When it comes to Batman adaptations, one of the most iconic is undoubtedly the classic 1966 TV series. It wasn't the first time that the character had been portrayed in live-action, but it was the most successful adaptation at the time, and it is credited for sustaining the Caped Crusaders' legacy at a time when comic book adaptations weren't the heavy-hitters they are now.
Starring Adam West and Burt Ward as Batman and Robin, Batman premiered on ABC on January 12, 1966. It went on to run for three seasons, bringing in Yvonne Craig as Batgirl, as the heroes battled the likes of The Joker, Catwoman, The Riddler, The Penguin, Mr. Freeze, and more. It then concluded with its third season.
Since its cancellation, the show has taken on a new life, with DC fans appreciating its clever, witty writing and all that it did for the Batman character during a dark period for the comic books. Naturally, you might be wondering why it didn't last longer.
ABC cancelled Batman because of declining ratings
Ratings is the name of the game on network television and, like every veteran show, Batman's ratings declined throughout its run, which ultimately resulted in ABC cancelling the show after season 3.
The show had been a strong performer for the network in its first season, but the ratings saw a pretty sharp drop-off during its second season, which ran for 60 episodes. Given that this was half of the show's entire episode count, it's understandable that not everyone managed to keep up with it - especially as that was 30 two-part adventures. No matter how good the cliffhangers were, not everyone was going to tune in every single week.
There was an attempt made to get the ratings up for the show's third season as it introduced a new, original version of Batgirl, played by Yvonne Craig. The Barbara Gordon character was created specifically for the TV show (producer William Dozier collaborated with the editor of the Batman comics and Batgirl made her DC Comics debut ahead of her arrival in the TV series), but she has since gone on to become the definitive version of the character. Moreover, the show's budget was cut, with much of the season being filmed on a soundstage (while also making use of the already-established sets), and the episodes were reduced to one a week.
While this definitely gave season 3 its own unique flavor, the show's ratings continued to fall and ABC made the decision to cancel it. Batman ended its run in March 1968 at three seasons.
Batman season 4 almost happened on a different network
In what might come as a surprise to you, Batman's cancellation initially wasn't going to be the end for the show. Yes, ABC had made the decision to cancel it, but fellow network NBC was set to pick it up for a fourth season. Unfortunately, according to actor Burt Ward, many of the show's sets had already been destroyed, so the network ultimately passed on the project.
One would assume that the Batcave, Wayne Manor, and Commissioner Gordon's office were among the destroyed sets, as season 3 managed to make it work with virtually no other sets outside of those three. But how could you make Batman work four seasons in without any of his iconic locations?
While the cancellation did ultimately mark the end for the show, West and Ward's adventures as Batman and Robin would continue in the years ahead. They reprised their roles in a voice capacity, voicing the Caped Crusaders in the 1977 animated TV series The Adventures of Batman and Robin before going on to do it in other projects over the course of the next half a decade. West would also make multiple cameo appearances in various animated Batman outings, voicing characters such as The Gray Ghost and Mayor Grange.
The pair would make their triumphant returns in the canon animated movie sequels Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders and Batman vs. Two-Face. The latter was West's final performance and it also introduced Two-Face to the '66 universe, checking off the one item that the TV series never got to do before its cancellation.
Needless to say Batman 1966's impact will live on forever and fans are eternally grateful to the legacy it has crafted for Batman, Robin, and all of their beloved characters.