RECAP: A screening of the 1943 Batman movie serial at the Playboy mansion inspired an ABC executive to give the character his own TV series. After casting the show and building lavishly expensive Bat-sets, the pilot episode was shot, and the series premiered on January 12, 1966 at 7:30 p.m.

What was it like for comic fans watching the Batman pilot episode when it first aired, 40 years ago? The show opened with an exploding cake, which revealed a xriddle. Commissioner Gordon knew he couldn't handle the twisted villain who sent the riddle -- the RIDDLER! He needed Batman. “I don’t know who he is behind that mask of his,” Gordon said, “but I know when we need him. And we need him now!”

Gordon placed the first televised Hotline call! It was answered by Alfred, who fetched Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson. Bruce popped open headless Shakespeare, and he and Dick slid down the Bat-Poles. Now came the moment. What would the next scene reveal?

The entire comic reading world had been waiting breathlessly for weeks, months! Some had been waiting for years. The oldest among us -- children of the depression who had looked to the Caped Crusader as a beacon of hope in a world gone mad -- had been waiting for over two decades. The hopes and dreams of every comic fan who ever lived were resting on this moment. And then it happened. Down came Bruce and Dick... but they weren't Bruce and Dick anymore. It was as if Batman and Robin had just exploded into reality! Our hearts pounded as the Dynamic Duo raced through a Batcave beyond our wildest imaginations, and jumped into a Batmobile so totally cool it could give even Mr. Freeze goosebumps...
...then came the words which threw open the doorway to a fantastic new world of color and excitement. “Atomic batteries to power... turbines to speed... ready to move out!” Adapted from "Remarkable Ruse of the Riddler," the Batman TV pilot was titled "Hi Diddle Riddle." What kind of ratings did the show get? Expectations had been running high, as high as they had ever run for any television show... but no one was prepared for what was about to happen next.


The Batman TV show has become such a firmly entrenched part of pop culture, it’s hard to imagine a time when it didn’t exist. But there was such a time. It was a time when most of the shows on TV were still broadcast in dreary black and white, and even those in color seemed strangely uncomfortable with a full palette.

The number of colors in our world is finite, and all are quite well known. But what if I, Robby Reed, the creator of this blog and author of this article, could somehow show you a NEW color? You’d remember it as one of the most fantastic moments in your life. This is exactly what the Batman TV show accomplished: It showed the world a new color. And young comic fans will always remember the moment they saw that new color as one of the most utterly fantastic moments in their entire lives.

Others were somewhat less enthralled. The high and mighty New York Times lowered itself to glimpse the tawdry wasteland known as television -- just long enough to pass judgment, then hastily exit. Times critic Jack Gould deigned to watch Batman’s pilot episode, and his review of the show is a masterpiece of snobbish condescension. Dismissing the whole of Batmania as a ludicrous “non event,” the only good thing Gould saw about the show was a hope that overexposing Batman to the public might lead to the early demise of the vile phenomena known as “camp.” Wild guess: Gould was not a comic book fan. Below are a few choice paragraphs from his review.
xTV Guide’s Cleveland Amory, far more experienced at reviewing television shows, found much to admire in Batman. Though not an outright Bat-Fan, Amory was certain that, “The show is technically superior -- in photography, color pace and direction -- to its Bond-type competitors, and it also has by far the most ingenuity to be found anywhere in TV.” Kind words from a tough critic!


Kinder still was the American public. The Batman episode on Wednesday was a big hit, and the Batman episode on Thursday was an even bigger hit. In the show's first season, the Wednesday episodes were the tenth most popular TV show, and the Thursday episodes were rated fifth. Holy Neilsons!

For the first time ever, a single show occupied two slots in the year’s top ten, a feat accomplished more than three decades earlier than FOX’s “American Idol” began it recent twice-weekly dominance of the ratings. Moreover, besides getting great ratings, rescuing ABC from disaster, and saving the Batman comic book from cancellation, the Batman TV show had generated numerous magazine covers which in turn created a flood of publicity, resulting in a whopping $75 million in Bat-Merchandise during the first season alone. It was called Batmania.

Comic characters had appeared in films and on TV since their creation, but the Batman TV show marked the first time the public had idolized a comic hero in such mind-bogglingly huge numbers. Why did America love Batman? Perhaps for the very same reasons that we comic fans love comic books -- for the vile villains; for the wild, wondrous art and the whacky, impossible stories; for the action, xadventure, and detection; for the bright and beautiful colors, so much more appealing than those found in our own gray world; and finally, above all, for the reassurance that in a world populated by superheroes, right always makes might.

And if this is why we love comic books, then with the Batman TV show, the reasons we love comic books had finally broken through to the general public. The whole country was in the grip of Batmania, and whether they knew it or not, this meant that America loved comic books!


As Batmania swept through American pop culture like a tidal wave, it influenced other TV shows, movies, fashions, and, of course, comic books. Batman's dominance is seen vividly on mid-1960s Justice League covers, pictured below, where a large Batman figure totally overshadows the other super-powered, yet far less popular heroes.
JLA #48 JLA #53 JLA #61
Meanwhile, Batman's own title was tailored to reflect familiar elements of the television show, with the Caped Crusaders battling TV villains such as Riddler and Penguin, and, on one memorable cover (recreated by Robby for this issue of DIAL B for BLOG), the Dynamic Duo are actually watching their own prime-time hit series on television in the Batcave!
BATMAN #179, MARCH 1966 BATMAN #183, AUGUST 1966 BATMAN #199, MARCH 1967
The pervasive influence of the Batman TV show can also be seen in the house ad pictured below, featuring an encounter between Batman and comedian/director Jerry Lewis. It's not really that strange, when you consider the fact that Jerry, too, had his very own DC comic book, first co-starring partner Dean Martin, then later flying solo. "Holy Partnership! The Dynamic Duo face their daffiest peril! It's ho-ho-homicide when Batman meets Jerry!"
The real Jerry Lewis (pictured below left) returned the favor when he appeared on the show as the first of many celebrities encountered by Batman and Robin during a x"Bat-Climb." At the height of the show's popularity, all xHollywood was lined up to do a cameo Bat-Climb appearance. Frank Sinatra was turned down! Some who made it were real stars Dick Clark and Sammy Davis Jr., as well as fictional characters like Lurch from the Addams Family, and the Green Hornet and Kato. They're pictured on the right during their initial Bat-climb appearance, and below in their later, guest-starring turn on the show in the episodes "A Piece of the Action/Batman's Satisfaction" (originally broadcast on March 2nd and 3rd, 1967).
Merchandising profits and pop influence weren't the only thing the show generated. To the primarily black and white medium of television, Batman brought an explosion of color. To ratings-poor ABC, Batman brought the xkind of mass audiences only a hit can produce. To adults, Batman brought the “camp craze,” and the zany fun of a watching kind of Super Theater of the Absurd. To kids, Batman brought flashy action and adventure, not to mention detection. Finally, and most of all, to the nation's comic book fans, including one Robby Reed, Batman brought the sense that a window to a fantastic new world had been opened.

BATMAN the MOVIE (1966)

That window opened still wider on August 3, 1966, with the release of the first-ever full-color Batman theatrical movie (lobby card from the film pictured right). The movie was like a bigger version of the TV show, with a Bat-Copter, a Bat-Boat, and Batman and Robin battling not just one maniacal villain, but FOUR! Pictured below: Burgess Meredith, Frank Gorshin, Lee Merriwether, and Cesar Romero as the Penguin, the Riddler, Catwoman and the Joker.
The Batman movie had began shooting just two days after filming wrapped on the TV show's first season, completing 34 half-hour episodes. It took just six weeks to shoot the entire movie, which had been made primarily as a tool for marketing Batman to foreign audiences. With a runaway hit TV series in America, a successful motion picture playing world-wide, and Batman merchandise nearing the hundred million dollar mark, Batman stars Adam West and Burt Ward were on top of the world. Some people thought the whole thing was just a huge joke, but even if that was true, Ward and West were the ones laughing -- all the way to the bank. HAHA! KAPOW!! CA-CHING!!!
In Defense of BAM KAPOW

One of Batmania’s lasting effects is that even today, every magazine or newspaper article about comic books incorporates Bat-Style exclamations xsuch as “BAM! KAPOW!” into its headline. Comic fans have loathed this cliche for decades, because it often brands serious and thoughtful articles about comic books with juvenile-sounding headlines. Batmania’s legacy of “BAM! KAPOW!” has drawn countless condemnations from comic lovers -- but now, the time has finally come for Batmania to strike back!

Reader, from now on, don’t think of “BAM! KAPOW!” as a shameful reminder that comics are for kids. Instead, try to accept “BAM! POW! ZAP!” for what it really is -- the sound of Batman introducing the general public to the joy we call "the comic book," and in the process making an indelible mark on American pop culture. That's a stunning achievement, and no other fictional character can hope to ever match it. Holy Immortality! BAM! KAPOW!


As ratings start to slip, there's only one hope...
The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl!




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