Welcome to the four hundred and fourth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous four hundred and three. This week, it is a special theme week! All legends relating to the Batman TV series from the 1960s! Discover the role that the Playboy Mansion had in the creation of the Batman series! Learn what other comic character ABC considered before Batman (and who they then made a pilot for after Batman’s success)! Finally, find out the strange reason behind the famous Batman cliffhangers!
COMIC LEGEND: The Playboy Club played a major role in Batman getting his own TV series.
One of the interesting aspects of the Baby Boom generation is that wherever they land in their age, that’s the age that suddenly companies burst out of nowhere to respond to this vast new consumer base. For instance, right now, as Baby Boomers are getting into their late 60s, there has been a sort of mini-boom in the world of funerals (morbid, I know, but hey, like I said, whatever age the Baby Boomers are, that’s the age people have to learn to gear their products for).
So in the mid-1960s, when Baby Boomers were going to college, there was a mini-boom in college films. You know, stuff like the Rocky Horror Picture Show is today. Sort of quirky stuff that college students can go watch late at night over the weekend.
One of these films debuted in 1965. It consisted of splicing together all the 1943 Batman serials and release the film as “An Evening With Batman and Robin,” with college students going to watch the film ironically (although I’m sure some went non-ironically)…
The films became popular and soon began playing elsewhere, including the famed Playboy Club in Chicago (there was a failed TV series about that club last TV season). While playing there, ABC executive Yale Udoff was in attendance and he was amazed at the response by the (mostly young adult) audience. He called his bosses as he knew that they had already been examining the idea of doing a TV show based on a comic character, and he strongly recommended they adapt Batman.
They agreed. Obviously, you can differ over HOW much of an impact Udoff’s recommendation had in the final decision, but it is still neat to see how the Playboy Club gave Batman an assist.
Check out some Entertainment Urban Legends Revealed!
Did 60 Minutes Gain Its Famous Time Slot Due to an FCC Regulation?
COMIC LEGEND: ABC originally considered a Dick Tracy TV series and even did a pilot for a Dick Tracy show once Batman became a hit.
As noted in the earlier legend, before ABC decided on making a TV series based on Batman, they were thinking in general terms about a TV show based on a comic book character period (ABC had their eye on the 7:30 PM time slot, so early enough for kids to watch). After all, while Batman was a famous comic book character at the time of the mid-1960s, he was not NEARLY as famous as other comic characters. It was the TV series that really cemented Batman’s popularity.
When ABC did a poll of probable viewers to see what comic characters they’d like to see, here is how they shook out, according to William Dozier, executive producer of the Batman TV series:
They had Superman, Dick Tracy, Batman, Green Hornet, and Little Orphan Annie. Superman was the number one choice; Dick Tracy was the number two choice, Batman three, Green Hornet four, and Little Orphan Annie five. They couldn’t get the rights to Superman, not because of the old George Reeves series, because their rights had long since evaporated, but because there was a Broadway show called It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman, and that is what stopped them. They couldn’t get Dick Tracy, because Chester Gould was in some kind of peripheral negotiations with NBC, which never came to anything.
So that, combined with Udoff’s strong recommendation, led to ABC executives Harve Bennett and Edgar J. Scherick going with the series.
Once Batman was a smash hit, though…
Dozier was given another shot at Dick Tracy.
After ‘Batman’ went on, everybody wanted to do the same kind of show. I made a deal with Chester Gould to do the pilot for ‘Dick Tracy.’ I didn’t think it was very good. I had very little stomach for trying to copy ‘Batman.’
Here’s the title card for the Dick Tracy pilot from 1967…
It starred Ray MacDonnell as Dick Tracy…
It did not get picked up.
You can see a clip from the pilot at the great website TV Obscurities here.
Amusingly enough, while she did not appear in the pilot itself, a young Eve Plumb was cast for the show as Bonnie Braids…
Imagine if Dick Tracy had been a hit! Jan Brady might have been a WHOLE lot different!
Thanks to PB210 for the suggestion! Thanks to Joel Eisner for the Dozier quotes! Thanks to TV Obscurities for the pilot clip!
Check out some classic Comic Book Legends Revealed related to the Batman TV series!
Did the phrase “grim and gritty” first appear in connection with Batman…on the 1960s Batman TV series!?!
COMIC LEGEND: Airing two Batman episodes a week in the style of an old-time serial was part of the original plan for the Batman series.
One of the coolest parts of the Batman TV series was the way that they would do two episodes a week. One on Wednesdays at 7:30 and one on Thursdays at 7:30 PM (by the way, this was towards the end of the existence of the 7:30 PM time slot. For an extensive piece on why said time slot no longer exists, check out this TV Legends Revealed).
The first episode would end with a cliffhanger, just like the aforementioned Batman serials…
And the second episode the following night would complete the story.
This logically would dictate that the show was designed this way. However, that was not the case. Batman was originally developed to debut as a fall show in September 1966, but ABC’s 1965-1966 schedule was so awful that they were forced to push Batman into production far earlier than intended.
The original intent from the producers was to have Batman as a one-hour series, so the first few episodes were shot as one-hour episodes (Here is Dozier on the point “It wasn’t planned for two nights originally, we shot them as one hour shows”). However, ABC only needed to plug half hour spots (a LOT of them. They canceled FIVE of their fall half hour shows), so Batman was broken up into two half hour spots and the cliffhanger concept was born.
Here is the break in the first episode, which was one of the episodes that was originally only filmed as a one-hour episode. Note that they had not even come up with the “Bat-Time/Bat-Channel” bit yet!
Necessity is certainly the mother of invention!
For the record, the two shows Batman replaced were the final season of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (it had finally gone into color for its fourteenth season) and the second night of the musical variety series Shindig! (Shindig! used to air on Thursdays and Saturdays but the ratings dictated a cut back to just one episode a week).
Check out the latest edition of my weekly Movie/TV Legends Revealed Column at Spinoff Online: How did a He-Man sequel and a Spider-Man film end up as the cult classic Jean-Claude Van Damme film Cyborg?
Okay, that’s it for this week!
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See you all next week!