Batman: A TV History Part One

As we countdown to the conclusion of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. This blog is going to take a look at some previous Batmen both real-life and animated.

We had a huge success with a look at Spider-Man’s TV past so why not celebrate the caped crusader as well.

THE SERIAL

Before we get to TV thought we should give a call out to the first Batman. He was played by Lewis Wilson in the 1943 serial where Batman faced Japanese spymaster Prince Daka, who operates a covert espionage organization located in Metropolis’ now-deserted Little Tokyo. The evil organization turns American scientists into pliable zombies.

This 16-part serial was part of a DC media invasion that began two years after the creation of Marvel’s first superhero The Human Torch in 1939. This invasion included the classic serial “The Adventures of Captain Marvel” and Max Fleischer’s seminal Superman cartoon.

THE SILLY 60’s

It would take over twenty years before we would see the caped crusader again in live action. Adam West’s time as Batman started in 1966 when he was cast in “Batman” the classic camp TV series. West came to the role after producer William Dozier saw him in a Nestle Quik commercial as the James Bond type spy, Captain N. He actually beat out actor Lyle Waggoner for the role. A decade later, Waggoner would team up with Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman as Steve Trevor.

This was one of the biggest hit TV series of the 1960s and even spawned a feature film in October of 1966 between the shows first and second season. They really burned the candle at both ends with the Batman TV series as they flooded the market with 120 episodes in the series short 3 year run.

The 1960s Batman is still one of the number one shows asked for on DVD. The show has never debuted in a digital format, yet. The reason is because Time Warner owns the characters but 20th Century Fox owns the footage.

West has mentioned in his biography “Back to the Batcave” that he hates the series being referred to as campy. The series actually reflected the way the DC comics characters were being portrayed in the 1960s.

Many overly goofy plots flooded the DC brand in Silver Age and the series really just reflected the medium as it was. Another example was the kimono wearing Wonder Woman.

What is interesting about West’s connection to James Bond, is that producer Cubby Broccoli offered him the James Bond role in 1970 for the film “Diamonds are Forever” before they were able to lasso Sean Connery back for his last ‘official’ turn as James Bond. But West turned them down.

It is interesting because Broccoli never even took West’s Batman into consideration when offering him the role. And since the conclusion of the series in 1968, West was often type-cast in campy/lampooning type roles. Can you imagine if West would have been Bond?

THE FILMATION ERA AND MORE ANIMATED ‘FRIENDS’

It is often thought that West walked away from the Batman role after the series was cancelled in 1968 but really it just spring-boarded Batman into another medium. Emerging TV animation company Filmation Studios was created in 1963 and had just hit it big with their New Adventures of Superman animated series. They then created The Batman/Aquaman Hour. By 1968, they were looking to trade up Aquaman and team up DC’s World’s Finest duo for the Batman/Superman Hour. West watched as a new person became the voice of the caped crusader.

Olan Soule and Casey Kasem would become the dynamic duo during Filmation’s Saturday morning cartoon dominance starting with the Batman/Superman Hour. Batman rose above Superman in popularity and Filmation launched The Adventures of Batman from 1968 to 1970. Soule joined Hanna Barbera and played Batman when he teamed up with Scooby Doo for that classic cartoon. The special was a precursor to the launch of Hanna Barbera’s Superfriends.

The first season of Superfriends featured Wendy, Marvin and Wonder Dog who were basically inspired by Scooby Doo and the show was kind of Scooby Doo Meets DC Comics. Most of us think that Superfriends was a Saturday morning cartoon juggernaut but actually it was canceled after it’s debut season in 1974.

ADAM WEST RETURNS

In 1977, Adam West was called by Filmation studios to come for a visit to relaunch a new Batman animated series. “The New Adventures of Batman” would reunite Adam West and Burt Ward as the original TV dynamic duo and introduce a new sidekick called Bat-Mite.

The series was directly inspired by the live action show and the design of the villains, the Batmobile and the Batcave all looked like the 1960s show.

Filmation had a long success rate of turning classic TV series into animated series.

They did the same thing with the Star Trek, The Brady Kids, My Favorite Martian and Gilligan’s Island.

The New Adventure of Batman would be their last adaptation of the 1970s.

The show lasted 16 episodes and then reruns were introduced as part of the Batman/Tarzan Adventure Hour, Tarzan and the Super 7 Hour and eventually Batman and the Super 7 Hour. They milked those sixteen episodes from 1977 to 1980.

TWO BATMEN

What is interesting to note is that during this relaunch Batman was on two shows on competing networks. Reruns of The New Adventures of Batman aired on NBC and Superfriends, which was relaunched in 1978, on CBS as “Challenge of the Superfriends”.

Because of this crossover of the Batman franchise certain villains weren’t allowed to appear on competing shows. Did you ever wonder why the Joker wasn’t part of the Legion of Doom? Filmation owned the rights to the Joker so he couldn’t appear in the new rebranded Superfriends. Also in turn The Riddler and The Scarecrow couldn’t appear in on “The New Adventures of Batman”. This is the reason we never saw Frank Gorshin’s version of the Riddler on the show.

SUPERFRIENDS: ROUND 2

After the success of Six Million Dollar Man and Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman, the network rebranded Superfriends in 1978 and relaunched the series focusing more on the heroes.

Wendy and Marvin disappeared and were replaced with the Wonder Twins. The team’s roster fluctuated, more primary DC villains were mainstay as the Legion of Doom was created.

The show would go through many different incarnations eventually being canceled in 1983 with 24 unaired episodes. Those shows wouldn’t see the light of day until 1995 and then on a DVD called “Superfriends: The Lost Episodes”.

The campy style of Batman continued through all of the animated projects. There were small doses of the dramatic caped crusader but it was mostly tongue in cheek.

SUPER POWERS AND THE DEATH OF SUPERFRIENDS

Superfriends would be repackaged once again in 1984 when the DC universe underwent “The Super Powers” makeover in the mid 1980s. “Superfriends: The Legendary Super Powers Show” was a real superhero show as Darkseid’s minions invade Earth and we are introduced to teen hero Firestorm. With this new series, Adam West returned as Batman and Olan Soule would adopt the role as Professor Stein or the mentor to Firestorm.

“The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians” would debut in 1985 and this eight episode season would see Cyborg join the team. This short season was the most serious of the whole 13-year run. The final episode of the series was entitled “The Death of Superman” and was written by Alan Burnett. Burnett would be one of the driving forces behind the iconic “Batman: The Animated Series” almost ten years later.

DC heavyweight talents like Carmine Infantino, Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons and Gil Kane all inspired this final season. Carmine Infantino’s Flash, Gil Kane’s Green Lantern as well as Moore/Gibbons Watchmen all were signposts for a new, more serious DC. If you get a chance to see this string of episodes you start to see how DC was changing it’s image.

IN PART TWO, WE WILL EXPLORE THE DARK KNIGHT!
HOW THE FACE OF ANIMATION CHANGED WITH THE LAUNCH OF BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES
AND WE WILL PREVIEW BATMAN’S CONTINUING ANIMATED LEGACY WITH “BEWARE THE BATMAN”.

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