Obit of the Day: Co-Creator Batman TV Series
The dark, brooding Batman that has dominated the comic book pages and movie screens of late was nowhere to be found on January 12, 1966 when the half-hour television series premiered.
Lorenzo Semple and William Napier, who brought the production to ABC, felt that the story of a millionaire who dressed as a bat to fight crime was campy not dark. So the new show was filled with cariactures of villains, an overserious hero, and fight scenes punctuated with screen-covering interjections like “Pow!”, “Krunch!” and “Klonk!”
Mr. Semple wrote the show’s first four episodes as well as ten others during the production’s three seasons. At its peak, Batman was a top ten show televised twice a week (Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.) with the first episode ending in a cliffhanger resolved in the second. In the third season, the show returned to a more traditional schedule of once per week.
The show popularity and critical acclaim (it earned an Emmy nomination for Best Comedy) also helped it cast some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, notably as the show’s villains. Besides the original four - Caesar Romero (The Joker), Frank Gorshin (The Riddler), Burgess Meredith (The Penguin) and Jule Newmar* (Catwoman) - some familiar names tried to stop the Caped Crusader and the Boy Wonder on a weekly basis, including Vincent Price (Egghead), Cliff Robertson (Shame), Shelley Winters (Ma Parker), Ethel Merman (Lola Lasagna), and Milton Berle (Louie the Lilac).
Only six months after it’s television premiere, Batman: The Movie opened in theaters with a screenplay written by Mr. Semple. But it was too much of a good thing. After two seasons finishing in the top ten of the Nielsen ratings, the show’s popularity dropped off considerably in 1968 and the show’s final episode aired in March of that year.
Although Mr. Semple called Batman “the best thing I ever wrote” he was an accomplished screenwriter. He wrote screenplays for fifteen films including Papillon (1973), Three Days of the Condor (1975), King Kong (1976), and Flash Gordon (1980).
Lorenzo Semple, who also earned a Croix de Guerre fighting for the French in Libya early in World War II and then a Bronze Star fighting for the U.S., died on March 28, 2014 at the age of 91.
Sources: NY Times, IMDB.com, and Wikipedia
(Opening credits from Batman television series is copyright of ABC and courtesy of kallemalle912 on YouTube.com)
* Eartha Kitt replaced Ms. Newmar in the final season as Catwoman and Lee Meriweather played the feline villain in Batman: The Movie.
Another Batman Day entry…
Don’t forget that lots of comic shops are doing promotions for the 75th anniversary of Batman’s first appearance in DC Comics, including a free Batman comic, Batman masks, and other cool giveaways.