During 1965 the American Broadcasting Corp. (ABC) was in decline due to poor viewing figures. They needed a fresh new show to broadcast in the new year. ABC approached a producer called William Dozier who had the idea to “over do” Batman to make it fun for adults but appealing to youths at the same time.
“I bought a dozen of the comic books from various vintages, so I read all these things, and I thought they must be outer their minds. It was all so juvenile and so then a very simple idea came to me and that was to over do it. And if you over did it I thought it would be funny for adults and yet would be stimulating for kids, you had to appeal on both levels to have a chance.” – William Dozier (Producer)
“It was a tough search [for actors] because you had to find an actor who was prepared to play Alice In Wonderland as if it were Hamlet” – Charles Fitzsimons
ABC bought the show, before watching two screen tests one with Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as Robin, the other with Lyle Waggoner as Batman and Peter Deyell as Robin. ABC executives decided Adam and Burt would play the parts. A pilot feature entitled “Hey Diddle Riddle” was broadcasted in the autumn of 1965, the reviews however were appalling!
“Reviews for it were bad if ABC hadn’t already brought the show it would of never gone on the air.” – William Dozier (Producer)
When the show premiered on January 12th 1966 the show became an instant over night success, throwing all the negative reviews about the pilot feature out of the window – thankfully!!
1965 Batman ABC Presentation
“It wasn’t planned for two nights originally, we shot them as one hour shows and then decided to break them up into two half hour shows” – William Dozier
“It had a 52 share of the audience, which is unheard of, their was no question about it, it was the biggest immediate hit which ever aired television” – Dozier
During season one Batman was rated the number 10 programme on Wednesdays and number 5 on Thursdays. Part one was shown on Wednesday, then continued on Thursday.
The show was in colour, everyone was used to black and white. After the first season a motion picture was produced, which was a hit for parents and children all over America. Also the movie sold the show across loads of different countries including Great Britain, Italy, Argentina, Germany and Portugal. 75 million dollars worth of Batman merchandise was released in 1966, which was outselling the James Bond merchandise which was the in thing of the time.
Sadly because the show was SO GOOD the only way the ratings for it to go was DOWN, but slowly. Season two introduced many new guest stars as new villians to make the show more fun packed! However, as the end of the second season was coming to a close too many viewers were becoming bored with the show, most criticising the series was too repetitive – which even as a big fan of the show i’ll concede to admitting. Every episode would; start with a villain entering the scene, our heroes rushing to the Commissioners office and our heroes going after the villain then getting caught in a trap – end of part one. Second part at the start our heroes will escape the trap, catch-up with the villain and win a bat-fight. I feel looking back at the series retrospectively, the show would probably have last longer if the format wasn’t the same in every episode.
This rapid decrease in ratings could has resulted in the series being axed after only two seasons. To convince ABC to keep the show, William Dozier and the team filmed a 8-10 minute presentation, essentially a pilot for season three. This included the addition to Batgirl to the series, this was almost a last attempt to freshen-up the show. ABC executives felt positive and wanted to give Batman a chance so gave the green light for the third season. However, the budget was cut with the show being reduced to only one night a week – keeping its Thursday night slot. According to Yvonne Craig, by adding Batgirl the producers hoped to gain the attention of more male adult viewers and also young girls. Unfortunately the inclusion of Batgirl was not enough and the series was cancelled on 14th March 1968 on its 120th episode “MINERVA, MAYHEM AND MILLIONAIRES” which William Dozier even had a part in.
Many had felt the show had became too self-aware and almost became a parody of itself. The show was very expensive to make at the time. With the season three budget cuts imposed on them it resulted in effectively poor productions, some villains lairs in particular looked like a theatre production of obvious fake walls, black backdrops and plain black flooring.
“It was a very expensive show to do, the sets were expensive, the special effects were expensive, and the cost was killing us.” – Dozier
According to an interview with Dozier in 1968. On average in cost $75,000-$80,000 to produce an half hour episode however, ABC would generally look at paying between $65,000 and $70,000 per half hour episode.
“It was the network’s decision to cancel the series because it wasn’t delivering a big enough audience of the right kind, it wasn’t Delivering enough adults who buy things.” – Dozier
NBC had ideas to pick up the show but it was too late. ABC had already taken down the set for the batcave.
Yvonne Craig : “When we were cancelled by ABC, we wondered if we could get another network. When it looked like we couldn’t, they came with a bulldozer and bulldozed the whole set. Then two weeks later NBC said; ‘Listen, we’d like to take a shot at “Batman” if you still have the sets’. They didn’t want to start from scratch and build them because the set cost $800,000. So, it was too late, nothing came of it.”
However, even though the fourth season was never meant to be (sigh), in September 1969 the show went into syndication or in other words re-runs were put out across different stations which lasted until the early 1970’s. Then with the launch of the *new* Batman film in 1989 starring Michael Keaton as Batman, the 1960s series was brought back to many TV screens to fit around the release. And of corse even today 40 plus years later the series is repeated across many channels all over the world on stations such as: TVLand, Sci-Fi and FX.
US Television in 1966
1966 is a significant year in American television history as all shows, on all networks were broadcasted in colour during prime time for the first time ever. Notable shows that ended in 1966 are:
- The Flintstones (1960-1966)
- The Addams Family (1964-1966)
- The Munsters (1964-1966)
- The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-1966)
Notable shows which started in 1966 were:
- That Girl
- The Monkees
- The Road Runner Show
- The Time Tunnel
- Mission: Impossible
Top 20 Rated/Watched Shows 1966-1967:
- Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.
- The Lucy Show
- The Red Skelton Show
- Batman (Thursday)
- The Andy Griffith Show
- The Beverly Hillbillies
- Hogan’s Heroes
- Batman (Wednesday)
- Green Acres
- Get Smart
- The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
- My Three Sons
- The Dick Van Dyke Show
- Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color
- The Ed Sullivan Show
- The Lawrence Welk Show
- I’ve Got a Secret
As you can see Batman was most watched on the Thursday night which would have been the second part episode, it was however the networks (ABC) most watched show followed by Bewitched. Between 1967 and 1968, so the end of the second season and the third season, Batman was no longer in the top 20 and reduced to only the Thursday timeslot. Bewitched remained strong and lasted until 1972. However Batman was cancelled in 1968 and replaced with the sitcom “The Second Hundred Years” which started strongly but ended miserably resulting in only one season (26 episodes) being produced.
Batman was broadcasted at 7:30pm on Wednesday’s and Thursday’s, many critics at the time believed that Batman and the other networks success “Bewitched” saved ABC. Bewitched entered its third season in 1966 but its first in colour, both were the highest rated shows on ABC.
Wednesday Night 1966-67 ABC Schedule
7:30 – Batman
8:00 – The Monroes
9:00 – The Man Who Never Was
9:30-10.00 – Peyton Place
Thursday Night 1966-67 ABC Schedule
7:30 – Batman
8:00 – F Troop
8:30 – The Tammy Grimes Show
9:00 – Bewitched
9:30-10.00 – That Girl
Batman was then broadcasted once a week at 7:30 during 1968 on a Thursday evening. I unfortunately do not have the networks schedule for 1968.
Batman in the UK
Here are some information about the British Broadcast dates;
- The show aired on the various ITV channels across the UK on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Broadcast times varied depending on the ITV region but usually late afternoon/early evening.
- It began on 21 May 1966 and ran until 11 September.
- The second season ran from the following week 17 September 1966 until 2 April 1967. These episodes were then repeated by the individual ITV channels for the next few years in no specific order.
- The third season was not shown until 1974 when screening began on 14 September as part of the Saturday morning kid’s show Saturday Scene. This final season finished its first UK airing on 8 March 1975. From then on the show was repeated incorporating episodes from the third season by the various ITV channels across the UK.
- As far as my research goes the series was went on hiatus in the UK during the 1980’s until Channel Four picked up the rights to broadcast the show in the early 1990’s during the mornings. Since then the show has been broadcasted on various cable and satellite channels such as; the defunct channels TCC (mid to late 1990s) and Granada Plus (early 2000’s), FX (mid 2000’s), BBC4 (late 2000’s) and ITV4 (early 2010’s).
Below is a television guide page from the “Associated British Corporation” (which later became Granada Television and Yorkshire Television before merging fully into what is now ITV1). From September 1966. The image was sourced from the Transdiffusion Broadcast System website.