Late last week via Conan O’Brien’s tweet, Bat-fans found out that the original Adam West/Burt Ward Batman series from the 1960s was heading to DVD! The show aired from 1966 to 1968, and while the motion picture based on the show has been available on DVD for some time, the weekly episodes have not. That makes this big news, especially with this being Batman’s 75th anniversary!
Before we get too excited, no exact release date has been set, but I truly hope this means that both West and Ward will be visiting comics conventions to meet and greet fans as well as autograph their box sets. The program had been seen in syndication and on cable for several years, but that hasn’t happened in a long time.
From what I hear, the dispute was between Fox and Warner Bros. over rights to the show. Since this is likely to make both companies a lot of money if they share the profits, I figure some people’s palms finally got greased enough to make it happen.
THE MAKING OF BATMAN
Batman and Robin were pretty popular comics characters back in the ‘60s. Back then, comics sold for like ten cents a copy, so kids of all ages could afford to buy them. Somebody finally got the bright idea of taking the series to the new small screen doohickey called a television.
The bad news was that the producers thought any “serious” approach to the situation would be frowned upon. “Nobody would ever believe this could happen!” was often heard. So, they took the concept to the extreme and called it “camp.”
“Camp” was the height of silliness, with Batman running around trying to get rid of a bomb. He kept running into ducks and nuns and the like and, being the hero he was, he wouldn’t risk their lives.
I was a kid when the film came out, and I remember sitting in the movie theater watching a shark latch onto Batman’s leg. Everyone watching the film with me started to laugh. I was incensed, so I stood up and loudly proclaimed, “You wouldn’t laugh if you had a shark on YOUR leg!” That let everyone know I was a comics fan, even at that early age.
The show literally took off, with Batman on the cover of Life magazine. Big film and TV stars of the day begged to appear on the show, with comedian Milton Berle portraying Louie the Lilac, for instance. And there was the Batusi, a dance Batman performed on the series, which was something of a craze as well.
By the way, I don’t know if the new DVDs with probably remastered shows on them will make it easy to see that Cesar Romero, who played the Joker, still had his moustache because he felt it was a trademark of his. They literally had to slather on white makeup or paint to cover it up, but sometimes you could still see it.
Batman actually aired twice each week in its first two seasons, appearing at 7:30 p.m. on both Wednesday and Thursday nights on ABC, considered “the family hour” by many TV execs.
Batgirl was introduced and played by Yvonne Craig in the third season, and she was my first TV crush. By this time, though, the show’s popularity was fading, so it aired only one night each week.
I remember watching the final episode and feeling sad that it would air no more. However, as I matured, I found it tough to take the silliness, such as the episode when the women of Gotham rose up and took over the city. In the end, Commissioner Gordon regained his post, and the ladies all went shopping, what was then considered their “normal” activity. I could hear some ladies screaming in later decades about that one!
WAS ADAM WEST TYPECAST?
When actors have a popular role, they often want to separate themselves from it because they feel that casting directors will think that’s ALL they can do. Adam West tried very hard to get very different roles in television and films and did perform in 60 or more motion pictures in his career. But he’s still remembered most for playing the Caped Crusader even now.
I feel for actors because, just like writers, they can do more than one kind of work. However, Mr. West continues to be a terrific voice actor, playing himself as the town’s mayor in Family Guy, Catman (who bears a striking resemblance to Batman) in Fairly Odd Parents, for example. However, my favorite of his voice work came in the Batman: The Animated Series episode, “Beware The Gray Ghost.” It has two meanings – one focusing on an aging actor unable to find acting jobs in the story, and the underlying admiration for West and his enduring popularity since playing the Caped Crusader.
Still, West has at times expressed his frustration with being typecast. He once said, “It was inescapable. I’d just about land something substantial, something I like or a good career move. Then some dinosaur would rear up and say, ‘But the audience will think of him as Batman.’ It was formidable. It was there like a brick wall.”
I hope the fact that he’s still a celebrity decades after Batman has also opened doors for him as well. After all, fame is a two-edged sword.
HOW DIFFERENT WOULD BATMAN’S POPULARITY HAVE BEEN?
Sometimes I have to wonder, how would Batman have evolved if the ‘60s TV show hadn’t happened?
It’s easy to say that if it hadn’t taken place, Batman would always have been viewed as a serious character. On the other hand, since the show pushed Batman to an extreme, it only made sense, once the series left the airways, to go back the other direction.
DC changed Batman’s cape into a “living creature” on its own, flowing more like wings than a piece of cloth shortly after 1968. We also saw creators make Batman very different from Superman in temperament, a lot of which still goes on in comics today.
I know some folks who complain about the original Star Trek as being too silly. They say that The Next Generation would have naturally evolved without it. Personally, I don’t buy that theory since I can’t imagine anyone green-lighting a well-funded series by Mr. Roddenberry at that time of his life without a hit before it.
DC Comics has recently been reaping the rewards of this TV series with their digital-first comic and several action figures and the like. And if the Batmobile from the show ends up at a comics, automobile or TV convention, it gets a LOT of attention by fans!
Since the news of this release, I haven’t been able to get the series’ theme song out of my head. “Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na .. Batman!” I apologize to anyone who now can’t get it out of his or her head as well!