Monday, June 12, 2017

Remember when we asked: Will the 'Batman' TV series ever be on DVD and Blu-ray?

Can you believe the "Batman" TV series only has been out on Blu-ray and DVD for roughly 2 1/2 years?
As tough as it is to imagine, the unforgettable show for years was only available to watch on reruns and bootlegs. For decades. 

In 2012, I tackled the question of why "Batman" (which only was on the air for three seasons!) hadn't been released on DVD and Blu-ray in the twice-monthly NORWALK REFLECTOR version of "Cary's Comics Craze." And I went to one of the biggest advocates for the series I knew, Jim Beard, to help me make sense of it all.

Like countless Batman fans, I'm pleased to know "Batman" received the home--video release it so richly deserved before the late Adam West left us and answered the great Batsignal in the sky.…

2012 — Doesn't it seem like whatever film or TV series you want no matter how obscure, live-action or otherwise can be found on DVD and/or Blu-ray?

After all, the 22 episodes of "The Secrets of Isis" that aired from 1975 through 1976 are available. As is the unforgettable "Wonder Woman" (cue that funky disco title track!), "The Incredible Hulk" and even "The Green Hornet," starring Van Williams and the late martial arts legend Bruce Lee as his sidekick, Kato.

Heck, you can cruise through Amazon.com and order "The Greatest American Hero: The Complete Series" (just as enjoyable as when it aired on ABC!). ...

But there's one huge hole missing in American superhero TV lore. Why after 44 years can fans not relive the zaniness of the cult-favorite "Batman" series starring Adam West and Burt Ward on a legitimate DVD release? What exactly is the hold-up?

I tried to sort this out with Jim Beard, who has edited the upcoming book GOTHAM CITY 14 MILES, which takes a critical look at the show that made the word "camp" a permanent part of pop culture lingo.

"No one has waded into the (legal) quagmire deep enough," Beard told me.

"I tried to look into it," the Toledo-based Batman fan said, but he soon discovered that getting the series released on DVD or Blu-ray involves rights issues involving no less than a half-dozen interested parties.

Those people would be the estates of deceased actors and actresses, those who are still alive, the Batmobile designers, ABC television and not to mention Warner Bros. (which owns the publisher of Batman comic books, DC Comics) and 20th Century Fox.

As far as West being part of the problem (which is my theory), Beard said West being alive ultimately doesn't make a difference because the lawyers would still have to address the other multitude of estates. 

But wait! "Batman: The Movie" the very one filmed between the first and second seasons has had multiple variations released, so what gives?

Beard suspects there is some legal loophole that allowed the DVD release. He suggested maybe the contracts were different than the ones from the TV series.

Obviously, it's a tangled legal mess.

These two lifelong Batman fans love the TV series — CCC blogger
Cary Ashby (left) and Jim Beard, author of GOTHAM CITY 14 MILES,
at the first-ever Fantasticon in Toledo, Ohio in April 2015.
JAMIE STEWART/CARY'S COMICS CRAZE file photo
But wait, true believers, it gets worse and more complicated.

Back when "Batman" was going into production, Beard said the contracts didn't list details such as using one's likeness for licensing purposes, as is common practice today.

That's why it's very rare to see episode photographs or promotional shots of West or Ward as Batman and Robin on merchandise related to the show. If you notice, the images mostly are drawings or paintings which resemble the actors who played the Dynamic Duo.

2017 addendum: About the time the "Batman" TV series got the green light to be released on DVD and Blu-ray in November 2014, DC Entertainment and the Powers That Be worked out agreements for related toys and products. And the floodgates opened once again — not nearly the "Batmania" merchandising onslaught of the late 1960s, but it was great to see.

Taking advantage of this, DC Comics released the delightful BATMAN '66 series, which lasted 36 issues and for the most part, contained artwork that resembled the actors and actresses in the show. One of those related comic book releases was the must-read BATMAN '66 MEETS THE GREEN HORNET (reviewed here on CCC)— a fun sequel to the very first superhero team-up on TV.

Beard and I agree the entire situation is obviously one big, unfortunate, ugly mess.

"Something holds it up somewhere," Beard said. "The bottom line is it's a shame. ... It's a huge, crying shame."

He and I also firmly believe there is a lot of money to be made by everyone involved if they'd all play nice and work out the legal complications.

"I think peace in the Middle East will happen before that show (goes to DVD) seriously," Beard said. 

Stay tuned. Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel.

Well, there's still no peace in the Middle East — but at least we Batfans have our beloved series that we can watch time and time again!

For more of the Cary's Comics Craze take on the "Batman" TV series, follow these links:
How did the "Batman" TV series influence the 1989-1997 Tim Burton-Joel Schumacher film franchise?
"Holy great TV moments, Batman!" — A look at patterns I noticed in the series when I started binge-watching it.
• And of course, the animated movie done in the style of what's now known as "Batman '66" that reunited TV's Dynamic Duo, West and Ward, in "Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders"

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