If you were a nine-year-old growing up in 1966, the TV series Batman was your life, and Adam West was your Batman. West recently passed away at the age of 88.
In the age when most Long Island families had just one black and white television, there weren’t a lot of options for kids after dinner. There were only a handful of channels to begin with (2, 4, 5, 7, 9 and 11) and evening television was geared toward adults.
TV for kids was mostly limited to weekend cartoons and afternoon reruns, but Wednesday night at 8 p.m.? You watched whatever your parents were watching.
Then came Batman, unlike any other TV program at the time. It was made for kids, but with a wink and a nod to the adults in the room. We didn’t understand the nuances of all the dialogue or cheesy puns, and we weren’t familiar with the “guest stars” appearing as villains or concerned citizens, sticking their head out of windows as Batman and Robin scaled apartment buildings. It was described as “campy” at the time, but what does a nine-year-old know of campy?
Batman and his sidekick, the Boy Wonder, were crime fighters. There was a cool Bat-cave with computers and epic battles against the main villain’s henchmen with cool “Whap”, “Biff” and “Oooooff” graphics to accentuate the punches. Batman even had a cool theme song, with pounding drums and an infectious melody that sticks with you even today. And that car. There isn’t a man over 50 that wouldn’t give his right arm to just sit in that black Batmobile with the red stripes just once in his life.
What made Batman unique was the adventure unfolded over two consecutive nights. Wednesday’s episode ended in a cliffhanger, with Batman and Robin in an impossibly ridiculous trap, about to be blown up, burned alive or vaporized. How were they going to get out of this one? Holy cliffhanger, Batman! As we sat frozen on the floor staring at the tube, the narrator would tease us about the perilous situation at hand, only to utter the words that became part of television lexicon, “Tune in tomorrow. Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel.”
Tomorrow? We’d have to wait for tomorrow while our heroes were chained upside down, slowly being lowered into a vat of acid? There was no better parental motivator for grammar school kids on Thursday afternoon than, “If you don’t get your homework done, you’re not watching Batman tonight.” It was way more effective than, “Wait until your father gets home.” You bet that math homework got done.
Batman wasn’t a “superhero” with some sort of mutant power. He was just a mortal guy, albeit a rich mortal guy, who built cool weapons to help him fight crime. With a secret identity and a sidekick, he drove a cool car and had a secret crime-fighting lab hidden inside a cave.
Batman lasted just three television years, 1966 to 1968, but made 120 episodes. In today’s world, 120 episodes would spread out over 10 seasons and probably 15 years in duration.
The Batman TV series remained popular with kids because it never outgrew the target audience. It was three years, twice a week, and their pre-teen audience was still pre-teen when it was cancelled. Apparently the 8-11 demographic was not desirable enough for advertisers. What other crime fighter could defeat villains with his intellect while taking the time to correct his partner’s grammar and make sure he uses his seatbelt?
Today’s generation knows Batman as “The Dark Knight” and Adam West as the Mayor of Quahog on Family Guy. To my generation, West will always be “The Caped Crusader”, a crime-fighting hero with a tiny utility belt that holstered innumerable gadgets and gizmos to get them out of trouble. West’s Batman was a hero kids could look up to and emulate without mutant powers.
When I heard the news of Adam West’s passing, all I could think of was, “holy heartbreak.” As West joins Alfred the butler, Bat Girl and Commissioner Gordon in the great beyond, there are also villains from the TV show waiting for him, like the Riddler, the Joker and the Penguin.
What’s going to happen next? Guess we’ll have to wait for tomorrow, same Bat-time, same Bat-channel.