William Self: Fox TV to the rescue

William Self title card on an episode of Batman, produced by 20th Century Fox’s television unit

Another in a series about unsung figures of television.

In the early 1960s, things were not looking good at 20th Century Fox.

The 1963 film Cleopatra, while popular with audiences. It sold 67.2 million tickets in the U.S. and Canada. That was more than Goldfinger’s 66.3 million.

But Cleopatra was so expensive, it had no chance of recouping its costs. The studio was going to need a bailout.

The bailout came from its television division, headed by executive William Self, a former actor.

Self’s TV unit took an inventory of the properties Fox held and began developing television versions.

As a result, in the fall of 1964, Fox came out with Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (based on the studio’s 1961 film produced by Irwin Allen); Peyton Place, based on a 1956 novel, made into a 1957 Fox film; and 12 O’Clock High, based on a 1948 novel and made into a 1949 Fox movie.

All three were part of ABC’s 1964-65 schedule. Also, Fox produced Daniel Boone for NBC that same season.

Soon after, Self’s Fox TV unit was the home of other Allen shows as well as the 1966-68 Batman series starring Adam West and Burt Ward. The latter got off to a rocky start as test audiences were confused by the campy approach.

Self’s tenure at Fox lasted into the early 1970s. He became a producer (something he had done before joining Fox), whose credits included 1976’s The Shootist, the final John Wayne film.

Self died in 2010 at the age of 89.

Adam West dies at 88

Adam West and Burt Ward in a publicity still for Batman

Adam West, star of the 1966-68 Batman television series, has died at 88, according to an obituary published by The Hollywood Reporter.

The actor died Friday after a short battle with leukeimia, the Reporter said, citing a family spokesperson.

Batman debuted Jan. 12, 1966. The show originally was to have come out in the fall of 1966. However, ABC’s fall 1965 schedule produced low ratings and Batman’s development was accelerated. The half-hour show aired twice a week.

Executive producer William Dozier opted for a “camp” approach, having trouble taking the original comic book source material seriously.

Writer Lorenzo Semple Jr., used a 1960s comic story, “Remarkable Ruse of the Riddler,” as the basis for his pilot script.

Semple delivered a story in which West’s Bruce Wayne/Batman took everything very, very seriously amid the writer’s jokes. Batman, though, didn’t have a laugh track.

Batman didn’t test well ahead of its premiere. “It was a disaster,” William Self, then the head of 20th Century Fox Television, said in an interview for the Archive of American Television. The test did not include the comic book-style effects (POW! ZAP!) nor the narration that Dozier himself would provide.

Self said that on the night of Batman’s debut he got a call on his unlisted home telephone number. “Is it supposed to be funny?” Self quoted the caller as saying. When Self said yes, the caller replied, “Then we loved it.”

Batman was a hit. West and Burt Ward, who played Dick Grayson/Robin, were suddenly big stars. A feature film with West and Ward was put into production and its came out in the summer of 1966.

The show’s impact was so powerful that other adventure shows, such as The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and the science fiction shows of Irwin Allen, adopted a much lighter tone.

Batman, though, flamed out. By the fall of 1967, it was cut back to one night a week. The show was done by the spring of 1968.

Adam West, in the meantime, had difficulty finding work having been typecast. He declined to appear as Batman in a 1974 public service announcement promoting equal pay for women. Dick Gautier took West’s place, mimicking West’s delivery as Batman.

Also, sometime after Batman, West received some consideration to play James Bond, according to the documentary Inside Diamonds Are Forever.

The closest West would get to that came in 1978 movie Hooper. He plays the star, apparently himself, of a James Bond-style movie. His character is named Adam and he even is referred to as “Mr. West” at one point.

The story concerned Sonny Hooper (Burt Reynolds), an aging stuntman dealing with pompous “auteur” director Roger Deal (Robert Klein).

Eventually, West’s career did pick back up in character roles. He also did voice over working, including playing Batman in some cartoons.

West discussed that aspect of his career in an interview for the Archive of American Television.

About that Batman ’66-U.N.C.L.E. comics crossover

Batman 66-UNCLE

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the Batman television series, which coincides with the second issue of DC Comics crossover of Batman ’66 (a comic book version of the Adam West/Burt Ward series) and The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

The TV series debuted on Jan. 12 and Jan. 13, 1966. It was an instant hit, and its style affected other shows, including The Man From U.N.C.L.E., as producers sought to emulate what made Batman so popular (even if it was for a short time).

The first issue of the comic book came out in December. On social media, we’ve seen some fans of the original U.N.C.L.E. series decry the new comic book and the Batman TV show.

Some original U.N.C.L.E. fans say Batman contributed to U.N.C.L.E.’s eventual demise. That overlooks how nobody forced the U.N.C.L.E. creative team to adopt a similar tone as the Batman show.

Other U.N.C.L.E. fans have complained the Solo and Kuryakin characters in the comic book don’t closely resemble the Robert vaughn and David McCallum versions from the original 1964-68 television series.

According to THIS REVIEW the second issue of the comic book, there were “legal reasons” why exact likenesses of Vaughn and McCallum couldn’t be used.

Regardless, despite the disappointing box office of 2015’s movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., the international spy organization is hanging in there at the start of 2016.

For what it’s worth, the first issue of the comic book evoked scenes from U.N.C.L.E. episodes and it’s apparent the creative team of the comic book has done research into the U.N.C.L.E. series.

U.N.C.L.E.-Batman comic book scheduled

BatmanUNCLE

A comic book story featuring a crossover between The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Batman has been scheduled, NEWSARAMA.COM REPORTED.

This is part of the Batman ’66 title published by DC Comics.

How is this possible? DC has long been a corporate cousin of Warner Bros. DC now is part of Warners, even moving from its long-time home in New York to Burkbank, California, home base of Warner Bros.

That move reflects how Warners is ramping up its output of films based on DC characters. The studio also controls The Man From U.N.C.L.E. original series, which ran from 1964 to 1968.

Batman ’66 is based on the 1966-68 series starring Adam West and Burt Ward. The comic uses the likenesses of the actors. DC has published crossover stories with The Green Hornet, mimicking a teamup from the original Batman show. The comic even published a story based on a rejected script plot by Harlan Ellison for the Batman series.

According to Newsrama.com, the U.N.C.L.E. crossover will be published in December.

“The deadly organization known as T.H.R.U.S.H. has a new twist in their plans for world conquest—they’re recruiting some of Gotham City’s most infamous villains!,” according to a description published by Newsrama.com. “Agents Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin bring this information to the one man who knows everything about these new enemies: Batman. Before you can say ‘Open channel D,”’the Dynamic Duo and the Men from U.N.C.L.E. are jetting off to Europe to thwart the schemes of this deadly criminal cartel.”

In real life, the U.N.C.L.E. television series was influenced by the Batman show. In U.N.C.L.E.’s VERY LIGHT THIRD SEASON, two regular Batman writers, Stanford Sherman and Stanley Ralph Ross, were hired to contribute scripts. Ross even worked THE SAME JOKE into both series.

UPDATE: If you CLICK HERE, you can read a 2013 Den of Geek story about the rejected Harlan Ellison story for the Batman television series, which featured Two Face as the villain.

Writer Lorenzo Semple Jr. dies

Lorenzo Semple Jr. scripted the Batman pilot and 1966 feature movie

Lorenzo Semple Jr. scripted the Batman pilot and 1966 feature movie

Lorenzo Semple Jr., a writer best known for the 1960s Batman television show but who also did spy-related scripts including Never Say Never Again, has died at 91, according to an obituary in THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER.

Semple wrote the pilot for the 1966-68 Batman series as well as the quickly made 1966 feature film starring Adam West and Burt Ward. When executive producer William Dozier decided on a less-than-serious take, Semple devised a simple format for other writers to follow.

The opening of Part I would establish a menace. Batman and Robin would be summoned by Police Commissioner Gordon. The dynamic duo proceeded on the case, ending with a cliffhanger ending. Part II opened with a recap, the heroes escaped and eventually brought the villains to justice.

Among Semple’s memorable lines of dialogue: “What a terrible way to go-go,” and “Some days, you just can’t get rid of a bomb!”

Never Say Never Again's poster

Never Say Never Again’s poster

Semple always was drawn more than once to the spy genre. In the 1950s, he worked on drafts of a script based on Casino Royale, the first 007 novel, but nothing went before the cameras. Decades later, he was the sole credited writer on Never Say Never Again, a Thunderball remake not produced by Eon Productions but starring Sean Connery. Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, writers brought in by de facto producer Connery, did uncredited rewrites.

Between Semple’s Bond work, he scripted films such as 1967’s Fathom with Raquel Welch (featuring a Maurice Binder-designed title sequence), 1974’s The Parallax View with Warren Beatty (a movie about a conspiracy to assassinate political candidates) and 1975’s Three Days of The Condor, a serious spy film with Robert Redford.

In The Hollywood Reporter’s obituary, Semple is quoted about the ups and downs of film production. Here’s a passage involving Never Say Never Again:

Semple met with Sean Connery in Marbella, Spain and sold him on his 70-page treatment for Never Say Never Again, which saw the aging actor return as 007 in the much-litigated Warner Bros. film based on Thunderball. But when some action scenes were cut as a cost-saving measure, the producers pacified an angry Connery by blaming — and then booting — Semple.

“I was quite relieved; I really didn’t want to go on with it,” he said. “I also agree a human sacrifice is required when a project goes wrong; it makes all the survivors feel very good.”

To read the entire obituary, CLICK HERE. There’s one mistake. It says Semple only wrote the first four episodes of Batman. He wrote or co-wrote 10 episodes during the first season, though he penned fewer in the final two seasons.

The joke U.N.C.L.E. and Batman shared

We picked up a copy last weekend of Billion Dollar Batman, the new book by Bruce Scivally, examining the origins and television and movie adaptations of Batman. Scivally was part of the crew that in the 1990s turned out documentaries about the making of James Bond films that are part of the DVD extras.

“Holy recycling, Batman!”

We were skimming the chapter about the making of the Adam West-Burt Ward 1966-68 television series and were reminded of how writer Stanley Ralph Ross (1935-2000) managed to get the same joke in a third-season episode of The Man Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Batman.

The joke first appeared on The Thor Affair on Oct. 28, 1966, scripted by Ross and Don Richman. Character actor Bernard Fox was the title character, Brutus Thor, who has made a fortune selling weapons. Thor hatches an elaborate plot to assassinate a Ghadhi-like character (Harry Davis) who has pressured major countries into a peace conference. At one point, Thor is interrupted by his butler. “Yes, Rhett, what is it?”

Flash forward to Dec. 15, 1966, and The Bat’s Kow Tow, the second half of a Catwoman story on Batman, scripted this time by Ross solo. The Catwoman (Julie Newmar) has “stolen” the voices of British sensations Chad and Jeremy (don’t ask). Batman and Robin, at one point, visit a British official in the U.S. to discuss the Catwoman’s ransom demands. They’re interrupted by, you guessed it, the official’s butler. “Yes, Rhett, what is it?” Moreover, the same actor plays the butler.

In 1997, Ross contacted The Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode guide by e-mail because its reviews of third-season episodes noted the joke in the U.N.C.L.E. episode and how it also appeared on Batman. Apparently because the writer was pleased that somebody spotted the joke (both times). Ross granted an interview via e-mail where he discussed his work on U.N.C.L.E. and Batman (he appeared as an actor on both as well as writing episodes) as well as other shows.

UPDATE: Oops. We should have provided this link before. To get more information on Billion Dollar Batman (including how to order), CLICK HERE to go to the author’s Web site.

007 cross dresses for equality for women

In the U.K., there’s a new video where Daniel Craig, playing James Bond, is told about gender equality by an unseen M (Judi Dench). As part of the spot, Bond dresses like a woman.

Here it is:

The reaction? Our guess is supporters will say that Bond has been enlisted in a worthy cause. This was one reaction to the video posted on YouTube: “I expected to get a laugh seeing Daniel Craig ‘in drag.’ Instead, I was mesmerized and sobered. I had no idea the gap between the sexes still loomed so large. ‘Equals’ is an excellent piece of work.”

The cons, we suspect, will be along the lines that the character has been emasculated in the spot.

Here’s an excerpt from GQ.com that has some details about the origins of the spot, including the participation of co-Eon Procutions boss Barbara Broccoli:

It’s Daniel Craig as you’ve never seen him before. The James Bond star and former GQ Man Of The Year faces arguably his toughest mission yet – fighting gender inequality in support of International Women’s Day. Shot by artist turned director Sam Taylor-Wood, scripted by Kick-Ass scribe Jane Goldman and overseen by 007 producer Barbara Broccoli, the stunning short was commissioned by the Annie Lennox-led charitable coalition Equals and boasts a creative team which frankly wouldn’t disgrace the 23rd instalment of the film franchise.

To view the Web site of We Are Equals, the group that put together the video, JUST CLICK HERE.

On some fan message boards some people have questioned whether Craig and Dench are actually playing Bond and M. They are. You can view a press release on the topic BY CLICKING HERE. An excerpt:

In the film ‘M’ interrogates Bond with a series of searching questions on gender issues, from pay inequality to domestic violence.

It’s not the first time a popular character has been enlisted in the cause for gender equality. Here’s a 1974 public service announcement featuring some of the cast of the 1960s Batman show. Burt Ward (Robin),Yvonne Craig (Batgirl) and William Dozier (narrator) reprise their roles while Dick Gautier, aka Get Smart’s Hymie the Robot, subs for Adam West: