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Holy Reruns, Batman! : Campy ‘60s series returns weeknights on Family Channel

TIMES STAFF WRITER

As “Batman Returns,” starring Michael Keaton as the Caped Crusader, prepares to fly to a theater near you on June 19, Batmanmania is heating up again. But Holy Repeats! The Family Channel has jumped on the Batwagon, adding the camp ‘60s series to its weeknight lineup.

Created by Bob Kane in 1939, “Batman” first appeared in comic-book form in “Detective Comics” (D.C. Comics) and on radio’s “Superman” series in the 1940s, as well as in two movie serials.

America went Batcrazy when ABC premiered “Batman” on Jan. 12, 1966.

Whereas the “Batman” films are dark, violent and serious, the series was full of bad puns, bad acting and general good-natured silliness.

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“Batman” starred Adam West as Bruce Wayne, a wealthy man living in Gotham City, who had been orphaned as a child when his parents were killed by a criminal. After building an underground crime lab, Wayne became the mysterious masked Batman, who helped right wrongs in Gotham City.

Burt Ward co-starred as Wayne’s young ward, Dick Grayson, who, as the Boy Wonder Robin, helped Batman track down the bad guys in their trusty Batmobile.

Police Commissioner Gordon (Neil Hamilton) would summon the Dynamic Duo on his Batphone or by using his Batsignal.

The only person who knew Batman and Robin’s true identity was the family butler Alfred (Alan Napier), who had raised Wayne after his parents’ death.

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Initially, “Batman” aired on both Wednesday and Thursdays. The Wednesday installment ended in the manner of the old movie serials with our heroes in the clutches of danger or death. They always managed to escape come Thursday night. The series was a big hit, reaching No. 10 in the ratings its first season.

Neal Hefti’s catchy theme song spawned two hit records. Hefti’s version hit No. 35 in the charts and the Markettes’ disc reached No. 17. During its run, the series spawned a feature-length film, released in 1966 and starring the same main actors.

“Batman” boasted a colorful array of Batvillains including Burgess Meredith as the Penguin (which Danny DeVito will play in “Batman Returns”), Cesar Romero as the Joker, Frank Gorshin and John Astin as the Riddler, Vincent Price as Egghead, Victor Buono as King Tut and Julie Newmar, Lee Ann Meriwether and Eartha Kitt as the Catwoman (played by Michelle Pfeiffer in the movie).

By the fall of 1967, “Batman” was running out of Batgas. The series was cut back to one night a week and Yvonne Craig joined the cast as Gordon’s librarian daughter Barbara, who, as Batgirl, teamed up with Batman and Robin. But it was too little too late and “Batman” flew off into the evening on March 14, 1968.

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“Batman” airs weeknights at 6 and 11 p.m. on the Family Channel.


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