Holy 50th Anniversary, Batman! Yes, today marks the 50th anniversary of Batman. ABC aired the very first episode of the iconic series at 7:30PM ET on Wednesday, January 12th, 1966. A second episode aired the next night. The show was an instant hit with both weekly installments regularly ranking in the Top 10 in the Nielsen ratings. For the 1965-1966 overall, the Thursday episodes ranked 5th while the Wednesday episodes ranked 10th.
I would never try to argue that Batman is in any way obscure. It has so many fans, old and new, that there is little about the show that hasn’t been researched, analyzed, discussed, and obsessed about in some fashion. It was a true television phenomenon and one of the most recognizable TV shows of the 1960s.
Personally, I am not a huge fan of Batman. I used to watch it on FX in the mid-1990s along with The Green Hornet and I enjoyed it well enough. It was weird and wacky and fun. I also caught a few episodes on the former American Life Network seven or eight years ago. I didn’t like it quite as much. I don’t collect autographs as a general rule but I do have an autographed picture of the late Yvonne Craig’s as Batgirl, although regrettably it wasn’t acquired in person.
I also have a 1960s black and white photo “signed” by Adam West and Burt Ward. The autographs are pre-printed but it’s still pretty cool:
The reason I’ve written about Batman quite a bit over the years because it had a huge impact on television. It wasn’t the first TV show to air more than once a week–in fact, it was one of the last shows to do so during the brief period in the 1960s when the success of ABC’s twice-weekly Peyton Place saw the networks airing various programs more than once a week. You can read all about that period and the rise and fall of Batman here.
When I first learned about the existence of short presentation film featuring Batgirl, I was intrigued. So I wrote an article about it. It is often referred to as the Batgirl pilot and I suppose an argument could be made that it was a “pilot” for the character of Batgirl. It was test footage designed to convince ABC that Batgirl would make a good addition Batman. It was not intended to sell the network on a Batgirl spin-off.
I’ve also written about the fourth commercial minute ABC added to Batman episodes when it premiered in January 1966. It may be hard to believe today but affiliates were furious. One station even refused to air Batman. ABC toyed with adding an additional commercial minute to other programs as well but backed down in the face of pressure from its affiliates. You can read more about the controversy here.
The success of Batman inspired CBS and NBC to introduce their own campy superhero sitcoms in January 1967. I’ve written Spotlights for both shows. CBS had Mr. Terrific with Stephen Strimpell while NBC had Captain Nice with William Daniels. Both were flops.
I’ve shared some of the Batman items in my TV memorabilia collection. I have some trading cards and a few random items that include six unidentified stamps. And I’ve written about the Signet Batman paperbacks even though I don’t actually own any of them.
For those of you who experienced Batmania firsthand, what are you memories of watching those first episodes of Batman?
21 Replies to “50th Anniversary of Batman”
I was three-years-old when it premiered, but I still remember watching it at the time. I especially remember it when I was four-years-old, and in nursery school. I have a memory of talking about the episodes the night before with the other children in the carpool. I also remember my parents watching it, and laughing a lot. It really did appeal to children and adults. Children loved the action and adventure, and adults loved it for the campy humor.
Don’t think the word “camp” entered the general lexicon til this show, even tho it existed many years before, in a gay context. I’d read that ABC didn’t intend to use Alfred for that reason – and the comic had already killed him off, substituting Aunt Harriet. Just as the show intended. Ironically, the show’s highest rated episodes featured Liberace.
The opening Nielsen ratings for ‘Batman’ were reported as an average for the two weeks ended January 23, 1966:
8th – ‘Batman’ (ABC) – Thursday 26.3HH (2 episodes)
9th – ‘Batman’ (ABC) – Wednesday 26.2HH (2 episodes)
‘Batman’ helped lift the ABC lineups on Wednesday and Thursday, giving the Alphabet a Thursday victory (but not Wednesday) and it’s lead-in power helped propel Thursday’s ‘Bewitched’ upwards to season high ratings (also helped by the birth of Samantha’s baby).
The ratings do not reflect what a phenomenon ‘Batman’ was, especially in the burgeoning suburbs. It premiered on the heels of blanketing of publicity that led to numerous articles across leading newspapers and magazines, especially those tv listing magazines that used to come free with the Saturday paper. There was a steady drumbeat of ‘Batman’ teasers and bumpers all across the ABC Television Network leading up to the premiere, which only heightened the anticipation for the new series.
The first two episodes, which were the one-hour pilot for the series divvied up into two half-hours (a re-format that ABC liked and would come to define the series with Wednesday night cliffhangers), were the darkest and most adult of the series, what with the death of Molly (essayed so brilliantly by MIss Jill St. John), overt sexual suggestion (Molly cross-dressing into Robin), and the casual use of firearms. Later episodes of the series would tamp down these elements (death, sexual references, use of guns) and amp up the social responsibility of Batman and Robin (wearing seatbelts, never littering, straight arrow crimefighters undistracted by the sixties sexual revolution just getting underway).
Batman Is Celebrating Its 50th Anniversary.
Susan Sontag’s hugely influential “Notes on Camp” was published in 1964. Donald Barthelme’s “The Joker’s Greatest Triumph,” which in short story form anticipated much of the spirit of the tv series (though I don’t know if the series devisers read it…I would not be surprised) also was published in 1964.
What I’ve been noting of late is the degree to which other series hoped to jump on the Camp Bandwagon, so to write…Irwin Allen’s dull sf series VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA and LOST IN SPACE, certainly, and also THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E….
While Sontag has written of camp, the word, as I said, would not be in common usage til the show. Nor were the distinctions “high” and “low” camp.
The Riddler became the show’s first villain cuz Dozier picked the current Batman issue, where he was cover featured. Had Dozier been familiar with the Batman’s mythology, he might’ve led with the Joker.
The show’s tone was set by Playboy screenings of the original straight faced ’40’s serial. West was asked to audition on the basis of a commercial where he spoofed James Bond, wearing a rubber duckie life preserver. Gis line readings here would become Batman’s.
Batman Celebrated 50th Anniversary Yesterday Then. It Premiered On ABC On Wednesday January 12,1966 At 8:30 PM It Came On Right After Combat A WWII Action Adventure Series It Aired Before The Big Valley.
I Got The View Master Reels. Of Batman The 1966 TV Series. I Got The DVD Set Of Batman Season 1. Todays TV Is Nothing But Junk Better Than Those Developmental Disability Shows. About Blowing Up Institutions As Well As Hiring Someone To Blow Up Institutions,Hiring Someone To Blow Up Sheltered Workshops,Hitting Staff And Supervisors In Work Study And Sheltered Workshops As Well As Group Homes Getting Off Shuttle Vehicles To Go Into Restaurants To Buy Lunch Or Dinner Or Shooting Animals And Butchering Them On Game Farms On The Way Home Which They Show Today On Todays TV Shows. We Need Classic TV Shows.
We Need Shows Like Batman And Other Shows Better Than Reality And Developmental Disability Shows. We Need Classic TV Shows Like Old TV To Air Batman Series From The 1960’s Jack Sonntag Was Production Supervisor From Episode 1 Hi Diddle Riddle On
Todays TV Is Nothing But Junk.
I’m afraid there’s some disconnect here. No doubt BATMAN helped popularize the term “camp,” but to claim there was no popular recognition of the term outside the gay community (and the overlapping theater community) despite the heavy impact of the Sontag article is incorrect.
To further clarify…Neither Sontag’s essay, nor Sontag herself, were part of the pop mainstream conversation that centered around Batman, as well as old Dietrich and Busby Berekley movies. There were lots of conversations invoking the word divorced from Sontag as well as its former context. You’d be hard pressed to find the word used in popular articles before Batman’s approach invoked the description.
I had a pb comic reprint collection that called itself “High Camp Superheroes’. No way would that trem been applied fore Bat-Mania.
I’m a generation-2 Batfan, having gotten hooked on syndicated repeats of the series locally here in NOLA on WGNO-TV Independent 26 in the 1980s and WNOL-TV Channel 38 in the 1980s. First saw the adjoining 1966 movie version on WWL-TV’s Saturday Matinee in around 1977 and tuned into sporadic airings on Channels 26 and 38 and on cable. :-)
Whoops…sorry. I tuned it in on WGNO in the 1970s. My bad! :P
I Seen The First Episode Today. Two Days After The 50th Anniversary.
I Have The DVD’s Of Batman.
I Used To Watch It Once In A While In First Run On ABC As A Toddler Then. Then I Watched It In Reruns First On KTNT-TV Channel 11 Then On KTVW Channel 13 Then KCPQ-TV Channel 13 Then On KSTW-TV Channel 11 Then On The Family Channel Then On TV Land Now ME-TV.
I was in first grade when Batman debuted. I had discovered comic books the previous summer. Batman on TV became an unbelievable phenomenon, but even more so for me, as I had just become a fan and had read several of the stories that were adapted into first season episodes. (It was in the second and third seasons that the writers stared going off in their own direction.) The flood of Batman toys and books and merchandise was heaven to six-year-old me
I was just past my tenth birthday, and didn’t see “Batman” until it’s second night (January 13th, 1966).
I had seen the nonstop promos and read the numerous newspaper ads, and wanted to try the show. The rest of my family (Mom and Dad and six-and-a-half-year-old brother) wanted to watch “The Munsters”.
So I was sent to my parents’ room to watch “Batman”.
When it was over, I came back to the living room, and my Dad asked me how the show was. I said “Fantastic!”. Mom asked “Isn’t it on twice a week, on Wednesdays and Thursdays?”, and I replied “Yes, it is”. Dad then said “Next week, we’ve ALL got to see it!”.
So the following Wednesday and Thursday, we all saw it. Needless to say, I got hooked from the first time I saw it.
“Batman” was very campy; children (like I was at the time) could see it as high-adventure, while adults (like my parents) could see it as a hilarious spoof. My parents are deceased now, but I want to posthumously thank them for not laughing when we watched the show together. Years later, my Mom said they didn’t laugh out loud because they didn’t want to spoil the adventure for my kid brother and I.
R.I.P. Mom and dad, and Thanks!