The 4th Season NBC Myth

General goings on in the 1966 Batman World

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Bob Furmanek
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The 4th Season NBC Myth

Post by Bob Furmanek »

Bat-fans have long lamented the fact that the show did not have another season. Did NBC really offer to pick-up the series after the third season but was unsuccessful because the sets had been demolished? Let’s examine the documented evidence.

At its peak in February 1966, BATMAN reportedly reached about 14 million households or 42% of the total viewing audience. The first sign of a drop in the ratings occurred as early as March 1966 when the Wednesday episodes began to get lower ratings and barely made the weekly top twenty in the Nielsen ratings.

By summer, the show had dropped even further. In a syndicated August 11, 1966 Associated Press article, Cynthia Lowry wrote: “The series, which caused more talk than any other recent TV product, suffered a sharp decline in the early summer ratings. It dropped out of the list of top-rated shows, in fact.”

While Bat-merchandise was selling at a fever pitch, audiences were cooling to the Caped Crusader. The BATMAN feature premiered in Texas on July 30, 1966 and opened nationwide in August. According to Boxoffice magazine, the movie only performed slightly above average in twenty key cities. With a 100% rating considered normal, the movie came in at 122%. That wasn’t bad but the boxoffice performance was far less than anticipated and the movie did not make a profit.

The second season began on September 7, 1966 with disappointing ratings. The Archer and Cat-woman episodes showed quite a drop from the first season numbers with the show now averaging at 34th place in the Nielsen’s. The ratings picked up a bit in the latter months of 1966 but it was not enough to make a difference.

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Just one year after the show was at the top, Dozier was scrambling to salvage the program and prepared to film a presentation with Batgirl in January 1967. Variety covered the ongoing negotiations and reported the following.

March 15, 1967, “Batman executive producer Bill Dozier is understood to be fighting hard for the life of Batman and Robin.”

March 22, “Negotiations are underway between ABC and 20th-Fox on the continuing of Batman on the sked for next season. ABC, at the moment, would prefer to make a 16-week commitment while Fox is seeking a 26-week deal. Price per segment is also under negotiation.”

March 30, “Batman, the 20th-Fox TV-Greenway Production which has been a question mark on ABC- TV's sked for next season, has been firmed up.”

Despite the renewal, the show was still in the red and on June 21, 1967, Variety reported "Batman executive producer Bill Dozier said last year his show lost at least $26,000 per segment, because networks don’t pay out what a producer puts into his show. This adds up to considerable deficit financing.”

As a result, budgets were cut and the ratings were even worse for the third season. The show never made the top twenty and the ratings averaged in the 40’s.

The cast and crew knew they were in trouble. During filming at Desilu Culver in August 1967, a small group of children were watching through a studio fence as the cast left a soundstage. Burgess Meredith told the Associated Press writer Gene Handsaker, "Well, that's FOUR who watch us!" Adam West added, "Our ratings have leveled off - a term I use in lieu of something grimmer."

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The final show with Zsa Zsa Gabor as Minerva wrapped on December 21, 1967 and was the only show of the last season to have a four-day production schedule. William Dozier and Howie Horwitz filmed their cameos and they knew it was over.

Less than two weeks later - on January 3, 1968 - an executive from 20th Century Fox told Variety: "We got three years out of Batman. We are building up tremendous residual values." On January 24, Variety reported: "Batman, ABC-TV series which soared to hit status when it preemed three seasons ago, has been shot down. Network axed the half-hour series." The New York Times reported on January 26 that Batman had sunk as low as 48th in the weekly ratings.

Even though its network days were over, there was still plenty of interest in the series. On February 2, 1968, Variety wrote, "Placed in syndication only a week ago, 20th-Fox TVs "Batman" series has already racked up gross bookings of more than $2,000,000 in 18 markets."

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In conclusion, there is no mention in the trades whatsoever of NBC offering to pick-up the ailing series between the final day of production and the syndication announcement just a few weeks later. The ratings were so poor that ABC didn’t have summer reruns of the last season and with the production still in the red, Dozier was very anxious to sell it in the lucrative syndication market.

If anybody has information from documented source materials to support this myth about NBC offering to acquire the series, please share.
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AndyFish
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Re: The 4th Season NBC Myth

Post by AndyFish »

I wouldn't be surprised if it was a myth, but there are some clues to the validity outside of just the repeated tellings by those involved with the show.

1. Networks often picked up shows from other networks that indicated they had life while cutting its budget. Wonder Woman did this only eight years later. The show was down in ratings no question, but it's audience of children had continued to grow. While there is no concrete data because ratings for those under 18 were not recorded, this helped to account for the strong toy sales and the still large volume of fan mail.

2. NBC was interested enough in the Batman property that they eventually did do a Batman series in the form of two specials in 1979 that were tests for a possible longer commitment. Granted they were terrible and cheaply produced but look at what's popular on TV even today and there is no way to account for quality and taste in terms of success.

I stand firmly in the camp that I'm glad the show ended when it did. It was time to go,
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Bob Furmanek
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Re: The 4th Season NBC Myth

Post by Bob Furmanek »

I agree, the show had certainly run its course.

It appears that William Dozier was very careful with keeping his paperwork. I bet if there was any interest from NBC, there would be something there to substantiate the claim.

Just like the Liberace "highest-rated" myth, these tales seem to have a life of their own and have now been repeated so often, they've become fact.
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Bob Furmanek
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Re: The 4th Season NBC Myth

Post by Bob Furmanek »

In January 1967 as Dozier was trying to save the show, this article pointed out that it was still very popular with the kiddies.

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Dr. Shimel
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Re: The 4th Season NBC Myth

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Well, the second season losses explain the repurposing of props in S2 and certainly the bargain basement look in S3.

Much like Dallas producers found out during its heyday, shows that get such high ratings the first time generally slide the second time around because "everybody" saw the original.

I've mentioned before that once the 1966 Christmas season ended, Dozier knew he'd never have another chance to exploit the marketing of Batman. Thus, his only goal from that point was just get it to S3 to help for syndication, which explains the shaky quality and gimmickry of the latter part of S2.

Assuming NBC would have put Batman on at 7:30, there were the NBC shows in that time period in the Fall of 1968:

M: I Dream of Jeannie
TU: The Jerry Lewis Show
W: The Virginian
TH: Daniel Boone
F: High Chaparral
SA: Adam-12
SU: Walt Disney

M, W, TH and SU all had returning shows

TU: They might have moved Lewis to 8 pm, but they had the new groundbreaking show, "Julia" on after it, and that certainly got much more publicity than what a fading show like Batman would have gotten.

F: HC was a new show, but given how Green Hornet had flopped in this time slot two years earlier, Dozier & Co. wouldn't have been happy.

SA: Adam-12 was Jack Webb's new baby, and he had more cache with the network with his own (unintentionally) funny show.
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BATWINGED HORNET
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Re: The 4th Season NBC Myth

Post by BATWINGED HORNET »

OP: great subject! What's interesting is that the articles all but predicting doom for Batman right out of the 2nd season gates, but if the ratings situation was that dire, it makes one wonder why Dozier bothered with the Green Hornet crossover (aired in March, 1967) at all, when one suffering series could not help another.
AndyFish wrote:I wouldn't be surprised if it was a myth, but there are some clues to the validity outside of just the repeated tellings by those involved with the show.

1. Networks often picked up shows from other networks that indicated they had life while cutting its budget. Wonder Woman did this only eight years later. The show was down in ratings no question, but it's audience of children had continued to grow. While there is no concrete data because ratings for those under 18 were not recorded, this helped to account for the strong toy sales and the still large volume of fan mail.
You know, its funny how Batman continued life in syndication, and how networks are notoriously short-sighted. For example, Get Smart was cancelled by NBC in 1969, only to be picked up--then cancelled for good by CBS a year later, but any reports i've read say Get Smart was a syndication smash as soon as it entered that market in 1970. Networks have a poor track record of dumping series that ended up earning more money post network, proving that there was a continuing audience for something they (the networks) considered unworthy of renewal.
2. NBC was interested enough in the Batman property that they eventually did do a Batman series in the form of two specials in 1979 that were tests for a possible longer commitment.
Isn't that sort of a different case? One, the "roast" was a Hanna-Barbera production more in line with their Super Friends property than a true revival of the Dozier series despite the participation of West, Ward & Gorshin. Two, By 1979, NBC's regime changed from that running it in 1968, so if anyone ever had a thought about bringing Batman to NBC in the 60s, it would not have had any bearing on the drastically changed network that existed at the end of the 70s.
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epaddon
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Re: The 4th Season NBC Myth

Post by epaddon »

Let me just say a word in defense of "Dragnet". In 68 it was coming off its last solid season with the best episodes of the revival (including the remake of "The Christmas Story"). 68-69 though unfortunately was the year in the wake of the riots and assassinations that the new LAPD Chief wanted more shows for image-building so that was the year we got a load of "community affairs" type shows that still make for tedious watching even among diehard fans of the show like I am.

As for whether the NBC rumor had any substance, its clear that it didn't with no paper trail left behind. Obviously we can never know if there were any phone chats or anything like that, but I too am inclined to agree that Dozier wanted to get the syndication dollars fast because this was the point in time when a lot of stations were anxious to start running color shows five times a week. In fact this is really the reason why shows of this era would have so much staying power in syndication for impressionable viewers like me who started watching in the late 70s because they were part of the enduring first wave of color shows to hit the syndication market leaving very few B/W shows as syndication mainstays.
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High C
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Re: The 4th Season NBC Myth

Post by High C »

Bob Furmanek wrote: While Bat-merchandise was selling at a fever pitch, audiences were cooling to the Caped Crusader. The BATMAN feature premiered in Texas on July 30, 1966 and opened nationwide in August. According to Boxoffice magazine, the movie only performed slightly above average in twenty key cities. With a 100% rating considered normal, the movie came in at 122%. That wasn’t bad but the boxoffice performance was far less than anticipated and the movie did not make a profit.

The second season began on September 7, 1966 with disappointing ratings. The Archer and Cat-woman episodes showed quite a drop from the first season numbers with the show now averaging at 34th place in the Nielsen’s. The ratings picked up a bit in the latter months of 1966 but it was not enough to make a difference.
It's surprising that Newmar's eps didn't make a dent, but one has to remember at that moment she wasn't the icon she later would become as CW.

Epaddon has made some interesting speculation in the past. Could it be that they didn't use eps with Meredith and Romero early in the season because they were in the movie, and they still were trying to turn a buck with it? The theory being why will people pay for something they can see on TV for free.

Still, it meant they squandered a lot of momentum by opening mostly with newbie villains other than Newmar and Buono in the first eight weeks.
March 22, “Negotiations are underway between ABC and 20th-Fox on the continuing of Batman on the sked for next season. ABC, at the moment, would prefer to make a 16-week commitment while Fox is seeking a 26-week deal. Price per segment is also under negotiation.”
This is key--the 26 weeks meant 26 shows, giving Dozier a total of 120 for syndication, well above the magic number of 100 believed to be needed for syndication. Plus, 120 meant the show could be 'stripped,' as they would say in the biz, for 24 weeks, five days a week. That made it even more enticing for reruns.
The final show with Zsa Zsa Gabor as Minerva wrapped on December 21, 1967 and was the only show of the last season to have a four-day production schedule. William Dozier and Howie Horwitz filmed their cameos and they knew it was over.
I was going through that archive site with some of Dozier's paperwork the other day and was quite surprised when I saw that about the four-day shoot. Between the extra money spent on the shoot itself plus the cameos, yeah, it was obvious they knew it was the last one. Too bad they didn't use the extra money to make a better finale.

I will say this, however. According to his files, Dozier had been interested in Zsa Zsa for both Zelda and Marsha. So I guess he felt it was literally his last chance to have her on the show.
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Bob Furmanek
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Re: The 4th Season NBC Myth

Post by Bob Furmanek »

I appreciate the replies and additional information.

It appears that this myth - as well as the Liberace one - have their source in the Joel Eisner book.

Has he ever cited sources to back-up these statements?
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John Mack
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Re: The 4th Season NBC Myth

Post by John Mack »

Not surprised by all this at all. I'm a Batmusic fan and have had to fight the good fight about the theme song being all brass instruments and no singers for years. Then all of a sudden, Adam's Book, Back To The Batcave comes out, and Adam himself told the lie that it was only horns! Like he knew all about it! Read the REAL information here: http://www.snopes.com/radiotv/music/batman.asp

John
Music. BAT! Music.
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Scott Sebring
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Re: The 4th Season NBC Myth

Post by Scott Sebring »

Bob Furmanek wrote:It appears that this myth - as well as the Liberace one - have their source in the Joel Eisner book.

Has he ever cited sources to back-up these statements?
I first read about the NBC one in Adam's book.
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Dr. Shimel
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Re: The 4th Season NBC Myth

Post by Dr. Shimel »

My guess is that the producers started out S2 with all the newbies because they knew they'd be able to still get big audiences, and wanted to branch out the villain "tree." More than half of the S1 episodes were Big Three eps (Riddler, Penguin, Joker), so with a full season ahead, they needed a broader base and could quickly gauge new ones who might click.

Gorshin being unavailable made that concept even more important, but my guess is that when the ratings started to really slide in the first half of S2, they went back to the well with three Joker eps in the latter half, two Penguin team-ups (including Joker) and they even brought in Astin to take Gorshin's place--in name only.

With all that said, the first episode to actually be filmed was the Penguin restaurant caper--which, for whatever reason, was held back for broadcast until early December.
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Bob Furmanek
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Re: The 4th Season NBC Myth

Post by Bob Furmanek »

It would appear the ratings slide began in the summer even before the second season began.
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epaddon
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Re: The 4th Season NBC Myth

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That would kind of raise the question if the movie itself bore responsibility for the ratings drop. A case of overloading everyone much too fast. Perhaps if there had never been a movie, maybe the slide isn't as noticeable and maybe ensures that S3 doesn't get cut back at least?
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BATWINGED HORNET
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Re: The 4th Season NBC Myth

Post by BATWINGED HORNET »

Interesting that the Penguin restaurant episode was the first produced for season two. Meredith being on-fire as always, plus an exiting cliffhanger should have launched the season, instead of...you know.
epaddon wrote:That would kind of raise the question if the movie itself bore responsibility for the ratings drop. A case of overloading everyone much too fast. Perhaps if there had never been a movie, maybe the slide isn't as noticeable and maybe ensures that S3 doesn't get cut back at least?
Perhaps the movie concept should have been turned into a TV movie special to launch season two--or a three-parter? The slick, expansive look of the movie would have seemed impressive and reminded audiences that Batman was still a thrilling, big adventure to follow. Then again, if the movie was an official part of the season, follow up episodes with Archer, Ma Parker, et al., might have been a big letdown, thus the ratings problem would happen in any case.
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