Almost fifty years on since the advent of color television and some things about TV drama have not changed. Sure, producers make six or eight fewer episodes a season, down from thirty back in the 1960s, and the episodes are seven or eight minutes shorter, and they have much larger casts so more material in different sets can be shot in a day, and they run new episodes all the way into May when they finished in March back then, but there have always been actors who are, to put it bluntly, insufferable prima donnas with very high opinions about their importance. And it’s because Frank Gorshin was one that we have this very odd episode with Maurice Evans as the villain.
During the first two seasons of Batman, the special guest villains received a flat fee of $1250 for each half-hour installment, or $2500 an hour – $18,460 in today’s currency, which isn’t chicken feed. (I really do not know what an actor may receive for a similar role on a network drama today, but these articles suggest that it would be less than $18,000, although there may be opportunities for residuals today that did not exist in the 1960s.) Batman‘s first season of 17 hours saw Gorshin appear as the Riddler four times. You might argue that the show made Gorshin a star – it certainly increased his audiences in Las Vegas, and netted him some late-night and variety show gigs – or you might argue, as Gorshin did, that it was he who made Batman a hit.
And so Gorshin said that he’d like more than $2500 per hour to come back, and the producers said, “We’ll have a couple of scripts ready for you when you come to your senses.”
But by December, the ratings were slipping, the shine had gone off. The constant stream of one-off guest villains proved, to my eyes, quite surprisingly entertaining, but audiences were getting bored. So the producers dusted off one of their two Riddler scripts, cast Maurice Evans in the part, rewrote it slightly to add some Shakespeare references, since Evans was renowned for his many stage and screen performances in Shakespeare plays, gave him an eccentric, foppish costume, called him the Puzzler, and said “Gorshin, see, we don’t need you,” hoping desperately that Gorshin would blink and come running.
One bizarre fumble came from one of the rewrites. Puzzler is clearly known to the police and to Batman as they discuss him, but when they confront the criminal and try to warn the monopoly-obsessed billionaire Artemis Knab away from his business scheme, Puzzler acts like he’s never met the heroes before. When you’re rushing to shoot thirty hours of drama in just seven months, mistakes will be made.