Batman is a 1960s American television series, based on the DC
comic book character of the same name, which stars Adam West and Burt Ward as Batman and Robin, two crime-fighting
heroes who defend Gotham City. It aired on the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) network for two and a half
seasons from January 12, 1966 to March 14, 1968. Despite its short run, a total of 120 episodes were produced based
on having two weekly installments for most of its tenure.
In the early 1960s, Ed Graham Productions optioned the TV rights
to the comic strip Batman, and planned a straightforward juvenile adventure show, much like Adventures of Superman
and The Lone Ranger, for CBS on Saturday mornings. Mike Henry was set to star as Batman. Reportedly, D.C. 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 party goers 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 ABC executives Harve Bennett and Edgar J.
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 re-obtained rights and made the deal with ABC, who farmed the rights out to 20th Century
Fox to produce the series.
In turn, 20th Century Fox handed the project to William Dozier and
his Greenway Productions. ABC and Fox were expecting a hip and fun—yet still serious—adventure show. However,
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, espionage 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 had 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. 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.
Similar in style and content to the 1940s serials, 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." 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, actually a tunnel
entrance in Los Angeles's Bronson Canyon, a hinged barrier dropped down to allow the car to exit onto the road.
Scenes from the Dynamic Duo sliding down the batpoles in the Batcave, to the arrival at Commissioner Gordon's
building via the Batmobile (while the episode credits are shown), are reused footage that is used in nearly all
part 1 and single episodes.
After arriving at Commissioner Gordon's office, the initial
discussion of the crime usually led to the Dynamic Duo conducting their investigation alone. During the
investigation, a meeting with the villain would usually ensue, with the heroes getting involved in a fight and the
villain getting away, leaving a series of unlikely clues for the Duo to investigate. Later, the Duo would face the
villain again, and he or she 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 a major brawl where the action was punctuated by superimposed onomatopoeic words, as in
comic book fight scenes ("POW!", "BAM!", "ZONK!", etc.). Not counting five of the Penguin's henchmen who
disintegrate or get blown up in the associated Batman theatrical movie, only three criminal characters die during
the series: the Riddler's moll Molly (played by Jill St. John in Episode 2) who accidentally falls into the
Batcave's atomic pile, and two out-of-town gunmen who shoot at the Dynamic Duo toward the end of the "Zelda The
Great/A Death Worse Than Fate" episode, but end up killing each other instead. In "Instant Freeze," Mr. Freeze
freezes a butler solid and knocks him over, causing him to smash to pieces, although this is implied rather than
seen, and there is a later reference suggesting the butler survived. In "Green Ice," Mr. Freeze freezes a policeman
solid; it is left unclear whether he survived or not. In "The Penguin's Nest," a policeman suffers an electric
shock at the hands of the Penguin's accomplices, but he apparently survived as he appeared in some later episodes.
In "The Bookworm Turns," Commissioner Gordon appears to be shot and falls off a bridge to his death, but Batman
deduces that this was actually an expert high diver in disguise, employed by The Bookworm as a ruse (implying that
the diver survived the fall).
Robin, in particular, was especially well known for saying "Holy
(insert), Batman!" whenever he encountered something startling.
The series utilized a narrator (producer William Dozier,
uncredited) who parodied both the breathless narration style of the 1940s serials and Walter Winchell's narration
of The Untouchables. He would end many of the cliffhanger episodes by intoning, "Tune in tomorrow — same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!"
Only two of the series' guest villains ever discovered Batman's
true identity: Egghead by deductive reasoning, and King Tut on two occasions (once with a bug on the Batmobile and
once by accidentally mining into The Batcave). Egghead was tricked into disbelieving his discovery, as was Tut in
the episode when he bugged the Batmobile. In the episode when Tut tunnelled into the Batcave, he was hit on the
head by a rock which made him forget his discovery and jarred him back into his identity as a mild-mannered
Professor of Egyptology at Yale University. (He didn't even recognize Batgirl, asking her, "Why are you wearing
that purple mask, lady?")
In Season 1, the dynamic duo, Batman (Adam West) and Robin (Burt
Ward), are super crime-fighting heroes, contending with the villains of Gotham City. It begins with the two-parter,
"Hi Diddle Riddle" and "Smack in the Middle", featuring Frank Gorshin as The Riddler.
In Season 2, the show suffered from repetition of its characters
and formula. In addition, critics noted that the series' delicate balance of drama and humor that the first season
maintained was lost as the stories became increasingly farcical. 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 following week's villain would be in a tag at the end of the episode,
similar to a soap opera. Accordingly, the narrator's cliffhanger phrases were eliminated, but most episodes would
end with him saying something to the effect of "Watch the next episode!"
Aunt Harriet was reduced to just two cameo appearances during the
third season because of Madge Blake's 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 surrealistic. For example, the set's backgrounds became mere two-dimensional cut-outs
against a stark black stage. In addition, the third season was much more topical, with references to hippies, mods,
and distinctive 1960's slang, which the previous seasons avoided.
Near the end of the third season, ABC planned to cut the budget
even further by eliminating Robin and Chief O'Hara, and making Batgirl Batman's full-time partner. Both Dozier and
West vetoed this idea, and ABC cancelled the show. Weeks later, NBC offered to pick the show up for a fourth season
and even restore it to its original 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 had no interest in paying the $800,000
for the rebuild, so the offer was withdrawn.