Serials in theaters around the country.
This started a revival for superhero movie serials which people enjoyed for their perceived campy aspects in the same way that they did with The Batman Movie Serials. The Writer and Director Don F. Glut believe that this was the inspiration for the ABC’s Batman TV Series.
In the August 25th, 1965 issue of Variety Magazine, it was announced that the Batman TV Series would be airing on ABC after had acquired the broadcasting rights for the series. In an October 12th, 1965 letter to William Dozier Frank Gorshin’s agent Leonard J. Grant included a Variety Magazine clipping that refers to the success of a recent showing of the 1943 Batman Movie Serial. Filming for the series began a week later on October 20th 1965.
Evidence: The Batman Movie Serials and The Batman TV Series both feature narration and of course cliffhangers. Even though the Batman Movie Serials weren’t played for laughs they were a source of ridicule for people in the mid-60’s. This was due to how ridiculous they looked to 60’s audiences. Some people believe that this reaction to the serials is what inspired William Dozier to do a campy Batman TV Series.
In Adam West’s screen test as Batman he isn’t wearing the “New Look” Batman costume that he wears in the Batman TV Series. Instead, he’s wearing a Batman costume without the yellow oval around the bat emblem like the costumes worn by Lewis Wilson and Robert Lowery, who played Batman in the 1943 and 1949 movie serials.
For research in preparation for the role Adam West watched both Batman Movie Serials. Although he insists that they were not an influence on his portrayal of the character since they were done in the same rock ’em-sock’ style that a lot of serials were done in. His inspiration is said to have come from the author Jules Feiffer’s psychoanalysis of the character. In Jules Feiffer’s book The Great Comic Book Heroes Batman is viewed as character with a bit an ego as he believes that he can do more harm to his antagonists than they could do to him.
The other inspiration for Adam West’s portrayal of Batman were 6 traits of what made Batman stories work. These traits were 1. Batman’s desire to prevent anyone else from suffering a loss. 2. Batman’s adventures which had a touch of Dickensian flavor about them. 3. The fact that Batman didn’t have superpowers. 4. The Batsuit. 5. Batman’s Mind. and 6. Batman’s Memorable Villains.
Orgin #2 – The Success of the James Bond Movies
In the book Batmania II it’s claimed that it was the success of the James Bond Movies that inspired ABC to do a show about a larger than life character. An unnamed source is credited with the suggestion of doing a comic book show since comic books were a great source of such characters.
From there test marketing was done to see what characters people wanted to see a show about. Dick Tracy was the standout favorite of the public’s, but NBC had already bought the rights to do a Dick Tracy show, the rights to Superman were off limits as he was going to be used in the musical “It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… It’s Superman,” that narrowed down the choices to shows about Batman or The Green Hornet. ABC decided to buy the broadcasting rights for a Batman show and only considered doing a show for The Green Hornet while Batman was still in development.
Key Dates: February 1965 was apparently when ABC started thinking about doing a show for a larger than life character. This was on the back of the success of the first three James Bond movies Dr. No, From Russia with Love, and Goldfinger which were filmed between 1962 and 1964.
Evidence: The Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel sent a letter to the former President of 20th Century Fox, Richard D. Zanuck three weeks into the first season of the Batman TV Series. In this letter Jerry Siegel refers to a superhero craze that was sparked by the success of the James Bond Movies and the nostalgia of superhero comics phenomena. While there is no mention that it was inspired by the success of the James Bond Movies Adam West does confirm that ABC were in discussions about a comic book show in early 1965.
Orgin #3 – The Success of Peyton Place
In a 2009 interview with Emmy TV Legends ABC’s former Director of Program Planning Doug Cramer, credits Yale Udoff who was ABC’s Director of Nighttime Development with suggesting the idea of doing a Batman show. This came about when ABC were unable to acquire the broadcasting rights for a Dick Tracy show.
Key Dates: After Doug Cramer’s success with developing the nighttime serial Peyton Place. He had the desire to do a comic book show next. Once it was decided that a Batman show was going to be done a joint decision was made between ABC and 20th Century Fox to serialize the series.
Evidence: Yale Udoff confirmed that Dick Tracy was ABC’s first choice for a comic book show. And that it was his recommendation that they should do a Batman show once they had failed to acquire the broadcasting rights for a Dick Tracy Show.
ABC’s reason for wanting to do a comic book show was simple at the time they were trailing behind the more established networks CBS and NBC who were winning the ratings war with family oriented shows. To compete with what CBS and NBC had to offer ABC realized that it needed a show that could appeal to kids and adults, whilst also appealing to sponsors.
After acquiring the rights to produce a Batman show, Twentieth Century Fox television executive, William Self immediately came up with the idea of how a Batman show should be done. He felt that in order for the show to appeal to adults, it needed to have adult writing and a prestigious writer. So he set up a lunch meeting between himself, Twentieth Century Fox’s in house producer William Dozier and the mystery novelist Eric Ambler, who was a friend of Dozier’s, but Eric Ambler was said to not be interested in writing for the show at all.
So the writer Lorenzo Semple, Jnr. was contacted about writing for the show. He had previously worked with William Dozier, in an unsold pilot for a detective show about the fictional character Charlie Chan, the show would’ve been called “Number One Son.” Like William Dozier, Lorenzo Semple, Jnr. wasn’t a fan of comics, so it was decided between them that the show would only work if it was done in a way that has been described as ‘camp.’ They felt that the heroes on the show needed to be so square and so deadly serious to a point where it would become absurd. By doing this they believed that the show would be able to appeal to people on two levels. Adults would find the humor on the show funny. While kids who weren’t old enough to understand the humor would find the action on the show stimulating.
Conflicting reports have claimed that the former NFL star and Tarzan actor Mike Henry was considered for the role of Batman in either Ed Graham’s Batman show or in the Batman series that was done by William Dozier. Reports have even suggested that he posed for publicity shots in the batsuit for Ed Graham’s Batman show. If that’s true I’d like to know why these photo’s have never been used in one of the many Batman documentaries that have been released over the years.
In an interview for the June 2011 issue of Filmfax #127 – Filmfax Plus, not only did Mike Henry claim to have not done any screen tests for Dozier’s Batman TV Series, he also said that he didn’t have any discussions with Wiliam Dozier or any of the show’s other producers. I’m not sure if this is something that he has consistently said in other interviews, if it is, it would mean that the photo of him in the batsuit that was passed around at conventions in the 70’s is fake.
Ty Hardin, who is best known for his leading role in the western TV Series Bronco, was William Dozier’s first choice to play Batman. When it was learned that he would be unavailable, Adam West became Dozier’s favorite for the role.
Adam West still had to audition for the role, as the network also wanted to test Lyle Waggoner. Adam West was initially reluctant to audition for the role because he was trying to have a serious acting career, but he eventually decided to audition for the role after reading the script. Which he reportedly fell down with laughter reading. The producers of the show picked Adam West for the role, when they had noticed that he displayed some good comic flair in a Nestle commercial that was parodying the James Bond franchise. So they thought that he would be a good fit for the show.
Despite not having any previous acting experience, Burt Ward was chosen for the role of Robin, since he still looked quite for his young for his age. He at the time was in his early twenties.
With the exception of Chief O’ Hara who was played by Stafford Repp, the supporting cast of Neil Hamilton, Alan Napier, and Madge Blake were the only choices for their respective roles as Commissioner Gordon, Alfred, and Aunt Harriet. Then after failing to find someone who was right for the part, the show’s executive producer William Dozier provided the narration for the series under the name Desmond Doomsday.
When the pilot for the TV Series was filmed producing shows in color had become the norm, as CBS, NBC, and ABC, all started producing shows in color in the fall of 1965. But the art directors and costume designers that worked on the first episode felt that they could really push color TV to its limits, by using vivid colors that had never been seen on television before. This is actually very similar to what was going on in the world of art with the pop art movement.
Comic Book Sound Effects were added after the show failed it’s ASI tests. They were included to show people that the Batman TV Series was supposed to be a comedy. They were also another example of pop art which mainly has to do with artists using imagery from pop culture in their art. So the use of the comic book sound effects in the TV Series was an example of this because artists such as Andy Warhol, Mel Ramos, and Roy Lichtenstein, had been doing comic book themed art which included comic book sound effects.
Tilted, or Dutch angles as they’re otherwise known, were used to show that the villains were crooked. This unusual way of filming had previously been a trick that was used in horror movies and thrillers.
Labels were put on things that we could identify with our own eyes.
A line of dialogue was then put in the script to set the tone of the show. That was the brief conversation that Batman had with the maître d’ when he walks into a packed out nightclub. During that conversation the maître d’asks Batman if he would like a ringside table, Batman replies no because he wants to remain inconspicuous. This line of dialogue was meant to be a joke against the character.
And it was decided that the show should be serialized; this wasn’t always the case the original plan was for it to be an hour long show. This is actually what was reported in the 25th of August, 1965 issue of the entertainment trade magazine Variety. On the very same day William Dozier sent the ABC Director of Program Planning Douglas Cramer, a letter in which he pleaded with him to make Batman a show that was split into two half hour shows with a single cliffhanger as opposed to filming it as a show that was made up of five fifteen minute segments with four cliffhangers.
His reason for this were the difficulties that would arise if Batman was made up of five fifteen minute segments with four cliffhangers. It would’ve required more thought to come up with 4 different cliffhangers for every episode. And it would’ve cost more money if it was later decided that Batman should be split into two half hour shows, since episodes would have to be re-edited and re-filmed to eliminate the three remaining cliffhangers.
Needless to say, ABC settled on the idea of making Batman a show that was split into two half hour shows with a single cliffhanger. After all, they had two free time slots, since they cancelled the musical variety show Shindig! and moved their long running sitcom The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet to a Saturday evening time slot.
According to William Self this was also done to emulate one of ABC’s own shows Peyton Place which was the only nighttime serial on prime time television. So it was thought that it would be a good idea to serialize the TV Series, since there were no nighttime comic book shows that were serialized on prime time television.
But the show, which was tested without a laugh track, with a laugh track, and with the narration of hiss the villains and cheer the heroes, failed miserably each time it was tested and was said to have received the worst score in the history of pilot testing. The show still went on the air not only because ABC had already bought the show. It was also due to the fact that they didn’t have much of a choice as many of its shows were failing at the time.
In a mad rush of panic ABC brought forward Batman and all of its other shows that were originally scheduled to be aired in the fall of 1966. As part of what would be referred to as the “Second Season.”
After a relentless promotional campaign the Batman TV Series premiered on January 12th, 1966. And as their luck would have it was accepted by audiences for numerous reasons; like its appeal on two levels to kids the Batman TV Series was a brightly colored action adventure show. To adults the Batman TV Series was a humorous show that referenced or satirized pop culture.
Something else that made the show a hit was it’s cliffhangers which encouraged viewers to tune in two nights a week.
Another part of the show’s appeal was the special guest villains, who were played by stars from the stage and screen, some of these stars were Nightclub Impressionist and Character Actor Frank Gorshin (The Riddler), Screen and Stage Veteran Burgess Meredith (Penguin), Popular onscreen Latin Lover Cesar Romero (The Joker), The Actress and Dancer Julie Newmar (Catwoman), etc.
Having stars like Burgess Meredith and Cesar Romero on the show was great, since they didn’t worry about ruining their reputations. They just came on the show and played their characters to the hilt. The series quickly became the in-show when stars from sports, music, hollywood, and television, saw that the show was able to attract stars like Burgess Meredith and Cesar Romero.
Obviously not everybody was able to get a role on the show as a villain so they would appear in a bat-climb cameo whenever Batman and Robin climbed up a building; such people included Comedian and Actor Jerry Lewis, Radio and TV Personality Dick Clark, and the Entertainer Sammy Davis, Jr.; The Jazz and Blues Legend Frank Sinatra, The senator of New York Robert F. Kennedy, and the Actress, Broadway Star, and Sex Symbol Mae West, were just some of the people who either wanted to be on the show or were wanted on the show by the producers.
It was clear that Batmania had swept the nation, kids all round America were running about with towels around their necks trying to imitate Batman, the Batusi had become the latest dance craze at nightclubs, a Detroit hairdresser created a new hairstyle in the style of Batman’s cowl, a discothèque which was previously named Whisky a Go Go was re-named and turned into a Batman themed restaurant called Wayne Manor, and the sales of Batman and Detective Comics had risen overnight.
Throughout the first season the show was also listed in the top 20 for the highest rated shows of 1966. The first part episode was the 10th highest rated show on the list, while the second part episode was the 5th highest rated show on the list,
The show was even nominated for three Emmy awards, in the categories of individual achievements in sound editing, outstanding comedy series, and outstanding performance of an actor in a supporting role in a comedy.
Since the show had been accepted by audiences, Fox decided that it would be best to proceed with the movie, which originally was supposed to come before the series, in order to show audiences what they could expect from the series. Once the series had already been accepted the movie was put on hold until the summer hiatus of the series.
Topping the success of Season 1 was a difficult thing to do because William Dozier figured that the series would take care of itself. He started to work on other shows, as he wanted to be the first producer to have three successful shows airing on primetime TV three nights a week. Batman at the time was doing well on Wednesdays and Thursdays, so Dozier set his sights on launching the Tammy Grimes Show which would be airing on Thursdays, and The Green Hornet TV Series which was going to be airing on Fridays.
After being so heavily involved with the series in Season 1 as a writer and story editor, Lorenzo Semple, Jnr., decided that he wanted a lesser role in Season 2 of the series. So the writing duties for most of the episodes in this season, were shared between Stanley Ralph Ross, Stanford Sherman, and Charles Hoffman. This change defined the show going forward as the campiness in the show was played up a little more in the second season of the series. This is opposite of what was done in the first season where a number of episodes feature a very delicate balance of farce, humor, and drama.
Another problem was the combination of the shows repetitive structure which very few episodes broke away from. And the fact that the Batman TV Series no longer had the advantage of being shown in color. It was losing viewers to the CBS science fiction show Lost in Space, which was its direct competition on Wednesday nights. The problem was that Lost in Space was starting to attract more viewers now that it was being shown in color.
Lost in Space’s switch from Black and White broadcasts to Color broadcasts led to the end of the previous episode recaps in the Batman TV Series. Which were scrapped after Episodes 53 and 54 “Green Ice” and “Deep Freeze.” People were no longer interested in watching the previous episodes anymore, since they knew that they could get a recap of the previous episode the following night.
New ideas were tried throughout this season there was the introduction of sexual tension between Catwoman and Batman, as well as new bat-gadgets, new villains, 3-part episodes, villain team-ups, and the idea of visiting heroes was even tested with The Green Hornet and Kato. Despite these new ideas, the show wasn’t able to match or outperform it’s ratings from the previous season. However, while the ratings were not as high as they were in Season 1, they were still at a respectable level for the series. But the show had lost its place on the list for the highest rated shows of the year.
In an attempt to revive the show Batgirl was added to mix. The Barbara Gordon version of the character had been created several months earlier in order to provide another female character from the comics that could be transferred to the series.
With this in mind, William Dozier proposed the idea of adding Batgirl to the show to freshen things up, but ABC wasn’t convinced about the idea until they saw the network presentation featuring Yvonne Craig as Batgirl which managed to convince them that she should be added to show for another season.
For the third season in the series ABC reduced the show’s airtime by airing it once a week instead of twice a week. This forced the show’s writers to finish their stories within a single episode therefore the cliffhangers with the exception of a handful of episodes, were no longer used.
With the reduced airtime writer’s had to continually find ways to fit her into the show as she wasn’t an official part of the team. So Batgirl is sometimes included in the show at the expense of Batman and Robin. For example in Episode 110 “The Funny Feline Felonies,” Batgirl comes to rescue Batman and Robin after they stupidly agree to shake hands with The Joker and are unsurprisingly shocked with The Joker’s Joy Buzzer. But Batgirl herself is also made to look stupid as well, because she often charged into a villain’s hideout without backup only to be captured time and time again.
By this time in the series Lorenzo Semple, Jnr. was no longer writing for the show. He had become a screenwriter for movies instead, so the writing duties for Season 3 much like they were in Season 2, were split between the trio of Stanley Ralph Ross, Stanford Sherman, and Charles Hoffman, who continued to take the series in a more farcical route.
The show’s timeslot wasn’t the only thing that was reduced for Season 3 the show’s production budgets were also reduced for much of this season as well. This was due to the producers going wildly over budget on several episodes in the first two seasons. The reduced production budgets didn’t only affect the look of the show see Episode 113 ‘‘Nora Clavicle and The Ladies Crime Club,’’ which features some of the worst sets in the entire series.
It also limited what could be done in the show, see ‘Episode 119 The Entrancing Dr. Cassandra’’ which features a fight scene that was filmed in the dark. The producers didn’t have the budget to shoot the fight scene with all the characters involved. (The Terrific Trio of Batman, Robin, and Batgirl, special guest villains Dr. Cassandra and Cabala, as well as uncredited villains The Riddler, Penguin, The Joker, Catwoman, King Tut, and Egghead)
The “Next Week” Villain Tags that were shown at the end of each episode were scrapped in favor of “Uncredited Villain” cameos. Which were used to introduce the villain(s) for the next episode, for example, Frank Gorshin returned as The Riddler in an uncredited cameo at the end of Episode 95 ‘‘Enter Batgirl, Exit Penguin,’’ before appearing in Episode 96 ‘‘Ring Around The Riddler.’’
Linked episodes were also used, for example, in Episode 96 “Ring Around The Riddler,” we first see Siren teaming up with The Riddler. Then at the end of the episode she carries out her own plan by using melodic charms on Commissioner Gordon, to begin a story for Episode 97 ‘‘The Wail of the Siren.’
More new villains were created for the TV series during this season, but they paled in comparison to the pre-existing villains that were transferred over from the comics and even in comparison to some of the villains that were created especially for the series, like King Tut and Egghead.
Madge Blake, who played Aunt Harriet, was no longer a regular on the show due to health problems. Her last appearances in the series were in Episode 96 “Ring Around The Riddler,’’ and Episode 107 “The Bloody Tower.’’
It’s often been said that Julie Newmar was unable to play Catwoman in Season 3 as she was still filming the western movie Mackenna’s Gold. In actual fact, she had actually been filming a movie about a French detective called Monsieur Lecoq.
Nevertheless, since she was unavailable again Eartha Kitt was cast to play Catwoman. Interracial relationships rarely happened on television back in the 60′s, so Eartha Kitt’s Catwoman couldn’t show any romantic interest in Batman like Julie Newmar’s Catwoman had done in Season 2. So instead of falling for Batman like so many of the villainesses and molls before her. She instead was more ruthless towards Batman like Julie Newmar’s Catwoman had originally been in Season 1. Sadly, these changes didn’t make much of a difference as the ratings continued to decline.
This was due to the show’s audience being reduced to kids, adults had become tired of the show. So despite the fact that it was still leading it’s timeslot at the time, because of the kids that were still watching the show, the series was cancelled midway through the season with the final episode Minerva, Mayhem and Millionaires airing on March 14th, 1968. The Batman TV Series ended it’s three year run as the 48th highest rated show of the year.
In Adam West’s book Back to Batcave, he claims that there were two chances for the Batman TV Series to be renewed before and after it was cancelled. But in interviews before William Dozier got official confirmation that the series was going to be cancelled. He acted as though he knew it was going to be cancelled as a matter of fact, he was surprised that it lasted as long as it did. There is also the fact that he was ready to move onto other projects when the show was cancelled in January 1968. Dozier’s goal from late 1966 was to make enough episodes so that the series could immediately qualify for syndication, 100 episodes were needed for that, but 120 episodes were made.
The Legacy of the TV series
One of the positive influences of the Batman TV Series is that it boosted the sales of the Batman related titles, because it got people interested in comics. After years of being outsold by Superman, Batman outsold Superman for the first time in its history, when it became the highest selling comic in the first two seasons of the series. And although Detective Comics was still being outsold by most of the Superman related titles in 1966, it was still one of the highest selling comics. In 1967 it replaced the Superman related title Action Comics as the 8th highest selling comic. This was another achievement, since Detective Comics at least in the 60’s, had never been in the top ten of the highest selling comic sales.
However, when the TV Series was cancelled the sales of the Batman related titles plummeted even though the feel of the TV Series wasn’t replicated in every issue of Batman and Detective Comics; sales still plummeted as the TV series was no longer around, so the interest in comics from fans of the series declined.
Although Batman #201, 202, 204, and 205 were published in 1968, they were actually produced in 1967. So the decision to take Batman back to his dark roots was made before or once the third season of the series began, nevertheless it shows that Julius Schwartz was ready to distance the comics from the influence of the TV series. He turned to artist/writer Frank Robbins and artist Irv Novick along with others who helped to take Batman back to his dark roots.
In Batman 204 (August 1968), Batman was reintroduced as a grim avenger of the night. Then in Batman 217 (December 1969), he was re-established as a loner once again, when the now adult Dick Grayson moved out of Wayne Manor to go to Hudson University. Following this Batman would sporadically team up with Robin and/or Batgirl. Who now spent their time either teaming up with the Teen Titans or each other as well as having their own adventures, or they were appearing in Detective Comics and Justice League of America as a supporting character/guest star. The use of Batman’s Villains decreased in the late 60’s writers often opted to use unestablished villains in stories that focused on adventure, mystery and Batman’s detective work.
The rising crime rates in the 70’s lead to a surge in citizen vigilantism. On the back of this several notable vigilante characters were created like The Punisher, Wolverine, Paul Kersey from the Death Wish movies, etc.
To tap into what was going on in the world at the time comic book stories in the 70’s often explored darker themes and featured stories that focused on social relevancy.
This is probably best highlighted by a story about the dangers of drug use that was written by the Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Stan Lee at the request of the U. S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare. The Story was featured in The Amazing Spider-Man #96–98 (cover-dated May–July 1971) but it was rejected by the Comics Code Authority since drug related stories were against the rules of the Comics Code regardless of their context. So the issue was released without the Comics Code Authority seal of approval and the positive reaction to the story led to the first revision of the Comics Code.
The revised Comics Code allowed sympathetic depiction of criminal behavior as long as it was exceptional. The depiction of criminal behavior among law officials was also allowed. If the law officials died as a result of their criminal activities. Suggestion was allowed, but seduction wasn’t, and restrictions on dress codes for comic book characters were liberalized. The changes to the Comics Code also allowed the use of Vampires, Ghouls, and Werewolves.
The effort to take Batman back to his dark roots continued in the 70’s with stories like “There is No Hope in Crime Alley.” In which Batman returns to the location of his greatest tragedy. Depending on who the writer was Batman in the 70’s would usually be written as a vigilante that is controversially allied with Commissioner Gordon. But he is still very much a mysterious figure who startled people by appearing and disappearing without making a sound. Batman’s Villains who were brought back one by one were similarly taken back to their dark roots or they were given an edge that they didn’t previously have.
But the campy Batman that was portrayed by Adam West was so firmly ingrained in the minds of non-comic book readers. This created problems for future Batman producer Michael Uslan, who had been trying to pitch ideas to movie producers for a darker take on the character; he was continuously turned down by movie producers who couldn’t see how Batman would work in a serious movie.
It took Superman: The Movie which was the first big budget comic book movie that was a major success at the box office, and Batman stories of the 80’s to change this perception. One of the stories that played a major role in this was the 4 issue miniseries The Dark Knight Returns in which writer/artist Frank Miller reinvented Batman as an older, wearier crimefighter, who was coming out of retirement in a dystopian future, not to fight justice as he had done so often in the past; he instead was coming out of retirement to wage a brutal war on crime.
This story was so groundbreaking that it was reviewed in both the Rolling Stone and Times Magazines. Magazines like that would never usually review comic book stories. So this was exactly the attention that was needed, since it showed the mainstream audience that Batman had moved on from the days of Adam West. This was really crucial for the project, because there were a number of failed attempts to bring the character to life with many different directors. That was until Warner Brothers hired the upstart director Tim Burton, who had been working as an animator, a storyboard artist and a concept artist at Walt Disney’s animated production studio, Warner Brothers gave him a chance to do a darker take on the character, as his visual imagination was in-line with how DC Comics saw Batman.
However when Michael Keaton was cast to play Batman in the movie, there was an uproar as people thought that we were going to see yet another campy interpretation of the character. Michael Keaton was mostly known for his comedic roles and had previously worked with Tim Burton in the comedy horror film Beetlejuice. A trailer was created to prove that the movie wasn’t going to be the TV series all over again. Once people were made aware of this interest in the movie increased significantly. With this renewed interest and a very solid marketing campaign backing the movie, Batman 1989 would go on to become a major success at the box office.
Michael Uslan (Batman Historian/Film Producer): Tim Burton and everybody who worked on that film had pulled it off. The wheel had been re-invented. The whole genre of what we had considered to be comic book movies and movies about superheroes was turned on its head. And this movie truly succeeded. Not only is it that moment of realization that you’re one of the few lucky people in this world to have you’re dream come true. But that everything that you hoped would happen happened. (Shadows of The Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight Pt 3: Legend Reborn)
And since Batman 1989 was such a success at the box office, Fox put the TV series back into syndication. So once again the campy TV Series was now back in the public eye. While Batman movies continued to get darker and darker, this was clearly evident by the response to Batman Returns which initially was released to critical and financial success. But as time went on it was heavily criticized by people who believed that it was an adult movie that was wrongly promoted to kids through McDonald’s happy meals.
After the backlash that Batman Returns received McDonald’s withdrew their happy meal tie-in for the movie. And Warner Brothers chose not to allow Tim Burton to direct another Batman movie when they found out that his idea for Batman Forever was going to be similar in tone to Batman Returns.
Therefore Tim Burton stepped down as director of the franchise, but he was asked to stay on as the producer for Batman Forever. As he handed the directorial reigns over to his friend Joel Schumacher, who Warner Brothers saw as the man to reinvent the franchise, even though Batman Returns was the 3rd highest grossing movie of 1992. Warner Brothers felt that Batman Returns should have made more money and they also believed that the Batman franchise needed to be more “mainstream,” because the general feeling was that people “didn’t want” another Batman movie after Batman Returns.
So it was something of a surprise when Batman Forever became the 2nd highest grossing movie of 1995, as well as the 2nd highest grossing Batman movie at the time. This success encouraged Warner Brothers to green-light a sequel which immediately went into production. Its sequel Batman & Robin didn’t do as well, as Warner Brothers wanted it to be even more of a kid friendly movie. This no doubt pleased families who had complained about Batman movies being too dark for their children. But critics and fans of darker portrayals of the character were very critical of the movie, as they were convinced that it was trying to copy the TV series.
Joel Schumacher (Director): Some people thought that we were trying to copy the early early Batman television show with Adam West. We weren’t really I mean I don’t think Keith and I ever discussed that. I guess because of the humor a lot of which that was created by Jim Carrey in Batman Forever was so popular there was a desire to have more of a comic book fun and games feeling. But I can understand those comparisons because the Batman show in the 60′s was done for jokes. It was all done for laughs. (Commentary Track by Joel Schumacher, Disc 1 of the Two-Disc Batman & Robin Special Edition)
Similar criticisms have also been thrown at Batman Forever over the years. Even though the intention for Batman Forever wasn’t to emulate the TV Series.
Elizabeth Kane (The wife of Batman creator Bob Kane): Bob thought that because Batman Returns was perhaps in moments a little too dark, Batman Forever should be a little more upbeat. Not like the television show, by any means but a little more lighter and brighter then Batman Returns (Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight – Reinventing a Hero )
Well, whether or not it was intended to be like the TV Series, Batman & Robin failed to outperform the previous movies in the franchise. Though that was always going to be difficult in 1997 a year in which the top three movies were the Titanic, Men in Black, and The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Despite ideas for other Batman movies being thrown around nothing ever came to fruition. So the franchise was left untouched for a number of years until Warner Brothers was approached by Christopher Nolan, who had directed his last movie at Warner Brothers. Nolan’s approach to the franchise differed from what previous directors did, because he wanted to renew the franchise with a series of darker and more grounded Batman movies than what we had previously seen before.
This fresh approach to the franchise helped because Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises, were well received critically and were also some of the highest grossing Batman movies ever. But because this trilogy raised the bar for comic book movies to such an extent, some people feel that every live action Batman adaptation that came before this trilogy should be looked down upon like Tim Burton’s movies for instance. Which are now considered to be very campy due to their lighter moments. (e.g. The Joker in Batman 1989 dances to the Prince Song “Partyman” in Flugelheim Museum, and Penguin in Batman Returns uses actual Penguins who were armed with rocket launchers to help him kill Batman)
Tim Burton: “I always get told that my material is dark, but nowadays my version of ‘Batman’ looks like a lighthearted romp in comparison to Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dark Knight.’ ” (Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows Interview with Cineplex Magazine)
The TV Series and Batman: The Movie are also looked down upon since they were done in a campy manner. Even with the existence of Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, the TV series still remains relevant. The Nolan movies are generally geared towards teenagers and adults while the TV Series is something that can be enjoyed with the whole family. As a kid you only see the show on one level, but as you get older and you revisit the show, you notice things that you weren’t aware of as a child. A popular example seems to be people’s hate for the King Tut character when they’re kids. Their opinions of the character change as adults as they realize that he was given some of the funniest lines on the show. But the TV series appeals to people for a number of other reasons as well.
- Nostalgia is one of the many reasons why the TV series is so fondly remembered by people.
- It’s responsible for introducing Batman to many people around the world. Either through its original run or in its second life in syndication.
- Some people even see the series as a form of escapism to get away from what’s going on in the real world.
- For people that have always liked the series the appeal comes from how different it is to the modern interpretations of Batman and his supporting cast.
- Others may have liked the series as kids, but hated it once they read the comics or after they had seen any of Batman’s darker media adaptations. But they begin to like it again once they understand the approach of the series.
- Then there are people who are fans of both the lighter and darker interpretations of the character. These fans in particular are not bothered about how light it is in comparison to Batman Returns or any of the other darker adaptations, because they see it as another valid interpretation of the character.
- Although there are some serious moments in the series, the generally lighter approach of the series means that it’s now seen as a breath of fresh air. Since we now have many darker Batman media adaptations.
Even though we now have a myriad of Batman media adaptations the TV Series is still celebrated at monthly events each year with reunions and presentations of vehicles that were used on the show. It has also been the basis of fan films and parodies and it continues to do well in syndication.
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