Batman 2.51 – A Piece of the Action

A few weeks back, I read in Entertainment Weekly how one of their movie writers has superhero fatigue. The poor darling.

See, in January 1966, Batman started, and everybody thought it was going to be a flash in the pan. In June 1966, everybody sat up and paid attention, because it really was not a flash in the pan. Then in January 1967, everybody realized that, yes, it was a flash in the pan after all, which was rather unfortunate as a pack of imitations was on the air in prime time and Saturday mornings.

On ABC, The Green Hornet launched in September 1966, around the same time as the Grantray-Lawrence “animated” Marvel Super Heroes cartoon in syndication, and Filmation’s The New Adventures of Superman on Saturdays. By January, CBS had a flop called Captain Nice, made by several people who’d worked on Get Smart, and NBC had a flop called Mr. Terrific, made by several other people who had also worked on Get Smart.

William Dozier, who produced Batman and Hornet, got ABC interested in a Wonder Woman comedy that never made it beyond a test film, and got NBC interested in a Dick Tracy half-hour drama which would have starred Ray MacDonnell. He made a pilot, with the actor who played King Tut, Victor Buono, as the villain Mr. Memory, but it didn’t get picked up, either. (I swear I read somewhere that one of the networks was planning a Mandrake the Magician show at that time, but I can’t confirm that now.)

With that background in mind, The Green Hornet was dying in the ratings and this crossover was executed to give the Wednesday and Thursday night audience for Batman a look at the characters, in the hopes that they’d stay home on Friday as well. They didn’t. Bizarrely, all the heroes are second bananas to Roger C. Carmel’s over-the-top one-off villain, Colonel Gumm, who steals the show from West, Ward, Van Williams, and Bruce Lee in the first episode. (It is standard in accounts like this to note that Carmel had played the recurring part of Harry Mudd in Star Trek. This, I now do.)

Colonel Gumm is running a counterfeit stamp ring in a factory without his boss, played by Diane McBain, knowing. This seems like an incredibly low-key and stupid reason to bring the Green Hornet from his home turf (Los Angeles?), but this is a script by Charles Hoffman, and we should expect such things. For the third time this season in a Hoffman script, there’s a labored and very unfunny scene with the Batcomputer acting wacky, so wishing for something more interesting than phony stamps might be asking too much. Anyway, McBain had appeared in season one’s Mad Hatter story and this time spends the episode flirting with both Bruce Wayne and the Green Hornet’s alter ego, millionaire Britt Reid. The three of them have lunch in a most bizarre hotel restaurant where beautiful models in ugly 1960s nightdresses wander around the tables giving their telephone numbers to the male guests. Gotham City, as it’s been noted, is a weird, weird place.


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