Legends of the Superheroes

These two hour-long specials, originally broadcast in January of 1979 by NBC, have become somewhat infamous among comic book fans. You see, they brought together a slew of DC Comics heroes and villains — including Adam West and Burt Ward as Batman and Robin — in an outrageously cheesy manner. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what the actual names for these specials are.

The first, shown on Thursday, January 18th, 1979 from 8-9PM, is referred to in contemporary newspaper listings as both “The Legends of the Superheroes” and “The Challenge of the Superheroes.” The second, shown the following Thursday (January 25th) is also called “The Legends of the Superheroes” or “The Legends of the Superheroes: The Roast” or “The Roast of the Superheroes.” For the sake of clarity, it seems the general consensus these days is to say Legends of the Superheroes is the overall title for both specials, which are subtitled “The Challenge” and “The Roast,” respectively.

Legends of the Superheroes: The Challenge

In “The Challenge,” an evil genius named Sivana has come up with a way to totally destroy Earth and he’s enlisted a whole slew of his fellow bad guys — including the Riddler, played by Frank Gorshin — to help (or watch or what have you) and only a a bunch of super heroes can stop him. Joining Batman and Robin in their battle against the forces of evil are Captain Marvel, The Flash, Green Lantern, Black Canary, Huntress and Hawkman.

Despite its popularity (perhaps notoriety is a better word) today, “The Challenge” was the second least-watched program on television during the week it was on the air. Technically, it tied for 58th out of 59 shows (NBC’s Weekend was last); a two-hour telefilm based on Marvel’s Captain America was 29th for CBS [1].

Legends of the Superheroes: The Roast

The second special, “The Roast,” was hosted by Ed McMahon and saw the villains from “The Challenge” come back to poke fun at the heroes. Once again, the special was at the bottom of the Nielsen chart, ranking 62nd out of 63 programs for the week (“CBS Report on Iron” was 63rd) [2]. Writing in Canada’s The Globe and Mail, Ray Conlogue had this to say about “The Roast:”

Considering that the stars are not exactly supernovas, the show had to stand or fall on its humor. Like the Colisseum, it fell more than it stood. Ruth Buzzi’s gunshot wedding to the superhero of her choice was a bit forced, not up to her usual standard; and Morton’s Solomon Grundy bashing everybody on the head at the mention of the word swamp wasn’t over-funny after the fifth bash. However, some routines had a glimmer of life to them. Pat Carroll as Hawkman’s Mother gave an interesting turn to the guilting mother routine [...] Brad Sanders’ Ghetto Man was perhaps the best: You think Weather Wizard is super? I’ll tell you what’s super: getting through a Chicago winter without heat [3].

Although never officially released on VHS or DVD, copies of both “The Challenge” and “The Roast” have been circulating — and ridiculed — for decades.

Sources: 1 “The TV Column.” Washington Post. 24 Jan. 1979: B10.
2 “The TV Column.” Washington Post. 31 Jan. 1979: B8.
3 Conlogue, Ray. “Superheroes’ Roast: Where was Pulpman?” Globe and Mail. 26 Jan. 1979: GAM.

11 Comments

  • Nice article about Legends Of The Superheroes. Except there is one error I would like to point out: Frank Gorshin played The Riddler in the special, not The Joker.

  • RGJ says:

    Wow, that was a pretty dumb mistake on my part. Thanks.

  • I’ve had the “pleasure” of seeing this as an adult, and while I rolled my eyes so hard in parts that I was able to see two weeks into the past, the 4- or 5-year-old me who would have seen it on its original airing would have been ecstatic to see so many superheroes in one program, “Challenge of the Superfriends” notwithstanding.

  • Cee Jay says:

    This reminded me of a Saturday Night Live skit, the major problem was they tried to play it straight ( I think) and it bombed

  • DuMont says:

    Nielsen rated the specials as follows:

    ‘Legend of the Superheroes: The Challenge’ (8pm, Jan.18/79) 11.5HH/17%

    ‘Legend of the Superheroes: The Roast’ (8pm, Jan.25/79) 10.5HH/16%

  • Both specials preempted the weekly series Project UFO.

  • A bit of trivia: with this special, Adam West and Burt Ward had portrayed The Dynamic Duo on all three networks!! The first was of course Batman on ABC (January 12, 1966 – March 14, 1968), and the second was Filmation’s The New Adventures Of Batman on CBS Saturday Morning (February 12, 1977 – May 28, 1977).

    • DuMont says:

      There was also that RETURN TO THE BATCAVE: THE MISADVENTURES OF ADAM AND BURT telefilm on CBS back on Sunday March 9, 2003 which garnered a 4.6HH/8%, or about half of what the ‘Legends of the Superheroes’ specials attracted.

      So ABC, NBC and CBS (and FOX via ‘The Simpsons’ 9.1HH/14%) all aired primetime livetime series, specials, telefilm or animated series episodes featuring Mr. Adam West and Mr. Burt Ward as the Dynamic Duo.

  • There would later be a fourth network: Fox, which saw West and Ward in dynamic dual cameoes as Batman and Robin in Episode #DABF18 of The Simpsons, “Large Marge” (11/24/2002). In a pivotal scene, Bart and Milhous watch a ficticious episode of the 1960s Batman TV series wherein they faced off against Special Guest Villain Krusty The Clown as “The Painted Pagliacci Of perfidy,” Clownface!

  • [...] back in January of 2009, I wrote about a pair of hour-long NBC specials broadcast under the title “Legends of the [...]

  • Actually, Hanna-Barbera originally wanted Captain Marvel and Dr. Sivana for the Challenge of the Super Friends season of the toon!

    Jeremy Aron Patterson.

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