'Batman' Forever? Adam West Made His Peace With That

Adam West's death last week served as a reminder of a TV era when actors came to resent the very shows that made them famous.

It was a process that repeated itself over and over again in the era of just three big networks. Actors and actresses would come off of a couple of seasons on a popular show and then learn that producers and casting directors were not interested in hiring them for new shows because of the vast exposure they had just received. 

As I understand it, the thinking went like this: The producers believed that every time West would come into a scene -- say, as a detective, or a doctor, or a sitcom husband -- everybody watching would just see Batman.

Maybe one reason for the acceptance of this way of thinking was that every successful TV show in that era drew huge audiences, at least as compared with what the top-rated shows attract today.

In the case of Adam West, there were probably few Americans alive in that era who didn't think of him as Batman. 

Roughly a quarter of the country watched “Batman” in its first phenomenal season, according to my personal copy of Tim Brooks’ and Earle Marsh’s Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows 1946-Present (Eighth edition, published October 2003).

“Batman” premiered in January 1966 on ABC and had two serialized half-hour episodes per week. Thursday night's episode -- the second of the two -- had a 27 rating to rank fifth out of all prime-time shows for the season (No. 1 was “Bonanza”). The week’s first episode on Wednesday nights was ranked 10th with a 24.7 rating.

As a first grader in the winter of 1966, I can attest to this show's popularity. It is an important part of my personal TV history because it stands out in my memory as the first show that my peers and I discussed on the mornings after it aired. On the subject of Batman and Robin's travails and the colorful villains they faced, interest was keen indeed.

In later years, West admitted that after “Batman,” when offers of acting work were lean, he “hated” the show (one such story is pictured above, with West).

However, like so many other TV stars from that era, he said he eventually came to embrace the role and the apparent joy it gave people. And it didn't hurt that appearing all over the place wherever fans of the show were assembled more than paid the bills too. 

I never had the opportunity to ask him about this subject. Due to the randomness with which opportunities to interview TV personalities have come my way over the years, I never crossed paths with Adam West.

Among those who were long rumored to have hated their most famous roles was Tina Louise, who played “movie star” Ginger Grant on “Gilligan’s Island.” I once asked her about it and she denied it. But it was also true that she omitted “Gilligan's Island” -- the show for which she was best known – from her resume. 

It's possible some of the resentment may have stemmed from the relatively low pay TV stars received in those days. Not only were their salaries low compared to today's, but almost none of them were able to negotiate for perpetual residual payments in that era.

I once asked Bob Denver about that, and he was sanguine. When I interviewed him in 1993, he told me he made just $1,200 a week at the height of the popularity of “Gilligan's Island” in the mid-1960s. Denver was Gilligan, and the show's repeats have never left the air since its first run ended on CBS in 1967.

“There's not a lot of shows that run 30 years,” said Denver, then 58. “If you knew in ’63, when I signed the deal, that things would run 20, 30 years, and didn't get a deal, then you’d be really upset.”

Denver died in 2005 at age 70. Adam West was 88 when he died last Friday. Denver didn't seem to have a problem embracing Gilligan. On the day I interviewed him in a small conference room in a book publisher's office in New York, he was carrying one of his Gilligan sailor's caps because he knew how much people loved to see him put it on.

As for West, all indications were that he made his peace with Batman long ago. 

1 comment about "'Batman' Forever? Adam West Made His Peace With That".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, June 15, 2017 at 12:43 p.m.

    Adam, average minute ratings of the sort you mentioned about "Batman" don't tell you how many people watched the series over the course of a season. If "Batman's" average minute set usage rating was 25% during its first skein of episodes, this propably translated into a persons' rating of around 12-15% reached per episode. Over the course of 13 weeks the percentage of the total population that watched one or more episodes was more likely in the 50-55% range. I wonder if the folks at TVQ, which measured program "familiarity" as well as liking at the time, can confirm this estimate?

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