Thursday, May 26, 2011

Batman, 1966: Pros and Cons?

Doug: Today's Open Forum is a pretty simple question -- what was right, and what was wrong, with the Batman television show that ran on ABC during the years that many of us were born?

I'll start. The Batman television show, along with Super Friends and reruns of the 1966 Marvel Super-Heroes and the 1967 Spider-Man cartoon, were my "live action" (and given that three of my examples are animated, I mean moving pictures) introduction to the characters I was already enjoying in the comics. Even as a 6 or 7 year-old, I was certainly aware that Batman and Super Friends were watered down from what I was currently enjoying; the Marvel Super-Heroes was captivating, as I'd yet to fully understand the long history of Marvel Comics. But Batman was amazing to me -- it was so bright and colorful, and the over-the-top characters really drew me in. It was pretty whitebread story-wise, but the cliffhangers were enthralling! Now, looking through the lens of an adult, I certainly recognize it for what it was, and am fully aware of the damage it's done to the comic book genre in the eyes of the general public. Hey, is there an article about a movie heading into production that is not dotted with the obligatory "Bam!" or "Biff!"? Nope.

Now, the YouTube video I've included is certainly going to incite the haters among you, but I'd offer that for me, it's part of the nostalgic charm of the show. But it's on you now -- have at it!


Inkstained Wretch said...

Count me among the haters. The Adam West series poisoned the well for comic book adaptations for a long, long time.

Granted, there is an inherent ridiculousness to a grown man dressing as a bat and fighting crime that even the Christian Bale films haven't completely licked. And the Adam West series creators' main resource was the Dick Sprang-era Batman stories, so the source material was campy to start with. So there are mitigating factors ...

... And then I see the clip you posted and I pray to God to strike me blind.

Here's a thought: Compare it to the old George Reeves Superman series. While cheaper and with even poorer special effects, that series never condescended to the source material the way the 60s Batman series did and it still managed to find an audience. The same can be said for the Super-Friends in the 70s.

The 60s series made it impossible for even open-minded people to view Batman -- and by extension all other comics -- as anything other than a goofy joke. It took 20 years and the Tim Burton film before that was turned around.

david_b said...

I'm sure the contributors after me will offer far more captivating opinions on our beloved prime-time cape crusaders.

Basically, per Adam West himself, it embraced the 'Theater of the Absurd'. Like Rodenberry being able get away with topical messages past censors if you use aliens and planets, Dozer was able to operate on many levels by disquising this as a entertaining, hip kids show. Yet it generated sustained excitement with the 'Pows' and 'Biffs' to keep viewership and sponsors happy. It made the 'BATcraze'. You only had 3 B's in the 60s: Beatles, Bond, and Batman.

To me the key was how it cleverly melded the 'stately Wayne Manor' subplots and scenes with the absurd villains and plots. West said the 'Aunt Harriet' character was key to the show's charm and he was absolutely right.

Once the series went to 30min stories in the third season, it got boring because the balance was gone, production expenses were slashed, and the script plotters got lazy. Unfortunately, the one critic who lamented that 'if you saw one Batman episode, you've seen them all..' became correct.

I do love how Hollywood embraced the show with all the big-name cameos in the window, like Jerry Lewis and Sammy Davis Jr. Apparently ol' Frank Sinatra wanted a cameo, but couldn't get one scheduled.

It was a time of innocent, coy, playful fun, wrapped in a nifty action series. No overt sexual innuendoes, but Ms. Newmar's role as Catwoman was.. extremely memorable.

david_b said...

Reviewing the comments more.., I don't believe the television series hurt the integrity of the stories, but was (at the time..) a generally-welcomed reimaging. Before the daggers fly, allow me to share facts as I know them.

In the year prior to the show's premiere, DC was strongly considering cancelling the Batman comic, due to low sales. The banal, insipid stories with Bat-Mite, Bat-Hound, all the sci-fi planetary excursions, had not done the characters ANY good. If you reread those stories.. Where was the 'mysterious and scary' Dark Knight then..?

The 'new look' gave the comic a fresh, more contemporary look. Yes, the series and comic did dovetail into each other, that's a 'duh' response, since it was the HOTTEST show for the first year, and sales once again ZOOMed up higher than ever. Give credit where credit is due, please. The 60s 'mod style' was already being marketed by Madison Avenue and everywhere at the time, so it naturally permeated into campy comics and it's what people wanted (hence, it's high ratings and comic sales..).

When the decade winded down, when the excesses of the 60s style had run it's course, the new direction towards more urban, serious story-telling came forth. Along with that came the critics decrying the lack of serious Batman stories.

But where were they before the TV series started.., when it was 'interplanetary Batman'..?

Doug said...

How influential was the show in touching off the Bronze Age? With the points already made, one could certainly argue that the O'Neil/Adams collaborations on both Batman and GL/GA came about as a result of this comedic approach, and the revision of the Comics Code Authority is perhaps a result even of their work. Factor in a more serious tone over at Marvel and the explosion of experimentation in different genres and formats, and maybe this show ends up being a winner.

Inkstained, you make a great point about the 1950's Superman show.

As David says, Batman was directly tied to the history in which it was created... but what was its influence?


david_b said...

Doug, Inkstained.., yeaaahh, sorry, another comment..:

The "explosion of experimentation" as Doug mentioned is interesting. As a commenter mentioned yesterday, it's down to.. Money. Which, I add, stems from Demand.

The Batman TV series rejuvenated hoopla and demand as never before seen in comics. Comic sales were at a very low point in the early 60s. You can degrade the silliness of the series, but no one can deny it's overwhelming impact on the comics industry, bringing forth creativity, new artists, new excitement into the public consciousness.

Did Marvel cash in..?? Sure it did. We got all the Marvel animated shows, which birthed my interest in superheroes. Other series like 'Green Hornet' premiered as well, and everyone said hello to Captain Action.

Not to say that other more initially serious shows like 'Lost in Space' and U.N.C.L.E didn't suffer under the campy undertones, but they delivered what the networks wanted (LIS's ratings were actually higher in the third season, if you care to check stats..).

So to me, it greatly helped rejuvenated a then-dismal market, and pole-vaulted the creativity started only a few years prior.

J.A. Morris said...

I like the 1966 series, it's currently running on the Hub network, if anyone gets that channel. Yeah, some episodes hold up better than others, but it's still fun.

I love Olan Soule, Kevin Conroy and Diedrich Bader's take on Batman's voice, but to this day, whenever I read a Batman story, it's the voice of Adam West I hear "speaking" Batman's dialogue(albeit in a more "serious" tone). Does anyone read Batman and "hear" Christian Bale's constipation scream?

I was born 5 years after the show premiered, but I always enjoyed the reruns. I believe the animated 'Sesame Street' segments was my intro to the character:

But I've always believed there should be room for "Fun Batman" and "Grim 'N Gritty angst-ridden Batman". I get tired of interior monologues about "protecting my city" and "keeping the scum off the streets".
For that reason, I was saddened to hear that the animated 'Brave And The Bold' series was canceled so Warner can produce a "more serious" animated series. Which is dumb, because 'Brave' dealt with some dark & serious subject matter.

Edo Bosnar said...

I will freely admit that I absolutely love the '60s Batman show. Always loved watching the reruns: when I was a little kid, when I was teenager in high school, in the dorms in college and I still do now. It's just so campy and so damn much fun (by the way, thanks for that video link - Bat-dancing rocks!) And like David said, as much as later generations of 'serious' fans may have complained, I really don't think it hurt the Batman franchise at all. And as for Julie Newmar - best live-action portrayal of Catwoman, ever.
Re: the '50s Superman series; since Inkstained brought it up, I'll plagiarize my own comment on the topic from another blog posted about a year ago: it basically featured a bunch of guys who looked like suburban, middle-aged accountants and bank managers, and every episode was about as exciting as watching said accountants and bank managers playing bridge with their wives...

Edo Bosnar said...

J.A., looks like we were posting at the same time - just wanted to say thanks for that link. I never even knew there were animated Batman shorts in Sesame Street.

J.A. Morris said...

I'm with Edo 100% on the George Reeves Superman series. I'm sure it was fun if you were a kid in the 50s, and Reeves does the best he can with the material. But I tried to watch is a kid and didn't get into it, tried again about 10 years ago and it still didn't work for me.
I enjoy 'Superman And The Mole Men', the movie with Reeves shot prior to the series, but that's about it for that version of the character.

Given the choice, I'll take the Kirk Alyn serials over the Reeves show any day.

Doug said...

No one better deny that the George Reeves guest appearance on I Love Lucy was awesome...


david_b said...

George Reeves' appearance on Lucy was superb.. Brilliant writing, playing up to Reeve's natural charm very, very well. It must have been a FUN boost for Mr. Reeves to do.

Doug, forgive me if I neglected your original question regarding impact on the Bronze Age..:

As I've mentioned already, the impact on the 60s comic industry birthed the Roy Thomas's, the Jim Sterankos, to move up and command creative control for brief, but immeasureable milestones in the Bronze Age, taking over for the Ditkos and Kirbys in the Silver.

'Course, DC I suspect had the worst adjustments/growth pains with the 'anti-hero' changing times post-TV Series.., such as the Titans and WW both eliminating their flashy outfits and shooting for more urban tales, Batman no longer having a campy stylings of a Batcave and now residing in a penthouse, 'course the GL/GA traveling adventures, leaving escapism far behind.

Most of this didn't last long, with Bronze Age kids still wanting heroes. Mego's first WGSH debuted in '72, a year before 'Super Friends' and conceptualised correcting the Captain Action shortcomings by having cheaper, multiple heroes than one face-changing hero.

Sorry for ALL the posts, but it's a great topic, Doug.. Still waiting for others to chime in!

Andy said...

As a kid, I thought it was just great seeing a superhero show that was colorful and action-packed and had so many vivid characters and gadgets.

As an adult, I think it's a hilarious camp comedy. I have a greater appreciate for the cast members' performances.

Somewhere in between, though, it took me awhile to make peace with it because I did resent thoroughly it dominated the wider audience's perception of Batman and comics in general. It's easier to enjoy it now that other takes on Batman and other superhero movies/tv shows have become accepted.

Gray said...

Gotta agree with Edo on this one. The Batman tv show was campy and hilarious and didnt affect the way I enjoyed the Dark Knight's comics in any of their incarnations. I grew up on the Aparo Batman, Mike Barr, Denny O Neill, and ultimately Frank Miller. And I enjoyed every interpretation, including Dematteis and Giffen's hilarious take. It's a shame about the Brave and the Bold series...I think that DC needs to find an interesting way to introduce their characters to younger demographics in a fun and enjoyable way.

Inkstained Wretch said...

It seems the series gets more love these days than I thought. Heck, I'll even admit that my attitude towards it has mellowed. I don't hate it as much as I used to. But I still hate it.

The notion that it served as a kind of gateway drug to regular comics , well ... there were plenty of other things that served that purpose at the time like the various different animated super-hero series, from the 60s Spiderman on forward, to the actual comic books themselves (this being the glory days of the spinner rack).

I just don't buy that the Adam West series had to be so intentionally goofy to succeed. The original Star Trek trod some of the same swinging 60s ground while only occassionally being cringe-inducingly awful. Most of that holds up pretty well in fact.

Batman however can only be enjoyed on the ironic level of a Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode. In my book, that's kind of sad.

Shane said...

As a kid, the TV show was a staple in my after school television viewing. I wasn't reading the comics as second grader in the early 70's so had nothing to compare it to. At that age, it was all superhero action and was too young to detect the camp. I'm not sure that without that show we would have had the surplus of superhero merchandise and cartoons in the 70's. The reruns were wildly popular which may have made way for the first Super-Friends installment, leading to Mego toys and playsets and a whole host of other goodies that I wish I still had to this day. If they ever get around to settling their licensing conflicts and release the series on DVD, I'll buy it, but more for the nostalgia factor rather than how I prefer to see my Batman portrayed. And I agree about Ms. Newmar. Rowr! Who didn't have a crush on her? Also, the series gave us the Barbara Gordon version of Batgirl which I think carried over very nicely into the comics.

david_b said...


I guess we'll all agree to disagree on some points. Per my thoughts (plentiful.., I know), I looked more at the industry sensation and what this show generated for the comics market. The show was at times, over-the-top, but 'goofy' wouldn't be the word I'd think of. It was tongue-in-cheek, and as mentioned, would go a bit overboard. I didn't care for most of the third year for this reason, as I mentioned earlier.

Doug, I finally got to watch the youtube video you posted (couldn't see it through work firewalls), and yes, you chose some of the outlandish, lowest-demonimator stuff, which anyone could do for Trek or any other show.

As you said, it was to incite the haters, so it wasn't chosen to represent the overall entertainment value. The best episodes for most fans were with Frank Gorshin and Julie Newmar, but that's alright.

The Groovy Agent said...

Andy's summation of his feelings toward the Batman TV show perfectly captures my feelings toward it as well. How many of us fall into the "loved it, resented it, love it" category?

As for its impact on 70s (and much of the 80s)comics, I think much of that time was spent trying to do two things (maybe one thing split into two parts, it's early...): to get out from under the "campy, biff! bam! pow!" stigma the Batman show buried comics under...and to win back those "fair-weather fans" who hopped on during Bat-mania by proving that comics could "grow up". Remember DC's "Comics aren't just for kids anymore" campaign?

Inkstained Wretch said...

For what it's worth gang, here is a hilarious article from rating the various men who have worn the cape and cowl:

ChrisPV said...

See, when I watch that clip I see Batman resist mental torture using a ludicrously complicated mental exercise, lull his opponents into a false sense of security, immediately get into a swordfight, and then commence to beat the crap out of a half dozen henchmen.

Seems pretty on par with Batman to me.

Doug said...

Everyone --

Thanks for the great conversation on the Batman TV show! This is just great -- don't stop now!


Redartz said...

I have very fond memories of the show; it was one of the few my parents let me watch at the time! It certainly led to an unprecedented level of comic book merchandising (still looking for the pop-tarts mini comics). The show's popularity no doubt made shows like Space Ghost, The Herculoids, the Mighty Heroes and the Marvel shows more enticing to the networks. Yes, it rankles today when campy references are the first stereotypical response of the mainstream press to comics news, but that attention over the years surely helped increase the size of fandom in general.
Oh, and the guest stars really made the show. Loved Lesley Gore singing "California Sun" as a Catwoman stooge...

Fred W. Hill said...

When I was a little kid, I loved the Batman tv show, particularly those extended cliffhangers. I also enjoyed the Marvel Superheroes -- I was far too young to care how absurdly primitive the animation was -- and as far as Spider-Man, I'm sure I was already familiar with the character before I ever saw the cartoon but the cartoon likely boosted my love of the character.
Probably the thing I liked about the Batman show was the mix of light drama with comedy. You couldn't take it seriously, but it was fun. As for the comics themselves, I was much more discriminating. I read a few Silver Age DC comics and most of them didn't do much for me; in fact, I actually preferred their mystery/horror short stories than their superhero fare. I totally got hooked on Marvel Comics -- not at all due to the cartoons, but because I really enjoyed the comics themselves.
Anyhow, I doubt that decent non-animated movies about most Marvel characters would have been possible before the advances in special-effects of the last decade or so. At least up through the end of the Bronze Age, comics really were the best medium to tell great stories involving superheroes (especially those with actual super powers), and tv shows and movies, both animated and live, were at best pale imitations. Anyhow, based on the few late Golden Age and early Silver Age Batman stories I've read, the Caped Crusaders were far more ridiculous in the comics than in the tv show, although I believe reading elsewhere that DC began efforts to rehabilitate Batman shortly before his stint on the boobtube began.

Edo Bosnar said...

Inkstained, thanks for the link to that Cracked article, those are always a hoot (and a great way to waste time - maybe I shouldn't be thanking you after all, since I started clicking on the links to the other features...)
Anyway, I almost spit out my morning tea all over the screen while reading the Adam West entry. The only thing I disagree with is the order: I'd put Adam West first, and Keaton second, and everybody else after that. Also, it reminded me of something: if anyone's worried about the harm done by the '60s Batman show to the whole Batman mythos, what about Schumacher's Bat-movies? Introducing the dreaded Chris O'Donnell as Robin? Then Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl? The nipplies on the Bat-costumes? Need I go on?

Inkstained Wretch said...

Edo, yes the Schumacher films were pretty dire. I can at least understand why they went the camp route with the 60s Batman, given how silly the idea of a vigilante dressed like a bat must have seemed at the time.

But Schumacher had no excuse, having come after Tim Burton's darker revamp. Purportedly he was taking all of his cues from the Warner Bros. marketing department who only wanted toys they could merchandise.

How you can cast Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy and make her unsexy and boring does boggle the mind.

david_b said...


BEST COMMENTS YET..!! Yes, I'd like to see Christian Bale get out of that situation with King Tut.

Lulling them into a false sense of security by doing the Batusi..?

Concentrating on ancient mathematical problems to avoid brainwashing..?

Bale would have been TOAST.

Anonymous said...

Each version of Batman-Dark Knight, sci-fi, New Look, camp comedy, Dark Knight again-was a product of its time. Pop Art and Camp were big in the mid-1960's; the James Bond movies were tongue-in-cheek, and Our Man Flint and Matt Helm movies made Bond look like Shakespearean tragedy. Yes, Star Trek was played straight most of the time, but it was not widely popular in the sixties. Its ratings were marginal, and it only lasted as long as it did because of a write-in campaign by hard-core fans. The Green Hornet was played straight, and was cancelled after only one season.

Related Posts with Thumbnails