The Batman ’66 TV series premiered 50 years ago today!
BAM! POW! ZAP!!!
These words first appeared on television screens across the United States on January 12, 1966 as renowned comedian Frank Gorshin menaced Gotham City as “The Riddler“. Advertised as “in color”, this campy take on the superhero genre was chock-full of pop culture references, celebrity cameos, and social commentary. The result was a series that became an overnight pop culture sensation leading to the phrase that the top pop culture influences of the 1960’s were “the Beatles, Bond, and Batman.”
The series even spawned a 1966 feature film that pitted the Caped Crusaders against FOUR of their greatest foes! (Sadly, Julie Newmar was unavailable due to filming commitments and so Lee Meriwether took over the role of Catwoman.)
The series also put forth some of the most memorable super villain performances in genre history. From the aforementioned Frank Gorshin as the Riddler to Burgess Meredith as the DEFINITIVE Penguin to Caesar Romero’s laughing “Crown Prince of Crime” version of the Joker the series had no shortage of “criminal charisma.”
While many fans today might decry the show as “goofy” or “cheesy” there is an artistic brilliance to the series that cannot be denied. From its vibrant use of color (in 1968 only 25% of US households owned a color TV), it’s pop culture sensibilities, and the calibre of the celebrity guest villains, Batman was unlike anything that had hit the screens before and it made overnight sensations out of its leading duo Adam West and Burt Ward. Airing two nights a week with each story divided by a cliffhanger, audiences were powerless to resist the power of the Dynamic Duo.
The series burnt out just as quickly as a flared and by spring of 1968, Batman aired its final episode on television on the ABC network. A last-minute save by NBC came days too late as the expensive Batcave set had already been demolished and so the series was cancelled after just three seasons.
In an age of “Bat-fleck” and a growling Christian Bale Dark Knight, there’s a vibrant positive energy that pervades that show that cannot be denied. As a kid growing up in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s this was MY version of Batman. It wasn’t a cartoon and while some episodes are so absurd that they can only be considered satire, there was a playful sense of fun to the entire series that just made it something truly special. Every generation seems to have its own take on the Caped Crusader and this one was mine. Each afternoon, I would rush off the grade school bus to catch syndicated reruns of the series on my local ABC affiliate and, to this day I still have the glow-in-the-dark Batman light switch plate that my Dad bought for me at Sea World as a kid. This also explains why I was so giddy several years ago when a life-size replica of the iconic George Barris Batmobile was parked in the deck at my former job!
Thankfully, the complex legal wrangling over the rights to the series was solved (with ownership being divided between Warner Brothers, 20th Century Fox, and a third party production company) and the series FINALLY saw an official home-video release in November 2014.
Here’s to you, Batman! With your Bat-Computer, Bat Crime Analyzer, and even the much lampooned Shark Repellant Bat Spray, the series appeal endures to this day.