In 1966, Batman hit television screens. The comic book show, which starred Adam West and Burt Ward, introduced audiences to Batman and Robin, and was an instant hit with viewers.
But Batman wasn’t just a regular hit, it was a phenomenon. The show was hugely successful for ABC (its home network), was watched by millions of viewers, and transformed the Dynamic Duo from comic book characters into household names.
However, despite its initial success, fast-forward a couple of seasons and ratings of Batman were beginning to fall. What was once must-see television during its opening season, had started to lose its appeal, with audiences drifting away in significant numbers.
Keen to breathe new life into the series, and stop any decline in ratings, producer William Dozier came up with the idea of introducing a lead hero into the show. His plan was to create a space for Batgirl – a character who had recently appeared in the comics.
In order to convince ABC executives that introducing Batgirl was the answer to the ratings problem, Dozier pushed forward with a promotional short, to act as a sort of pilot for the character. This ‘pilot’ episode would run eight-minutes in length, and would act as a showcase for Batgirl.
Yvonne Craig was cast in the role of Batgirl, whose alter-ego was that of Barbara Gordon, the daughter of Gotham City’s very own Commissioner Gordon, aka actor Neil Hamilton. Hamilton was drafted in for a quick appearance in the short, alongside Adam West and Burt Ward, who would reprise their roles as Batman and Robin respectively.
Joining the cast for this mini-episode was Tim Herbert, who would take on the role of the villainous Killer Moth. This episode would mark Killer Moth’s debut, with the villain appearing alongside his gang of Moth men.
As Dozier had intended, the short worked its magic and convinced ABC that Batgirl could prove to be an asset for the show. Batgirl was then introduced into Batman’s third season, transforming the Dynamic Duo into a Triumphant Trio.
But sadly, despite a positive response to Batgirl, the new character did not halt the decline in Batman’s ratings. Following the conclusion of the third year, Batman was cancelled by ABC, capping the show off at a three-season run.
However, Batgirl’s legacy lives on – as does the eight-minute ‘pilot’ episode. While this short is often overlooked, due to its minimal running time, the mini-episode can often be found knocking around the internet, usually on YouTube.
And today I’m giving it a re-watch, to a.) remind myself how much fun it is, and b.) talk about the highlights of this unique slice of the Batmythology. The Batgirl ‘pilot’ maybe a mostly forgotten segment of Batman, but it is an important one nonetheless.
So, as I watch the episode, I will be discussing it in real-time below. I’m providing details about the plot, along with some additional comments along the way.
Batgirl TV ‘pilot’
1sec – As the episode begins the title ‘Batman and Robin Take In a New Partner’ flashes up on screen, quickly followed by the notice: ‘Introducing Yvonne Craig as Batgirl’. This title sequence is accompanied by the theme music from the Batman TV show.
30secs – With the titles over, the episode gets underway, with the action taking place at the Gotham City Library. The first character to appear on screen is Barbara Gordon, who is working at the library as a librarian.
1mins – Barbara is helping Bruce Wayne find a book about a rare butterfly. The library is shortly set to close, but there is always time to help out a millionaire and his ward, Dick Grayson.
1mins 20secs – As Barbara and Bruce converse, there is a bit of exposition included here to explain Barbara’s connection to Commissioner Gordon. This is a simple bit of conversation but an effective way to introduce Barbara.
2mins 5secs – And now another introduction, only this time it is for Killer Moth, who is waiting in the library with his gang. Killer Moth wants to kidnap millionaire Roger Montrose – a friend of Bruce Wayne’s who also happens to be in the library.
2mins 30secs – As Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson begin to leave the library, they notice Killer Moth lurking in the wings. Suspicious of the situation they dash off, so that they can change into their Batman and Robin costumes.
3mins – The library closes, with just a few visitors remaining. Before Barbara can usher anyone out, the phone rings, allowing for a quick cameo from Commissioner Gordon.
There is a nice bit of interplay here between Neil Hamilton and Yvonne Craig, which helps to bed Barbara in quite seamlessly. Barbara may not have appeared in the main show (at this point), but it suddenly feels like she has always been a part of the series.
3mins 30secs – After finishing her phone call, Barbara goes to put a book back on the shelf, just as Killer Moth and his gang make their move. The gang grab millionaire Roger Montrose, before bundling Barbara into a seemingly innocent lounge room in the back.
3mins 55secs – But this is no innocent lounge, this room houses a secret! Behind a false panel in the wall, lies a hidden wardrobe.
4mins – Back in the main area of the library, Killer Moth and his gang are just about to get away with their kidnap victim, when suddenly Batman and Robin appear!
4mins 30secs – Alas, Killer Moth gets the drop on the Dynamic Duo, imprisoning them inside a cocoon. Could this be the end for the Caped Crusader and the Boy Wonder?!
Erm… I’m going to say, no. They will most certainly get out of this situation.
4mins 35secs – Back in the lounge room, Barbara changes into her Batgirl outfit.
5mins – This whole costume change is so cool. Barbara takes off her skirt, turns it inside out and refashions it as a cape. She then takes a hat off the coat stand, turns that inside out and makes it into her mask!
5mins 20secs – And if the costume change wasn’t cool enough, Batgirl makes leaves the lounge, then makes a ‘smashing’ entrance into the main room by crashing in through a closed window. It’s all very dramatic stuff, and so much fun.
5mins 30secs – Batgirl introduces herself to the Dynamic Duo, then promptly gets to work taking on Killer Moth’s gang. There are no punches here (a sign of the times), but Batgirl has no problem throwing furniture at the goons, or kicking them in the face!
What an entrance!
6mins – With Batman and Robin suitably impressed, they watch as Batgirl releases them from their cocoon prison, by using a laser beam… concealed inside her face compact. This laser-compact thing is goofy as heck, but it fits in so nicely with the campy nature of the Batman show.
6mins 15secs – To ensure Batgirl doesn’t hog all of the action, Batman and Robin now spring into action to fight Killer Moth’s goons. Batgirl allows them to have their moment, while she playfully watches on.
It is a shame that she largely sits this fight out, but presumably this scene was included in the ‘pilot’ to make it clear to ABC that Batgirl wouldn’t completely overshadow the Dynamic Duo. All three can easily fit into a story without any major compromises.
7mins – As the short begins to wrap up, Killer Moth’s plan is foiled, putting an end to his extremely brief status as a Batman villain. Oddly, Killer Moth never appeared on the main show, so this is his one and only appearance.
7mins 15secs – Batman and Robin wish to thank Batgirl for her assistance, but she has made a sharp exit, taking to her Batgirl-cycle! Where did she get this Batgirl-cycle and where was it parked? Those are the kinds of questions that sadly do not get answered in this short.
7mins 30secs – As the episode ends, Batgirl rides into the night. A new hero has entered Gotham City!
Every time I watch this ‘pilot’ episode for Batgirl, I am reminded just how good it is. In just a few minutes it tells audiences almost everything they need to know about the character, while demonstrating her capabilities and resourcefulness.
The fact that Batgirl already has a costume and a Bat-themed vehicle before meeting Batman and Robin is intriguing, and leaves room for further development. Had this short been used as the opening episode for Batman’s third season, it certainly would have left audiences wanting more.
Overall, this is a great introduction for Batgirl and a great showcase for Yvonne Craig, who is perfect in the dual role of Barbara Gordon/Batgirl. It’s really not difficult to see why ABC executives were happy for Batgirl to join the show when she did.
If you’re a fan of the ‘60s Batman show, and you’ve never watched the Batgirl ‘pilot’ episode, I suggest you hunt it down and give it eight minutes of your time. You are sure to adore every second of it, and will fall in love with Yvonne Craig’s Batgirl all over again.
It is also great to see Killer Moth. Sure, he’s not quite the same villain from the comics, but it’s always fun to see Bat-villains on screen, especially one’s that often get overlooked.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post on I’ll Get Drive-Thru. For more Bat-related posts, be sure to check out the recommended reads below.
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