Batman had been a comic book hero since his 1939 start in Detective Comics #27, but the caped crusader took a decidedly different turn when ABC’s campy pop-art TV series “BATMAN” premiered Jan. 12, 1966.
This wasn’t how Batman’s transition to TV was supposed to go. Batman was a dark comic book superhero — similar to the character we know today and will soon be seeing in WB/DC’s “THE BATMAN.” In the early ’60s, Batman’s TV rights were optioned by Ed Graham Productions, which was talking to CBS about doing a Saturday morning kids action hero series like “THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN” or “THE LONE RANGER.”
Meanwhile, at ABC, programming executive Yale Udoff, who’d been a Batman comics fan as a kid, knew program chiefs Harve Bennett and Edgar Scherick wanted to do a hip action series like NBC’s “THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.” Yudoff pitched them, Batman, CBS and Graham weren’t getting anywhere, so DC reacquired its Batman TV rights and did a deal at ABC… which brought the project to 20th Century Fox Television…which hired William Dozier to produce an adventure series that would be serious, but fun.
Things changed dramatically when Dozier, who wasn’t into comics as a kid, read some Batman issues and decided the show should use pop art and tongue-in-cheek comedy. Spy novelist Eric Ambler, who was to write a movie launching the series, quit Dozier’s campy comedy concept. Lorenzo Semple Jr., who later wrote 1976’s “KING KONG” remake, wrote a pilot using Dozier’s pop-art style.
The series’ villains were all well known from Batman comics — like the Joker, Penguin, Riddler & Catwoman. With development moving at breakneck speed, two sets of screen tests were shot — with Adam West & Burt Ward as Batman & Robin and with Lyle Waggoner & Peter Deyell. Dozier went for West & Ward — and the rest is TV history.
“BATMAN” was to be a one-hour show, but when ABC decided to launch it in January 1966 instead of September, only two early evening half-hour time slots were open. So “BATMAN” became two 30-minute programs airing Wednesdays & Thursdays with cliffhanger endings.
The “BATMAN” feature that opened July 30, 1966, was to have preceded the series’ debut but was delayed because its stars couldn’t film until season one’s summer hiatus. The film was fast-tracked to get it into theatres before season two began. It was released by the show’s studio, 20th Century Fox, and to this day is the only live-action “BATMAN” movie not distributed by Warner Bros., which owns the character through its DC Comics division.