Finding Filmation: 'The Adventures of Batman'
It was 1968, and things were moving forward strongly for the Filmation studio. The previous year, they had done not only a second season of Superman, but also given Aquaman his own show, as well as produced an animated adaptation of “Journey to the Center of the Earth.” Around this time, Filmation moved out of the small studio they’d been in since 1964, and moved into a new studio with over four times as much space.
While things would soon take off in a new musical direction thanks to the Archies, Filmation had one last season of “New Adventures of Superman” left to produce. Even though Aquaman had gotten strong ratings the previous year, CBS executive Fred Silverman chose not to renew it for a second season. After all, they had just gotten their hands on another DC hero that a rival network had just dropped, who’d be pairing up with Superman instead. That hero, appearing for the first time in full animation, was Batman.
A Brief History of Batman on Film (Pre-1968)
Batman made his debut in Detective Comics #27 in March of 1939, soon being joined by his sidekick Robin a year later. In April 1940, Batman spun off into his own series, the first issue of which introduced his most famous villain, the Joker. Batman and Robin would quickly become some of DC’s most popular characters of the “Golden Age” of comics, so not long after Superman saw his screen debut thanks to Fleischer, Batman had his first film serial in 1943 from Columbia Pictures.
Simply titled “Batman”, the 15-part serial starred Lewis Wilson as Batman and Douglas Croft as Robin, and was most notable in both introducing the concept of the Batcave and influencing how Bruce Wayne’s butler Alfred would be portrayed going forward. Six years later in 1949, Columbia produced another serial titled “Batman and Robin”, with a much lower budget and different actors, this time starring Robert Lowery as Batman and Johnny Duncan as Robin. This serial saw the first screen appearances of Commissioner Gordon and journalist Vicki Vale.
Batman wouldn’t appear on the screen for over 15 years, but in 1965, the original 1943 serial was repackaged as a 4 hour film titled “An Evening with Batman and Robin”. Promoted as “high-camp”, the package film was met with sold-out screenings and was very popular among the college age crowd of the time. One person who attended a screening was ABC exec Yale Udoff, who became inspired to help greenlight a Batman television series.
The following year, the classic 1966 “Batman” TV series premiered, starring Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as Robin. To say the series was a success would be an understatement, as it helped define the character for an entire generation and solidify Batman’s place in popular culture. Lasting for three seasons and a theatrical movie, the series saw Batman, Robin, and Batgirl fight against many classic comic book villains like Joker, Penguin, the Riddler, and Catwoman. It also was well known for its many cameo appearances by celebrities, as well as its crossover with the Green Hornet TV series.
The series heavily embraced its comic book roots, complete with sound effects, as well as a light hearted campy tone. The intro even featured the first animated appearances of the characters. After three seasons, ABC canceled the series, and while NBC attempted to make an offer to save it, the sets being swiftly scrapped led to negotiations falling apart, and the series entered the history books.
Meanwhile, at CBS, however…
The Adventures of Batman
September 14, 1968 - January 1, 1969
Filmation’s aim to acquire an animated Batman series had actually began as early as the production of “The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure” in 1967, as Batman’s name had come up as a potential superhero to be featured in the show. But with ABC airing the live-action series, CBS was hesitant to actually greenlight a Batman cartoon. When the news broke about ABC canceling their show and NBC being unable to rescue it, CBS gave Filmation the go-ahead to produce their show, airing alongside Superman as “The Batman/Superman Hour”.
“The Adventures of Batman” (as the individual show was called) would heavily use the live-action series as a basis. This was even to the point of using the character of Chief O’Hara, who had originally been created for the TV series. The episodes were also structured similarly to the live-action series, with the first two segments of each half hour being a two-part story with a cliffhanger in the middle (the live-action series was always structured as multi-part stories with heavy emphasis on cliffhangers). The third segment would then be a shorter unrelated Batman story.
Unable to get any of the actors from the previous show, DC and Filmation looked to the realm of radio to get their Batman and Robin. For Batman, radio actor Olan Soule, known at the time for being in the long running radio program “The First Nighter”, was hired. As for Robin, disc jockey Casey Kasem was cast; Besides some minor voices in UPA’s Mr. Magoo TV series, this was Kasem’s first real role in animation, one year before he would be cast as Shaggy in “Scooby-Doo”. The show also featured Jane Webb as Batgirl and Catwoman, Larry Storch as the Joker, and (much like with Aquaman) Ted Knight in virtually all other roles. Filmation co-founder Lou Scheimer also lent his voice for the first time in some minor roles, something he’d continue to do throughout Filmation’s history.
Nearly all the notable villains from the TV show who originated from the comics reappeared here: Joker, Riddler, Penguin, Catwoman, Mr. Freeze, and the Mad Hatter. In addition to these, the Scarecrow saw his first screen appearance, though without any of the fear-inducing gimmicks he’s known for. New villains also appeared, like Dollman (loosely based on Golden Age Batman villain Puppet Master) and Simon the Pie Man. Unlike most cartoons of the time, which usually only had one villain per episode, the villains in “Adventures of Batman” were frequently seen pooling their resources together to team up against Batman.
The End of Superhero Cartoons (For Now)
While the show did well, it was unfortunately doomed from the start to last only one season. At least as far back as early 1967, not long after the initial CBS lineup of superhero cartoons (including the first season of Superman), stirring from concerned parents over violent cartoons on Saturday mornings began. This came to a head following the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy in June 1968, when media watchdog groups began to organize against the violence on television. While Filmation had strived to keep violence to a minimum on their shows, even going as far as to cut away from punches to not show them connect, they were targeted just as much as Hanna-Barbera’s superhero shows.
On September 17th of 1968, Lou Scheimer spoke at a panel about television violence, defending the animation studios supplying the shows and the networks ordering them. In the end, CBS relented to the mounting pressure, and assured that violence would be eliminated from Saturday mornings by the fall of 1969. Indeed, whereas CBS aired 7 action cartoons during the fall of 1968, one year later they were only airing two: reruns of Superman and Jonny Quest, pushed off into afternoon slots away from the main lineup. Batman, retitled “Batman with Robin the Boy Wonder”, was brushed off to a Sunday morning timeslot, and by 1970, superhero cartoons on Saturday mornings were extinct. Luckily for Filmation, even though they were forced to abandon superheroes (not returning to them until 1974’s “Shazam!”), their success with “The Archie Show” in 1968 came at the perfect time, and allowed them to move on.
As for “The Adventures of Batman” itself, its legacy is two-fold. Once the attention towards violent cartoons had died down, Hanna-Barbera picked up the DC license and produced “Super Friends” in 1973, which featured Ted Knight as the narrator, and had Olan Soule and Casey Kasem reprise their roles as Batman and Robin respectively; They would continue to voice the characters on the show for a decade. For Filmation, they would eventually also revisit Batman in 1977’s “The New Adventures of Batman”, which reused the same character designs as the old cartoon, but this time featuring Adam West and Burt Ward back in their roles.