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This Was The Real Batman
Looks like I am not getting Batman this Christmas. ( The 60s television series, not the actual superhero. ) Release on DVD and Blu-ray nearly two years ago after a long legal quagmire that kept it off of home video for 35 years, I ended up not buying the series box set due to a few problems. One being that somehow Warner Bros "restoration" of the series included accidentally editing out entire scenes from random episodes. So until Warner or anyone else releases the series with the full compliment of extras, with complete uncut episodes, and at a reasonable price, I can wait. I was hoping a definitive set would be released for this Christmas, but that now looks like that will not happen. *Sigh*. Maybe next year.
Batman '66 is not well received among comic book fans. They see it as Batman being ridiculed by television writers who hate comic books. Others insist that producer William Dozier hated Batman so much that he bought the television rights just to make the character look bad. Actually, Dozier had originally wanted to produce a series based on Dick Tracy, but the rights were not available. So he moved on to Superman, but once again the rights were not available. He was in the midst of bidding for the rights to The Green Hornet when he was approached by ABC. They had heard the producer was looking to produce a series based on a comic book hero, and they had the hero for him. ABC and 20th Century Fox wanted to produce a weekly series based on Batman and needed a production company. It was ABC that wanted the series to be campy. For his part Dozier researched the comic book and discovered the issues published between 1945 and 1960 were in fact campy, so based the series on that era.
Batman made his first appearance in 1939 in the 27th issue of Detective Comics. Originally conceived to be a dark comic, it told the story of rich playboy Bruce Wayne, who as a child witnessed both his parents gunned down by a mugger. Vowing to wage a war against violent criminals, he spent his youth training as a fighter and detective, adopting a bat costume as a way to frighten the criminals he fought. In the early days, Batman killed more criminals than he arrested, and he had his own rogues gallery of deformed insane villains with their own body count.
By the 1950s The Comic Code Authority instituted a number of rules against violence in color comics. Batman went through a period where the violence was toned down to non-existent. Even Batman's most violent adversary, the serial killer known as The Joker, was reduced to playing pranks. The majority of stories in Batman comics we're gimmicky or science fiction. Beginning in the mid 1960s, D.C. Comics gradually returned Batman to his darker roots. The Batman television series debuted just as Batman in the comics was beginning this transition.
Dozier had intended to introduce Batman with a television movie in the winter before beginning the proper season the next fall. But ABC wanted the series immediately, so the series premiered in the winter with the new plan for the tv movie to open the second season. Batman quickly became a huge hit. 20th Century Fox decided to up the movie's budget and release it in theaters.
Dozier went ahead with The Green Hornet, turning it into a spin-off series with the Hornet and Kato making appearances on Batman. It failed to draw ratings, mostly due to Dozier's decision that The Green Hornet be a straight crime drama rather than campy like Batman, and ABC insisting that less screen time be given to Kato ( who was played by Bruce Lee himself ) because they thought American viewers didn't want to see Asian actors. A year later Dozier went with the spin-off concept again, this time with Batgirl. ABC loved the character, but then insisted she be part of the Batman cast rather than in her own series. In addition, ABC decided to cut the show from an hour a week ( split into two half hour episodes with a cliffhanger in between ) to just a half hour a week. The writers now had to balance two completing superheroes, and only give half the time to the villain of the week. The writing suffered, and the ratings plummeted. ABC cancelled the series.
NBC offered to pick up Batman for it's fourth season, but made the offer too late. 20th Century Fox had already torn down the sets and let the actors out of their contracts. In 1977 Filmation hired Adam West and Burt Ward to voice The New Adventures of Batman, a cartoon series that lasted one season. Two years later an attempted was made at a live action version of Justice League, called Legends of the Superheroes, with West and Ward reprising the roles of Batman and Robin. Reruns of the Batman series entered syndication during the 70s, then drifted out of syndication in the 80s.
In 1980 producer Michael Uslan aquired the film rights to Batman. Determined to make a film featuring The original dark version of Batman, Ulsan pitched the movie to every studio, and was turned down by all of them. They all wanted Batman to be campy like the series, and most of them insisted on casting West and Ward as the leads. Warner Bros finally grew interested when Frank Miller's graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns became a rage. Tim Burton was signed to direct, and in 1989 the dark version of Batman made it's screen debut.
While Burton's Batman movies were hits, both Warner Bros and producer Ulsan decided the series could make a lot more money on the merchandising if the movies were campy. Burton was out and Schumacher was in, while for the next two films Ulsan tried to recapture the campy style of the television series. While financially the Schumacher Batmans we're more successful than Burton's dark Batman, Warner realized they were killing the franchise. Batman & Robin broke two records the same weekend. One for box office gross. The other for the greatest box office drop-off in motion picture history. Warner Bros quickly killed plans for a third Schumacher film. Since then Warner Bros has insisted on Batman being dark, which paid off with the successful Dark Knight trilogy.
Meanwhile fans of Batman developed selective amnesia. With all the publicity surrounding the Burton Batman movie, the original Batman series made it's triumphant return to television when the reruns were shown on Nickelodeon. Comic book fans complained about it's style, somehow forgetting that they were fans of the show when they were younger. Hate towards the Batman series reached it's peak when Schumacher made his second Batman movie.
The displeasure over the camp style of Batman lead to the urban legend that D.C. were the ones preventing the series to be released on home video, not wanting their character to be depicted that way. However, the real reason for it not being on video dates back to the original contract. The rights to the series were split four ways between Dozier, 20th Century Fox, ABC and D.C. Comics. Dozier retained all future broadcasts rights for the reruns, while 20th Century Fox retained full distribution rights to the movie. Dozier's estate were the first to attempt to release episodes of Batman on video tape. But since none of the four partners held home video rights, the Doziers would need permission from the other three partners. The problem was that two of the partners had just launched their own home video companies, ABC Circle and CBS/FOX. Meanwhile D.C. had become property of Warner Bros who in turn had launched Warner Home Video. Eventually ABC and the Doziers gave up on releasing Batman, and for the next two decades it was 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros battling it out.
What finally broke the stalemate was ABC being aquired by Disney, who in turn aquired Marvel Entertainment. Now suddenly there was a possibility that Marvel could block Fox and Warner from releasing Batman, preventing it from competing against the direct to video superhero cartoons they were releasing. A deal was hashed out, and Warner Bros finally released Batman on home video a year and a half ago.
Which brings us back to the current problem. Missing scenes. I'm this case, the end tags. Those are the very short scenes at the end of a show, sandwiched between the final commercial break and the end credits. The only reason they even existed was as a trick to keep viewers watching through the final commercial break, even though the episode had it's resolution, and was usually nothing more than a quick gag. In the case of the missing Batman tags, it was usually the caped crusaders summing up that weeks adventure. Something that viewers probably never would have noticed missing if not for the third season tags showing the arrival of next week's villain.
According to sources at Warner, this is how the mistake was made. Original film negatives we're being scanned for an HD print of the show. When they got around to the later seasons they realized that Dozier had been using the same film print as a master for the ending credits, and the master eventually had scratches and embedded dust. Rather than have worn looking ending credits, the team restoring the shows decided to rebuild the ending credits. This meant replacing the old credits with the cleaned up credits. What the team failed to realize was that the tags and credits were labeled as one. So when they chose not to scan the tin of film labeled ending credits for that episode, they accidentally edit out the tags.
Warner did offer replacement discs with the missing tags. But I was hoping that future releases would have the fix. Instead they are so far pressing the same flawed discs and expecting buyers to order the bonus discs. Until a new edition of the series is released with all the fixes, The saga of Batman coming to home video has not yet ended.