Friday, 2 April 2010

The Late, Great John Forsythe

John Forsythe, star of Alfred Hitchcock's The Trouble with Harry and the TV show Bachelor Father, and the voice of Charlie on the series Charlie's Angels and the two movies spun off from the series, passed yesterday at the age of 92. The cause was complications from pneumonia. He recently battled colon cancer.

John Forsythe was born John Freund on January 29, 1918 in Penns Grove, New Jersey. He grew up in Brooklyn. He graduated from high school when he was only sixteen. He attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, but dropped out when he got a job as an announcer for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

With a pleasant yet strong voice, John Forsythe was quite successful as the Dodgers' announcer, so much so that he moved into radio. From radio he was able to go onto the stage, making his Broadway debut in Yankee Point  in 1942. The following year he made his movie debut in an uncredited part in Northern Pursuit. That same year he appaerd in the film Destination Tokyo and the play Winged Victory. In 1944 Mr. Forsythe appeared in the play Yellow Jack. During World War II he served in the United States Army Air Force.

Following the war John Forsythe returned to acting. In 1947 he returned to radio on the show The Theatre Guild on the Air (AKA The United States Steel Hour) in an adaptation of The Age of Innocence. He also appeared on Broadway in It Takes Two. In 1948 he made his television debut in an episode of Kraft Television Theatre. That same year he appeared in an episode of Actor's Studio. The next few years Mr. Forsythe's career consisted entirely of television and radio. On television he appeared in NBC Presents, The Ford Theatre Hour, Robert Montgomery Presents Starlight Theatre, and Lights Out. On radio he appeared on two episodes of Broadway is My Beat. He returned to film in 1952 in The Captive City. In 1953 he returned to Broadway in The Teahouse of August Moon.

Throughout the Fifties John Forsythe appeared in several films, including Escape from Fort Bravo, The Glass Web, and It Happens Every Thursday. In 1955 he appeared in one of his best known roles, in the under appreciated Hitchcock classic The Trouble With Harry. In the film he played artist Sam Marlowe, the voice of reason when everyone else panics at the presence of Harry's corpse in their town. He would finish out the Fifties by appearing in such films as The Ambassador's Daughter, Everything But the Truth, and Il vendicatore. His career was primarily in television, guest starring on such shows as Suspense, The Philco Television Playhouse, The United States Steel Hour, Studio One (several times), Alfred Hitchock Presents, Goodyear Television Theatre, General Electric Theatre, Zane Grey Theatre, Climax, and Schlitz Playhouse of Stars. In 1957 he took the lead role of Bentley Gregg in the series Bachelor Father. Gregg was a playboy father who finds himself in custody of his niece (Noreen Corcoran) following her parents' deaths. The series ran until 1962. Popular in its time, Bachelor Father was one of the first shows featuring a single father, a format which would become very popular in the Sixties (The Andy Griffith Show, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Bonanza to name a few). He also appeared on radio in the shows Best Plays, Stagestruck, and This is My Story,

After Bachelor Father went off the air, Mr. Forsythe guest starred on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Alcoa Premiere, The Dick Powell Show, and Kraft Suspense Theatre. From 1965 to 1966 he was the star of his own sitcom The John Forsythe Show. He guest starred on Run For Your Life and The Red Skelton Show. In 1969 he was cast as the lead in the family comedy series To Rome with Love. The show ran until 1971, victim of CBS' "Rural Purge." He appeared in the films Kitten with a Whip (one of the most notorious campy movies of all time), Madame X, In Cold Blood, Silent Treatment, Hitchcock's Topaz, and The Happy Ending. He also appeared on Broadway one last time in Weekend.

In the Seventies John Forsythe appeared in the television movies Murder Once Removed, Cry Panic, and Tail Gunner Joe. He guest starred on Police Story, Medical Story, and The Feather and Father Gang. In 1976 he became the Charlie on the series Charlie's Angels. Millionaire and private investigator Charlie would deliver his instructions to his operatives (his "angels") over a speaker phone. At no point in the series was his face ever seen. A hit in its first season, it ran five seasons. He also appeared on The Hallmark Hall of Fame. He appeared in the films as Goodbye e amen and And Justice For All.

In the Eighties John Forsythe played the lead on the series Dynasty, which ran for nine seasons. He also appeared in several episodes of The Colbys. He appeared in the film Scrooged. In the Nineties Mr. Forsythe starred in the short lived classic TV show The Powers That Be. He was a guest voice on the animated series Gargoyles. In the Naughts he reprised his role as the voice of Charlie Townsend in the movies Charlie's Angels and Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle. As in the series from which the movies were spun off, his face was never seen on screen.

John Forsythe was one of the greatest actors to ever appear on television. His voice was mellifluous yet powerful, making him the perfect father figure. This is not to say that John Forsythe was limited to roles as authority figures. He could just as easily play a charming and talented slacker such as Sam Marlowe or a playboy like Bentley Gregg. Mr. Forsythe could even play villains, as in the 1968 television film Shadow on the Land, where his character (General Bruce). I am not sure I ever saw John Forsythe give a bad performance. Even when the material was poor (such as Kitten with a Whip), John Forsythe still gave impressive performances.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Two Classics From Big Star

In light of the recent death of Alex Chilton, I thought it would be nice to post two of Big Star's classic songs.

The first is "Thirteen," which I always thought of as paen to first love in one's early teens. It sort of reminds me of The Wonder Years for that reason.



Next up is possibly one of Big Star's best known songs, "September Gurls." I've always loved this song because it is simultaneously sweet and venomous. That is what Big Star did best, write songs about dysfunctional lives and loves. The song has been covered by The Bangles, Superdrag, and even British Invasion band The Searchers.



I hope you enjoy tonight's music!

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

David Mils R.I.P.

David Mills, a writer who wrote for such series as N.Y.P.D. Blue and The Wire, passed yesterday at the age of 48. The cause was believed to be an aneurysm.

David Mills was born in Washington D.C. His family later moved to Lanham, Maryland. He attended the University of  Maryland, where he was part of the staff of independent student newspaper The Diamondback. There he met sometime collaborator and creator of The Wire David Simon. Following graduation, Mills worked as a features reporter for The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, and The Washington Post.

It was in 1993 that David Mills broke into television with an episode of Homicide: Life on the Streets. Mills later wrote several episodes of N.Y.P.D. Blue and served as a co-producer at one point. He was also a story editor from 1994 to 1995 on Picket Fences. He wrote four episodes of  ER.  In 1999 David Simon asked David Mills to co-write and co-produce a six part mini-series for HBO based on his book The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighbourhood, simply titled The Corner.

It was in 2003 that Mills created and produced the miniseries Kingpin for NBC. He wrote episodes for David Simon's series The Wire. His final project was a series entitled Treme for HBO, set to debut later this month.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Batmania: How Batman Conquered America in 1966 Part Two


"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 which 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 which 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 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 number 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 which 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 Apirl 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 growning.

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 one 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.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Batmania: How Batman Conquered America in 1966 Part One

"Criminals are a superstitious, cowardly lot, so my disguise must be able to strike terror into their hearts. I must be a creature of the night, black, terrible...a...a...A bat! It's an omen! I shall become a bat!"
(Bruce Wayne, "The Batman and How He Came to Be," Detective Comics #33, November 1939)

Batman debuted on ABC. The series was a hit from its debut, so much so it became the centre of a fad. In the end Batmania (as the craze was named) would dwarf even the Davy Crockett craze. It became the biggest TV fad of all time.
In 1966 a most unusual phenomenon took place. A 27 year old comic book hero became the next big thing. The TV show

At the centre of this fad was one of the earliest superheroes in comic books. Batman was created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, and debuted in Detective Comics #27, May 1939. As originally envisioned, The Batman was an at times brutal vigilante who operated primarily at night (not unlike the Dark Knight in comic books and movies today). Batman was Bruce Wayne, a wealthy playboy who had witnessed his parents' murder at the hands of a mugger. So traumatised by the experience was young Wayne, that he vowed vengeance on criminals. Training physically and intellectually from a young age, he eventually donned a bat like costume to battle crime.

In his earliest days The Batman could be ruthless against criminals. He actually carried a gun and even used it on occasion. Many of his opponents died by accidents of their own making, and the ones that didn't sometimes died by Batman's own hand. As an example, in Detective Comics #31, September 1939, Batman fought a villain called The Monk, who turned out to be a vampire. He shot and killed The Monk with a silver bullet. In Batman #1, spring 1940, the Caped Crusader killed two of Professor Hugo Strange's monsters, hanging one and machine gunning another. It would be classic, Golden Age writer Gardner Fox who would create the first of Batman's many gadgets. In Detective Comics #32, October 1939, in a story scripted by Fox, the Batarang and the Batgyro (an autogyro or forerunner of the helicopter) were introduced.

It was when the Caped Crusader was around a year old that the feature lightened considerably in tone. This was due to two events. The first was a code drawn up by co-owner of National Comics and Detective Comics (two of the companies that would become DC Comics) Jack Liebowitz and editor Whitney Ellsworth as to what would be acceptable in their comic books. The two men had wanted to prevent their comic books from coming under fire much as pulp magazines had in the Thirties. As  a result, none of their heroes would ever willingly kill another human being. As a result Batman stopped carrying a gun and stopped killing criminals.

The other event was the debut of Robin in Detective Comics #38, April 1940. Robin was created by Bill Finger and Jerry Robinson for two basic reasons. The first was to give Batman someone to talk to. The second was to provide young readers a character with whom they could identify. It was Jerry Robinson who named the character, as he had always loved The Adventures of Robin Hood as a child. Robin's costume was then given a medieval look for that reason. Robin was Dick Grayson, part of a family of acrobats known as "The Flying Graysons." After his parents were murdered by gang lord Boss Zucco, Bruce Wayne took legal custody of Grayson as his ward and trained the boy to fight crime. He would remain a part of the Batman feature for the next twenty nine years.

While the Batman feature became lighter in tone after the implementation of Liebowitz and Ellsworth's code and the introduction of Robin, it could remain rather grim at times. While Batman no longer killed criminals, he still operated at night and the villains he fought (such as The Joker and Two-Face) were often homicidal maniacs. The character of Batman became the second most popular character at National Comics and Detective Comics, surpassed only by Superman, and possibly the third most popular superhero during the Golden Age of Comic books after Superman and Captain Marvel. Naturally the character would appear in other media. On April 15, 1943, the first chapter in The Batman, a fifteen chapter adaptation of the comic book feature, debuted in theatres. On October 25, 1943,  a Batman newspaper strip debuted. It ran until 1945. It was also in 1943 that the first attempt was made at a Batman radio show. It never sold. All that remains is the script, although it does seem possible that it had been recorded. Batman and Robin would appear on another superhero's radio programme. In March 1945 Batman and Robin made their first of many appearances on the radio show The Adventures of Superman. On May 26, 1949 a second serial based on the comic book feature debuted,  Batman and Robin.  In 1950 a second attempt was made at a Batman radio show, of which a recording of the pilot does still survive. This second radio pilot seems a bit odd today, as it casts Batman as an investigator who seeks to "to prove that ghosts and apparitions are only figments of man's imagination." This pilot also did not sell.

Sadly, the Fifties would not be as kind to The Batman as the Forties had been. The late Forties and early Fifties saw comic books increasingly coming under attack by moral watchdogs. Foremost among the critics of comic books was a psychiatrist, Dr. Fredric Wertham. It was in 1954 that his book, Seduction of the Innocent, was published. In the book Dr. Fredric Wertham asserted that Batman and Robin were homosexuals, even though there was no evidence whatsoever in the comic book feature to lead to such a conclusion. He also attacked one of Batman's primary opponents during the Golden Age, Catwoman, as "vicious" and noted that she "...uses a whip." He also claimed that in the comic book feature "If the girl is good-looking she is undoubtedly the villainess (apparently Dr. Wertham did not find Bruce Wayne's girl friend Vicki Vale attractive...). Dr. Wertham also attacked the violence in the comic book feature, noting a story in which Batman and Robin stood in a room, "..with a whole row of corpses on the floor."

The attacks on comic books in the late Forties and the early Fifties, particularly Dr. Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent, would lead to the creation of the Comics Code  At the time the comic book industry described this self censorship code as "...the strictest in existence for any communications media (sic)." And the Comics Code in its original form was indeed strict, forbidding everything from "lurid, unsavoury, gruesome illustrations" to vampires and werewolves. Both the Code and Wertham's criticism of the Batman and Robin would have a lasting effect on the comic book feature. Perhaps because of the Code's rules regarding the portrayal of women and Wertham's criticism of her, Catwoman would not appear in comic books from 1954 to 1966. Perhaps because of the Code's ban on anything gruesome, Two-Face, half of whose face had been damaged by acid, would not appear from 1954 to 1971. During the Golden Age he had been one of Batman's primary opponents. The Joker continued to appear in the Batman comic book feature, but was reduced from homicidal maniac to a practical joking nuisance.

These were not the end of the changes to the Batman feature.The nature of Batman stories changed dramatically in the wake of the Comics Code. During the Golden Age Batman and Robin fought gangsters, hired killers, and a rouge's gallery which included a few outright psychopaths (The Joker, Two-Face, The Mad Hatter, The Scarecrow, et. al.) After the Comics Code pseudo-science fiction stories began to proliferate in the Batman feature. Batman and Robin faced aliens, travelled to other planets, and travelled through time. Increasingly the Dynamic Duo faced their rogue's gallery from the Golden Age less and less, and the new villains introduced during these years were science fiction oriented: Mr. Zero (later renamed "Mr. Freeze" on the TV show), a new Clayface (this one capable of changing shape), and Dr. Double X. Batman also picked up an "extended family" similar to those of Captain Marvel and Superman. To advert any suspicions that the Dynamic Duo were gay, two new female characters were introduced: Batwoman, who debuted  in Batman #105, January 1957, and Bat-Girl, who first appeared in Batman  #139, April-May 1961 (not to be confused with the Batgirl of later Sixties comic books and the TV show). Characters such as Ace the Bat-Hound and Bat-Mite (an imp who sometimes pestered the Dynamic Duo) were introduced during this period.

The late Fifties and the early Sixties were truly the low point of Batman's career. In fact, sales had dipped so far by 1963 that National Periodical Publications (the company now called "DC Comics") considered cancelling the Batman feature. Fortunately, the legendary Julius Schwartz was assigned to edit the Batman feature. Schwartz made drastic changes to the feature, which would come to be known as "the New Look." Batman's costume was overhauled, with the inclusion of a an oval around the bat-insignia on his costume's chest. He dispensed with the pseudo-science fiction stories of the past ten years, and returned Batman to being a detective. The stories of this era were more often than not mysteries. To advert any accusations of homosexuality, he killed off Bruce Wayne's butler Alfred (who had been part of the feature since 1943) and had Dick Grayson's Aunt Harriet move into Wayne Manor. The "New Look" successfully revived interest in Batman at the time, although other factors in American society would also help revive interest in the character. These factors may also have led to the development of Batmania.

One of these factors may have been  one of the most legendary comic book fanzines of all time, Batmania (yes, this is where the term originated). Batmania was first published in July 1964 by Bill "Biljo" White, a Columbia, Missouri fireman who owned nearly every Batman title from 1939 onwards. The fanzine's title was apparently inspired by the term "Beatlemania," then in full swing at the time. Batmania educated its readers on Batman in his early days as a ruthless vigilante and revealed the extent of Bill Finger's involvement in Batman's creation (before 1964 it was assumed Bob Kane had created the character alone, something Kane actually encouraged). Batmania reached a circulation of 1000 copies, large for any fanzine of the time. It also helped revive interest in the character among comic book fans.

Another factor was the Silver Age of Comic Books, a period in which there were more artistic achievements than usual and  a good deal more commercial success. The Silver Age is generally considered to have begun with the first appearance of a new version of The Flash in Showcase #3, October 1956, and to have lasted for most of the Sixties. Not only did the Silver Age see introductions of such classic characters as a new version of Green Lantern, a new version of Hawkman, and entirely new characters such as Spider-Man and Iron Man, but it also saw a revival of interest in comic books in mainstream society. This revived interest in comic books was helped considerably by the movement known as pop art. Pop art was characterised by techniques drawn from commercial art, everyday objects, and even comic books. It is generally considered have begun with the collage Just what is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing? by artist Richard Hamilton in 1956. Since comic books were often fodder for pop artists (particularly Roy Lichetenstein), comic books gained a bit more cultural clout.

Yet another factor in the revival of interest in comic books would be the concept known as "camp," most fully described in Susan Sontag's essay "Notes on Camp," published in The Partisan Review in 1964. According to Sontag, the most important elements of camp were "...artifice, frivolity, naïve middle-class pretentiousness, and ‘shocking’ excess." In the March 21, 1965 issue of The New York Times, Sontag would declare Batman comic books to be an example of "Low Camp." These three factors (the Silver Age of Comic Books, pop art, and the concept of camp) may have been why there was renewed interest in superheroes and comic books in the mid-Sixties. Indeed, it is around 1964 and 1965 that the price of Golden Age comic books began to rise. Comic books originally sold for a dime were being bought for hundreds of dollars. By the Seventies they would be going for thousands.

These factors (the "New Look" of Batman, Batmania, the Silver Age, pop art, and camp) would revive interest in Batman, to the point that the character received more attention than he had in years. A sign of the growing interest in Batman was the film Batman Dracula, which Andy Warhol made without the permission of National Periodical Publications in 1964. A fan of the serials, Warhol made his own homage to the character. Batman Dracula was only screened at his art exhibits.  It is believed to be the first intentional portrayal of a campy Batman on the screen. Long thought lost, it only recently resurfaced.

It was around at this time that Ed Graham Productions (best known for producing the Saturday morning cartoon Linus the Lionhearted) bought an option on a Batman TV series from National Periodical Publications. Ed Graham had been a fan of Batman when young, and conceived the series as a straightforward adventure show for children, along the lines of the Fifties' Adventures of Superman. Former NFL linebacker Mike Henry, who would go onto play Tarzan in three films, was set to play the Caped Crusader. Supposedly, National Periodical Publications even had photos taken of Henry in a Batman costume, although such pictures have never surfaced. In March 1965 Ed Graham Productions very nearly closed a deal with CBS for the Batman series, although negotiations soon broke down. Ed Graham did not give up hope, deciding to take his idea for the show to another network. Unfortunately for Ed Graham, the renewed interest in Batman would soon put an end to his plans.

It was in early 1965 (January 1965 according to TCM) that all fifteen chapters of The Batman serial from 1943 were edited together as An Evening with Batman and Robin.. An Evening with Batman and Robin proved popular with cinemas in college towns and art theatres such as the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts and the Peacock Theatre in New Orleans. The serial was even screened at the Playboy Mansion in Chicago. It was there that East Coast ABC executive Yale Udoff happened to be at one of these screenings at the Playboy Mansion. A Batman fan in his youth, Udoff contacted West Coast executives Harve Bennett and Edgar J. Scherick. Bennett and Scherick were already considering a television show based on a comic strip, comic book, or radio show. They had wanted to produce a Dick Tracy series, but the creator of the comic strip Chester Gould was already in negotiation with NBC. The three men then decided to move forward with a Batman TV series, which at the time they conceived as a serious but tongue in cheek series along the lines of the then popular Man From U.N.C.L.E.

ABC's interest in Batman would spell the end for Ed Graham's plans for a Batman TV show. ABC contacted 20th Century Fox about producing a Batman series. 20th Century Fox turned to William Dozier and his company Greenway Productions to actually produce the show. Together they purchased an option to produce a Batman series from National Periodical Publications. Ed Graham only learned this when, after failing with CBS, he tried to sell his Batman series to NBC. After nearly getting a Batman series on CBS, Ed Graham Productions was now out of the running completely.

While ABC conceived Batman as a serious but tongue and cheek series, William Dozier would develop other ideas. Dozier had been vice president in charge of West Coast programmes at CBS in the Fifties, and had produced such shows as Rod Brown of the Rocket Rangers and The Loner. By his own admission, he had never read a Batman comic book in his life. It was on his flight back from New York to Los Angeles that he read seven or eight Batman comic books for the first time, among them Batman #171, May 1965 (the first Silver Age appearance of The Riddler). Having read these comic books, Dozier came to the conclusion that there was not much chance of adults taking a series about a man dressed up as a bat seriously. It was then that he decided that Batman would work on two levels. For adults it would be a comedy, an outright parody of comic books and their conventions. For children it would be an adventure show.

To write the series, William Dozier initially contacted thriller writer Eric Ambler. Ambler expressed no interest in writing Batman. He then contacted Lorenzo Semple Jr., who had written episodes of Kraft Suspense Theatre, The Rogues, and Burke's Law. The two had worked together on a prospective series called Number One Son, set to star Bruce Lee. Based around Charlie Chan's "Number One Son," the project was killed when ABC made it clear they would not consider anything featuring an ethnic lead. Dozier and Semple developed the idea for the pilot, loosely based on "The Remarkable Ruse of the Riddler" from Batman #171, May 1965.

With a writer in place, Dozier now had to cast the series. Dozier considered actor Ty Hardin for the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman, former star of the Western Bronco. At the time Hardin was tied up making Westerns in Spain, so he could not take the part (in light of his involvement with an anti-Semitic militia group in the Eighties, this was probably fortunate). Dozier would find his Batman in the most unlikely of all places, television commercials for Nestle Quik. In the adverts, a young actor named Adam West played a parody of James Bond called "Captain Q." Dozier was impressed and soon Adam West was up for the part. Ultimately the role of Robin would be filled by a newcomer named Burt Ward (he had auditioned under his given name of Bert Gervis, but took his mother's maiden name of "Ward" as it was easier to pronounce). At 19 years of age, Burt Ward had no real experience acting on screen, but he was an athlete who had trained in marital arts.

Adam West and Burt Ward would not be the only actors up for the parts of Batman and Robin. Lyle Waggoner, who had no real experience in television at the time (he would go onto The Carol Burnett Show and Wonder Woman), was also up for the role of Batman. A young actor named Peter Deyell, who had appeared on The Patti Page Oldsmobile Show and Shirley Temple's Storybook, was up for the role of Robin. Ultimately, the casting came down to two screen tests, one with Adam West and Burt Ward, and another with Lyle Waggoner and Peter Deyell. After viewing the screen tests, the producers settled upon West and Ward. Today the screen tests make interesting viewing, not simply because of the contrast between the two sets of actors, but due to the fact that at this point Batman's costume resembled the one he had worn before the "New Look."

For the other roles experienced actors were cast. Alan Napier, who had appeared in films ranging from Cat People to My Fair Lady, was cast as Bruce Wayne's butler Alfred. Neil Hamilton, whose films credits went back to the Silent Era and included films such as Tarzan the Ape Man and the 1945 version of Brewster's Millions, was cast as Commissioner Gordon. Madge Blake, who had appeared in everything from An American in Paris to the TV show The Real McCoys, was cast as Aunt Harriet.

Initially William Dozier had wanted to make a feature film to promote the upcoming Batman series, but the idea was ultimately put on hold. One reason for this was that 20th Century Fox would have to shoulder the entire burden for the budget of the feature film, while ABC would help with the costs of the television show. Before they would even consider a Batman feature film, 20th Century Fox wanted to know that they had a hit on their hands. Another reason may have been ABC's scheduling. Batman was initially set to debut in fall 1966. This changed when it became apparent that the start of the fall 1965 season was possibly the worst in the history of the network. In the 1964/1965 season ABC closely followed CBS and NBC in the ratings. In the early months of the 1965/1966 season, ABC was a distant third.

In an attempt to boost ratings, ABC decided to treat mid-season as a whole new season, promoted as "the Second Season." The network cancelled several shows and changed the time slots of others. Of course, to create their so-called "Second Season," ABC needed shows. This meant that Batman would have to debut a whole nine months earlier, in either late December or early January. Beyond Batman, the other new shows debuting on ABC's "Second Season" were a spy spoof starring Red Buttons (The Double Life of Henry Phyfe), The Blue Light, and The Baron (not actually a new show, but a British import). Of ABC's "Second Season" shows that debuted in January 1966, only Batman survived.

Not only would Batman have to debut nine months earlier than expected, the show also proved very expensive at the time. The pilot, " Hi Diddle Riddle/Smack in the Middle" cost $500,000. The average episode cost $75,000, even though ABC only allotted $65,000 per episode. This meant that Batman, like many television shows, would not make a profit until syndication. At the time the production of Batman was so extensive that 20th Century Fox did not have room for the show. This meant that the studio had to rent space at what is now called the Culver Studios, but was then owned by Desilu. As to the exterior of stately Wayne Manor, it was actually a home at 380 South San Rafael Avenue in Pasadena, California. The actual house is truly a mansion with ten bedrooms and six bathrooms. Contrary to news reports in 2005, the house which stood in for Wayne Manor did not burn down. That was instead a home at 160 South San Rafael, where such shows as Topper and Murder She Wrote had filmed, but never anything featuring Batman.

Much of the reason that Batman proved to be such an expensive show was that it required the manufacture of more specialised sets and props than even the typical action show would have. The Batcave, with its computers, laboratory, and various gadgets, cost a whopping total of $800,000. Another cost was the Batmobile. It was in mid to late 1965 that 20th Century Fox contracted car designer Dean Jeffries to create the Batmobile for the series. He started customising a 1959 Cadillac for just that purpose. He then received the news that ABC wanted the show to debut in late December or early January. This meant that filming would commence before he could actually finish the car. Dean Jeffries was paid for his work. It was then that William Dozier turned to George Barris, who had already designed the Clampetts' truck on The Beverly Hillbillies, the Munsters Koach and Dragula for The  Munsters, and the 1928 Porter for My Mother, the Car. Like Dean Jeffries, George Barris knew he could not design the Batmobile from scratch in the short time he was being allowed. Fortunately, he already had the perfect car to customise as the Batmobile. Among the cars in Barris' possession was a Lincoln Futura, a concept car built by the Lincoln division of Ford in 1955. The car featured hooded headlight pods and a double, bubble top. It had already appeared in a film, 1959's It Started with a Kiss with Debbie Reynolds. The design work was handled by an associate of George Barris,  Herb Grasse, and Barris hired Bill Cushenberry to make the metal modifications to the vehicle. Barris managed to complete the Batmobile in the three weeks he was allowed. The total cost of customisation was $30,000. Its estimated value at the time was $125,000 (today the Batmobile would cost $2 million). Ultimately five Batmobiles were made for the series, including one specifically for stunts. In addition to the Batcave and Batmobile, there were the characters' costumes, sets for Wayne Manor, Commissioner Gordon's office, and so on which all had to be designed.

As Batman was set to debut in January 1966, both ABC and 20th Century Fox had more to worry about than its sheer cost. Prior to the show's debut ABC ran a test screening of the pilot before an audience.At the time the test screening may have been the worst in the history of television. Batman scored only a 52 in the test, with 62 as a passing grade. ABC suggested to William Dozier and the other producers that they add a laugh track. With a laugh track it did no better. The test screening placed ABC in a precarious position, as they had already ordered thirteen episodes of the series. William Dozier remained confident that the test screenings were wrong, even vowing to get out of the television business if Batman failed. According to Adam West in Back to the Batcave, the test screening was so disastrous that the evaluation cards were never read. They were simply shredded and ABC vowed to keep the results a secret. As a side note, it must be noted that Batman was not the only classic show to have a bad test screening. Both The Monkees and The Mary Tyler Moore Show tested poorly before audiences!

Although regarded by many as a classic today, perhaps it is not surprising that Batman should have tested poorly before audiences. After all, Batman was a very different show from anything which had aired before. It was a highly stylised show. In fact, it was very nearly a comic book on film. Fight scenes would be accompanied by colourful overlays of  words from "Bam!" to "Wam!" In all, 84 different words were used through the show's run.  The series also exploited colour to its fullest extent (colour still being fairly new to network television, especially ABC). Numerous lighting gels in bright colours were used. Back drops of such bright colours as orange and purple were utilised often. Scenes with the villains would often be filmed at a Dutch angle, a cinematographic technique to show madness or psychological tension. For transitions between scenes, the series used the Batman insignia against a spinning background (an idea borrowed from previous fad show The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which used a whip pan for transitions). Aired twice a week (on Wednesday night and Thursday night), the first half of an episode aired on Wednesday would end in a cliffhanger, which would be resolved in the second half of the episode on Thursday night. The series also featured a narrator, who used the same style of breathless narration as in the serials of old. He would often conclude the cliffhangers with the words, "Tune in tomorrow—-same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!"

The narrator was never credited on the series, although on the show's 1966 soundtrack album he is credited as "Desmond Doomsday." In truth the narrator was none other than Wiliam Dozier himself. According to Dozier in the book Batmania II, they had tested several individuals as the narrator and none proved satisfactory. Finally, the sound mixer told Dozier he sounded better than everyone they had tested, and asked why he didn't just take the part himself. According to William Self, Vice-President/20th Century Fox Television at the time, Dozier wanted to maintain his membership in the Screen Actors Guild, because of their health plan. He also said that if Dozier had not been good at the narration, they would not have let him done it.

Beyond its rather unique, comic book, pop art style, Batman was one of the few comedies on the air at the time without a laugh track (later in its run The Monkees would be another). There can be little doubt that much of the reason the series lacked a laugh track was that the screen test including one fared no better than the one without one. The primary reason for the lack of a laugh track, however, is most likely that the laugh track would have spoiled the show for kids. For children Batman was intended to be an adventure show. A laugh track would have established the series as clearly being a comedy, thus spoiling the illusion for children. 

With a series that was as decidedly different as Batman, and one that had tested very poorly with audiences, ABC realised they could not sit idly by and let the show sink or swim on its own merit. The network then launched a massive advertising campaign in support of the series, centred around the slogan "Batman is Coming." Well ahead of the series' debut there were promos for Batman on ABC nearly every hour on the hour. There were numerous newspaper advertisements and even billboards for the new show. ABC even hired a skywriter to emblazon the slogan "Batman is Coming" above the Rose Bowl. The advertising campaign alone for Batman cost millions of dollars. Indeed, there may have been more publicity for Batman than any mid-season replacement in the history of television. The earliest newspaper articles on the new series appeared in September 1965, a full three months before its debut. News on the Batman continued to hit newspapers until in December 1965 it was nearly impossible to avoid news on the upcoming show.

By the time Batman was set to debut, ABC was more than a little nervous. The show had been very expensive to make. Worse yet, it had nearly catastrophic test screenings. To complicate matters, airing at 7:30 PM Eastern/6:30 PM Central on both Wednesday and Thursday night, Batman was ABC's lead in for its prime time programming on two nights. Failure for the show could cost ABC, who could lose two nights worth of viewers for the network and drive its ratings even lower. It would be understandable, then, if ABC executives had sat with fingers crossed when Batman debuted on January 12, 1966. As it turned out, they need not have worried. On the very night of its premiere, Batman was a hit.