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Batman (1960s TV series)

Batman was the title of an exceptionally popular TV series that aired on ABC TV from 1966 through 1968. It starred Adam West as the title character Batman, and Burt Ward as Robin the Boy Wonder. A long list of guest star actors and actresses played the villains on the show — many of whom went on to have prestigious acting careers, or were already well known when they appeared on the show.

The series debuted on January 12, 1966 and was marked for its high camp, and continues to be the version many associate with the Batman character despite it perhaps being least representative of the many versions.

Along with such popular TV series as The Monkees and Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, the Batman series set a standard that identifies it as a product of the 1960s. Its use of outrageous, psychedelic sets and costumes, along with wild camera angles (with the villains' lairs always being filmed with the camera at an angle to emphasize the "crooked" nature of the bad guys) and bright colors, were meant to evoke the four-color, campy world of the comic books of the 1950s and 1960s. The fight scenes between the good guys (Batman and Robin) were interlaced with titles that reflected "comic book" sound effects: WHAM! POW! SOCK!

The Batman series has not aged well since the 1970s, however. Comic book fans who know Batman as a grim "masked avenger of the night" speak of the TV series with a near-universal revulsion and hatred. The series is seen by fans as a black mark on the medium of comic books, as it cast comics as silly, light-weight entertainment meant strictly for young children — an image that comic books have never completely rid themselves of, though the publication of The Dark Knight Returns in 1985 (and the movie Batman in 1989) did finally succeed in reshaping Batman's image outside of comic books. The fact that the TV series typically depicted women in a highly stereotypical fashion, with a few noted exceptions like Batgirl, dates it further.

Despite the abhorrence of the TV series by Batman's fans of the 1970s through the present day, the live-action TV show was extraordinarily popular; at the height of its popularity, it was the only prime-time TV show broadcast twice in one week as part of its regular schedule, airing on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Episodes of the show were often filmed as two-part cliffhangers, with each storyline beginning on Wednesday and ending on the Thursday night episode. The first episode of a storyline would typically end with Batman and Robin being trapped in a ridiculous deathtrap, while the narrator would tell viewers to watch the next night with the repeated phrase: "Tune in tomorrow — same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!" This catch-phrase was a long-running punchline in popular culture for many years after the show ceased production.

TV critics and historians note that the real appeal of the show lay in its array of oddball, outrageous, and often charismatic villains. The hippie counterculture of the 1960s enjoyed the fact that even though they would eventually win and put the bad guys in jail, Batman and Robin portrayed the forces of "law and order" as being woefully humorless, "square", and unaware of the fact that the world was laughing at them. The villains, on the other hand, had the chance to rebel against society, wear gaudy, flashy costumes, and have all the fun...until they were required to lose and be captured by Batman and Robin. The series had the advantage of appealing to two major age groups for entirely different reasons; adults viewed it as a humourous spoof while children enjoyed it as a flashy adventure show.

Many popular TV personalities, and a number of Hollywood actors, looked forward to and enjoyed their appearances as villains on the Batman show. They were generally allowed to overact and enjoy themselves on a high-rated TV series, guaranteeing them considerable exposure (and thus boosting their careers). The most popular villains on the show included Cesar Romero as The Joker; Burgess Meredith as The Penguin; and Julie Newmar as Catwoman. Although other famous names from the "rogues gallery" in the comic book series made appearances on the show (notably The Riddler and Mr. Freeze), many other villains were created especially for the TV show, and never did appear in the comic books (such as "King Tut", "Lord Fogg", and "Louie the Lilac".). Other celebrities often appeared in scenes where the Dynamic Duo are scaling a building wall and the celebrity would suddenly open a window and have a short conversation with the the superheroes.

The popularity of the show even contributed to careers of two real-life New York City policemen, David Greenberg and Robert Hantz. This pair had a remarkable career as police officers, so much so that they were given street nicknames of "Batman and Robin". Their careers were fictionalized in the 1974 movie The Super Cops.

The popularity of the TV show did not translate well to the silver screen, however. A movie version of the TV show was released to theaters (see Batman (1966 movie)), but it did not become a large box office hit.

The series' stars, Adam West and Burt Ward, were typecast for decades afterwards, with West especially finding himself unable to escape the reputation the series gave him as a hammy, campy actor. However, years after the series' impact faded, West found fame and respect among comic book and animation fans, who appreciated his work on the TV series. One of the more popular episodes of Batman: The Animated Series paid tribute to West with an episode entitled "The Grey Ghost." In this episode, West played the role of an aging star of a campy superhero TV series, who found new popularity with the next generation of fans.