Batman TV show: The popular DC Comics superhero lit up our screens in the 60s

Actors Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as Robin (1966)

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The Batman TV show was a live-action series that aired on the ABC network from 1966 to 1968. The show was based on the DC Comics character Batman, a superhero who fought crime in Gotham City.

The 60s television show starred Adam West as Batman (the alter ego of Bruce Wayne), with Burt Ward as his sidekick, Robin (also known as Dick Grayson).

The show was known for its colorful, over-the-top villains, wacky gadgets, memorable catchphrases, and its overall campy, lighthearted tone.

Batman TV show promo poster - January 1966

It was very popular during its original run (which was primarily targeted toward teens) and has since become a pop culture classic. Widely syndicated for decades, you can find it today streaming on various services, and watch it for free on Tubi. (Amazon also has the 1966 Batman movie here.)

Batman and Robin in the Batmobile

The talent on the old Batman TV show

In addition to Adam West and Burt Ward, the show’s regular cast included Alan Napier as the butler Alfred, Neil Hamilton as Gotham City Police Commissioner Gordon, Stafford Repp as Police Chief O’Hara, Madge Blake as Harriet Cooper, and Yvonne Craig as Batgirl (aka Barbara Gordon).

When you look at the TV show’s villains, though, you’ll spot some of the biggest names.

Batman’s arch enemies included the Joker (Cesar Romero), The Penguin (Burgess Meredith), The Riddler (played by Frank Gorshin and John Astin), The Catwoman (played by Julie Newmar and Eartha Kitt), Egghead (Vincent Price), Louie the Lilac (Milton Berle), Professor William McElroy/King Tut (Victor Buono), Dr Art Schivel/Mr Freeze (played by George Sanders, Otto Preminger and Eli Wallach), Jervis Tetch/Mad Hatter (played by David Wayne), Queen of Diamonds Marsha (Carolyn Jones), Queen of the Cossacks Olga (Anne Baxter), and Shame (Cliff Robertson).

ALSO SEE: Superman, starring Christopher Reeve, turned a superhero into a movie star (1978)

Batman baddies

Among these celebrities was the man considered to be the first TV star (“Uncle Milty” Berle), then-current TV stars (Astin and Jones had just finished playing Gomez and Morticia Addams in the Addams Family series), Academy Award winners (Baxter & Robertson), Academy Award nominees (Meredith, Baxter and Buono), an Emmy Award winner (Berle), a Tony Award winner (Wallach), and Tony Award nominee (Kitt).

ALSO SEE: Superheroes, cartoon characters & more on classic ’80s sleeping bags

Introducing the Batman TV series (1966)

By Bettelou Peterson, Detroit Free Press (Michigan) Jan 12, 1966

“Batman” swoops into TV Wednesday, and if you believe the talk around the sound stages, this is it — a great new day for TV.

Batman Lives - TV show promo from January 1966

The excitement isn’t only at 20th Century Fox, which is busily manufacturing the series, or at ABC, which will run it twice weekly, Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m. The industry scents a trend and is poised, waiting, to leap on the bandwagon.

“Capt. Marvel,” “Mandrake, the Magician,” “The Phantom,” “The Green Hornet,” all are behind bandied about as ready to go — if the ratings show that this type of thing is “what the people want.”

No place is the gaiety and anticipation at higher pitch than on the “Batman” set. Everyone bounces with the glorious optimism that affects any group of people who are certain they have their fingers in a rich pie.

Batman TV show stars

The word was that “Batman” was being filmed in the deepest of secrecy — mustn’t let evil-doers from other studios and networks know what was going on in the Batcave, you know.

Ha! Open the stage door and walk in. (Of course, first you must gain entry to the Fox lot and that is the tough part. John Q Fan with his whispers and shuffling feet isn’t welcome on the sound stages, where he has been known to cost a company thousands by ruining a take.)

To be found on an early January morning was the historical museum of Gotham City featuring a large-as-life portrait of Batman and Robin.

Adam West in costume as Batman (1966)

The pair were to make their entrance by breaking through the picture to stop The Riddler from stealing a valuable statue. (The prop department had three pictures in case the scenes didn’t go well.)

Meantime, wandering the perimeter of the set could be found The Riddler (Frank Gorshin, delighted to be masking the transition from saloon comic to actor).

His green, question-marked tights were hidden by a prosaic blue terry robe. The Riddler’s henchmen, gaily-clad stunt men, waited to leap from the balcony as part of the dastardly plot.

Batman and Robin breaking through a window (1966)
Window-breaking shenanigans with Robin on the Batman TV series

And then there was Adam West, Batman himself, and Burt Ward, his young aide, Robin. West was in blue jeans, blue sweater and fine fettle.

A well-muscled, slim-hipped man, West has been seen on TV before as one of Robert Taylor’s “Detectives.” He’d rather forget that. He hemmed and hawed about signing to do “Batman.” After making four pilot films that didn’t sell, he felt he’d had TV and another series wouldn’t help him.

His goal is stardom in feature films. He worked in Europe with modest success, but that route still did not bring him offers for really important films.

ALSO SEE: Vintage Marvel and DC super heroes: Ka-pow! Look at ’em now (1966)

Adam West as Batman on the cover of TV Guide magazine (1966)
Adam West starred in the Batman TV show, which premiered in 1966

He feels that “Batman” will make the name Adam West one that the movies will covet. Some associates feel he doesn’t realize that it more likely will be a trap from which Adam West may never escape.

West thinks “Batman” is a remarkable opportunity and quite a challenge. Any show that goes for a popcorn and champagne audience — the 10-year-olds and the sophisticates — has set itself a chore.

They play it straight for the kids, says West, but with enough exaggeration to enchant the high camp and pop art set who have latched on to “Batman” as their hero.

“I look at some of the stuff they ask us to do, and I wonder how I can do it,” said West with a shake of the head.

Batman in Life magazine (March 11 1966)
The Batman TV show was featured on a campy Life magazine cover on March 11, 1966.

For young Burt Ward, the whole thing is a lovely lark. Burt, who looks more like 16 than his actual 20 years, is no actor. He got the part by being the friend of a friend — and through his athletic ability.

And although Burt has decided that acting is now his career, he realizes that the finer nuances of the business are not going to come out of a “Batman” script.

He pointed out a line delivered by Robin when The Riddler pops up: “Holy sewer pipe, what’s he up to now?” says Robin.

“How many ways are there to say that?” inquired Burt just a little plaintively.

Adam West as Batman on the cover of Screen Stories magazine (c1966)
In addition to the Batman TV series, there was also movie and animated installments of the franchise

MORE: These vintage Halloween costumes based on ’70s TV shows were creepy for all the wrong reasons

Julie Newmar as Catwoman on the 60s Batman TV show
Julie Newmar as Catwoman in Batman
Julie Newmar played Catwoman on the Batman TV show

Eartha Kitt as Catwoman on the Batman TV show
Eartha Kitt as Catwoman in Batman TV series
Eartha Kitt played Catwoman on the Batman TV show

Batman TV series: Holy cancellation!

Newsweek – February 8, 1968

He’s bungling, awkward, even stupid. Corseted in baggy tights with blue satin jockey shorts, he bears only a mocking resemblance to the comic-book prototype.

Yet Batman was an instant hit from the start of his TV run in early 1966. Adults liked him as a campy put-on. Children thought of him as a hero. And to ABC, for whom the “Batman” show won some rare rating victories, he was a savior.

Batman and Robin - Vintage TV show postcard
Adam West as Batman (left) and Burt Ward as Robin in the 1960s Batman TV series

But, alas, the fad had to fade. As the pop revolution moved beyond its comic-book fetish, adults grew bored with the caped crusader and the boy wonder, and left the show to flicker in the playroom as a babysitter.

Even with the addition last fall of Batgirl, the dynamic trio couldn’t hold off slumping ratings.

ABC denied rumors of imminent cancellation in an effort to keep advertisers from fleeing, but it was obvious last week that the show had been zapped right out of next fall’s network schedule.

“The cream,” admitted Bob Kane, the cartoonist who created Batman and Robin, “has been taken off the milk.”

Burgess Meredith as the Penguin in the Batman TV series
Burgess Meredith as the Penguin in the Batman TV show

Actress Yvonne Craig as Batgirl on the Batman TV show

She’s here with a vintage Halloween Trick or Treat bag

Vintage actress Yvonne Craig as Batgirl for Halloween
Batman TV series Halloween promo

Batman TV show opening & closing credits & theme song (1960s)

YouTube video

Batman TV show theme song lyrics

Batman, Batman, Batman
Batman, Batman, Batman
Na na na na na na na na na
Na na na na na

Vintage General Electric free Batman mask offer from 1966
Vintage General Electric free Batman mask offer from 1966
GE promo for the 1966 Batman TV show

Update from 9 years later: Batman’s Adam West fighting to survive in a ‘tough jungle’ (1977)

What advice, you may wonder, would Adam (Batman) West give to Lynda (Wonder Woman) Carter?

“That depends upon what’s happening in her gourd,” Adam said when the question was put to him.

He was at home with wife and children, including a year-old baby girl, finishing up a screenplay about international terrorism which he expects to bring to the screen.

“You know, I’ve had my own problems with Batman. But now I can deal with them. This jungle is so darn tough. It’s tougher than it’s ever been. But I’m going to survive, because I’m a survivor.”

“If Lynda Carter, or anybody else playing a pure fantasy figure, can enjoy the success and fame and money that goes with the role, but still be honest with herself about it, fine! Otherwise… you’ve got to be honest with yourself!”

Adam West as Batman and Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman

Post-Batman, Adam has worked in dramas of various sorts including a recent picture which kept him in Yugoslavia for a year.

“It was released in the South as ‘The Last Guerrilla,’ but there were some legal problems and it was called back in. When it’s released again, I think it will be called either ‘Partisan’ or ‘River of Death.’ Rod Taylor was the co-star and we worked just outside of Belgrade.

“I’m just finalizing a script called ‘The Isotope Alarm’ which is about international terrorism, and I’ve finished a treatment for a film about a contemporary Batman, presenting him as a superhero in a realistic ambience.”

Adam’s faith in the potential of the Caped Crusader movie derives from the popularity of the animated “Batman” series, for which he supplies the hero’s voice.

“It’s the highest-rated daytime show. We’ve been getting a 46 percent share of the audience,” he noted.

“I’ve found that you couldn’t kill Batman with a baseball bat.”

ALSO SEE: About Lynda Carter as TV’s vintage Wonder Woman – plus see the show’s opening credits

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