The TV series Batman premiered on January 12, 1966. That makes the show 50 years old! In some ways, the series is a relic of a bygone era, but it also it seems like just yesterday. Compared to the more recent Michael Keaton/Christian Bale/Ben Affleck Batman movies, the ‘60s series is a real outlier, and even at the time was just plain goofy. There was a method to the madness, as the TV show followed the resurgence of Batman comic books. Believe it or not, until the mid-’60s, the Batman comic book character wasn’t all that popular, and was even declining.
In response, DC editor Julius Schwartz drastically revamped the book in 1964: He threw out the science fiction elements and put Carmine Infantino on art. Infantino had a cleaner, more realistic style than previous Batman artists such as Dick Sprang and he completely redefined the book. The result was an action series with a penchant for the ridiculous. Batman often solved mysteries that made little sense using solutions or tools that made even less sense, and often found himself stuck in elaborate death-traps. It is, to modern eyes, all a bit silly, but it sold: By 1965, Batman was back on the charts.
The idea of a Batman TV series had been in the works since 1961, but stalled repeatedly. It was saved by ABC executive Harve Bennett, who saw the potential of a series (in a nice bit of nerd symmetry, Bennett would go on to save Star Trek in the ’80s). Bennett saw the popularity of a roadshow of the old serials and hits like The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and thought Batman would be perfect for the network.
And Batman as a comedy was a hit. You can read the story of how that can to be at Gamma Squad.