Why Batman: The Animated Series was cancelled

Batman: The Animated Series is a revolutionary piece of DC history that deserved a longer run, so why did they stop making it?
Batman: The Animated Series | Remastered Opening Titles | Warner Bros. Entertainment
Batman: The Animated Series | Remastered Opening Titles | Warner Bros. Entertainment / Warner Bros. Entertainment

There are few shows as truly revolutionary as Batman: The Animated Series. When it premiered on Fox Kids in 1992, few could have known that it go on to launch what is perhaps the greatest animated shared universe in existence, but its quality of writing was clear from the get-go. The show earned itself a number of accolades throughout its run, including an Emmy Award for its thoughtful reinvention of the Mr. Freeze character's backstory.

It ran for two lengthy seasons between 1992 and 1995, totalling 85 episodes, before its initial run came to an end. Two years later, it was revived for a single season sequel series titled The New Batman Adventures. Even with its new animation style and character revamps, it too received praise from audiences; all of whom were excited to revisit the DC Animated Universe's Gotham City.

Today, the show is widely held up as one of the best - if not the very best - animated shows of all time, and certainly the best animated superhero show. Its contributions to the Batman franchise were legendary, with everything from Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill's iconic portrayals of Batman and The Joker, to the introduction of Harley Quinn and reinvention of Mr. Freeze, all pivotal parts of its legacy. So why didn't it last longer?

The creative team didn't want to diminish the quality

Like many critically-acclaimed and beloved shows that have stood the test of time, Batman: The Animated Series wasn't as big of a hit during its initial run as you might think, as it went through a number of reinventions in a bid to appeal to new viewers. It performed well on Fox Kids but it struggled when moved to primetime as it aired opposite the huge 60 Minutes. Even so, it continued to prove popular with fans, with its devoted audience tuning in to catch up with Batman, Robin, Alfred Pennyworth, Commissioner Gordon and more.

So its ending had nothing to do with ratings. Quite the opposite, in fact. The real reason it came to an end, according to The Dark Knight himself Kevin Conroy, was due to the creative team deciding that the time was right to close that chapter before they ran out of ideas. Conroy, in a 2018 interview with ComicBook.com, revealed that the writers didn't want to compromise the quality of the show by continuing on when it was time to end it. He said:

"They didn't stop making the shows because the audience wasn't there or the actors weren't there, they stopped, really, because the creators ran out of ideas for stories. And they didn't want to compromise on the quality of what they had and start creating kind of silly stories."

Kevin Conroy

He also explained how their constant reinventions of the show, both through its pivot to The Adventures of Batman & Robin and eventual revival in The New Batman Adventures, allowed them to keep it fresh. And that's what ultimately paved the way for the DC Animated Universe franchise, because even when Batman ended, the character returned in sequel shows and spinoffs.

It kept things fresh and ensured that the storytelling never got stale. And it was ultimately successful, because the franchise's writing was always strong.

Batman: The Animated Series paved the way for the DCAU

When Batman: The Animated Series ended the first time, work had begun on launching a spinoff focused on Superman. The sharper, more straightforward character designs in that show are why The New Batman Adventures had a very different look about it, as the two ended up being paired together. However, when both shows came to a definitive end, it wasn't the end for the DC Animated Universe, it was just the beginning.

Batman's stories continued in the 1999 futuristic sequel series Batman Beyond, in which Kevin Conroy reprised his role as an aged Bruce Wayne, who took a young Terry McGinnis under his wing to become Neo Gotham's new hero. After that, we went back to the present for Justice League and sequel series Justice League Unlimited, showcasing how Batman learned to trust others as the heroes formed a line of defense between Earth and all of the unknown threats in Outer Space.

Justice League, Batman: The Animated Series
Photo: Justice League.. Image Courtesy Warner Bros. / DC Universe /

As well as those shows, there have also been films set within the same continuity as well. Batman: The Animated Series launched spinoff films Mask of the Phantasm and Batman & Mr. Freeze SubZero, while the world of The New Batman Adventures was revisited in 2003 for Mystery of the Batwoman. And long after the shared universe ended, 2019 animated film Justice League vs. The Fatal Five took us back to the world of Justice League one more time.

The legacy that Batman: The Animated Series inspired is second-to-none and it extends beyond the DCAU. Harley Quinn, an original character created solely for the show, has since been welcomed into the DC Comics lore with open arms, going on to become one of the most popular DC antiheroes, while Mr. Freeze's rewritten origin story is now widely accepted as canon.

The late, great Kevin Conroy is also widely considered the definitive voice of Batman, reprising the role in countless adaptations outside of the DCAU, including animated movies, a live-action Arrowverse Crisis On Infinite Earths adaptation, and most notably the Arkham video game franchise. His partnership with Mark Hamill made their Batman and Joker the greatest on-screen portrayal of the hero and villain's complex relationship, and it was always wonderful to see (or hear) them starring opposite each other over the years.

Batman: The Animated Series may have come to an end a long time ago, but the stories that it told, the performance that Kevin Conroy gifted us with, and the legacy that both crafted will live on forever.

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