It was 50 years ago yesterday on January 12th 1966 the Batman television series premiered on ABC and became a cultural phenomenon that has endured for 50 years and has impacted and inspired many generations. A total of 120 episodes and a feature film were produced.
Batman is a 1960s American live action television series, based on the DC comic book character of the same name. It starred Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as Robin — two crime-fighting heroes who defend Gotham City. It aired on the ABC network for three seasons from January 12, 1966, to March 14, 1968. The show was aired twice weekly for its first two seasons and weekly for the third, with a total of 120 episodes produced during its run.
Between the first and second season a feature film that had been planned to be done before the airing of the first season was released in the summer of 1966 was rushed to production in time before the second season premiered. The program was known for camp style, its upbeat theme music and relatively simplistic youth-aimed moral lessons, which included championing the importance of using seat belts, doing homework, eating vegetables, and drinking milk among children.
The main regular cast from the series;
- Adam West; Batman / Bruce Wayne
Burt Ward; Robin / Dick Grayson
Lee Meriwether; The Catwoman / Kitka
Cesar Romero; The Joker
Burgess Meredith; The Penguin
Frank Gorshin; The Riddler
Alan Napier; Alfred
Neil Hamilton; Commissioner Gordon
Stafford Repp; Chief O’Hara
Madge Blake; Aunt Harriet Cooper
- Yvonne Craig; Batgirl
It was the beginning of Batmania. The show inspired a tone of Batman merchandise at the time and fueled the popularity of the series. The show proved so popular it aired twice a week that was very rare for television at the time. After the ratings dropped in the second season they decided to add Batgirl to the show but the show was cancelled at the end of the third season. It lived on for many years in syndication where the next generation of kids like myself discovered this amazing series. At the time there were no superhero movies and the only other place to find them was on Saturday morning cartoons.
The appeal and enduring of the show is quite remarkable and lies in the fact, while the show was super campy it never made fun of Batman or the superhero aspect of the show. The show production was very impressive at the time. The sets, costumes and cinematography are some of the things that made the show work so well. The other was the incredible cast and while Adam West and Burt Ward were sadly typecast after the show you can now see that one of the key successes of the show was the amazing cast. As with any good hero you need some good villains and Batman has always had the best rogues gallery in comic book history. For the television show the cast of villains was played impeccably by both great characters and celebrities that wanted to be on the show.
Some of the other notable celebrities that appeared on the show were;
- Roddy McDowall
- Joan Collins
- Victor Buono
- Vincent Price
- Milton Berle
- Cliff Robertson
- Jill St. John
- Shelley Winters
Everyone in Hollywood wanted to be on the show but the production couldn’t fit everyone into the show so they came up with the window cameos with Sammy Davis Jr., DIck Clark and Jerry Lewis among others.
There was an unheard of crossover with the Green Hornet show. In the second season, the Green Hornet and Kato appeared in the two-part second season episodes “A Piece of the Action” and “Batman’s Satisfaction”, which aired on March 1–2, 1967. In the two episodes, the Green Hornet and Kato are in Gotham City to bust a counterfeit stamp ring run by Colonel Gumm (portrayed by Roger C. Carmel). The “Batman’s Satisfaction” episode leads up to a mixed fight with both Batman & Robin and The Green Hornet & Kato fighting Colonel Gumm and his gang. Once Gumm’s crew was defeated, Batman and Robin squared off against The Green Hornet and Kato, resulting in a stand-off that was interrupted by the police. Both shows were produced by 20th Century Fox television and aired on ABC.
When I was growing up I loved comics and of course Batman was alway a favorite. While I didn’t get all of the campy jokes at the time the fact that Batman being done in live action blew my mind. I watched every episode and fell in love with the show. Later I discovered that the show was not like the comics in tone but still had a fondness for the show. While many ‘hardcore’ Batman fans over the year poo pooed the show for its camp and humor that was not the “real” Batman I always defended the series because it was an interpretation of Batman and what has always made him a great character is the fact that he has had so many incarnations and yet he still endures.
With the advent of home video fans of the show had always hoped that they series would come to laserdisc, then DVD, then Blu-Ray but there were alway legal issue that prevented that. 20th Century Fox produced the series and the movie, while Warner Bros. owned DC Comics and the character rights to Batman. So it was pretty much a Mexican stand-off for many years. (Note: Fox Home Video was able to release the feature film because film rights are different from television series rights.) There is a great story over at Wired that covers the legal wrangling of the rights issues for the show. With the rights cleared the show is available on Blu-Ray and DVD from Warner Home Video.
The other great thing to come from the rights settlements is the new merchandise based on the series. There have been new toys, shirts, and comic books.DC Comics published 30 issues of all new stories titled Batman ’66 based on the series with all new stories by some of comics top talents one of which was Michael Allred who was a huge fan of the show and did all of the covers for the series. He also did the full artwork for the final issue of the series.
There was a six issue mini series of Batman ’66 Meets the Green Hornet. Co-published with Dynamite featured a sequel to the original two part episode from the original series and it continued the story.
One of the most fascinating things was that there was plans for a Two-Face episode of the television series that was never fully written and DC adapted it into a Batman ’66 The Lost Episode Special During the original Batman television series run, legendary science-fiction writer Harlan Ellison turned in an outline for a story that would have introduced Two-Face. The story never made it to air, and Two-Face never entered the TV show’s Rogues Gallery. Now, “The Two-Way Crimes of Two-Face” is adapted to comics by two comic book legends: writer Len Wein and artist José Luis Garcia-Lopez. This was an amazing comic and a rare opportunity to bring this great story to life.
In the end I find it ironic that throughout the years the Batman television series was popular then fell out of fashion and then has finally found its proper place in history. With the release of the series on home video is a great way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of this classic show that will now be discovered by many new generations to come and hopefully be enjoyed and beloved by kids who will fall in love with the show just as I did so long ago. So Happy 50th Birthday to Batman the television series.