"Superman or Green Lantern ain't got a-nothin' on me."
(Donovan, "Sunshine Superman")
On January 12, 1966, the TV show Batman, starring Adam West and Burt Ward, debuted. The series had cost a good deal of money for both ABC and 20th Century Fox. It had also two test screenings in which it had fared poorly. ABC had spent millions of dollars for an advertising campaign several weeks before it debuted. On that particular Wednesday night in 1966, ABC executives must have been on needles and pins.
As it turns out, ABC executives really had no reason to be anxious. The debut of Batman was a resounding success. According to overnight ratings from Trendex. the first night of Batman on Wednesday, January 12, achieved a phenomenal 27.3/49 rating. The new show literally buried its competition on NBC, The Virginian, and on CBS, Lost in Space. The second night of Batman, on Thursday, January 13, performed even better. It achieved a 29.6/59 rating. Of course, the natural question was whether Batman could maintain such ratings. It turned out it could. In the following weeks Batman performed phenomenally well in the ratings. Indeed, according to a report issued by Nielsen for the week ending February 13, the Wednesday night episode of Batman achieved a 26.5 rating and the Thursday night episode a 28.5 rating.
While Batman was doing phenomenally well in the ratings, it only received mixed reviews from critics. New York Times critic Jack Gould described the debut of Batman as a "non event." In The Dispatch Rick Du Brow said the show's format "...is tied to a cold, impersonal, and wisecrack humour because everyone involved is so painfully aware that he is making fun of something..." Batman did receive some good reviews. In TV Guide, while renowned critic Cleveland Amory was not impressed by Adam West or Burt Ward's acting, he did have several good things to say about the show stating, "It is far technically superior in photography, colour, pace and direction to any of its Bond-type competitors, and it also has by far the most ingenuity to be found anywhere in TV spyence fiction--all the way from the Batmobile to the Batzooka and the Batarang..." Bob Smith of The Chicago Daily News also had good things to say about the series, writing, "Of course the show is silly, but it's warm, welcome, circa 1940 silliness that, blown up larger than life, comes out as one big, bright, hip put on. Considering its purpose, Batman scores an entertainment bullseye."
While the series was a bona fide hit with viewers and critics were mixed in their feelings about the show, ABC would come under fire because of one of their decisions regarding Batman. Many shows over the years, even successful shows, have had problems finding advertisers. Even before it aired, Batman had the exact opposite problem. The series had too many advertisers. Anderson-Clayton, Bristol-Myers, Carnation, DuPont, Hunt Foods, Kellogg, Lehn & Fink, Merck, Noxzema, Procter & Gamble, Polaroid, and S.C. Johnson were all set to advertise on the new show. ABC made the then revolutionary decision to add a fourth commercial minute to Batman, this at a time when all half hour shows had only three commercial minutes. To accomplish this ABC would simply have shorter credits and would either shorten or eliminate entirely bumpers, billboards, and network promos. ABC informed both the Federal Communications Commission and the National Association of Broadcasters of its decision, and neither organisation objected. Regardless, the fourth commercial minute on Batman would prove to be a source of controversy. Because of objections over the fourth commercial minute on Batman, affiliate WJZ in Baltimore refused to air the series. In December 1965, WJZ informed ABC that they would only carry Batman if ABC cleared the fourth commercial minute. WJZ worried that the idea of four commercial minutes per half hour could spread to the other networks. They finally tried compromising with ABC, suggesting they drop the fourth commercial minute from one of two half hours of Batman each week on a rotating basis.
When ABC went forward with their plans for a fourth commercial minute, WJZ decided to show The Legend of Jesse James and A Man Called Shenandoah in the time slot of Batman (previously WJZ had not shown The Legend of Jesse James and A Man Called Shenandoah, electing to show movies in their Monday night time slot instead). WJZ then sold Batman to the NBC affiliate WBAL, who aired the Wednesday and Thursday night episodes consecutively at 2:30-3:30PM on Saturdays. For its part, ABC felt that the rest of their affiliates were supportive of their decision. The affiliates had been informed of the network's decision in November 1965 and only WJZ had raised any objections. ABC even pointed out that many of their affiliates had congratulated the network after Batman performed so well. ABC also stated that the fourth commercial minute was necessary to offset the sheer cost of the show.
By March 1966 ABC even considered adding a fourth commercial minute to each of its half hours of prime time programming throughout the week. WJZ again objected, as did its owner Westinghouse. Westinghouse President Donald H. McGannon even wrote a letter to ABC-TV President Thomas W. Moore, not only to ask to him not to go forward with their plan of a fourth commercial minute in every half hour of prime time, but to drop the fourth commercial minute from Batman. At the ABC affiliates meeting in Chicago on March 26, the affiliates advisory committee passed a resolution against the fourth commercial minute being expanded to the whole week. NBC and CBS both came out as opposed to ABC's plan, as did advertisers. While ABC dropped their plan for expanding the fourth commercial minute to every night of the week, they said it would remain on Batman because of prior commitments to advertisers.
While ABC came under fire for adding a fourth commercial minute to Batman, the show also came under fire from some comic book fans. Lifelong Batman fan and founder of the legendary Rutland Halloween Parade, Tom Fagan wrote of the show in one of the local Rutland newspapers, "What does it take to stop a comic book hero dead in his tracks? Overwhelming odds? An exotic beauty garbed in black... Necromancy? No--there's a surer way. Put him on television and give him a script and a story line..." In his book Sense of Wonder: a Life in Comics: A Personal Memoir of Fandom's Golden Age, comic book fan Billy Schelly expressed his "..disappointment in the comedic treatment..." and stated, "Instead of being an ambassador of comics, the show held them up to ridicule."
Regardless of the reaction of some comic book fans, the average television viewer seemed to love Batman. Indeed, the ratings for the show were so extraordinarily high that it was clear Batman had become a fad. . That the show was now an outright craze was reflected in sales of Batman comic books. In 1964 sales for the Batman comic book feature had fallen so low that National Periodical Publications gave serious consideration to cancelling it. The first issue of Batman published after the series premiere sold 98% of its 1,000,000 print run, a phenomenal amount for any comic book at any time. Sales for Batman and Detective Comics continued to be phenomenal for the next year. In fact, the sales of comic books in general rose following the debut of Batman.
Of course, Batman impacted comic books in other ways than increasing sales, particularly comic books featuring Batman. After the television show proved to be a hit, the Batman feature in both Batman and Detective Comics began to emulate the camp style of the TV show. Titles which featured Batman, such as Justice League of America, were also affected. Not only did Batman take centre stage in Justice League of America, but the title itself took a turn towards camp. Companies beyond National Periodical Publications, the company which published Batman, also emulated the series. In 1965 Archie Comics revived the Golden Age superheroes they had published in the Golden Age as MLJ under the Mighty Comics imprint. By 1966 the various titles under the Mighty Comics imprint were all being done in camp style. For the most part, it would only be around a year that various comic book titles would emulate the camp style of Batman. Afterwards even the Batman feature would turn serious again.
The comic book industry would not be the only one to profit from the success of the series. In 1966 a wide array of Batman merchandise appeared on store shelves. As might be expected, many of these were toys. Corgi manufactured diecast toys of the Batmobile, Batcopter, and Batboat. Ideal put out a toy version of Batman's utility belt, a Batman helmet shaped like Batman's cowl (complete with a cape), a Batman and the Justice League play set, a Batcave play case, and several other Bat-toys. Marx put out a toy version of the Batphone, a twistable Batman figure, a Batman costume, and many other toys. Mattel put out a Batmobile pedal car, a Batcycle, a "Batbomb," and other toys. There were Batman rollerskates, a Batman bull horn, a Batman bicycle, a Batman water gun, and numerous other Batman toys on the market in 1966.
There were also other many Batman items available beyond toys in 1966. Ben Cooper put out a Batman Halloween costume. Aladdin put out a Batman lunchbox with a Thermos. Milton Bradley manufactured a Batman game. Colgate made Soakies for both Batman and Robin (a Soaky was a figure of a popular character filled with bubble bath). Viewmaster released several reels based on episodes of the TV show. Aurora released kits for the Batmobile, Batcycle, Batplane, Batboat, and figure kits not only of Batman and Robin, but many of the villains as well. Topps released several series of Batman bubblegum cards. There were Batman pinback buttons, Batman toothbrushes, Batman wristwatches, Batman mugs, Batman, stickers, Batman waste baskets, Batman placemats, and other items too numerous to list. Among the most unusual Batman items were various food products. There was Batman bread, Batman peanut butter, Batman candy, Batman orange drink, and yet other food products.
Of course, not all Batman merchandise was directed at children. In 1966 the Batman Original Soundtrack album was released, featuring music from the show. The Batman theme, written and performed by Neal Hefti, was released as a single and went to #35 on the Billboard chart. The cover version by The Marketts went even higher, all the way to #17 on the Billboard chart. The Ventures, The Standells, and even David McCallum (from another fad show, The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) also produced their own cover versions. The Who recorded a cover of the theme for their Ready Steady Who EP. MGM's Leo the Lion label also released two audio dramas based on the series. Signet released a series of Batman novels, including Batman vs. The Joker, Batman vs. the Penguin, Batman vs. the Three Villains of Doom, and so on. There was also an adaptation of the feature film. A new comic strip, Batman with Robin the Boy Wonder ran from 1966 to 1974. Initially campy , like the TV series, it later took on a more serious tone.
The demand for Batman merchandise was so great in 1966 that there were even knock-offs or unauthorized merchandise. By June 1966 National Periodical Publications (eventually renamed "DC Comics") had to sue five different companies, among them Woolworth's, for selling unauthorised Batman merchandise. In the end, the amount of Batman merchandise would dwarf the merchandise produced during the Davy Crockett craze. Batman would account for $150 million worth of merchandise sold in 1966 alone.
With Batmania in full swing, the TV series and comic books both received a lot of coverage in the media. The Saturday Review covered the series in its February 12, 1966 issue. Adam West appeared on the cover of Life magazine, March 11, 1966. The May 2, 1966 issue of The Saturday Evening Post ran an article on the series. Batman was also covered in the June 1966 issue of Ebony. As might be expected of a highly successful show, Batman received a good deal of coverage in TV Guide. Adam West appeared on the cover of the March 26, 1966 issue. The series itself was the subject of articles in the June 4, 1966, June 25, 1966, and November 4, 1967 issue. Newspaper articles on Batman were numerous in 1966. In January 1966, The New York Times alone ran over 300 articles that mentioned Batman in some way, shape, or form. The August 1966 issue of Esquire featured photographs of singer Nico as Batman (Batwoman?) and artist Andy Warhol as Robin. One rather suspects most young males never found Batman so attractive as Nico, although young women may have found Robin lost something in the translation....
The Batman craze even had an impact on the show. From the beginning it was William Dozier's intention to get big name guest stars for the show. In fact, it was quite easy for Dozier to get the biggest stars for the series. He had started in the film industry in 1944, and had been married to both Joan Fontaine and Ann Rutherford. As a result, Dozier knew a good many of the most famous stars. Once Batman became a hit, however, it became all the more easier to get guest stars on the show, as it became something of a status symbol to play a villain on the series. From the very beginning famous celebrities played villains in the series. Well known comic Frank Gorshin played The Riddler. Burgess Meredith played The Penguin. Cesar Romero played The Joker. Julie Newmar played Catwoman. Among the big name guest stars who played villains on the show were George Sanders (Mr. Freeze), David Wayne (The Mad Hatter), False-Face (Malachi Throne), Victor Buono (King Tut), The Bookworm (Roddy McDowall), The Archer (Art Carney), Ma Parker (Shelley Winters), Egghead (Vincent Price), Otto Preminger (Mr. Freeze), Black Widow (Tallulah Bankhead in her last role), and Joan Collins (The Siren). In many instances these stars took guest shots on Batman because of their children, grandchildren or other relatives . Eli Wallach elected to play Mr. Freeze because his grandchildren were big fans. Otto Preminger took the same role because his children demanded he do so. It was Julie Newmar's then college aged brother, John Newmeyer (now famous in his own right as an epidemiologist and author), who encouraged her to guest star on Batman, telling her that it was his and his friends' favourite show.
One well known actor was set to guest star on Batman, but never did. Clint Eastwood would have played Two-Face. While in the comic books Two-Face was prosecuting attorney Harvey Dent, half of whose face was damaged by acid, in the TV show he would have been a television commentator who has a TV vacuum tube blow up in his face. It is unclear as to why Eastwood, who had accepted the part, never got to play Two-Face. One story is that ABC vetoed having Two-Face appear on the show as being too gruesome for primetime television. Another story is that the show was cancelled before Eastwood could make his guest appearance.
Of course, not all big name stars who appeared on Batman played villains. Some made cameos during what became known as the Batclimb. The Batclimb took place when Batman and Robin, using their Batropes, would climb a building (the scenes were actually filmed on a horizontal surface, with strings holding their capes out, then rotated 90 degrees for the finished film). As they climbed it never failed that a window would open and a celebrity's head would pop out. A short discussion would then take place. Among the stars who made Batclimb cameos were Dick Clark, Sammy Davis Jr., Van Williams and Bruce Lee as The Green Hornet and Kato, Bill Dana as Jose Jimenez, Werner Klemperer as Col. Klink from Hogan's Heroes, Jerry Lewis, Art Linkletter, Ted Cassidy as Lurch from The Addams Family, George Raft, Edward G. Robinson, and Andy Devine as Santa. While not as desirable as playing a villain, a Batclimb cameo did become a status symbol among celebrities as well.
It was not only celebrities who were apparently in love with Batman. During the height of the Batman craze, the average person apparently was as well. This was demonstrated by a controversy which erupted in March 1966. On Wednesday, March 17, 1966, Gemini 8, manned by Neil Armstrong and Major David Scott, experienced problems with its control system. NBC and CBS elected to pre-empt their prime time programming to cover the emergency. ABC elected to go ahead and air Batman, which that night featured the first appearance of Catwoman (played by Julie Newmar) in "The Purr-fect Crime." That night's broadcast of Batman would be interrupted three times by ABC to report on the Gemini 8 emergency. While all three networks received complaints, ABC received over 1000 calls protesting the interruptions of Batman. Many of those calls came from adults making it clear they were not calling on behalf of their children. Several commentators took this as showing that many were more interested in Batman than the lives of the astronauts. The response to such commentators was divided among newspaper readers. Many took umbrage at being criticised for being upset that Batman was interrupted by news flashes, with many stating that it was more because the two later news flashes were simply repeats of the first. There were also many who agreed with the commentators and were dismayed that anyone would be more concerned with a fictional television show than the real lives of the astronauts. Regardless, the controversy was a sign of just how big Batman had become.
Batmania was not contained only to the United States. Batmania overtook Canada at the same time Batman conquered the United States, where it aired on CTV. The United Kingdom had to wait a bit longer, but they too would fall to the Caped Crusader. Batman would not air in the UK until May 21, 1966. Even then, it did not debut nationwide, but rather it was released intermittently across Great Britain. Despite this, the United Kingdom was still swept up in a Batman craze. Batman toys were already available in the United Kingdom prior to the show's debut there. Once the show debuted, the demand was such that British companies soon started producing their own Bat-goods. Lone Star produced a Batman Batgun (essentially a cap gun). Fairylite produced a Batman battery operated robot. Tudor Rose manufactured a Batman Flying Platform and a Batman Control Station. Mettoy Playcraft Ltd. (the British based parent company of Corgi) marketed their die cast versions of the Batmobile, Batcopter, and Batboat in the United Kingdom as well as the United States.
With Batmania in full swing, Batman did extremely well in the ratings for its first season. Even though it only ran for half of the season, Batman ranked twice in the Nielsen's Top Twenty Five. The Wednesday episode came in at #10, the Thursday episode at #5. Even though both Shindig and Peyton Place aired multiple times during the week before it (both on ABC), Batman was the first show ever to rank twice in Nielsen's top twenty five for the season. It would also be the last show to do so until Who Wants to Be a Millionaire in the 1999/2000 season. It was also the only ABC show to rank in the top twenty five besides Bewitched (at #7) and The Lawrence Welk Show (at #19). The series was also nominated for three Emmys for its first season: Individual Achievement in Sound Editing, Outstanding Comedy Series, and Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Comedy for Frank Gorshin's performance in "Hi Diddle Riddle."
The success of Batman would naturally lead to other shows based around superheroes and comic strip characters. Contrary to popular belief, The Green Hornet(also produced by William Dozier) was not only conceived before the success of Batman, but before Batman even debuted. In fact, Bruce Lee was signed to a one year option to play Kato on the series in 1965, before Batman had ever aired. Regardless, the success of Batman probably guaranteed The Green Hornet a place on ABC's 1966/1967 schedule. Centred on the masked crimefighter called The Green Hornet (Van Williams) and his aide Kato (Bruce Lee in his first major role), the series was not a comedy like Batman, but a straight adventure series. Van Williams as The Green Hornet and Bruce Lee as Kato would make a Batclimb cameo in the episode "The Spell of Tut" and guest starred in the crossover episodes "A Piece of the Action" / "Batman's Satisfaction." The exposure on Batman would not help save the series, however, as The Green Hornet would suffer from low ratings its entire season. The show was not renewed for the 1967/1968 season. Despite this, it did create interest in the martial arts in the United States through Bruce Lee as Kato, and it would develop a cult following.
William Dozier would attempt two other shows that dealt with comic strip heroes or superheroes. Reportedly, Chester Gould had been in talks with NBC about a Dick Tracy series in 1965, but nothing apparently came of it. It was then in June 1966 that William Dozier set his eyes on Dick Tracy. He met with Chester Gould to discuss the possibility of a Dick Tracy show. By July 1 script writer Hal Fimberg joined Dozier to meet with Gould. It was on July 4th that Broadcasting magazine announced that 20th Century Fox and Greenway Productions (Dozier's company) had obtained the rights to Dick Tracy. It would be a half hour show airing in the 7:30-8:00 PM Eastern/6:30 PM-7:00 PM Central time slot on NBC. It would debut either midseason during the 1966/1967 season or the fall of 1967. By October 1966 actor Ray MacDonnell was cast as Dick Tracy. The pilot was set to begin shooting on October 16, 1966. In the pilot Dick Tracy must face off against Mr. Memory (played by Victor Buono), a telepath capable of even communicating with computers, who is intent on destroying NATO. Unfortunately for William Dozier, Batman's ratings were in decline and The Green Hornet was utterly failing in the ratings. NBC passed on Dick Tracy as a midseason replacement, but was still considering it for the fall of 1967. In the end, NBC decided not to pick up Dick Tracy at all.
As to Dozier's next, prospective superhero series, in the July 4, 1966 issue of Broadcasting (the same issue in which plans for a Dick Tracy series was announced), it was also reported that 20th Century Fox and Greenway Productions were considering a Wonder Woman series to premiere in the 1967/1968 season. A full fledged pilot for the proposed Wonder Woman show was never made, only a four minute presentation film. The presentation film was written by Stan Hart, Stanley Ralph Ross, and Larry Siegel. It featured William Dozier as the narrator, Ellie Wood Walker as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman, and Maudie Prickett as the voice of Diana's mother. Unlike The Green Hornet, the Dick Tracy pilot, or even Batman, the Wonder Woman presentation film was a straight comedy. In the case of the Wonder Woman presentation film, it was probably not so much the falling ratings of Batman and the failure of The Green Hornet in the ratings that doomed it as the quality of the presentation film. Even at four minutes, it is one of the most excruciating presentation films to watch. Ironically, Stanley Ralph Ross would later write for the much more serious Wonder Woman series of the Seventies, starring Lynda Carter.
Both CBS and NBC would attempt their own superhero shows in the wake of Batman, both of them straight comedies. Mr. Terrific (not to be confused with the Golden Age, All-American Comics character of the same name) debuted on CBS on January 9, 1967. It starred Stephen Strimpell as Stanley Beamish, a mild mannered nebbish who worked for the Bureau of Secret Projects. He would be granted super strength and the ability to fly any time he took a a "power pill," thus enabling to fight crime as the superhero Mr. Terrific. Mr. Terrific received largely negative reviews. It did not impress viewers either, lasting only half a season. Captain Nice also debuted on January 9, 1967, on NBC following Mr. Terrific. Williams Daniels (later of St. Elsewhere) starred as Carter Nash, a mild manner mama's boy who discovered a secret formula which gives him superpowers. He then fights crime in the guise of Captain Nice. Captain Nice received better reviews than its competitor on CBS, little wonder given its pedigree. The series was created by Buck Henry, co-creator of Get Smart. Sadly, it failed to catch on with viewers and only lasted half a season.
With Batman a success, William Dozier's plan for the Caped Crusader to appear on the big screen was fulfilled with the movie Batman, released July 30, 1966. Much of the reason 20th Century Fox proceeded with the feature film was that they saw it as a means of promoting the show overseas. While already airing in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, Batman had yet to air in Europe, Japan, or Asia, places where people might not be familiar with the original characters from the comic books. 20th Century Fox then saw the film as a tool with which they could introduce the characters to foreign markets. The movie united four of Batman's rouge's gallery from both the comic books and the television show. Cesar Romero, Burgess Meredith, and Frank Gorshin reprised their roles as The Joker, The Penguin, and The Riddler respectively. Julie Newmar had a back injury that prevented her from doing the movie, so Lee Meriwether took over the role of Catwoman. The plot centred on the four villains kidnapping the dehydrated members of the United World's Security Council.
The Batman movie was made for a budget of $1, 377, 800, much larger than that of the TV series. Because of the shooting schedule of the show, it had to be filmed in between the end of shooting for the first season and the start of filming for the second season. It introduced the Batcycle, the Batboat, and the Batcopter. An often overlooked fact is that it was the first Batman feature film ever made. Contrary to popular belief, 20th Century Fox did a good deal of promotion for the film in the United States. The studio also took every precaution to insure that viewers knew this was not a compilation of episodes from the series (as was the case with The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movies), but an all original movie. Ads for the film boasted that it was "All New, Made Especially for the Giant Motion Picture Screen!" Unfortunately, the film opened to mixed reviews. And despite the promotion the movie received, it only did moderately well at the box office. For another film this might be seen as a success, but this was a film based on the hit television series of 1966. That the Batman movie only did moderate business at the box office was perhaps a sign that Batmania was winding down.
Just as the Batman movie's only moderate box office sales was a possible sign that the Batman craze was coming to an end, so too were the sales of Batman toys. In an article from the October 13, 1966 issue of The Chicago Tribune, it was reported "Batmania seems to be cooling off, toy manufacturers report, but most aren't ready yet to write Batmobilia off completely." The article noted that the trend seemed to be towards more traditional toys.
If the movie's box office receipts and the sales of Batman toys were not signs that Batmania was living on borrowed time, the show's ratings upon its second season debut in September 1966 most definitely were. During the two weeks between September 12 and and September 25, 1966, the Wednesday instalment of Batman only had a 30 share, losing its timeslot to The Virginian on NBC. The Thursday instalment of Batman received better ratings, with a 35 share, and beating Daniel Boone on NBC and Jericho on CBS. The ratings for the show were actually quite respectable, but they were hardly the phenomenal numbers it had received in its first season.
The continuing success of Batman would hardly be aided by developments shortly before and during the series' second season. Even as Batman was doing fantastically well in the ratings, ABC complained about the cost of the show. For the 1966-1967 season, the network cut the budget of Batman. This would have some impact on the show's production values. During the first season and in the feature film, animated overlays of words like "Bam!" and "Pow! would be superimposed over fight scenes. In the second season these animated overlays were replaced by simpler, more cost effective title cards, which filled the whole screen, which read "Bam!" and "Pow!" Footage from both the first season and the movie began to be recycled in episodes for the second season.
While the slightly lower productions values due to the lower budget on the show did hurt Batman, it was probably nowhere nearly as damaging as the fact that during the second season the show's episodes became much more formulaic. The episodes would generally begin with a villain played by a well known celebrity committing some crime in Gotham City. There would then be a scene in which Commissioner Gordon and Chief O'Hara would figure out which villain had committed the crime. Gordon would then call the Dynamic Duo on the phone. There would then be a scene in which Alfred answers the Batphone and he would then alert Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson. Bruce or Dick would then push a button hidden in a bust of Shakespeare to open a secret panel which concealed the Batpoles. They would slide down the poles, only to arrive in the Batcave as Batman and Robin. The Dynamic Duo would then jump into the Batmobile and leave the Batcave to arrive at Commissioner Gordon's office. They would talk with Gordon, then investigate the crime without any police assistance. At some point they would encounter the villain, be captured, and placed in some sort of deathtrap. The second part of the episode would have the Dynamic Duo escape the deathtrap and proceed with their investigation until the final battle with the villain of the episode. There were only a few episodes in the second season that ever veered from this formula.
At the very beginning of the second season of Batman was hyped through stressing the addition of such new gadgetry as the Batcycle, Batcopter, and Batboat, and that there would be more villains played by big name celebrities. Unfortunately, the lower production values of the second season and the formula utilised on the vast majority of episode would hurt Batman more than the addition of new gadgets and new villains would help. If things could not get worse for the series, during the second season it became clear that Batmania had come to an end.
For much of 1966 it was nearly impossible to avoid references to Batman in newspapers and magazines. Articles on Batman in various periodicals began to decline in late 1966. By January 1967 there were far fewer articles on the show in various publications than there had been at the height of the craze from March to May 1966. The end of the fad was reflected in the sales of Batman merchandise as well. An Associated Press article from March 7, 1967 by Sally Ryan on toys reported, "Batman and 007 have about disappeared." The latest trend in toys was no longer superheroes and superspies, but toys oriented around a space theme.
Burdened by lower production values and the development of a formula for episodes, ratings for Batman continued to decline throughout 1967. Increasingly adults stopped watching the show, leaving behind an audience primarily made of children. Perhaps for this reason, ABC seemed to taking their time in deciding whether they would renew the show. Fortunately, William Dozier had one last ace up his sleeve: Batgirl. There are generally two stories repeated about Batgirl's creation. One is that she was created for the TV show and then later incorporated into comic books. The other is that she was created for the comic books and later incorporated in the show. Neither story is true, but both do contain an element of the truth. During the heyday of Batman in the spring of 1966, it became readily apparent that one of the most popular characters on the show was Catwoman. Editor of the Batman titles Julius Schwartz, artist Carmine Infantino, and the other staff on the Batman titles then started to think about new female characters who could be incorporated on the show. The first such character to be introduced was the villain Poison Ivy, created by Robert Kanigher and Sheldon Moldoff. Poison Ivy was botanist Pamela Isley, who developed an immunity to all toxins and as a result favours the use of poisonous plants in her crimes. While Poison Ivy became a major member of Batman's rogue's gallery in the comic books, for whatever reason she never appeared on the show.
The next attempt to create a female character who could be incorporated into the show would be Batgirl. There had been a previous character called Bat-Girl, who was the niece of Batwoman, who appeared in the Batman titles in the early Sixties until the "New Look" was established in 1964, but both Bat-Girl and Batwoman had primarily been meant to provide romance for the Dynamic Duo and as a result were seriously dated even by 1966. Editor Julius Schwartz, writer Gardner Fox, and artist Carmine Infantino then set about creating a new Batgirl, one would be independent and very much her own woman. The new Batgirl would be firmly rooted in Batman's mythos. She was Barbara Gordon, the daughter of Commissioner Gordon. The head librarian of the Gotham City Public Library by day, she fought crime by night as the mysterious Batgirl. Batgirl made her debut in Detective Comics #359, January 1967 (although it hit newsstands in November 1966).
Like Julius Schwartz and Carmine Infantino, William Dozier also realised that Catwoman was a phenomenally popular character on the show. Unfortunately, as a villain there was no possible way she could appear on the show every week. Dozier then asked Schwartz and Infantino if they had any more female characters. Schwartz gave Dozier some designs Infantino had made of Batgirl. Dozier was immediately taken with the character. He even considered the possibility that Batgirl could be introduced on Batman, then be spun off into her own series. Episodes could then begin on Batman to be concluded on Batgirl. A Batgirl series never materialised, but she would be added to the series. Initially Mary Ann Mobley (who played the original April Dancer in the pilot for The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., the Man From U.NC.L.E. episode "The Moonglow Affair") was considered for the role, but she was already committed to the ill fated series Custer. It was then that Yvonne Craig was cast as Barbara Gordon/Batgirl. Craig was a former ballerina turned actresses who had already appeared in several films and TV shows. As a former ballet dancer, she was perfect for the role of Batgirl, capable of being physical without losing her femininity. With ABC taking their time to decide whether to renew Batman for a third season, William Dozier produced a Batgirl presentation film (often referred to as a "pilot," even though it was only eight minutes long), in which Batgirl and the Dynamic Duo fought the villain Killer Moth. The presentation film convinced ABC that Batgirl could give the series a boost, and also persuaded them to finally renew Batman for its third season.
Unfortunately, the third season of Batman would be its last. ABC had observed that as there was always a summary of the Wednesday night episode at the start of the Thursday night episode, many viewers would simply tune into the Thursday night episode (whose ratings had always been higher). For the third season, then, Batman was cut back to one night a week--Thursdays at 7:30 PM Eastern/6:30 PM Central. This would seriously hurt the series. Whereas during the first and second seasons, stories unfolded over the course of two episodes, in the third season stories would unfold in one half hour episode. This meant that in the course of one half hour, the villain and his plot had to be introduced, Batman and Robin alerted to the villain's plot, and Batgirl incorporated into the story, all in the course of one half hour. Ultimately, there would be very little time left over for the actual plot of any given episode!
Worse yet, the ever cost conscious ABC cut the show's budget once again. While the production values of the second season were only slightly lower than that of the first, the production values of the third season were drastically lower than either the first or the second season. Sets, such as the villain of the week's hideouts, often consisted of fake looking walls which appeared to be made of cardboard cut outs, and which were shot on a darkened sound stage. Many of the props made for the third seasons episode also looked fake and cheap. Sadly, Batman, a series which had the gloss of a feature film in its first season, increasingly looked like an amateur production in its third season. The much lower budget would affect the show in other ways. There were far fewer close-ups than there had been in the first and second seasons. Master shots were increasingly used as a means of moving the story forward.
There would also be other changes during the third season. Madge Blake's health had seriously declined, so Aunt Harriet was absent from the third season except for two episodes. She died only a little less than a year after the show was cancelled. Julie Newmar was unable to appear as Catwoman during the third season, due to her commitment to the movie McKenna's Gold. The role was then recast with Eartha Kitt. The third season also introduced a few new villains, including Milton Berle as Louie the Lilac, Joan Collins as The Siren, Rudy Valee and Glynnis Johns as Lord Marmaduke Ffogg and Lady Penelope Peasoup, Ida Lupino and Howard Duff as Dr. Cassandra Spellcraft and Cabala, and Zsa Zsa Gabor as Minerva.
The third season would see the ratings for Batman fall even lower than they had in the second season. While the ratings were much, much lower than they had been at the height of Batmania, they were not so low that ABC thought the series was a total loss. ABC decided that for the potential fourth season it would cut the budget even further by cutting the roles of Robin and Chief O'Hara. For the fourth season Batgirl would be promoted to Batman's full time partner. Both William Dozier and Adam West objected to this plan. It was then in late January, 1968 that ABC cancelled the series. It was only two weeks later that NBC expressed an interest in picking up Batman and even restoring it to its original twice a week schedule. Unfortunately, the sets had already been dismantled. NBC decided that it did not want to pay for the reconstruction of the sets, the Batcave alone having cost $800,000 in 1965. The final, first run episode of Batman would air on March 14, 1968.
Batman entered into syndication in the fall of 1968, where it found new success. Many stations would run two half hour episodes back to back five days a week. Others would run one half hour episode of Batman back to back with half hour episode of The Green Hornet. Indeed, except for the few months between March 14 and the fall of 1968, there has probably never been a time when Batman was not airing somewhere in the United States. Batman has aired on such cable channels as F/X (where it was shown back to back with The Green Hornet at times), TV Land, and American Life TV.
Indeed, the series would even have a role to play in new bouts of Batmania over the years. In 1988, a full year before the release of the Batman movie starring Michael Keaton in the role, a new wave of Batmania swept the United Kingdom. In 1987 the technical staff at British station TV-am went on strike. With a skeleton crew TV-am continued to operate, in part by broadcasting reruns of American shows Flipper, Happy Days, and Batman. Batmania once more swept Great Britain. There was renewed interest in Batman merchandise. Adam West was not only interviewed for the British magazine 19, but appeared on the cover in full costume. Members of the original cast even made trips across the Pond to make personal appearances.
The United States would be swept by Batmania again in 1989 when the new Batman movie was released. And while the new film centred on the original, much darker Batman of the comic books, the 1960's TV series still played a role in this new bout of Batmania. To capitalise on the new film, 20th Century Fox launched a major effort to increase the Sixties series in syndication. Adam West, Burt Ward, Yvonne Craig, and Julie Newmar appeared in promos in which they sought to convince station managers to either renew their syndication package or to pick one up for the first time. As had been the case since 1968, Batman could be purchased on its own or with The Green Hornet. The syndication effort worked. Many more stations picked up Batman and interest in the Sixties series reached heights it had not for years. When Batmania hit the United States again in 2008 in the wake of the success of The Dark Knight, interest in the Sixties series was once more revived. The 1966 feature film was released for the first time on DVD. Adam West was interviewed by several magazines and newspapers.
Adam West, Burt Ward, Yvonne Craig, and the rest of the cast on Batman have never quite been able to divorce themselves from the roles they played on the TV show. Over the years there have been reunions of many of the cast members. In 1972 Burt Ward and Yvonne Craig reprised their roles as Robin and Batgirl in a Department of Labour commercial for Equal Pay. Batman in the commercial was played by Dick Gautier (best known for playing Hymie the Robot on Get Smart). Adam West and Burt Ward reprised their roles as Batman and Robin, providing their voices for Filmation's The New Adventures of Batman and Robin animated series, which debuted in 1977. In 1979 Adam West and Burt Ward as Batman and Robin appeared in two specials entitled Legends of the Superheroes. Frank Gorshin reprised his role as The Riddler. Sadly, the two specials are now remembered for how terribly bad they were.
In 1983 Adam West, Burt Ward, and Yvonne Craig reunited on Family Feud. Yvonne Craig and Adam West would appear on the game show the following year as well. In 1988 Adam West, Burt Ward, Yvonne Craig, and Julie Newmar appeared on The Wil Shriner Show. That same year Adam West, Burt Ward, Yvonne Craig, Julie Newmar, and Alan Napier appeared on The Late Show (a late night show aired on Fox, not to be confused with the show of the same name starring David Letterman). It was Alan Napier's last appearance on screen. In 2003 Adam West and Burt Ward reunited for the television movie Return to the Batcave: The Misadventures of Adam and Burt, a tongue in cheek history of the TV series. Among other things, it featured West's appearances as Captain Q in the adverts for Nestle Quik and the Lyle Wagoner screen test. Frank Gorshin, Julie Newmar, and Lee Merriweather all three appeared. It aired on CBS in 2003.
Among comic book fans, even to this day, Batman has been a matter of controversy. There are still those who insist that the TV show stereotyped comic books in most people's minds as campy entertainment. To a large degree this is unfair, as comic books had earned some respect even before the show had aired, and would continue to earn respect until the Eighties when many finally recognised the medium as an artform in the wake of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns. Besides, it must be pointed out that, except for the brief time the Batman titles turned to camp in the wake of the series' success, Batman over all had a positive effect on the comic books. As discussed earlier, Alfred had been killed off in 1964. His appearance on the TV Show forced Julius Schwartz to bring the character back from the dead in 1966. He has remained a part of the comic books ever since. The character of Batgirl grew out of the TV show. She would become a major character in the Batman titles and remains an important character today in DC Comics as Oracle in the pages of Birds of Prey. As mentioned in part one Catwoman had ceased to appear in comic books in 1954 after Fredric Wertham attacked her in Seduction of the Innocent. Her appearance on the show led to her reintroduction in the comic books. Before the TV series, The Riddler was a very minor villain in the Batman titles. He had only appeared twice during the Golden Age. His appearance in Batman #171 was his first in seventeen years. It was largely on the strength of Frank Gorshin's performance that he became a major villain in Batman's rogue's gallery.
In a roundabout way, it would also be the TV series that would return Batman to his original incarnation as a sometimes ruthless vigilante. After Batmania died down after 1966, sales for the Batman titles dropped. In an effort to increase sales and to distance Batman from the TV show, in the Seventies, writers such as Denny O'Neil returned the character to being the Dark Knight he was in the beginning. Of course, it must be pointed out as well, that if it wasn't for the TV show, Batman might not have survived past 1965. While the "New Look" improved sales for the title, they did necessarily do so to such a degree that Batman was entirely safe from cancellation. The TV show Batman then saved the character so that he might be published for another forty plus years.
Of course, the biggest impact the TV show may have had on the comic books may have been the creation of new Batman fans. I was extremely young when Batman first aired (not much beyond being out of diapers), but I remember watching the show religiously. As soon as I could read, I naturally sought out Batman comic books. By that time Batman was returned to being the Dark Knight, a character I found much more interesting than the one played by Adam West. Indeed, I can even remember the first Batman story I read. It was "Half an Evil" in Batman #234, August 1971 (the first appearance of Two-Face since 1954). Not only did the TV show save Batman, but it also created a new legion of fans for him.
Regardless of whether its impact on comic books was positive or negative, Batman spawned the largest fad ever by a television series. It was far larger than the Davy Crockett craze of the Fifties, which remains to this day the second biggest television fad of all time. The reasons Batman would prove to outdistance even Davy Crockett may be twofold. First, at the time Davy Crockett aired, only half of all American households owned television sets. Many children would have to wait until the film Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier (which compiled the episodes of the miniseries) in the summer of 1955 was released to even see it. By 1966 93.4% of all American homes had at least one TV set; 22.6% of them had more than one. Even given that many markets did not have an ABC affiliate at the time, Batman then received much wider exposure than the Davy Crockett mini-series on Disneyland did. Second, it must be pointed out that the Davy Crockett craze was driven almost totally by children. There was almost no merchandise, beyond possibly the theme song, directed towards adults. Batmania appears to have been driven by both adults and children. There were a number of Batman items made for adults, even Batman costumes.
While the Batman craze was larger than the Davy Crockett fad, the question remains as to how Batmania became so big. Cynics might point to the extensive promotional campaign ABC conducted in the weeks leading up to the broadcast as having caused the fad, but that seems unlikely. If Batman had not been a well produced show and had other factors not been present which contributed to the show's popularity, it might have gotten good ratings upon its debut, only to have lost viewers in the following weeks. It seems more likely that the same things which led to Batman making it onto television are the same factors which led to its popularity. The Silver Age of Comic Books had led to increased popularity in the medium. Pop art, which utilised imagery found in comic books and other mass media artefacts, contributed to that popularity. The concept of camp, with which many old serials, comic strips, and comic books was labelled at the time, probably also had a role. All of these factors would lead to a revival of interest in superheroes in general and Batman in specific. In 1964 Batman may have teetered on the brink of cancellation, but in the public beyond comic book buyers, interest in him was growing.
Of course, here it must be noted that the Batmania of 1966 was not an isolated incident. It would be repeated in 1989 and in 2008. It would seem, then, that there is something about the character of Batman, whether we are talking the Caped Crusader of the TV series or the Dark Knight of the most recent movie, that has an intrinsic appeal to the average American. I suspect much of this has to do with the fact that, unlike many superheroes, Batman is a mere mortal. He is not Superman. If he is shot, he bleeds. He can be killed. Indeed, his humanity is reflected in his origin. He is a character born of tragedy. Young Bruce Wayne saw his own parents murdered right before his eyes. This gives him a vulnerability, a humanness, few superheroes have. In fact, I suspect many, if not most of us, can identify with Batman to a degree. Children who fear the loss of their parents can identify with young Bruce's plight. Those of who are older who have lost their parents can identify with him too. In fact, I suspect anyone who has lost anybody can identify with Batman's grief and rage at his parents' deaths. Even on the TV show, largely played for camp, the tragedy of Batman's life was still present, the obsession to fight crime born of the grief and rage at his parents' deaths.
As to what caused the end of Batmania, that was probably due to a number of factors as well. The Silver Age of Comic Books would go into decline even as Batman hit the air, with fewer important, new characters being created in the medium (arguably The Silver Surfer was the last major character created at Marvel Comics during the Silver Age, first appearing in Fantastic Four #48, March 1966, which probably hit newsstands in January). As a result the craze for superheroes which had gripped the United States was dying down even as Batmania was. Although still popular, pop art (from which the series borrowed much of its style) was being overtaken by psychedelia and other art movements.
Of course, much of the blame for the decline of Batmania may rest with the series itself. The Batman fad was already dying down when the second season of Batman debuted in the fall of 1966. When viewers tuned in and saw the show was not quite as good as it was in its first season, they may well have lost their enthusiasm for the Dynamic Duo. Ultimately, however, it must be said that it was inevitable that Batmania would come to an end. In the book Fads, Follies, and Delusions of the American People by Paul Sann, it is noted that often the more intensely a fad is adopted, the shorter its duration will be. Batmania struck America very rapidly and with a strength only few fads could match. Batman was a smash hit upon its debut. By March 1966, only three months later, there were already tons of Bat-goods on store shelves. Having been adopted by Americans very rapidly and very intensely, it is perhaps amazing that Batmania lasted as long as it did. The fad started in January with the show's debut, reached its peak in the spring, and did not entirely die out until nearly 1967. In other words, Batmania lasted about a year.
The Batman craze of 1966 proved to the biggest television fad of all time. Other fads inspired by television shows have come and gone, but forty four years later none have proven as large as the Batmania of the mid-Sixties. Indeed, even today with mass marketing down to an art form, it seems doubtful that any television show will ever inspire the frenzy that Batman created among both adults and children in 1966.