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Batman - Who Watches the Batman (1966)? Sorry, Nobody Just Yet!

Many Bat-hurdles to leap, other than DC Comics, before the show ever comes to DVD

Posted by David Lambert
For years now there have been fans wanting the "Adam West Batman" television series on DVD. As each year goes along with no sign of a release, rumors swirl over the internet about why it's not out, and about various schemes to solve the problem and get it released. We've gotten tons of e-mails since yesterday about the newest info, about a plan that is supposed to resolve the rights issue and get the series put out on DVD. It's posted at Comic Book Resources, and we thank all of our readers - starting with Daniel Hughes - who wrote in to make sure we saw it. We want to let those readers know that we did see it (so no more e-mails, please; thanks!), and talk - very thoroughly! - about everything that's holding up the program from coming to home video. It's significantly more than CBR indicates...but the "plan" (is that the right word?) they describe may yet have some merit to leap one of the biggest hurdles holding things up.

Basically the story posted there yesterday concerns recent news of a lawsuit that 20th Century Fox filed back in February, over Warner Bros. Picture's upcoming theatrical film of The Watchmen. This movie is based on the Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons comic books (and later a graphic novel collection) of the same name that was originally released by DC Comics in the late '80s. DC, like Warner Bros. Pictures, is owned by Time Warner.'s story, which they feel "is the real deal, junior" (based on the "green traffic light" pictured next to their write-up), exclusively brings their readers the word that Fox brought the legal action because they "want the 1960s Batman TV series." CBR goes on to describe how "Currently Fox own the TV footage, but Warner Bros own the characters and trademarks, via their ownership of DC Comics. The rights to a DVD release have been held up for a long time now, and this case looks like it may be the instrument to release them." (note that these are exact quotes from the story in Rich Johnston's "Lying in the Gutters" column, which is posted through CBR).

Let's clear that up, though, about whom under the Time Life conglomerate umbrella owns the character of "Batman" (and related characters and trademarks). We're told, time and again by people at the company, that it's DC Comics, and not any other division of Time Life! The folks at Warner Bros. Pictures does not own Batman, nor does Warner Home Video (as we relayed at the bottom of our recent report of what WHV execs said on the subject at a live online chat held a week ago at the Home Theater Forum). And these "sister" companies to DC Comics have exactly as much right to tell DC what to do, as you and I have to tell our own siblings what to do (i.e., none). And the parent company apparently has very little interest in stepping in and telling these individual divisions how to run their day-to-day operations.

Let's also address the years-old rumor that Warner wouldn't let Fox release the "campy" '60s Batman series because it would degrade the current "dark" reputation of the character and his stories. Again, it would be DC Comics, not Warner...and DC obviously hasn't held up DVD releases of the equally campy Filmation cartoon series, which has the characters voiced by the actors of the live-action 1966 series: Adam West and Burt Ward. And that cartoon also includes the mega-campy magic "Bat-mite" character, a real example of silliness in the Bat-world. Why would that come out if there was concern over Batman's image? Truth be told, there actually seems to be very little worry over Batman's "street cred"'s all about the rights issues. And there are a TON of them!

Now, we're not saying, in any way, that CBR is wrong when it comes to Fox using the Watchmen issue to help clear the hurdle over rights issues with DC Comics. That's possible, and getting past that part of it would certainly be helpful. We don't know if it's accurate or not, but CBR - known around the 'net to reputable - is convinced of it. But everybody will have to remember that DC Comics is only ONE of the rights-related hurdles that Fox needs to leap over! Fox has to work their way out of a very large "rights hell" situation that not only involves DC (albeit in a smaller and less contentious way than people are imagining), but many others, too! In fact, the sheer scope, depth and breadth of all the rights-holders who have to be brought into various agreements, to get this program released on DVD, can be absolutely frightening!

Why? Because, as CBR notes, Fox owns the footage. That footage is theirs to release in any manner they see long as they obey all contractual language involving licenses, royalties and residuals. For the big-screen film which was in theaters in the '60s, shortly after the first season (and which recently came out on Blu-ray), there had been language in the contracts that covered release of the footage in places other than a theater (on an airplane flight, for example). Language which could cover the home video releases that came along ages later...something that wasn't imagined in the late '60s! But for the television episodes, there was no such language in the contracts about showing the footage anywhere else besides on television. So Fox can't show it anywhere else, such as on a DVD, because they don't have any rights to do so. The contracts did have language, though, to cover licensing small clips out to other productions (which is why some short footage can show up on DVDs like Holy Batmania!, but not entire episodes).

Therefore, Fox has to go to DC Comics and ask for a new agreement to cover a DVD release of the television episodes, using all of these characters that DC owns. But Fox also has to get new agreements with everyone else that owns rights to something used in the show. Let's take a look at them:
  • Music - As with any show, music rights play a big part in working out the details of a DVD release. There's the iconic theme music composed by Neal Hefti and recorded for the show by Nelson Riddle. There are other songs/musical pieces as well that would need clearance, too, if they're not covered by any previous agreements (which is unlikely).

  • Writers, Directors and Other Behind-the-Camera Talent - There would be residuals owed to these parties, and those factor into the overall cost of any DVD releases. Much of this would be covered by agreements with the Writer's Guild, Director's Guild and other union contracts regarding the home video releases of episodes in a TV series that they worked on. Still, there is always the possibility that there may have been contributions by people who weren't members of the appropriate guild(s), and so they may require a separate agreement. That's unlikely, but we have to realize that it's possible.

  • On-Camera Talent - Would stars of the show, or their heirs, be owed any additional money for a DVD release? Maybe, maybe depends on certain factors. But it's unlikely...the Screen Actors Guild agreement - which, as you know, is in the process of being renegotiated to give talent more compensation for DVD and other home video releases - would probably cover things. On the other hand, no one expects these actors to participate in DVD bonus material for free. It's very likely that they want a nice paycheck for interviews, commentary tracks, and the like. As you know, Adam West is working on his own separate DVD release of "extras" about this show, Adam West: The Batman Diaries, so he can get his own behind-the-scenes look at the show out there...and earn a buck in the process (which no one, certainly not us, would begrudge him).

  • Cameos and Guest Stars - In the modern era, it comes as no surprise to see characters cross over from one show to another. But this practice goes waaay back, and when Batman was a huge hit, it was no different. And they had a LOT of them:
    • "Bat-climbs": The show had a practice of doing throwaway "Bat-climb" gags whenever Batman & Robin did a Bat-rope walk up a building: someone would stick their head out of the window and say something to the Dynamic Duo. Most often it would be someone you know from elsewhere on the ABC network: Dick Clark, for example. "Col. Klink" (Werner Klemperer) of Hogan's Heroes shows up once. "Lurch" (Ted Cassidy) of The Addams Family also shows up once. The Green Hornet and Kato (Van Williams & Bruce Lee) pop out of a window, too, and later on become full-on guest-stars in a two-part crossover team-up adventure with Batman & Robin. Then there were other "Bat-climb" window cameos including Sammy Davis Jr., Jerry Lewis, Art Linkletter and even Santa Claus! While Santa is unlikely to need a residual, it's possible that the actor (or his estate) who portrayed him would be owed one.
    • "Guest Villains": Then there's the rogue's gallery, including well-known super-crooks portrayed by Cesar Romero ("Joker"), Burgess Meredith ("Penguin"), Julie Newmar and Eartha Kitt ("Catwoman"), Frank Gorshin and John Astin ("Riddler") and Eli Wallach and Otto Preminger ("Mr. Freeze"). But then there are other big stars like Vincent Price ("Egghead"), Roddy McDowell ("Bookworm"), Liberace ("Chandell"), Van Johnson ("The Minstrel"), Shelly Winters ("Ma Parker"), Ethel Merman ("Lola Lasagna"), Zsa Zsa Gabor ("Minerva"), Joan Collins ("Siren"), Victor Buono ("King Tut"), Milton Berle ("Louie the Lilac") and too many others to name.
    • Other Cameos/Guest Stars: Yes, there were big names in other small roles; stars like Jill St. John, Jerry Mathers, Steve Allen, Phyllis Diller, Gypsy Rose Lee, Lesley Gore, Alan Hale Jr. and Lee Meriwether (who also played "Catwoman" in the film).

    This is a LOT more complicated than fans probably expect. If you want to see Ted Cassidy as "Lurch" stick his head out of the window on a bat-rope climb, then Fox has to talk to MGM (which might prove relatively easy, since Fox distros MGM properties on home video these days)...but then again, they probably also have to negotiate with the Tee & Charles Addams Foundation, which holds the license on the original Addams Family characters from the drawings! If you want to see Werner Klemperer as "Col. Klink" stick his head out of the window, then Fox has to license the character from CBS/Paramount, who owns the home video rights to Hogan's Heroes. If you want to see Green Hornet and Kato stick their heads out of the window, or to see the entire crossover storyline where they show up and fight crime with the Caped Crusaders, great...but Fox has gotta license it. Oh...except Fox probably couldn't know who to license it from at this very moment, because the Green Hornet series has just as many legal tangles - maybe more! - than Batman does. Right this second, even if everything else got cleared up and Batman could be released, it would probably be without any of the Green Hornet stuff...which means they would be skipping that part of the Bat-rope climb footage on the one episode, and then leaving off an entire adventure elsewhere! And who's gonna be happy about those getting cut? Certainly not the fans!

  • Greenway Productions/The Dozier Estate - In 2006, Deborah Dozier Potter filed a lawsuit against 20th Century Fox, something Comic Book Resources reported about. In the suit she was alleging that her portion of the Greenway Productions assets had not properly been paid for residuals resulting from the show. The amount of the lawsuit claim was $4.4 million. The Dozier Estate is just one of several parties which hold portions of the Greenway Productions shingle, which produced the show. While we've heard that this particular lawsuit may be over (we're not sure), all of these issues would have to be taken care of prior to a DVD release.

  • George Barris/Barris Kustom Industries (and other props) - The producers of the show gave George Barris the task of coming up with the Batmobile used in the show, and Barris (whose work in devising special cars for Hollywood is near-legendary) came up with an enduring design which has caught the attention of the folks at Guinness World Records, who house a '66-design Batmobile in their Gatlinburg, TN museum (I visited it myself a few months ago!). It's rumored that the unique Batmobile design warrants royalties or residuals. Other props, both large (Bat-Boat, Bat-Cycle, Bat-Copter) and small (utility belt gadgets, designs of something like a batarang or bat-phone, villain props, maybe even the Shakespeare-switch to the Batcave) could all possibly be unique enough to the show to require some sort of addition license for a DVD release.

  • Unique-to-TV Costume Designs - Like the Batmobile, some costumes seen in the '60s live-action show were brand-new designs, sufficiently different enough from anything seen in the comic books up to that time, which could be labeled as "unique works of art." In fact, we have heard it said that some of those designs were copyrighted (though we've never been clear on the truth of that). So it's entirely possible that the people who designed those pieces of wardrobe would require some additional compensation for a home video release featuring the characters wearing those outfits.
Characters, music, behind-the-camera talent, on-camera talent, guest characters from competing studios, producers/owners, custom props, custom costumes/wardrobe...that's a pretty big list! Why in the world does all of this affect Batman, and not other shows from the same era? Partly this has to do with the huge (near-legendary) popularity of the show, and the characters, and how lucrative a DVD release this would be. Since another Greenways Production that showed on ABC at around the same time, The Green Hornet, also has a huge rights issue, then we MIGHT have a hint that there was an issue with the way that company wrote up at least some of their agreements, compared to other production companies. That's just a guess, though. In any event, Fox Home Entertainment told us less than sixty days ago that all the issues are "not close to being worked out" (that's an actual quote from a studio spokesperson).

Yep, that Bat-pie needs to be divided up by more than 2 parties, which is the REAL negotiation hold-up. CBR might be correct in that Fox is using the Watchmen situation to try to leverage Batman rights from DC Comics. Oh, we doubt Fox would have gone into that lawsuit with this in mind...someone probably thought of it along the way. But even if that does end up in things getting worked out with DC, it doesn't mean that all the hurdles are cleared for a DVD release of the 1966 Batman television program. And the whole time they work on all of these other rights, Fox has to be careful and make sure each agreement made is financially sensible, so they won't have to charge a billion bucks per season for any eventual DVD release. It's a LOT of work for them to do...years and years worth of work. How far along are they so far? We're not privy to that info, of course, but I suspect that we've still got a long road to go, old chum.

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