I love Batman. I have been a Batman fan for so long, that I have no memory of a time in which I wasn't a fan of The Dark Knight. My childhood bedroom was covered in Batman. A poster of Michael Keaton as Batman was on the wall, below that was my giant plush Batman, which sat in a custom made Batman chair that my Godparents had made for me. All of this rested next to my bed, which was covered in Batman bedsheets, and a Batman bed spread, near my Batman Converse sneakers, not too far from my stash of Batman toys.
The first movie I was obsessed with was Tim Burton's original “Batman” movie. I wore out a VHS tape of it. It's been said that the version of Batman that to you IS Batman is the one that you grew up with. To me, there are three versions of Batman that make up my idea of what Batman is. The first are the two Tim Burton movies. The second is the practically flawless “Batman: The Animated Series” from the '90s. Third, is the version of Batman that I was first exposed to, the version of Batman that won my little kid heart, the 1960s Adam West “Batman” TV series. After years of being looked at as the somewhat “black sheep” of the Batman family, things have dramatically changed in the past two years.
This all began with a news announcement that sent a shock wave of excitement through the heart of every person who has loved the Adam West series. The announcement was that merchandising rights has been struck for what is now being called “Batman '66” between Fox and DC Comics. Here is where the joy, and confusion begins. “Batman '66” has spent decades mired in legal complications and red tape so thick, it was assumed that it would never be figured out. People trying to get to the bottom of the matter were met with misdirection and denial from almost every party involved. Allow me to try to, as simply as possible, guide you through this crazy web that's worthy of a “Batman '66” plot line.
The classic “Batman” TV series was produced by William Dozier's Greenway Productions, through 20th Century Fox. DC Comics owns Batman, the world, the characters, everything. The series was made through an agreement with DC Comics, the network ABC, 20th Century Fox, and Greenway Productions. The show hits the airways in January of 1966, and becomes a monster of a phenomenon. Popular beyond anyones expectations, in the first year alone, merchandising of the series brought in an estimated $75 million—and that's NOT adjusted for inflation. The popularity of the series in turn sends sales of the Batman comic book, which had been lagging, soaring. Everyone is happy, and one could argue that it was the birth of comic fan culture that dominates so much of our media today.
Despite only airing for three seasons—the series burned bright and fast—it quickly became a syndication staple. I was born in 1985, my mother was around for the first wave of Bat-Mania, and I was around for the second that came with the blockbuster success of the first Tim Burton film. That's when the question began to be asked “Why isn't the Adam West series on home video?” You could get the 1966 movie, the summer big screen spin-off from the series, but not the show itself. It was on TV, so you could see it, but in terms of legally being able to own it, you were out of luck.
Come the DVD era, and the question began again “When we will get the Adam West Batman on DVD?” In the decades since the series premiered on ABC, things had changed. DC Comics had been bought by Warner Brothers, who now owned the franchise rights to Batman, and is where all the big screen versions of the character had been birthed from since. That's when things begin to get complicated. DC/WB owns the characters and media rights. Fox owns the series. The 1989 “Batman” film was designed to get Batman back to his roots, to remind us that he was “The Dark Knight” and not the knight of “Pow! Zap! Wham!”
The ping pong match began. Fox wanted to release the series, but told people “Warner Brothers won't let us.” When asked, Warner Brothers would say “We're not holding it up, It's DC Comics.” When asked, DC Comics would say “It's not us, it's Warner Brothers.” What? You're all under the same parent company, right? That's when the rumors began to fly that DC and WB didn't want the Adam West series out to “take away” from their dark and serious version of the characters on the big screen. Then came the news that part of the show was still owned by Greenway Productions, and the children of producer William Dozier, who passed in the late '80s. Legal experts came to the conclusion that the “Batman '66” pie was so deeply cut up, that it would never be resolved.
This is why the news that Fox and DC had come to an agreement for merchandising rights was a shock wave. The feeling was “Fox and DC made a deal for something with Adam West Batman!? Are DVDs coming!?” No, was the answer from both parties. Then things began to get really interesting. Last year at the annual San Diego Comic Con, Warner Brothers handed out vinyl tote bags covered in pictures from the Adam West series, with a new logo that was the series logo, with the words “Classic TV Series” underneath it. That fall, DC announced a new comic book series “Batman '66.” A comic book of new stories, told in the style of the Adam West series.
In keeping with the odd and strange journey that “Batman '66” has taken to come to home video, the announcement that people had been waiting decades to hear came from the most unlikely of places. A tweet from Conan O'Brien. In January of this year, O'Brien casually posted a picture to his twitter feed, of himself in the classic George Barris designed 60s Batmobile. Since leaving NBC, Conan O'Brien has set up shop on the lot of Warner Brothers, and the caption on the tweeted picture was simply: “Very excited @WBHomeEnt is releasing the Batman '66 Complete TV Series in 2014! The seat smells like Adam West.” To put it mildly, the internet went crazy.
Warner Brothers was bombed with calls, e-mails and tweets. Everyone wanting to know “Is this true?” By the end of the day, Warner Brothers confirmed that yes, it was true. A good friend and I for years would talk of our deep love of the Adam West series, and our lament that it wasn't out on home video. We would take time to acknowledged that in the face of real world problems, our deep concern over this happening was pointless. In the face of war, death, disease, starvation, poverty it means absolutely nothing. But man, we wanted it so badly, we couldn't stand it. The day the news was confirmed, I sent a screenshot of O'Brien's tweet to his phone with the caption “It's happening.” The response was a simple “!!!!”
Last month it came to be, November 11th saw the release of “Batman: The Complete TV Series” in more than one form. A deluxe blu-ray box set of all 120 episodes in sparkling HD, packaged with an episode guide, an Adam West scrapbook, reproduction vintage trading cards, and best of all—a Hot Wheels Batmobile! Not to mention a standard DVD release, and the series in HD on iTunes. The amount of joy, geekery, and ridiculous 9 year old enthusiasm I have over this is insane, to the point that I even question the intensity of my geeking out.
But I love this show. I love this show on a level that is really crazy deep. Friends of my generation, who love the dark Tim Burton films and the noir-esq animated series love it too. So much of the show's style and terminology has been burned on my brain for most of my life. From the bright pop-art look of the show, to the comic book “Pow! Zap! Biff!” captions that accompanied every fight scene. From the manic laugh of Cesar Romero's version of The Joker, to Burgess Meredith's Penguin laugh, and Julie Newmar's version of Catwoman.
From the labeling of everything with “bat-” in front of it, the bust of William Shakespeare that activates the secret door to the Bat-Poles, the bright red glowing Bat-phone and it's distinctive ring. And, of course, that wonderfully bombastic and alliterative narrator—producer William Dozier himself—reminding you to tune in “Same Bat-Time! Same Bat-Channel!” I love it all. Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn't mention an iconic theme song that has been a part of international pop culture since it was first sent across the airwaves.
Recently in a shop I frequent, I spotted something in their toy section that I zoomed over to. A bobble head of the Adam West Batman, sitting in the 60's Batmobile. I picked it up, and when I noticed that the bobble head actually LOOKS like Adam West, I got a little excited. When I say “I got a little excited” I mean “I was geeking out in a way so hard that my brain had to remind me that I was in public.” I left that day with the bobble head.
With Christmas being only a few weeks away, family asked me what I would like. I told them I would like to get the Batman blu-ray box set. A response came from my mother, who is now getting quite adapt at her iPhone, and it simply read “We watched this together many times. Many, many, many, many, many times.” It's true, and should I get the box set for Christmas, odds are very good that I may revert to my seven year old self for a few hours. Back to being the kid who thrilled to every second that “Batman” was on my TV screen, in my Batman shoes, and my Batman shirt. The only difference is that now I may not own as many Batman clothes as I once did, but now I can have “Same Bat-Time, Same Bat-Channel” anytime I want do.