Batman was a thirty-minute prime time, live-action television series broadcast by the ABC Network between 1966 and 1968. Premiering on January 12, 1966, as a mid-season replacement, the series featured actor Adam West as the perennial character of Batman, while Burt Ward donned nylon stockings and fairy boots for his portrayal of the erstwhile sidekick, Robin.
The show was noteworthy for its memorable use of onomatopoeia during climactic fight scenes. The show quickly became a huge success with audiences, and transformed West and Ward into modern pop culture icons.
When not fighting crime as Batman and Robin, the Dynamic Duo were often found at Wayne manor in their respective identities as Bruce Wayne and his “youthful ward”, Dick Grayson. Living alongside them in the vast mansion, was doddering old Aunt Harriet (a character based upon a minor character in the comics), and their mild-mannered butler, Alfred. Alfred was the only other person to know Batman and Robin’s secret identities.
Unlike the earlier movie serials of the 1940s, this was the first Batman project to feature Batman’s rogues gallery of villains. Cesar Romero made numerous appearances as the Joker, while Burgess Meredith reinvented the image of the Penguin, with his crooked smile and trademark “Squawk”. Julie Newmar provided Catwoman’s rolling “R”s, only to be replaced later by Lee Meriwether for the 1966 movie, and again in the final season by Eartha Kitt. Two men provided their talents to the role of the Riddler – Frank Gorshin (in the first and third seasons) and John Astin (in a one-off second-season appearance).
In addition to the fantastic sets and costumes, the series also featured a number of James Bond-inspired gadget-filled vehicles: Batmobile (which had originated in the comics), Batcycle, Batboat, and the Batcopter. The Batmobile donor car was a 1955 Lincoln Futura that George Barris customized in only three weeks. Two Batcycles appeared on the show; the first was a barely modified Harley Davidson, and the second was a highly modified Yamaha. The Batboat was built by Glastron. Some of the specialty vehicles – in particular the Batboat and Batcopter – were constructed under the budget for the 1966 film.
During its first two seasons, the series aired twice a week, with each week featuring a two-part story, with the exception of a one-off three-part Penguin story that aired midway through season 2. As a result, season 1 aired for 34 episodes, while season 2 aired for a massive 60 episodes, at a time when most US prime-time series only aired 25 or so episodes a season. In season 3 the series was scaled back to once a week and the show began mixing up the formula by airing a mixture of single-episode, two-part and three-part storylines. Only 20 episodes were made that year.
By season three, declining ratings prompted the introduction of a third partner to the Bat Family, Barbara Gordon – aka Batgirl (played by Yvonne Craig). Although Batgirl was a popular character, her presence could not save the series, and it was canceled in 1968.
The series spun-off a motion picture in 1966 featuring most of the TV cast. After its cancellation, West and Ward continued to portray Batman and Robin in voice only for several Saturday morning-cartoon versions of Batman, and appeared on screen once more as the Dynamic Duo in the two-part comedy special “Legends of the Superheroes” which aired in 1979 and also featured Frank Gorshin returning as the Riddler.
In 2003, West, Ward, Newmar, Gorshin and Meriwether, as well as Lyle Waggoner, the actor considered for the role of Batman before Adam West, appeared in the TV movie Return to the Batcave: The Misadventures of Adam and Burt, a tongue-in-cheek film in with West and Ward, appearing as themselves, reminisce about making the TV series. Based upon the two actors’ memoirs, the film features recreations of various scenes and behind-the-scenes events from filming. Jack Brewer plays young Adam West, Jason Marsden assails the role of young Burt Ward, and Julie Rose plays young Julie Newmar, among other. The film is notable for allowing Frank Gorshin to film a scene on a recreated Batcave set – he was one of the only recurring rogue’s gallery actors never to get the chance on TV – and is the only Batman production to feature both Julie Newmar and Lee Meriwether, though due to licensing issues related to the TV series (see Home Video Release, below), the producers were only allowed to use footage from the 1966 Batman movie with Meriwether when scenes from the original series were needed, although the makers were allowed to also feature Waggoner’s screen test footage, as well.
In 2013, DC Comic launched Batman ’66, an ongoing monthly comic book; despite the impact the TV series had on the comic franchise, this was the first ongoing series set within the TV series continuity. It was soon joined by a limited-run story arc titled Batman ’66 Meets the Green Hornet, a sequel to the TV series crossover with the Green Hornet.