Batman (TV series)
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Batman is a 1960s American television series, based on the DC comic book character Batman. It aired on the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) network for 2½ seasons from January 12, 1966 to March 14, 1968. Because the series had two weekly installments for most of its tenure, it contained the same number of episodes as a five-year or even a five-and-a-half-year run by today's standards (shooting 22-24 episodes per season).
Genesis of the series
In the early 1960s, Ed Graham Productions optioned the TV rights to Batman, and planned a straightforward juvenile adventure show, much like Adventures of Superman and The Lone Ranger, for CBS on Saturday mornings. Mike Henry, who would later go on to star in the Tarzan franchise, and is best known for his portrayal of Jackie Gleason's dipstick son in the Smokey and the Bandit movies, was set to star as Batman. Reportedly, DC Comics commissioned publicity photos of Henry in a Batman costume. Around this same time, the Playboy Club in Chicago was screening the Batman serials (1943's Batman and 1949's Batman and Robin) on Saturday nights. It became very popular, as the hip partygoers would cheer and applaud the Dynamic Duo, and boo and hiss at the villains. East coast ABC executive Yale Udoff, a Batman fan in childhood, attended one of these parties at the Playboy Club and was impressed with the reaction the serials were getting. He contacted West Coast ABC executives Harve Bennett and Edgar Scherick, who were already considering developing a TV series based on a comic strip action hero, to suggest a prime time Batman series in the hip and fun style of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
When negotiations between CBS and Graham stalled, DC quickly reeled the rights back in and made the deal with ABC. ABC farmed the rights out to 20th Century Fox to produce the series. Fox, in turn, handed the project to William Dozier and his Greenway Productions. Whereas ABC and Fox were expecting a hip and fun, yet still serious, adventure show, Dozier, who loathed comic books, concluded the only way to make the show work was to do it as a pop art camp comedy. Originally, mystery novelist Eric Ambler was to write the motion picture that would launch the TV series, but he dropped out after learning of Dozier's camp comedy approach.
By the time ABC pushed up the debut date to January 1966, thus foregoing the movie until the summer hiatus, Lorenzo Semple Jr. had signed on as head script writer. He wrote the pilot script, and generally kept his scripts more on the side of pop art adventure. Stanley Ralph Ross, Stanford Sherman, and Charles Hoffman were script writers who generally leaned more toward camp comedy, and in Ross' case, sometimes outright slapstick and satire. Instead of producing a one-hour show, Dozier and Semple decided to have the show air twice a week in half-hour installments with a cliffhanger connecting the two episodes, echoing the old movie serials. Initially, Dozier wanted Ty Hardin to play Batman, but he was unavailable, filming Westerns in Europe. Eventually, two sets of screen tests were filmed, one with Adam West and Burt Ward, the other with Lyle Waggoner and Peter Deyell, with West and Ward winning the roles. Lyle Waggoner would go on to play Wonder Woman's boyfriend Steve Trevor on the Wonder Woman TV series.
Main article: Batman (TV): Guest appearances and episodes
The typical formula story began with the villain (typically one of a short list of recurring villains) committing a crime, such as robbing a bank. This was followed by a scene inside Police Commissioner Gordon's office where he and Chief O'Hara would deduce exactly which villain they were dealing with. Gordon would press a button on the Batphone, signaling a cut to Wayne Manor where Alfred, the butler, would answer the manor's Batphone, a bright red telephone that beeped loudly instead of ringing on the desk in Bruce Wayne's study. Alfred would then interrupt Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson - usually they would be found talking with Aunt Harriet, who didn't know of their dual life - with a pretext to draw them away to answer the Batphone. Upon hearing of his enemy's schemes, Bruce would push a button concealed within a bust of Shakespeare that stood on his desk, opening a hidden door in a bookcase and revealing two poles. Wayne says to Grayson "To the Batpoles", then they would slide down, flicking a switch on their way down. This was usually where the animated title sequence would occur.
They would arrive in the Batcave in full costume and jump into the Batmobile, Batman in the driver's seat. Robin would say "Atomic batteries to power, turbines to speed" and Batman would respond "Roger, ready to move out" and the two would race off out of the cave at high speed. As the Batmobile approached the mouth of the cave, a hinged barrier dropped down to allow the car to exit on to the road.
After arriving at Commissioner Gordon's office, the initial discussion of the crime usually led to the Dynamic Duo (Batman and Robin) conducting their investigation alone. In the investigation, a meeting with the villain would usually ensue with the heroes getting involved in a fight and the villain getting away, only to come back and fight again later in the show. Here, the villain would capture one or both of the heroes and place them in a deathtrap with a cliffhanger ending which was usually resolved in the first few minutes of the next episode.
The same pattern was repeated in the following episode until the villain was defeated.
In Season 1, the dynamic duo, Batman (Adam West) and Robin (Burt Ward), are two super crime fighting heroes to fight those villians of Gotham City, NJ. It begins with 2-part episodes, "Hi Diddle Riddle" and "Smack in the Middle".
In Season 2, the show suffered from repetition of its characters and formula. This, combined with Lorenzo Semple Jr. contributing fewer scripts and having less of an influence on the series, caused viewers to tire of the show and for critics to complain, "If you've seen one episode of Batman, you've seen them all".
By Season 3, ratings were falling and the future of the series seemed uncertain. A promotional short featuring Yvonne Craig as Batgirl and Tim Herbert as Killer Moth was produced. The short was convincing enough to pick up Batman for another season, and introduced Batgirl as a regular on the show in an attempt to attract more female viewers. Batgirl's alter ego was Barbara Gordon, a mild-mannered librarian at the Gotham Library and Commissioner Gordon's daughter. The show was reduced to once a week, with mostly self-contained episodes, although the next week's villain would be in a tag at the end of the episode, similar to a soap opera. As such, the narrator's cliffhanger phrases were eliminated, but most episodes would end with him saying something to the extent of "Watch the next episode!"
Aunt Harriet was reduced to just two cameo appearances during the third season, due to Madge Blake being in poor health. (Aunt Harriet was also mentioned in another episode, but was not seen; her absence was explained by her being in shock upstairs.) The nature of the scripts and acting started to enter into the realm of the surreal, specifically with the backgrounds, which became two-dimensional cut-outs against a stark black stage.
At the end of the third season, ABC planned cuts to the budget by eliminating Chief O'Hara and Robin, while making Batgirl Batman's full time partner. Both Dozier and West opposed this idea, and ABC cancelled the show a short time later. Weeks later, NBC offered to pick the show up for a fourth season and even restore it to its twice a week format, if the sets were still available for use. However, NBC's offer came too late: Fox had already demolished the sets a week before. NBC didn't want to pay the $800,000 to rebuild, so the offer was withdrawn. Batman was replaced on ABC by the sitcom The Second Hundred Years.
In 1972, Burt Ward and Yvonne Craig reunited as Robin and Batgirl, with Richard Gautier stepping in as Batman (Adam West was, at the time, trying to distance himself from the Batman role) for a Women's Liberation Equal Pay public service announcement. In 1977, Adam West and Burt Ward returned to the Batman universe in animated form. West and Ward lent their voices to Batman and Robin respectively, on the Filmation-produced animated series, The New Adventures of Batman. West would once again reprise his role as Batman in animated form when he succeeded Olan Soule in the final two seasons of Super Friends. In 1979, West, Ward, and Frank Gorshin reunited on NBC for Hanna-Barbera's two Legends of the Superheroes TV specials.
The title theme to Batman is one of the best-known theme tunes of all time. Composed by Neal Hefti, the song is built around a minimalistic and foreboding but catchy guitar hook reminiscent of spy film scores and surf music. It is a simple twelve bar blues progression using only three chords until the coda. The lyrics to the theme consist of ten cries of "Batman!", which were originally thought to be sung by a female chorus; however, Adam West's book Back to the Batcave reveals the "voices" to actually be instrumental, rather than vocal. These ten repetitions of "Batman!" were then followed by a coda of "Na na na na Na na na na BATMAN!"
The theme was the most recorded song of 1966. In addition to Neal Hefti's original version, and the television soundtrack version by Nelson Riddle, versions were covered by The Marketts, The Ventures, Dan and Dale, Al Hirt, The Who, The Standells and Jan and Dean, who released an entire concept album titled Jan & Dean Meet Batman. There were also versions by groups who seemed to exist solely for covering the song, such as "The Sensational Batboys" and "Bruce and the Robin Rockers".
The famously minimal song has been widely parodied in the decades since its debut, and remains a prominent pop-culture subject to this day. The theme has been re-recorded by dozens of artists, the most notable including Link Wray, The Kinks, Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent and Eminem, The Flaming Lips, The Who, Voivod, Alien Sex Fiend, Mucky Pup and The Jam. Careful listeners will notice a higher-pitched version of the tune in the theme music for The Batman. In addition, artists Prince and R.E.M used the variations of (but did not remake) the TV show theme in their work: Prince, in the song "Batdance" (which appeared on the soundtrack to the 1989 movie), and R.E.M. in a rejected song for the Batman Returns soundtrack, later released under the title "Winged Mammal Theme," as a "B-side" to the single "Drive."
The opening theme of this series can be heard at the 10th stage of the arcade game City Connection.
VHS & DVD (non-) release
Despite considerable popular demand, no official home entertainment release (VHS, laserdisc or DVD) of the series has occurred to date in North America, with the situation seemingly unlikely to be resolved in the near future.
The series, under the Fox/ABC deal, is however still in syndication, and regularly shown on a number of channels around the world. Thus far, though, only the 1966 feature film is available on DVD for non-broadcast viewing in North America. This also affected the 2003 television movie reunion Return to the Batcave: The Misadventures of Adam and Burt, which was only able to make use of footage from the 1966 movie, in order to be released on DVD.