Greetings Television Time Tourists! Ol’ Baddie is back with another slide down the cathode rays. Our destination this week? The Swingin’ 1960s and the colourful television that kept all the hippies and mods entertained. Some television shows from the era were so wacky and weird that they have been almost lost to history. Some of them were so mega-popular that Hollywood has been turning them into features with new, less-talented actors over the past few years. But I am here to talk about a show that walks the line between both camps… it is so popular that the young people today have seen it, yet it is so wacky and weird that it could not possibly be reproduced. Our Time-Televisor has brought us back to 1966 for ‘BATMAN’!
Adam West donned the legendary cape & cowl as Bruce Wayne and his dynamic alter ego Batman, along with his trusty side-kick Robin (Burt Ward) watching his back. Fans of this classic show are a legion of thousands, keeping the cult following of the series alive over forty-five years since its debut. Any cosplayer worth his salt has seen a classic Dynamic Duo representation at a convention over the years, as the campy, nutty, hilarious side of Batman has remained a part of Americana, despite certain director’s recent attempts to turn Batman into ‘Grand Illusion.’
This show is nothing short of iconic. Everything from the opening theme song above to the classic “BIFF!” and “POW!” sound effects have been parodied and recreated countless times over the past half-century. Almost all of us have seen at least a single episode of the original 120-episode run, and the key genre elements that captured our hearts have sustained in other media ever since. Think about the memorable elements of ‘Batman’ for a moment… the boisterous narrator, setting up the dangerous daring-do for the next episode (“Same Bat-Time! Same Bat-Channel!”)… Robin’s oft-repeated catchphrase of “Holy *BLANK* Batman!” … or the unintentional hilarity of the over-the-top acting performances of both heroes and villains alike… or of course, the unbelievably-absurd ‘Batusi’ dance!
(I have done you the great service of tracking down the original audio song that accompanied Adam West’s famous dance steps. Open this link in a new window and just let it play as you read through the rest of the column. You’re welcome)
We take these elements as simple fact, aspects of a show that has resonated through the decades. But the amazing truth behind these aspects is that the things we thought were intentional (the narrator, the catchphrase) were simple chance, and the parts we thought were unintentional (the campy hilarity) was completely purposeful.
HISTORY OF THE SERIES
The original concept behind ‘Batman’ was to produce a kids-show for the daytime in the vein of The Lone Ranger. However, around the same time period, the Playboy Club in Chicago had taken to screening old 1940s Batman shorts and the popularity of them among an adult audience was undeniable. ABC and 20th Century Fox began developing an hour-long series aimed at young and old alike, however they had in mind a serious adventure show. At the beginning of the 1960s DC Comics had begun a new editorial direction intended to bring Batman back to his gritty detective roots, after a decade of absurd stories of space aliens and talking pets; the show was supposed to follow in turn, showing a stern caped crusader thwarting serious schemes.
Obviously, this is not what ABC and FOX got in return. William Dozier had a vision of a pop-art inspired camp version of Batman, as psychedelic and insane as the cultural trends of the time. Far from a timeless Batman that could have aired in the 1940s, this Batman was mired in his swingin’ decade, with all of its political upheaval intact. So all of that unintentional hilarity that we love the series for? Actually completely on purpose. Dozier instructed West and Ward to go over-the-top with their performances and make up for a lack of budget that could have otherwise turned the show into a one-dimensional bore. So it turns out that the recent wildly-popular pornography parody of the series isn’t really in as much bad taste as we thought! (Check out a completely safe-for-work, PG version of the Batman XXX trailer here!)
As for the famous cliffhanger sequences, that came out of necessity rather than design. ‘Batman’ episodes were filmed for an hour-long evening timeslot—but when it came time to air, ABC only offered two half-hour slots on different nights of the week. Thinking on their feet, the Bat-producers took a moment of extreme danger from each episode and dragged out the shot as long as possible, overlaying a tense narrative prompting viewers to tune in later on in the week to find out the fate of their heroes. Despite being completely unplanned, these cliffhangers became beloved and are often cited as one of the biggest reasons for the continued success of the series.
Sadly, ratings eventually began to slide and ABC was losing the motivation to keep ‘Batman’ on the air. In the third season, attempts were made to spike viewership by introducing the sexy & sassy Batgirl, a character who had only recently debuted in DC Comics lore. When she caught on with audiences, the ABC brass saw an opportunity to cut costs by eliminating Robin and keeping Batgirl as Batman’s permanent side-kick; when West and Ward both objected, ABC opted instead to cancel the series.
In a cliffhanger ending worthy of the series itself, NBC attempted to swoop in and save the day, bidding to acquire the series and putting up the money to produce a fourth season. This happy ending was not to be, however, as ABC opted to demolish all of the iconic sets of the first three seasons—rebuilding each of them proved too cost-prohibitive for NBC, and the series was capped at 120 episodes.
Whether or not you're a fan that prefers serious-Bats to campy abstraction, you cannot deny that 1966's 'Batman' on ABC was a heck of a lot of fun. The costumes, the villains, the music and the dialogue were all larger-than-life, creating an experience that drove the series beyond simple television fandom and into full-blown cult adoration. Unfortunately, Adam West & Burt Ward's careers were cut short from the series, as their purposeful campiness was mistaken for a lack of talent--a far cry from today, where a complete dearth of talent gets mistaken for purposeful camp (Zack Snyder? I'm looking in your direction).
Well that does it for this week's Television Time Machine! I'm your pal Baddie and next week we'll slide along to the 1970s! Are you afraid? Because I kinda am.
Tune in next week! Same Bad-Time! Same Bad-Channel!
Well, here's the web address properly: http://www.tvshowsondvd.com/news/Batman-Variety-Story-About-Warner-Licensing-Deal/17060
Although I've tried several times, and it doesn't seem to be making it clickable. Wish I could be more help on this rtruell, but I'm a content guy, I know little about why the site behaves the way it does from a technical standpoint.
Level 1 (35%) Since: 17/Apr/12
Message Posted On Sep 18th, 2012, 3:42 am
One of my favourite shows too. It's a shame that it's not available on DVD. However, for fans waiting (not so) patiently for DVD's, there's now a light at the end of the tunnel. It's very faint, but at least it's there now. See this article at TVShowsOnDVD dot com for more info:
h t t p : / /www dot tvshowsondvd dot com/news/Batman-Variety-Story-About-Warner-Licensing-Deal/17060 (since I can't post links yet, I have to do this the hard way; make the obvious changes and remove the spaces...hopefully someone who *can* post links will change it into a clickable link for me).