On April 28, 1988, the then-fledgling Fox Network’s The Late Show with Ross Shafer hosted a Batman reunion. However, due to poor time management and a second-rate host, among other problems, the reunion can be a bit of a tough watch - especially the way Alan Napier was shortchanged on airtime at the end as he and Shafer struggled to communicate with each other. Video of the episode, unavailable when we looked for it years ago, surfaced last year, and this time we discuss the problems as well as the interesting bits that we did pick up from the bat-cast.
-- The Joker, in a line cut from "The Joker's Epitaph"
1. The Late Show's producers and staff were tasked with pulling off a Batman reunion, so they accomplished that; just getting the majority of the then-still living main cast together was a big thing, made more special with the lion's share of rogue's gallery villains. For a talk show catering to John and Jane Q. Public with a very basic familiarity with the '66 series, the reunion was something to see and informative, which brings me to the next point...
2. To the aforementioned John and Jane Q. Public, any bit of information or recollection from the cast came off as revealing, as that kind of average viewer spent approximately 0.0% of their lives digging deep into the production history or even plotlines of the Dozier show, so the assumed lack of research on the part of The Late Show was deliberate--any actor's story was more than the average viewer would have ever known, or cared to look up. That kind of viewer fits the general, catch-all awareness of pop-culture talks shows catered to back in 1988.
3. Ross Shafer's questions fell into that catch-all awareness of pop-culture (for the audience's sake), and although many a hardcore '66 Batman fan groaned at or mocked Shafer's apparent "ignorance," he was right in lockstep with every other talk show hosting vintage TV reunions, and as a result, the guests--who made second careers from repeating stories over the decades--were not going to take deep dives with new tales and trivia (more often than not), considering the format.
Watching the episode again, I could see West and Ward were seasoned short story spinners--trained from nearly 20 years (at the time) of conventions, car shows and amusement park appearances. Although there were some moments of cross-talk between Shafer and the guests, format and perceived audience interest had to follow the familiar, well-worn type of questions heard on endless talk shows:
"Did _________lead to typecasting?
"Russell Johnson, did any of those island inventions actually work?
"Bill Shatner, so, do you enjoy being recognized as Captain Kirk?'
"Leonard Nimoy, what was it like to see yourself wearing those ears?"
"Bob Denver, what's Gilligan's first name?"
"Don Knotts, can you say, 'Nip it in the bud' in Barney Fife's voice again?"
"Bill Mumy, did you ever think the Robot was a real robot?"
"Jonathan Harris, can you say, 'Never fear, Smith is here!' again?"
"Julie Newmar, can you do the Catwoman purr?"
...and on and on and on. Rinse and repeat.
Vintage TV + talk shows = a deficit in original questions.
Oh, if I would've changed one thing about the reunion, it would be to forget George Barris' phone number, and just rent the Batmobile. That guy was just grating on the nerves with his egocentrism and circus pitchman routine.
In any case, I can give Shafer a break; he didn't create the talk show format, and its arguable that he--or The Late Show producers--were not in the position to change it...or believed they should.
Working in live television, I can assure you that timing is always an issue when conducting programs of this nature. A common criticism of late night talk shows is how the hosts always interrupt or stop a guest while they’re telling a story. That’s nothing compared to what the producers are yelling in their ears to wrap a segment, otherwise they’ll go over on the allotted time. That’s obviously not an issue when it comes to podcasts where there is no time limit burdened by hard start times and end times. Sure, we can cry fowl for them shortchanging Alan Napier’s screen time, but that comes out of Frank Gorshin’s second take on his entrance. They couldn’t easily edit that out to accommodate more time, so it is what it is when you’ve got just one take, otherwise you have to reset and start from the top, which I can assure you no one wants to do.