Reading Material

September 17, 2011

Those guys are at it again: The bloggers who brought you their Siskel-and-Ebert rundowns on every episode of The Outer Limits and Thriller have turned their attention to Batman.  As before, the supplemental content that John Scoleri and Peter Enfantino have organized, and the reader comments (historian Gary Gerani, for instance, on the mise-en-scene of TV director Tom Gries) have greater value than the episode reviews themselves.

So far, the most interesting piece is this frank new interview with Joel Eisner, author of the eighties-era companion book to the series, The Official Batman Batbook.  Generally accurate and entertaining, and very well-designed, Eisner’s book is a delight to read even if it’s not the full-on production history that someone should still write.  In the interview, no one comes off particularly well, not even Eisner (who seemed interested only in writing an authorized history of the series – why? – and was willing to pay the actors for interviews).  As it turned out, even with money on the table, greed kept Burt Ward and Adam West from participating in the Batbook, to the later regret of at least one of them; and West’s subsequent attempt to publish an autobiography (to be ghostwritten by Eisner) foundered on similarly unrealistic expectations of profit.  None of that comes as a surprise to me, because I remember clearly that the good old days of the Hollywood Collectors Show – in which the “celebs” generally showed up to meet fans, sold their photos for $5 each, and signed everything else for free – came to a fast end after the “Batman Bloc” (West, Ward, Julie Newmar, and Yvonne Craig) banded together and successfully started charging $25 for any and all signatures.

I do hope the Batpole men are able to recruit Lorenzo Semple, Jr., to share some new memories for their blog.  I saw Semple speak at a screening earlier this year, and he’s still sharp, funny, and able to attract the attention of very good-looking fangirls.


I’m quoted in Ivan G. Shreve, Jr.’s piece here about The Defenders, on the occasion of its fiftieth annversary.  Ivan contacted me to ask why I thought The Defenders has remained so conspicuously out of circulation, relative to other long-running shows of its era.  I’ve heard various theories, some plausible and some from people connected to the show, as to why executive producer Herbert Brodkin’s legendary parsimony may have created future clearance problems for The Defenders (and other Plautus productions).  But my argument to Ivan is that at this point it’s probably an Occam’s razor situation: The Defenders is MIA because it’s old, it’s obscure, and much more commercial TV properties have been tanking on home video left and right.

(These TV-debut anniversaries that come around every September and early October are arbitrary and hypocritical, aren’t they?  If The Defenders remains neglected at 49 and 51, nobody is going to suddenly revive it on its 50th birthday.  Anniversary fetishizing is a harmless ritual until – and I’ve heard of this happening more than once – some publisher or programmer rejects a project because it’s tracking too late to hit one of those meaningless dates.  Then it’s not so funny any more.)


2 Responses to “Reading Material”

  1. Stephen, I really enjoy your blog. Regarding The Defenders, I may have something worthwhile to add: I have always heard that the show was tied up for years because of legal disputes involving the DGA, though I was never able to confirm this. I do know that about 15 years ago, when I was director of programming at TV Land, the show — which owned by Paramount, a sister Viacom company — became available, and I tried very hard to get TV Land to buy it at what certainly would have been a very favorable rate, to air during the 11 pm to midnight hour. At the time that slot was filled by Mannix, which was performing reasonably well. The bottom line is that no one at TV Land had any interest in The Defenders at all — a sixty-minute serious Kennedy-era drama filmed in black and white just wasn’t going to interest a TV channel whose biggest hits were Hogan’s Heroes and Green Acres, even with Robert Reed, who was something of a demigod with the TV Land crew at the time because of his Brady Bunch connection.

  2. Stephen Bowie Says:

    David — That’s ridiculous that TV Land wouldn’t have a clue about The Defenders. A harbinger of things to come for that channel, I guess.

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