The Wayback Machine: TV's Batman (ABC)
With The Dark Knight Rises seemingly ending director Christopher Nolan’s Batman film trilogy and many in comicdom guessing a new Justice League flick may introduce the world to second-year hero Batman before a franchise relaunch, let’s take a stroll through the Wayback Machine to look at the media vehicle that got young Byron Brewer interested in the Caped Crusader. And no, it was not Neil Adams’ awesome rendition of the Joker (that came later, lol).
In 1966, I knew little of Batman other than the images I had seen on bubble gum cards. (As Lucy of Peanuts once said: “No one is anyone without being on a bubble gum card.” And Batman was somebody!
I was too young to understand camp, but I was not too young to understand cool: And TV’s Batman starring Adam West and Burt Ward with a Batcave, Batmobile, gadgets in their utility belts, and that awesome Bat-computer and Bat-phone no one could trace? Hell, that was c-double o-l!
It seems that in the early 1960s, Ed Graham Productions optioned the television rights to Batman and planned a straightforward juvenile adventure show, much like Adventures of Superman or The Lone Ranger, to air on CBS on Saturday mornings. Former American football linebacker and actor Mike Henry was set to star as Batman. DC reportedly even 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. East coast ABC executive Yale Udoff, a Batman fan in his childhood, attended one of these parties at the Playboy Club and was impressed with the reaction the serials were eliciting.
He contacted ABC executives Harve Bennett and Edgar J. Scherick, who were already considering developing a television 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 reobtained 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.
Ironically, the Batman comic books had recently experienced a change in editorship which marked a return to serious detective stories after decades of tales with aliens, dimensional travel, magical imps and talking animals. Originally, espionage novelist Eric Ambler was to write a TV movie that would launch the television series, but he dropped out after learning of Dozier's camp comedy approach. Eventually, two sets of screen tests were filmed, one with Adam West and Burt Ward and the other with Lyle Waggoner (later Wonder Woman’s Steve Trevor) and Peter Deyell, with West and Ward winning the roles.
By that time, ABC had pushed up the debut date to January 1966, forever remembered in this then-youngster’s head as the network’s touted “Second Season,” thus foregoing the movie until the summer hiatus. The film would be produced quickly to get into theatres prior to the start of Season Two of the television series. Lorenzo Semple Jr. had signed on as head script writer. He wrote the pilot script and generally wrote in a pop art adventure style. Stanley Ralph Ross, Stanford Sherman and Charles Hoffman were script writers who generally leaned more toward camp comedy, and in Ross's case, sometimes outright slapstick and satire. Originally intended as a one-hour show, ABC only had two early-evening time slots available, so the show was split into two parts, to air twice a week in half-hour installments with a cliffhanger, originally to last only through a station break, connecting the two episodes, echoing the old movie serials.
The Joker, the Penguin, the Riddler, the Catwoman, Mr. Freeze and Jervis Tetch the Mad Hatter, all of whom were already famous rogues in Bats’ gallery, appear in the series, which was deliberately villain-driven as well as action-comedy heavy. There had been plans for Two-Face to appear, depicted as a news anchor who was disfigured when a camera blew up in his face. Though Clint Eastwood was discussed for the role of Two-Face, the show was cancelled before any appearance by this character was made.
Appearing on Batman in cameo scenes became the popular thing for Hollywoodvets and newbies to do. As the first season sailed into the second, a line was forming to become villains never heard of in the Batman comics. All these actors looked forward to and enjoyed their appearances on Batman. They were generally allowed to overact and enjoy themselves on a high-rated television series, guaranteeing them considerable exposure (and thus boosting their careers).
Unfortunately, in Season 3, even with the addition of Batgirl and a reduction to once-a-week broadcast, the campy vision of pop culture Batman lost its luster and was cancelled by ABC in March 1968.
Byronically, because of several red-tape reasons, Batman has never made it to any form – not one -- of home entertainment.
Holy no-DVDs, Batman!