Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Batman TV Series Screen Tests

Now, here's an interesting comparison: two nearly identical screen tests for the 1960s Batman TV series. One features the familiar team of Adam West and Burt Ward, and one is Lyle Waggoner (who would later play Steve Trevor on Wonder Woman) and Peter Deyell.



Waggoner, in many ways, is clearly a more apt choice to play Batman/Bruce Wayne. With his chiseled good looks and perfectly swept-up jet black hair he looks like he practically walked out of a Bob Kane comic book. His delivery is also far more natural and something we'd expect to see in a typical action TV show.

In contrast, West's performance is -- as far as I can tell -- unintentionally hammy. He shares with William Shatner a very strange method of reciting lines, with pregnant pauses in unusual places.

And yet -- had Waggoner been cast, the 1960s Batman TV show would have probably been more of a footnote in broadcast history than an influential phenomenon.

It was West's oddness -- and, one might say, even sincerity -- that won out.

Bonus: "...and when poor Mrs. Cooper finds out what you were really doing on those supposed fishing trips...the blow will kill her!"


  1. "He shares with William Shatner a very strange method of reciting lines, with pregnant pauses in unusual places."

    did you know that around 1963 or so, Adam West co-starred in a TV pilot WITH Shatner, about Alexander the Great?

    i can't imagine there were any sets left, after all the scenery chewing that must have gone on.

  2. Why would Batman's father have law books? He was a doctor.

  3. Shame there's no footage with Waggoner/Ward testing together. Lyle's potential Robin was a bit weak and whiney compared to Ward's delivery. (Though I have to say, the stunt work would've been stronger with the other guy.)

    Lyle would've been a great performance but I agree that West's campy gravitas played better in the long run than Waggoner's more dramatic (dare we say darker) take. Having watched the 70s Wonder Woman again recently, I wonder if the lighter/campy touch he had playing Steve Trevor came more from getting passed over here than coming out doing sketch comedy with Carol Burnette.

  4. > Why would Batman's father have law
    > books? He was a doctor.

    You never know when a malpractice suit might crop up. Or a wobbly table leg.

  5. The delivery may be more natural, but it's pretty apparent from the scripted dialogue that the writers were going for a comic booky campy touch - example, that one line you quoted. In that context, Waggoner's delivery does seem a bit off.

  6. Agreed with sean about Lyle. The kid's delivery was weak, but his action sequence was gold. He could've easily been Burt Ward's stunt double.

  7. Yeah, that Peter Deyell kid was a bit whiny, but he came through in the action sequence. Lyle Waggoner made a fine Batman/Bruce Wayne but I do think someone didn't tell him it was supposed to be campy.

    Maybe that's a good thing, but then again he could've done some good tongue-in-cheek stuff, too- witness his stints on The Carol Burnett Show and Wonder Woman.

    Ultimately, I think the producers made the right choices, though.

    And I think Adam West was intentionally hammy. It's especially apparent in the feature film, when he and Robin have restored the world leaders or diplomats or whatever they were to their bodies but mixed up their minds and West's Batman cooly suggests he and Robin leave by the back way to "avoid causing a scene" or some other explanation when it's obvious what he means is, "Let's get the hell out of here, old chum, before anyone figures out we effed up!"

    West's line reading on that is pitch-perfect, as is his later self-lampooning performance on Lookwell.

    Remember... the thinking actor.

  8. Peter Deyell's stunt work was very impressive-- moreso than I can recall any fight scenes from the actual series. I also really liked the height difference between Deyell & Waggoner.

    That said, Deyell's voice gives me a headache, and Waggoner's delivery is stiff as a board. Ward has the take-charge attitude of a little Napoleon, like Robin should be. Ward's chemistry with West was there right from go, and the camera loves them both. West's conviction really shines through. Perfect casting.