About This Show
from the Museum of Broadcast Communications Encyclopedia of Television
Batman was created by Bob Kane in 1939 as a comic book hero. During his long career he was featured in the Superman radio series and in two movie serials produced during World War II. In 1966 the ABC network decided to produce the first Batman television series and it became an immediate hit. Initially, the show aired twice a week. On Wednesdays, Batman and his sidekick Robin would confront one of their archenemies and would end the episode in horrible danger, only to save themselves at the beginning of the next episode on Thursdays. These cliffhangers closely followed the tradition created by Kane in the comic books.
The television series also followed the comic books' plot. Bruce Wayne (played by Adam West) was orphaned in his teens when criminals killed his parents. He inherited a huge fortune and, obsessed with fighting the evil-doers who plagued Gotham City, became Batman, the Caped Crusader. Under his mansion, Batman constructed the Batcave, an elaborate laboratory used to fight crime. His young ward, Dick Grayson (played by Burt Ward), also orphaned due to evil-doers, became Robin, the Boy Wonder, under Batman/Wayne's tutelage. Together they defended the city against the sick minded criminals that populated the underworld. The only person who knew their identity was Alfred (Alan Napier), Wayne's butler who raised Bruce after his parents were killed. In the Batlab, and at the Batcave, Batman and Robin were helped by the most advanced technology to fight their enemies. The Police Commissioner Gordon (Neil Hamilton) could ask Batman for help either through the use of a searchlight, the Batsignal, or the Batphone, a direct line between the Police Station and Bruce Wayne's mansion. To defeat their enemies, Batman and Robin also used the Batmobile, their utility belts and other Batdevices.
The success of the series attracted several famous actors and actress to play the villains. Among the most famous enemies were The Riddler (played first by Frank Gorshin and then John Astin), The Penguin (Burgess Meredith), The Joker (Cesar Romero), King Tut (Victor Buono), Egghead (Vincent Price) and Catwoman (played at different moments by Julie Newmar, Lee Ann Meriwether, and Eartha Kitt).
Batman incorporated the expressive art and fashion of the period in its sets and costumes. It also relied excessively on technological gadgetry transforming the show into a parody of contemporary life. It was this self-reflexive parody-camp of the comic character that boosted the ratings of the program to the top ten during its first season. The show was not to be taken seriously. The acting was intentionally overdone and the situations extremely contrived. In the fight scenes animated "Bangs," "Pows," and "Bops" would fill the screen every time a blow was struck. These characteristics, besides displeasing the "organized vocal Batman fans," were not enough to save the show (Boichel, 1991).
Batman came to television under a massive advertising campaign followed by heavy merchandising placement. Directed towards adults and children this campaign reached the millions of dollars (McNeil, 1991). Originally scheduled to start at the fall of 1966, the show debuted earlier in the middle of the Spring season. ABC aired Batman on prime-time from 12 January 1966, to 14 March 1968. By fall 1966, ratings were already falling. To offset this trend, in the fall season of 1967, the show was cut to once a week and Batgirl was introduced. This time she came to save the show from falling ratings and not to protect Batman and Robin against accusations of a homoerotic relationship, as was the case for her creation by the comic book writers in the mid-1950s. Batgirl (Yvonne Craig), the daughter of Commissioner Gordon and a librarian, fought crime on her own and was many times paired with the Dynamic Duo. Her debut, however, was not enough to save the series. The producers tried to spice the plots with the new sexy heroine, but it did not work and Batman went off the air in mid-season in the spring of 1968.
In September 1968 CBS produced an animated version of Batman in which the super Duo shared one hour with Superman (in separated segments). Even though the program introduced a less camp version of Batman and Robin, possibly in response to fan criticisms to the prime-time serial, the program lasted only two seasons. Between February and September 1977 CBS broadcast an animated version of hero with the voices of Adam West and Burt Ward. In September of that year, CBS changed the New Adventures of Batman to The Batman/Tarzan Hour in which Batman and Tarzan shared one hour back to back, in separated segments.
In the fall of 1992 FOX television released a new animated series capitalizing on publicity for the movie, Batman Returns. This new series followed the stylistic changes in the comic book hero. The FOX series earned critical and popular acclaim for its high-quality graphics and action-packed storylines. Interestingly, as in the two Batman movies released in the 1990s, this new animated series erased Robin from the scene, possibly responding to criticisms of the homoerotic subtext between the two heroes. Originally shown every afternoon, the FOX series moved to the Saturday morning FOX line-up in the spring of 1994. At the same time the series also brought Robin back, possibly responding to the word that a new Batman, film to be released in 1995, would again include Robin in its plot.
Bruce Wayne (Batman}............................. Adam West
Dick Grayson (Robin).................................. Burt Ward
Alfred Pennyworth..................................... Alan Napier
Aunt Harriet Cooper................................ Madge Blake
Police Commissioner Gordon.................. Neil Hamilton
Chief O'Hara.......................................... Stafford Repp
Barbara Gordon (Batgirl) (1967-1968)........ Yvonne Craig
William Dozier, Howie Horwitz
January 1966-August 1967 ............................... Wednesday & Thursday 7:30-8:00
September 1967-March 1968.......... Thursday 7:30-8:00
Grossman, G. Saturday Morning TV. New York: Arlington House, 1987.
Pearson, R. and W. Uricchio, Editors. The Many Lives Of Batman: Critical Approaches To A Superhero And His Media. New York: Routledge, 1991.
Reynolds, R. Super Heroes: A Modern Mythology. London: Batsford, 1992.