Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Holy Digital Video Disk, Batman! The Classic Sixties Series Finally Comes to DVD

Earlier today comedian and talk show host Conan O'Brien leaked the news that fans of the Sixties TV show Batman have been waiting to hear for years. Quite simply, Warner Brothers Home Entertainment will be releasing the complete series on DVD later this year. Mr. O'Brien's tweet was later confirmed as true by both Warner Brothers Home Entertainment and DC Comics. In some respects the timing of the DVD's release could not be more fitting, as 2014 will mark the 75th anniversary of the Caped Crusader.

For many it must have seemed as if Batman would never reach DVD. Quite simply, the show has been at the centre of a legal struggle between 20th Century Fox (who produced the show) and Warner Brothers (whose parent company, Time Warner, owns DC Comics and hence the character of Batman) for years. The Sixties series Batman came about in 1965 when the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) approached 20th Century Fox about producing a TV programme based on the comic book character Batman (who was owned by National Periodical Publications, now known as DC Comics). 20th Century Fox then turned to producer William Dozier and his company Greenway Productions to actually produce the show. Batman debuted on 12 January 1966 and became an outright fad. The fad eventually burned itself out, but not before the show had run two and a half seasons with a total of 120 episodes.

In 1967, while Batman was still on the air, National Periodical Publications was bought by Kinney National Company. It was in 1969 that Kinney National Company bought Warner Bros.-Seven Arts. It was in 1971 that Kinney National Company divested itself of its assets unrelated to entertainment and renamed itself Warner Communications. The end result was that Warner Communications now owned National Periodical Publications (who officially renamed itself DC Comics in 1977 after decades of being known informally by that name), as well as all of its characters. Of course, in 1990 Warner Communications would merge with Time Inc. to become Time Warner.

Given the fact that Batman was produced by both 20th Century Fox and William Dozier's Greenway Productions for ABC, the rights for the television show were probably complicated to begin with. The fact that the characters portrayed on the show were owned by yet another entity (DC Comics, which is owned by Time Warner) would only complicate matters even more. It should be no surprise that a struggle over rights would then ensue between the companies who own the actual footage for the TV show and the company who owns the characters.

Of course, given the apparent entanglements for rights over the TV series, it must seem odd that the 1966 feature film spun off from the show has long been out on DVD. It was first released on DVD in 2001 and then released on Blu-Ray and re-released on DVD in  2008. It seems possible that the rights issues regarding the film were more easily resolved than those pertaining to the TV series. Indeed, at the very least ABC would have no rights to the feature film, reducing the number of companies involved to three (20th Century Fox, Greenway Productions, and Time-Warner).

Regardless of why Batman has been kept off DVD for so long, today's news is very good for fans of Sixties television. The television series has maintained a large following over the years and, even after several more serious movies featuring the character, it remains one of the most popular interpretations of the Caped Crusader. Now if only The Beatles cartoon would only be released on DVD....

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