Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Batman '66 50th Anniversary

50 years ago today, a television series premiered that changed the landscape of TV and pop culture forever.

I'm talking about BATMAN, of course.

Adam West starred as millionaire philanthropist Bruce Wayne aka Batman, the Caped Crusader. Burt Ward (real name Bert Gervis) made his professional debut as Dick Grayson, better known as Robin the Boy Wonder.

But you know all of that.

The series was originally going to make its debut in the 1966-1967 season (November) but was ordered as a mid-season replacement when all of ABC's other series were failing. With a huge PR push ("BATMAN is coming!") the series made its debut on Wednesday, January 12, 1966.

The series was written and produced to be a weekly one hour series, but when ABC had two half-hour time slots open instead, the show was split in half. The "cliff-hanger" that was supposed to only last for the middle commercials, now played overnight! Part Two aired on Thursday, January 13, 1966.

"Hi Diddle Riddle" and its conclusion, "Smack In The Middle," were written by Lorenzo Semple, Jr, the script consultant for the series and famous himself a few years later on the sit-com RHODA as the voice of Carlton the Doorman.  

The very first Special Guest Villain was, of course, Frank Gorshin as The Riddler. He was a stand-up comedian and character actor who had actually appeared on the same Ed Sullivan Show as The Beatles (February 9, 1964). He would end up appearing on the series nine times, four two-parters in the first season and once in the third season.

Of course, the show was an immediate and huge hit. Suddenly everything involved with the show was popular, including the fantastic Batmobile, designed by George Barris (from a Lincoln Futura concept car).
After Gorshin, old-time Hollywood character actors Burgess Meredith and Cesar Romero earned immortality as The Penguin and The Joker, respectively. But most popular of all of Batman's villains was The Catwoman, originally played by the relatively unknown singer-dancer-actress Julie Newmar. Before BATMAN, her most famous role was (arguably) one of the women kidnapped in Seven Brides For Seven Brothers (1954). 
The show was so popular that 20th Century Fox made a motion picture version, BATMAN (1966) with the same cast as the television series. Julie Newmar was not available, so was replaced by Lee Meriwether.
The show became so popular that the Special Guest Villain was a plum part. Academy Award winning actors such as Art Carney, Shelley Winters, Cliff Robertson, and Anne Baxter fought to be on the show. Yet according to The Official Batman Batbook by Joel Eisner, the episodes that had the highest ratings of the three year run was the story-arc that guest-starred Liberace!

For its third season the two-nights two-parters were discontinued, and BATMAN aired only once a week. However, it added Yvonne Craig as Batgirl to the cast. She made the hearts of little American boys of an entire generation beat faster.

Although BATMAN ended in 1968, its impact on popular culture never ended. There are stickers, t-shirts, and action figures available. In 2013 DC Comics finally published a related series called,oddly enough, BATMAN '66. It lasted thirty issues, with the final story explaining the "story" behind the TV series' opening credits cartoon.
illustration by Michael Allred
The entire three seasons were released on DVD and Blue-Ray in 2014. The 1966 movie has been available for a few years.

Happy Bat-Birthday, Batman!! 

1 comment:

  1. Very nice Russell! Short, sweet and to the point. I need to read that comic...you got me curious about the story behind the opening credits!