Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Batman Turns 75 Part Three: Television, Radio, and Other Media

This past Sunday, 30 March 2014, marked 75 years since Batman's first appearance in Detective Comics #27, May 1939. Almost immediately following his first appearance he became one of the most popular superheroes of the Golden Age. His popularity would fluctuate over the years, but since the late Eighties it seems quite possible that he could be the most popular superhero in the world, having long ago surpassed Superman for the title. Batman would not only be popular in comic books,but would eventually conquer film as well. The movies The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises both rank in the top twenty of the highest grossing films worldwide. Not surprisingly, Batman would conquer other media as well, including radio, books, video games, and most notably television.

Indeed, many people may well remember Batman best from television. It was on 12 January 1966 that the TV show Batman debuted on ABC. It was a hit upon its debut receiving a phenomenal 27.3/49 rating in the Nielsens. In the following weeks its success grew until it was an outright fad. For much of 1966 it was impossible to not to go through a day without hearing something about the Caped Crusader.

Of course, what is not as well known is that the Batman TV series of the Sixties was not the first attempt to bring the Caped Crusader to the small screen. It was around 1964 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 (the company now known as DC Comics). A Batfan in his youth, Ed Graham planned a straightforward adventure series for children starring Batman, not unlike the Fifties show The Adventures of Superman. Former NFL linebacker Mike Henry, who would go onto play Tarzan in three films, was even set to play the Caped Crusader. In March 1965 Ed Graham Productions very nearly closed a deal with CBS for the Batman series, but negotiations soon broke down. It would be Ed Graham's last real chance to launch a Batman TV series, as others would develop their own ideas for a TV series starring the Caped Crusader.

In early 1965 all fifteen chapters of the serial The Batman (1943) were edited together and released as An Evening with Batman and Robin. An Evening with Batman and Robin proved somewhat successful, playing at art theatres and in college towns alike. Among the places it was screened was the the Playboy Mansion in Chicago. It was at the Playboy Mansion that East Coast ABC executive Yale Udoff saw An Evening with Batman and Robin. A Batman fan when he was young, Mr. Udoff contacted  West Coast ABC executives Harve Bennett and Edgar J. Scherick. Messrs. Bennett and Scherick were already considering a television show based on a comic strip, comic book, or radio show. The three of them decided to go forward with a Batman TV show, which at the time they conceived  a serious but tongue in cheek series along the lines of the then popular Man From U.N.C.L.E.

ABC contacted the studio 20th Century Fox about producing a Batman series. 20th Century Fox turned to William Dozier and his company Greenway Productions to actually produce the series. Together they bought an option to produce a Batman series from National Periodical Publications. While ABC conceived Batman as a serious but tongue and cheek series, William Dozier developed other ideas. William Dozier read a few Batman comic books and decided that there was little chance of adults taking a show about a man dressed up as a bat seriously. It was then that he decided to take a different approach to the show. Quite simply, Batman would be a comedy.

To develop the show William Dozier hired Lorenzo Semple Jr. Mr. Semple developed Batman so that it would work on two levels. For adults it would be a spoof of superhero conventions, complete with extremely strait-laced heroes, over the top villains, and incredible death traps. For children it would be an adventure show, complete with, well, extremely strait-laced heroes, over the top villains, and incredible death traps. It was Lorenzo Semple Jr. who refined the show's pop art sensibility and high camp approach. In its first two seasons Batman aired twice a week (once on Wednesday and once on Thursday), with the Wednesday night episode ending in a cliffhanger that would be resolved on the Thursday night episode.

Adam West was cast in the role of Batman. Mr. West had guest starred on several Western TV shows in the Fifties and had a regular role on The Detectives Starring Robert Taylor. The role of Robin went to a total unknown at the time, Burt Ward, who had no experience acting. Other roles on the show would be filled by film and television veterans: Alan Napier as Alfred, Neil Hamilton as Commissioner Gordon, and Stafford Repp as Chief O'Hara. The villains on Batman would be played by some of the biggest names in show business: Frank Gorshin as The Riddler, Burgess Meredith as The Penguin, Caesar Romero as The Joker, Julie Newmar as Catwoman, and so on.

As mentioned earlier Batman proved to be a smash hit upon its debut and grew into an outright fad. For the week of 13 February the Thursday night episode of Batman was the number one rated show on television,with a rating of 28.5. The Wednesday night episode came in fifth with a rating of  26.5. Beyond garnering high ratings for ABC (always a constant third to CBS and NBC in the Sixties), Batman also proved to be merchandising bonanza has never seen before. There were Batman toys, costumes, games, Batman toothbrushes, Batman wristwatches, Batman mugs, a lunchbox, and many other items. Batman would account for $150 million worth of merchandise sold in 1966 alone.

It was the success of the Batman TV series that would lead to Batman's first feature film. Before the television debuted William Dozier had wanted to do a feature film to promote the show, a plan that was vetoed by 20th Century Fox. With the show a smash hit, however, a feature film seemed a good way to capitalise on the show's popularity in the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada, and s a means of promoting the show in foreign markets where it had not yet aired. The movie Batman premiered on 30 July 1966 in the United States and did respectfully well at the box office.

Unfortunately, like many fads the Batman fad of the mid-Sixties burned itself out very swiftly. A top ten show for the year in its first season, Batman did not even rank in the top thirty shows for its second season. In an effort to boost ratings the character Batgirl was added to the show, with Yvonne Craig in the role. Sadly, even Batgirl could not save the show. Batman dropped as low as 48th in the ratings. In January 1968 ABC cancelled what was the smash hit of 1966. Batman went off the air on 14 March 1968.

While Batman left the air after only a little over two years, it would persist in syndication ever since. It also had a lasting impact on the comic books. In the comic books the character of Bruce Wayne's butler Alfred had been killed off. His presence on the show resulted in him being resurrected in the comic books. Catwoman had not appeared in the comic books since 1954. Her appearance on the TV show resulted in her appearing in the comic books for the first time in 12 years. Because of the popularity of Catwoman on the show, William Dozier encouraged National Periodical Publications to introduce more female characters who could be used on the show. The result was that the comic book company created the character of Batgirl, who was later incorporated on the TV show.

Batman's next appearance on television would occur while the Batman TV show of the Sixties was still on the air. During the 1966-1967 season the production company Filmation had seen great success with a Saturday morning cartoon starring the Man of Steel, The New Adventures of Superman. They would follow this success up with The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure during the 1967-1968 season. In the wake of the success of the live action Batman series on ABC, Filmation believed a Saturday morning cartoon featuring Batman and Robin could be a success.

It was then on 14 September 1968 that The Batman/Superman Hour debuted on CBS. The Batman portion of the programme consisted of two different sorts of stories. One roughly followed the format of the live action show, with a single story airing in two 6 1/2 minute shorts, with the first ending in a cliffhanger. The other stories were 6 1/2 minute segments. Unlike the live action series, the Batman segments of The Batman/Superman Hour were not played for humour. One classic villain from the comic books who did not appear in the live action show did appear on The Batman/Superman Hour. The Scarecrow appeared in one segment. For the 1969-1970 the Batman segments from The Batman/Superman Hour were repackaged as a half hour programme entitled The Adventures of Batman. It aired on Sunday morning on CBS.

Once The Adventures of Batman went off the air, the Caped Crusader would find himself without his own show for some time. This did not mean he was entirely absent from American airwaves. Batman and Robin (voiced by Olan Soule and Casey Kasem) "guest starred" on two episodes of  The New Scooby-Doo Movies on CBS in the 1972-1973 season. Starting in the 1973-1974 season Batman and Robin were part of the cast of Super Friends, along with Superman, Aquaman, and Wonder Woman. The series would go through various incarnations until 1986, with such titles as The All-New Super Friends Hour, Challenge of the Super Friends, The World's Greatest Super Friends, Super Friends: The Legendary Super Powers Show, and The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians. Throughout every title and format change Batman remained a part of the cast. Batman was voiced by Olan Soule until 1984's SuperFriends: The Legendary Super Powers Show, where upon television's original Batman, Adam West, took over. Both The New Scooby-Doo Movies and Super Friends were produced by Hanna-Barbera.

Curiously given the fact that Batman and Robin were appearing on Super Friends at the time, a new Batman cartoon was produced by Filmation debuted in 1977. The New Adventures of Batman reunited Adam West and Burt Ward as the voices of Batman and Robin respectively. The series also featured the character Bat-Mite from the late Fifties comic books. Bat-Mite was an imp from another dimension who adulated Batman, even down to wearing a similar costume. In many respects the show could be considered a continuation of the live action series, down to the same exaggerated situations and camp, although it was hardly as well done. While no new episodes were made after the 1977-1978 season, reruns would air as parts of other Filmation shows until 1981.

It was in 1979 that Adam West and Burt Ward once more reprised their roles as Batman and Robin for a pair of live action television specials produced by Hanna-Barbera. Legends of the Superheroes also featured Frank Gorshin as The Riddler, as well as DC Comics heroes ranging from The Flash to Green Lantern.  Unfortunately the two specials were played for comedy that was so bad that many consider the two specials to be among the worst television programmes of all time. The first special had a semblance of a plot, with the heroes trying to stop the villains from destroying the world. The second special was truly bizarre. It was a roast of the sort Dean Martin once did, only with superheroes instead of celebrities. Even given the poor quality of the movie serials of the Forties and the feature film Batman and Robin (1997), many fans consider Legends of the Superheroes the low point of Batman's career.

Beyond appearing in the various Super Friends shows, Batman would largely be absent from television in the Eighties. Fortunately, when Batman returned to television it would be in a show considerably better than Legends of the Superheroes. In fact, Batman: The Animated Series is considered by some to be the best interpretation of the Dark Knight outside of comic books. The series was developed by two veterans of Warner Brothers' Tiny Toon Adventures, Bruce Timm and  Eric Radomski. Messrs. Timm and Radomski drew upon the recent films Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992) and the classic Flesicher Studios Superman cartoons for the look of the series. Batman: The Animated Series initially aired weekdays on the Fox Television Network and was considerably more adult than previous superhero cartoons. Indeed, despite the fact that the character had first appeared in cartoons in 1968, Batman: The Animated Series was the first to portray Batman as a dark avenger of the night.

Kevin Conroy was the voice of Batman on the show and has gone onto voice Batman in animation and video games to this day.  The rest of the cast was rounded out by some well known names.  Efrem Zimbalist Jr. provided the voice of Alfred, while Bob Hastings provided the voice of Commissioner Gordon. Mark Hamill provided the voice of The Joker, a role he would reprise in video games and various other animated series. Loren Lester was the voice of Robin on the show.

Batman: The Animated Series proved highly successful and led to the theatrical film Batman: The Mask of the Phantasm, released in 1993. It would be followed by two more feature films based on the show, which were released direct to video: Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero (1998) and Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman ( 2003).  Batman: The Animated Series ended its original run on Fox in 1995. That having been said, The New Batman Adventures, which debuted in 1997 on The WB's Saturday morning schedule, could be considered a continuation of the show. Essentially the same production team worked on the show, with Kevin Conroy, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., and Bob Hastings returning as Batman, Alfred, and Commissioner Gordon respectively. Joining the cast were Mathew Valencia as Robin (Tim Drake), Tara Strong as Batgirl, and Loren Lester as Nightwing (Dick Grayson). The New Batman Adventures aired until 1999.  Batman would also make three guest appearances on Superman: The Animated Series.

Batman: The Animated Series would have a lasting impact on the comic books. The series gave The Joker a female sidekick called Harley Quinn, voiced by Arlene Sorkin. Harley Quinn was only supposed to appear once on the show, but proved so popular that she went onto appear several more times on the show. Eventually she found her way into the comic books, where she became one of Batman's major opponents.

Batman would next appear in 1999 in the animated series Batman Beyond, although it would be an entirely different take on Batman than had been done before. Batman Beyond was set in a future where Bruce Wayne had retired and given the mantle of Batman over to teenager Terry McGinnis. Kevin Conroy returned as the voice of Bruce Wayne, with Will Friedle providing the voice Terry McGinnis. Like Batman: The Animated Series before it, Batman Beyond was considerably more adult than superhero cartoons before it. Like Batman: The Animated Series it also received its share of acclaim. In 2000 a feature film based on the series, Return of The Joker, was released direct to video. For a time Warner Brothers even considered alive action feature film based on the show. Batman Beyond ran until 2001 on The WB.

It was about the time that Batman Beyond debuted that film director Tim McCanlies wrote a pilot for a show called Bruce Wayne that would feature the character as a teenager before he became Batman. The show would have essentially shown how Bruce Wayne picked up the skills necessary to become the Dark Knight.  The prospective series was killed when Warner Brothers decided to go ahead with another Batman movie.  Tollin/Robbins Productions, who would have produced the show, went onto produce a show about a teenage Clark Kent instead--Smallville.

Batman, once more voiced by Kevin Conroy, would appear in the animated series Justice League, which ran from 2001 to 2004 on the Cartoon Network. Kevin Conroy also provided the voice of Batman on the successor to Justice League, Justice League Unlimited. It ran on the Cartoon Network from 2004 to 2006. Batman, again voiced by Kevin Conroy, also guest starred in several episodes of the animated series Static Shock, which aired on The WB from 2000 to 2004.

Batman was not a part of the short lived show Birds of Prey that aired in 2002 on The WB, although the show was based in the Batman mythos. Based on the comic book of the same name, Birds of Prey starred Dina Meyer as Barbara Gordon, who retired as Batgirl after being paralysed by a gunshot from The Joker. Barbara Gordon then took the identity of Oracle and formed a team of crimefighters consisting of The Huntress (Ashley Scott) and Dinah Redmond. Bruce Wayne's former butler Alfred serves at the team's butler. Batman only appeared briefly in the first episode and had been missing from Gotham City for some time.

In 2004 another animated series debuted, The Batman. Batman was voiced by  Rino Romano, with Alfred voiced by Alastair Duncan.Mitch Pileggi voiced Commissioner Gordon. The Batman centred on the Dark Knight's early career, when he had only been fighting crime for three years.  The Batman saw the Dark Knight face many of his rogue's gallery for the first time, including  The Joker (voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson),  Catwoman (voiced by Gina Gershon),  Hugo Strange (voiced by Frank Gorshin), and so on. As the show unfolded Batman would be joined in his fight against crime by Batgirl (voiced by Danielle Judovits) and later Robin (voiced by Evan Sabara). The Batman ran from 2004 to 2006 on The WB and then from 2006 to 2008 on The CW.

The Batman would be followed almost immediately by the animated series Batman: The Brave and The Bold. Batman: The Brave and The Bold took its name from the comic book The Brave and The Bold, which ran from 1955 to 1983. From 1967 onwards The Brave and The Bold was a title in which Batman teamed up with other superheroes. Like the comic book, then, Batman: The Brave and The Bold featured Batman teaming up with other characters. During the run of the show Batman (voiced by Diedrich Bader) teamed up with such characters as The Green Lantern, The Flash, The Blue Beetle, The Green Arrow, The Atom, and so on. The over all tone was lighter than previous Batman animated series, Batman: The Brave and The Bold ran from 2008 to 2011.

The next Batman TV series would be the first to be computer generated. Beware The Batman was set during Batman's early career. He was joined in fighting crime by Tatsu Yamashiro, a swordmaster who as a superhero goes by the name Katana (she was a member of the DC Comics superhero team The Outsiders). The voices were provided by Anthony Ruivivar as Batman, J. B. Blanc as Alfred, Sumalee Montano as Katana, and Kurtwood Smith as Lt. Gordon. Beware The Batman debuted on the Cartoon Network on 13 July 2013. On 11 October 2013 the Cartoon Network put the show on hiatus. While no new episodes have appeared on the Cartoon Network since that time, new episodes of the show are airing on tvnz in New Zealand.

A new television series based in the Batman mythos is currently in production and set to debut in the fall of 2014. Gotham centres on Detective. James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) as he investigates the murder of prominent Gotham City citizens Thomas and Martha Wayne. The show will also feature David Mazouz as the young Bruce Wayne and Sean Pertwee as Alfred. Some of Batman's rogues gallery are already set to appear, with The Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) as a low level gangster and Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova), who is a street thief and yet to become The Catwoman.

While Batman has appeared frequently on television, he has also appeared in radio shows. In 1943 a Batman radio show was proposed, but it never materialised. All that survives is a script entitled "The Case of the Drowning Seal". It is unclear whether it was ever recorded.

While Batman did not receive his own radio show in 1943, he did appear somewhat regularly on the radio show The Adventures of Superman. It was in the 1 March 1945 episode of the radio show that Superman met Batman and Robin for the first time. Batman and Robin would go onto appear on The Adventures of Superman in 12 more episodes, at times carrying the show all by themselves without the presence of the Man of Steel.

In 1950 a pilot for a radio show called The Batman Mystery Club was recorded. The pilot's title was "The Monster of Dumphrey's Hall". Despite its name The Batman Mystery Club actually had little to do with the comic books. Batman ("also known as Bruce Wayne") is not a grim avenger of the knight, but instead an investigator who debunks reports of supernatural activity. "The Batman Mystery Club" of the title is a group of kids with whom Batman and Robin meet, with the mission "to prove ghosts and apparitions are only figments of man's imagination". Not only did the radio show pilot depart entirely from the comic books, but it was not even very interesting. It should be little wonder it did not sell.

While Batman never received his own regular radio show, two radio dramas would air in the United Kingdom. In 1989, in honour of the character's 50th anniversary, radio producer Dirk Maggs directed The Lazarus Syndrome. It aired on BBC Radio 4 and featured Bob Sessions as the voice of Batman and Michael Gough reprising his role of Alfred from the movies. Dirk Maggs directed a second Batman radio drama in 1994, an adaptation of the comic book storyline "Knightfall". It serialised on BBC Radio 5 as a segment of The Mark Goodier Show.

Batman would also appear in a number of audio dramas released on vinyl records over the years. The first were the result of the success of the Batman TV show in 1966 and were released on MGM's "Leo the Lion" label. In all two vinyl LPs were released, each with three adventures each. In the Seventies Power Records would release audio dramas featuring Batman, both with and without comic books included. They released both 45 rpm records and 33 1/3 rpm records featuring Batman. In all about fifteen records were released.

More recently GraphicAudio has released audiobooks featuring Batman. They have released adaptations of the novels  Batman: Dead White by John Shirley,  Batman: Inferno by Alex Irvine, and Batman: The Stone King by Alan Grant.

Batman has also figured in popular music. In 1966 the Batman Original Soundtrack album was released, featuring music from the 1966 television 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. In 1966 Jan and Dean recorded an original album, Jan and Dean Meet Batman, featuring a cover of the TV theme and original songs inspired by the character.

Jan and Dean were not the only musical artists to try to capitalise on 1960's Batmania. Peggy Lee released a single called "That Man" in 1966. Although the song does not mention Batman by name, it makes several references to the character and includes such comic book onomatopoeic words as "zowie". Members of Sun Ra and The Blues Project recorded an album entitled Batman and Robin using the name "The Sensational Guitars of Dan and Dale". The album featured a cover of the Batman theme as well as original compositions. The British satirical band The Scaffold released a song entitled, "Goodbat, Nightman". The cast of Batman even released a few novelty records, including Burt Ward with "Boy Wonder, I Love You", Frank Gorshin with "The Riddler", and so on.

Of course, comic books originated as reprints of newspaper comic strips, so that it would be natural for Batman to find his way into several newspaper strips over the years. The first newspaper strip was Batman and Robin. The comic strip was distributed by the McClure Syndicate and first appeared in October 1943. Batman co-creator Bob Kane served as the penciler on the strip, while Charlie Paris inked it. Interestingly enough, while the Batcave (called "the Bat's Cave") first appeared in the 1943 serial The Batman, it first saw print in the comic strip. The newspaper strip Batman and Robin would not last long. It ended its run in November 1946 after only a little over 3 years.

A second Batman newspaper strip appeared in 1953 as part of the Sunday newspaper supplement Arrow, the Family Comic Weekly. Arrow, the Family Weekly only lasted a few months before folding. The scripts for the 1953 Batman comic strip were written by none other than Walter Gibson, best known as the creator of the pulp magazine The Shadow.

Another Batman newspaper strip would appear in 1966 in the wake of the success of the TV show Batman. Batman with Robin the Boy Wonder was distributed by the Ledger Syndicate. Batman with Robin the Boy Wonder started out with the same campy style as the TV show, but turned more serious once the show went off the air. It was originally scripted by Whitney Ellsworth, then by E. Nelson Bridwell. The Sunday strip ended in 1969, although the daily strip would run until 1974. Interestingly enough Batman and Robin would disappear from the strip towards the end of its run due to a dispute between the Ledger Syndicate and DC Comics. Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson would continue to appear in the strip, though only as supporting characters to a hero called Galexo.

Batman would appear as one of the cast of characters in the newspaper strip The World's Greatest Superheroes in the early days of its run. First appearing in the strip when it debuted in 1978, he last appeared in it in 1981.  It was distributed by the Chicago Tribune/New York News Syndicate.

It would be the 1989 movie Batman that would lead to Batman's next and final newspaper strip. It was distributed by the Creators Syndicate and debuted on 6 November 1989. Batman would not prove to be a success. It lasted only a little under two years, ending its run on 3 August 1991.

Batman would also appear in a few books over the years. Not surprisingly, the very first were published in connection with the television show in the Sixties. Signet released collections of reprints from the Batman comic books (Batman vs. The Joker, Batman vs. The Penguin, et. al.). The New American Library published an original novel based on the TV series, Batman vs. Three Villains of Doom, as well as a novelization of the 1966 feature film (under the title Batman vs. the Fearsome Foursome).

Batman would also appear in a few more novels over the years. In 1995 the novel Batman: The Ultimate Evil by  Andrew Vachss was published. It was followed by Batman: Dead White by John Shirley in 2005, Batman: Inferno by Michael Reaves and Steven-Elliot in 2006, and Batman: Fear Itself by Michael Reaves and Steven-Elliot in 2007. The 2009 novel Enemies and Allies featured both Batman and Superman and was set in the United States during the 1950's. There have also been novelizations of the feature films.

Over the years several video games based on Batman have been released, to the point that there are far too many to list. The first was Batman, released in 1986. Every Batman film released since the 1989 feature has had video games based upon it, usually more than one. With Batman Begins in 2006 there have also been several games for mobile devices based on the character.

Almost immediately following his debut in 1939 Batman became one of the most popular superheroes in comic books. Within four years of his first appearance in comic books Batman was already appearing on movie screens and in newspapers. Over the years Batman would expand into other media, including radio, television, books, video games, and so on. In the end it is quite possible that Batman has appeared in more individual products of the media than any other superhero, even Superman. Indeed, since the Eighties it seems quite possible that Batman has become the most popular individual superhero in the world. That being the case, it seems likely he will continue to appear in media other than comic books.

3 comments:

Loren Lester said...

Actually I was a regular part of Batman: The Animated Series as "Robin" (Dick Grayson) appearing in 30 episodes of that show and then in 8 episodes of The New Batman Adventures as "Nightwing" (Dick Grayson.)

Terence Towles Canote said...

Thanks for letting me know, Mr. Lester! I've changed the post accordingly. :-)

Loren Lester said...

Thanks and keep up the good work.