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?