Friends, earlier this afternoon one of my esteemed colleagues of the Super Blog Team-Up, Dave’s Comic Heroes Blog, shared the exciting news that today is a rather special day. It turns out that on January 12th of 1966 – the very first episode of the Batman television series aired on ABC. Fifty-five years ago, what would become a campy pop culture juggernaut was released with the first half of a two-part story featuring the Riddler entitled Hi Diddle Riddle. Giving DC Comics fans their first live-action comic book television series since The Adventures of Superman ended back in 1958, in addition to cluing in the audience that this adaptation of DC Comics’ Caped Crusader was going to be a whole lot of fun. Of course it didn’t hurt that the first episode featured the talents of Frank Gorshin as the Riddler – the legendary comedian and impressionist who all but steals every scene he is in – equal parts zany and menacing. To say nothing of being quite a snappy dresser, right?
The Batman TV series would last from January 12th of ’66 to March 14th of ’68, producing 120 episodes in total as well as a feature length film, which actually debuted just two months after the first season had ended. The popularity of the show was thanks in no small part to the way the series leads, Adam West and Burt Ward, approached their characters of Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder with an earnest and straightforward manner. Which allowed the guest stars on the show, who almost always played the villain of the week, to ham it up and have fun with their roles. Just a few of the stars featured as foes of the Dynamic Duo included Carolyn Jones (The Addams Family), Cliff Robertson (Spider-Man), Roddy McDowall (Fright Night), Vincent Price (The Last Man on Earth), and Victor Buono (What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?).
Although it is fair to say that the core and perhaps most memorable villains in the Batman TV series included not just Gorshin but the Joker as played by Cesar Romero, the Penguin who was portrayed by Burgess Meredith, and Catwoman – who was played by Julie Newmar, Eartha Kitt, as well as Lee Meriwether.
You might be interested to know that the genesis of the series began in the early half of the ’60s – as I understand it, the original intention was for it to be part of the CBS Saturday morning lineup. At around the same time though, it appears that ABC was in the market to adapt a comic book character or perhaps a popular hero from newspaper comic strips for a spot in their prime-time schedule. The negotiations for the proposed live action series on CBS fell through and DC Comics took back their rights and decided to go with the pitch by ABC.
Here is another interesting bit of trivia you might not be aware of – we came very close to having the likes of Lyle Waggoner (Wonder Woman) and Peter Deyell (Mr. Novak) as Batman and Robin. As I’ve read online, ABC as well as showrunner William Dozier (The Green Hornet) felt so strongly that both pairs of actors could pull off the roles – they had them each perform a special screen test. Obviously at the end of the day, it was West and Ward who were rightfully deemed to be the perfect choice.
If you feel like joining in on the fifty-fifth anniversary celebration of Batman ’66, I have some very good news for you – I believe that you can watch the entire series on Roku at this very second. In closing out this article, let us raise a glass of milk to toast the ’60s Batman television show – for providing untold laughs and comic book fun for 55 years!