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1966 Batman TV Show
by Billy Ingram

Batman comic bookAs 1964 rolled around, National Periodical Publications (also known as DC Comics) was poised to make a momentous decision. The venerable comic book publisher had been in business for decades, pumping out the comics kids loved best. Superman. Wonder Woman. The Flash. Justice League of America. Batman.

Batman, see, that was the problem. That comic book line ceased making a profit some years earlier, Batman and Detective Comics (where the character debuted in 1939) were going to get canned after a quarter century on the stands.

As a last-ditch effort, the books were assigned to the editor of DC’s science fiction line, Julius Schwartz. His mission - move Batman into profitability within six months or else. The team he assembled did the trick, turning the Caped Crusader into more of a high-tech sleuth and less of a costumed clown. Colorful villains like Catwoman and The Joker were resurrected and given new life in stories by John Broome and Gardner Fox, illustrated by Carmine Infantino and various artists under the “Bob Kane” byline.

shindig TV ShowThat same year, 1964, Shindig! debuted on ABC-TV. A prime-time rock music show that featured live (not lip-synced) performances by the biggest acts, Shindig! was a sensation at attracting the youthful crowd the network was courting. The show did so well, it was expanded to an hour midseason and in the fall of 1965, split into two half-hour shows a week. This two episodes a week format was not unheard of; ABC had been doing it for a few years as a way of milking their hottest shows. Peyton Place was broadcast two nights a week in 1964 and three nights in 1965.

Unfortunately, the audience unexpectedly deserted Shindig! after that first season leaving two gaping holes in ABC’s already desolate schedule. In an act of sheer desperation, they rushed one of their most promising shows forward for a midseason debut. This was a risky move because, while there had been other shows that premiered in the winter, they were never terribly successful.

None of them.


1966 Batman TV show castBatman starred Adam West as the Caped Crusader and Burt Ward as his youthful sidekick, Robin. West was last seen on The Detectives (1961–62), Burt Ward an unknown. Proving to youngsters at an early age that life isn’t fair, Batman was scheduled opposite Lost in Space on CBS. 

Together with screenwriter Lorenzo Semple, Jr., executive producer William Dozier crafted a show that could be enjoyed by adults as well as kids. Batman debuted on January 12, 1966. Within the first few weeks, the telecast was attracting fifty-five percent of the viewing audience, with a surprising two-thirds over the age of eighteen.

Batman TV Show on ABC photo on ABCThey called it "Camp," ironic comic perfection. The key to Batman was in the lead actors playing outlandishly fantastic situations with a straight face, and the stunt-casting of hot TV personalities like Julie Newmar (as the Catwoman) along with aging movie icons like Cesar Romero (as the Joker) and Frank Gorshin (as the Riddler). Before long, every star in Hollywood lined up for an opportunity to be the costumed kook-of-the-week on the top show in the nation. "These people (stars) would call up, or send their agents around, saying, can’t so and so be on?"

William Dozier bragged to a reporter, "Gloria Swanson, I remember, called me from New York, but we couldn’t find the right part for her. Everybody came out of the woodwork; we never had to go after those people. A lot of them I had known personally, and they would call and say that they would love to do one of those because 'my kids want me to do it.'

"Up to twelve years old, they take Batman seriously. From thirteen on, we've got them chuckling in their beer." Indeed, Dozier (who was also the show's announcer) instinctively knew this pop-art froth had a short shelf life, just how short? Network rivals were betting Batman was another hula hoop craze. "They gave it only ninety days. I gave it two years."

At the end of just six months, Bat-mania was in full flower. $75,000,000 worth of Batman books, capes, toys, coloring books, bubble gum cards, and weaponry had been sold, with Batman's face plastered on every conceivable product whether it had any relevant practicality or not. Never before had the world been bombarded by such a ridiculous assault of loosely branded products. Batman candy. Batman bicycles. Batman lunch boxes. Batman bath soap. Batman race cars. Batman lamps. Batman every-damn-thing-you-can-think-of!

Batman comic bookAnd those Batman comic books DC almost stopped publishing two years earlier? They could barely keep up with demand, any comic book with Batman on the cover could be counted on to sell up to a million copies a month. Editor Schwartz had done his job well since many of the plots for the TV program were taken directly from his four-color stories.

Batman changed the course of television in a profound way by proving that a program could debut midseason and still be a hit. From 1966 forward, all three networks began seriously programming a second season.

"Batman will fade, of course," Dozier correctly predicted in the Saturday Evening Post, at the height of the show's popularity. "We won't keep all the adults we have now. We have to think ahead."

Dozier was right to be concerned about audience erosion, he reasoned that adults would soon defect once the novelty wore off. By the fall of '66, Batman was the number-one show in the nation but adult ratings had dropped to half what they once were. Not surprisingly, ABC was more than willing to give the producer another slot on their fall schedule, Batman was the biggest hit in the network's history.

To recapture lost adult viewers, Dozier decided to try the super-hero genre without playing it for laughs. To achieve this, he revived one of the most successful super-heroes from the radio era - The Green Hornet.

Green Hornet picture

Read Part Two:
The End of Batman
...And The Green Hornet TV Show, Mr. Terrific,
Captain Nice
and other super-flops!

Batgirl TV Show

DC Comics on DVD / / Batman TV Shows on DVD


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The Great Superhero Bust of the 1960s

1966 Batman TV show

Green Hornet

, Captain Nice, Mr. Terrific

End of the Batman TV Show

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There were three actresses that played Catwoman. Julie Newmar was Catwoman in seasons 1 & 2. Lee Meriwether was seen in the film and then Eartha Kitt assumed the role for the final season of Batman.

In the first two episodes, Batman and Robin battled the Riddler (Frank Gorshin). Next up was Burgess Meredith as The Penquin.

There was a Batmobile, Batcopter, Batboat and two Batcycles (Batgirl had one) seen on the TV show.

Film legend Tallulah Bankhead was cast as The Black Widow in 1967. It was her last TV appearance, she died the next year.

Shelly Winters battled the Dynamic Duo as Ma Parker in 1966.

In 1966, The Marketts' hit #17 on the pop charts with the theme song from Batman. The far superior version by Neal Hefti and his Orchestra made it to #35. In 1967, Adam West cut a single called Miranda.

Adam West .. Bruce Wayne / Batman
Burt Ward .. Dick Grayson / Robin
Alan Napier .. Alfred
Neil Hamilton .. Commissioner James Gordon
Stafford Repp .. Police Chief O'Hara
Madge Blake .. Aunt Harriet Cooper (1966-67)
Yvonne Craig .. Barbara Gordon / Batgirl (1967-68)


Why it took so long for the Batman series to arrive on DVD - this is a story from the AP wire service in 2006:
LOS ANGELES - A New Mexico woman is suing 20th Century Fox Film Corporation alleging she was defrauded out of $4.4 million she was entitled to receive for the popular 1960s "Batman" television series.
Deborah Dozier Potter, whose father William Dozier was one of the producers of the show, filed the lawsuit Wednesday in Superior Court that alleges fraud, concealment and breach of contract.
She is an heir to her father's estate and holds a portion of the assets of Greenway Productions Inc. which produced the series four decades ago that Fox distributed, according to the lawsuit.
Both companies, Greenway and Fox, signed a contract in the 1960s, the lawsuit said. Another contract was also signed between Fox and ABC, the station which televised the show. In March 2005, Potter came across the agreement between Fox and ABC and discovered she was entitled to 26 percent of the net profits from that agreement as well.
"I wish it could have been avoided," Potter said from her home in Santa Fe. "Nobody likes litigation."

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