The 1966 Batman TV show starring Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as Robin the boy wonder, doesn’t look like something that would be held up on a pedestal in comparison to the Burton movies, The Dark Knight Trilogy, the animated series and movies, etc. Whereas all those were known for their dark and gritty nature, this Batman TV show was full of camp and silliness in its characters and its premise. However, it proves to have far more merit than what most would give it credit for.
The show did prove to bring the comics back from the cusp of extinction nearly doubling in sales due to them and caused the titular character to surpass Superman as the number one hero in North America.
Adam West’s Batman established the idea of differentiating Batman and Bruce Wayne. Unlike other versions, he didn’t change his voice but he did change the way he spoke and acted. As Bruce Wayne, he’s an upbeat philanthropist with passions for fishing, falconry, and so forth. As Batman, he is an upstanding associate of the law being extremely moral with villainous lawbreakers such as Joker, Riddler, and Penguin. When speaking as Batman West often paused in the middle of sentences and spoke much more stately. West had such a deliverance of confidence in his performance that he could do something like drop lessons to Robin about grammar in the midst of crime and still prevent the show from being laughably bad. His voice had such a distinction to it that even after the show ended West would do voiceover work for shows like Fairly-Odd Parents and Kim Possible as characters often parodying his manner of playing Batman.
The other performances, particularly by the villains, were also strong. This was the one Batman incarnation that knew how to do comedy the right way. While the writing for this show was silly and over the top it had somewhat of a self-awareness factor in it as all the actors embraced it as such.
The show’s popularity during the time had a direct impact on the comics. For starters, it gave us the name Mr. Freeze who was up until then known as Mr. Zero. This name change continued through the comics and so forth. The show not only also introduced Barbara Gordon’s Batgirl portrayed by Yvonne Craig but also made her the only live-action incarnation of the character to date.
The show also had episodes where Penguin fought to become mayor against Batman. While Batman would never do this in future adaptations, it did lead to Penguin doing this once again in Burton’s 1992 Batman Returns and the Gotham TV series.
The show gave way to Burton’s incarnation of the Joker. In the show, Joker often had a penchant for prankster like schemes and weapons. This tied into the 1989 film where he used cosmetics products combined with Smilex that would kill its consumers through laughter. Nicholson’s Joker laugh even strongly resembled Romero’s.
Although the relationship with Catwoman was never fully explored, much like the other two aforementioned villains it did establish the connection between the two. Both have some level of attraction to one another but are separated by their opposing views of crime and fighting it. The 1966 movie had a dance scene between the two that carried into Batman Returns, the Dark Knight Rises, and even Gotham.
The show also successfully integrated the other members of the Bat Family including Robin and Batgirl. Robin’s introduction in Batman Forever nor Batgirl’s introduction in Batman and Robin were well received and outside of animated adaptations neither have appeared since. However, the show successfully established the dynamic among these three. Batman is the father of the team often looking after the two and teaching them life lessons, Robin is the eager youngster ward who takes on his Batman’s advice, and Batgirl while having no familial connection to either of them quickly becomes a part of the team.
It has been over 50 years since the show aired but even in spite of other timeless adaptations, it hasn’t stopped the 1966 caped crusaders from leaping into action. This included 2003’s biographical comedy Return to the Batcave: The Misadventures of Adam and Burt and two animated movies with Adam West, Burt Ward, and Julie Newmar reprising their roles as Batman, Robin, and Catwoman. Even though the Bright Knight may be gone, he remained a part of a great show whose legacy is a strong part of Batman even today.