Classic TV: The Sad End To The BATMAN TV Series

BATMAN, ABC TV’s campy and outrageous action-comedy series based off the popular DC Comics ran for most of three seasons from Jan 12, 1966 before facing a sad March 14, 1968 cancellation due to a miscommunication during negotiations. Rather than being as true to the spirit of the old DETECTIVE comic books from DC, this TV series featured some of the most outrageous and over-the-top acting as was ever witnessed on network TV at the time, but provided a very entertaining experience, especially for grade school aged children who just couldn’t get enough of the series and toys based off the show such as an Aurora model kit of the 1966 Batmobile(which was actually an experimental 1955 Lincoln showcar, the Lincoln Futura, which was customized by car designer George Barris for the TV show. Barris acquired the car for just $1 from Ford, rather than Ford crushing down this unneeded hand-built showcar or just mothballing it off to some museum, which was completely hand-built in Turin, Italy, at a cost of $250,000, but was never put into regular production. During, the 1950’s, this Lincoln showcar made the rounds of auto shows. But, after it was customized into the 1966 Batmobile, complete with parachutes, and phony flame throwing rear exhaust, the car became so popular that three more fiberglass copies of the car were build to tour the country while the BATMAN TV series rode high among the viewers on the small screen).

While actor Adam West looked great in the Batman suit, he was also considered by many TV critics to be one of the worst actors on TV, and helped to make this TV series into a real farce, but that also worked well to make the show for all intents, a campy comedy as well. With a whole slew of aging celebrity actors such as Milton Berle, Burgess Meredith, Caesar Romero, director Otto Preminger, George Sanders, Victor Buono and many others willing to guest star in makeup and costume as villains in the series, the show remained very entertaining through-out it’s run for the first two years, but began to run into some real problems during season three.

Season one was enough of a success that season two brought about a sort of spin-off, THE GREEN HORNET, where ABC hoped to build another successful comic book action story series, but series only lasted just one season before cancellation. THE GREEN HORNET was about a millionaire newspaper publisher and his martial arts sidekick driver, Kato(played by Bruce Lee) who pretended to be criminals, but actually were crime fighters. It was a far more serious series than BATMAN ever was, but it certainly lacked the big name celebrity guests that BATMAN was able to draw, and seemed far less entertaining than what the BATMAN series was ever able to achieve. The failure of THE GREEN HORNET series was something of a bad omen for the BATMAN series going into season three as well. During season two, Lorenzo Semple, Jr. quit as head writer for the show, and by season three many signs were that the wheels were beginning to fall off.

Season three was nothing short of a disaster for the show. For some unknown reason, a third crime-fighter character, Batgirl, was added to the series, where it often seemed like there was little role for her, other than to add a little 1960’s sex appeal to the show. The addition of this third crime-fighter, in addition to Batman and Robin, just seemed overly complicated and seemed to really ruin the show rather than help, yet the executives at ABC really liked the addition of this new character despite what appeared to be an audience rejection of many changes, and not for the best, to the show.

With the formula that had worked well enough for two seasons undermined in season three with too many characters, less appealing cast changes among guest star villains, changes in writing that were less appealing to many viewers, and some other unfortunate changes, ratings began to sag. ABC suddenly demanded that the show’s producers cut some characters like Robin and Police Chief O’Hara to cut costs for season four, and Batman and Batgirl team up as crime-fighters, which both Adam West and producer William Dozier objected to. Burt Ward and Adam West had got along very well throughout the series, and had a friendly relationship, and Adam West didn’t want to part company with this young actor which gave the show some added appeal to young viewers.

But, the really sad story here was that NBC had a plan to pick up the series for a season four which was produced over at 20th Century Fox studios, and bring the story back to it’s original formula that worked so well, first offered like an old 1930’s serial with a cliffhanger episode, and then a conclusion episode the following night. NBC had asked for rights to the show, but some miscommunication over at Fox had the show’s sets destroyed a week earlier, and it would cost NBC a whopping $800,000 to rebuild new sets to replace the one’s that some bad decision over at Fox unfortunately destroyed, such as the Batcave. NBC was upset, and said that it couldn’t spend this type of money because of this miscommunication foolishness over at Fox to destroy sets right in the middle of negotiations for the show. So, BATMAN died as a TV series because of this very unfortunate miscommunication issue. It was a very sad end to a show that many had loved.

BATMAN toys such as die-cast Hot Wheels models remain very popular best sellers to this day. But, there has been no official home dvd release of the old TV show series due to a number of goofy issues surrounding rights to the show. The show airs on reruns currently on MeTV, but so far only some some questionable dvd copies from China have been offered for the series on either dvd or Bluray disc. Someday, all of the legal issues should be worked out, and an official USA dvd or Bluray release should be made available of the show, but for now the show remains one of the greatest 1960’s TV shows with no officially sanctioned dvd release.

Adam West remains in some demand for voice-over work as well as adding his voice to the outrageous FAMILY GUY animation show over at Fox. His reputation as a campy and type-cast actor from the BATMAN series, only seems to loan itself to continuing laughs to this day, as one of the worst actors of all time, but certainly a beloved and recognizable voice and personality.

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  • Adam West made use of his campy reputation from the 1960s to portray an animated version of himself on the cartoon “Fairly Odd Parents”. In the cartoon, West actually pokes fun at himself.

    • Hello David. This was one of my very favorite TV shows of all time, but the third season was so disappointing. The addition of Batgirl added absolutely nothing to this show, and then to think that this terrible mistake of destroying the sets ended any chance of season four is only a further heartbreak here. Adam West was so horribly miscast as the lead in this show, that it actually made the show hilarious fun(THE PRODUCER’S “Springtime For Hitler” comes to mind here, with Dick Shawn in the lead role). What great 1960’s schlock this was! A real gem. I continue to collect every bit of die-cast from this show. I love this show. It was fun 60’s TV all the way!

      Adam West is certainly at his best when he does self-parody. William Shatner and Adam west are both strong contenders for the worst actor in the world award here. It’s hard to pick a winner among these two. Both are so bad in their own unique ways.

  • I suspect that when the show is finally re-released, it won’t live up to our memories of it. In my case, I was 11 years old when it went off the air, so I have very fond memories indeed: it struck just the right balance between camp and drama to keep a pre-teen boy extremely entertained.