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TV Genre Smackdown: Batman vs. The Green Hornet

It’s time. Time to settle, once and for all, which genre shows rule and which ones drool.

Talk to the fans and you will always run into people who feel one show with a premise of x is so much better than that other show based on x.

Today’s Smackdown: Batman Vs. The Green Hornet.


The Premise: Rich playboy-by-day dons a mask and fights crime by night complete with young sidekick along for the ride.

Batman (1966-1968):

When his parents were murdered before his eyes, young Bruce Wayne decided to dedicate his life to fighting crime. He puts on a mask and calls himself ‘Batman’. He even adopts a young boy whose parents are killed in a similar, tragic way and trains him to fight crime by his side. He confides in the man who raised him after his parents were killed, Alfred Pennyworth, and works with the local police commissioner, James Gordon to bring justice to the city of Gotham.

The Green Hornet (1967-1968):

When nothing much happens to his parents at all, playboy and media mogul Britt Reid decides to fight crime in his city. Unlike most superheroes though, he decides to fight crime by infiltrating the criminal underworld and letting everyone believe he is the villain. Along for the ride is his manservant/valet Kato, a martial artist and mechanic whiz. He also confides in his secretary, Lenore, and the city’s district attorney as he sets about cleaning up the criminal element.

Cool Cars: Batman had a slew of cool cars and vehicles.

You had the BatCopter

and the Batcycle

If you like, you can throw Batgirl’s motorcycle into the mix too

But his main ride was, of course, The Batmobile, a modified, $250,000 1955 Ford Lincoln Futura concept car. For Batman’s purposes, the Batmobile had a few tricked out options including a rocket engine, Bat-ray, Bat-zooka, Bat-radar and Bat Armor.

The Green Hornet, on the other hand, had The Black Beauty, a custom, $50,000 1966 Imperial Crown sedan customized by Dean Jeffries and painted a pure black green pearl of essence lacquer hand-rubbed to a high gloss. Like the Batmobile, The Black Beauty was tricked out to include machine guns, rocket launchers, a hovering ‘sensor-array’ and ‘infra-green’ headlights, to name just a few.

Episodes: Both shows were produced by Greenway Productions and aired on the ABC television network. They were a half hour each and included narration by Executive Producer William Dozier.

Dozier decided that Batman needed to be comedic and campy. As a result of this, the characters and costumes were well over the top. When a fight broke out, they were punctuated by comic ‘bursts’ with words like ‘BAM!’ ‘POW!’ or even ‘ka-POW!’.

In contrast, The Green Hornet was played very straight despite comic book elements like The Hornet’s Sting which projected ultrasonic sound-waves and was used for all sorts of things like picking locks. Could this be the precursor to the Doctor’s Sonic Screwdriver?!

Maybe.

Music:

Who doesn’t remember Batman, na na na na na na na na, Batman..?

The Green Hornet used classical music with a jazz spin to create a theme that, once you hear it, sticks with you.

Crossovers? Oh yeah. Batman was far more popular than The Green Hornet. In fact, The Green Hornet owes its existence as a television show to the popularity of Batman. It’s sort of similar to The Green Hornet’s origin story. Not the character’s origin, the entire show/premise. Back in the heady days of radio, there was a little show called The Lone Ranger. It was really popular and the powers that be wanted a companion series to go with it – hence The Green Hornet was born. Well, sort of the same with the tv show – the producers of Batman wanted a companion show – hence The Green Hornet was born again.

Coolness factor: Adam West & Burt ward became stars thanks to their rolls on Batman, which made them cool. But I think The Green Hornet wins the coolness factor for scoring Bruce Lee as Kato. What boy growing up in the 70’s didn’t want to BE Bruce Lee? (The one’s who wanted to be Batman, of course… or both… Bruce Lee AS Batman? That would’ve been interesting…)

Sidekicks: One could argue, if one were speaking of oneself in the third person, that The Green Hornet was always intended to be the sidekick of a more popular hero. His origin was as a companion radio series to The Lone Ranger and he came to television to be a companion show to Batman. Of course, one could also get smacked talking such smack about the Hornet.

Longevity on TV: The Green Hornet was born on the radio in 1936 and Batman came along in comics in 1939. Both had film serials prior to coming to television, but Batman proved to be far more popular on television than the Green Hornet, running for 3 seasons plus a feature length film. The Green Hornet ran for just one season and didn’t spawn any feature length films. It did, however, become ‘The Kato Show’ in Hong Kong due to Bruce Lee’s being AWESOME!

Conclusions:

Batman became a pop culture icon thanks in no small part to the 60’s tv show. But the over the top camp of the show also frustrated die-hard Batman fans for decades. Although I loved the show in reruns as a kid, revisiting it as an adult made me cringe. I’d already been exposed to the Batman of the comics and had a better sense of who the character was and what he was all about. It wasn’t until the 1989 Tim Burton flick, Batman, that the hero returned to being a badass in mainstream consciousness.

The Green Hornet was completely off my radar for most of my life, except for stores told by my older brother of how amazing and awesome it was. I never caught it in reruns except in very short bursts here and there, never truly getting a full sense of the series until the Internet came to my doorstep and comic books started publishing Green Hornet stories again. There were several attempts to reboot the hero in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and if you spent anytime at all in a comic book store, you were bound to hear wistful tales of The Green Hornet, revering the tv series and the character.

Looking back at the two shows today, I understand why the producers went in the directions that they did. In the case of Batman, they were trying to bring to television something that mainstream audiences saw as being silly – a comic book superhero. Rather than fight that perception, they embraced it, delivering a super-silly version of the iconic character. With The Green Hornet, for whatever reason, they chose to do the opposite. They played it straight, they treated it seriously and ultimately it failed to bring in the ratings and was cancelled. Perhaps before its time. I see a parallel between The Green Hornet and modern day shows like Firefly, Stargate: Universe and Dollhouse that never found that connection with main stream audiences.

For me, The Green Hornet is still watchable today. You can sit down with an episode and enjoy it. You may wince a little at the technology portrayed or at the quick, wrap-it-up-in-a-half-hour plots, but that is no different from any show of that era, really. With Batman, I can’t get through an episode without wanting to smack somebody.

Hard.

So for me, The Green Hornet wins this battle.

About Patrick Hester (527 Articles)
Patrick Hester is a writer, blogger, podcasting dude, Denver transplant and all around Functional Nerd. Don't hate him cuz he has a cool hat.

6 Comments on TV Genre Smackdown: Batman vs. The Green Hornet

  1. I don’t know if you noticed but the Batman TV series is an action/comedy. The bad puns, goofy situations and camp are intentional. The Green Hornet was heavier in the action and melodrama with the occasional quip. As far as sidekicks go, for a member of the Flying Graysons, Dick didn’t do a whole lot of acrobatic stuff when dressed as Robin.

  2.  

    Did you see the scifi episode of Pioneers of Television on pbs?  Irwin Allen actually changed Lost in Space to be more campy to compete with Batman.  Luckily Gene Roddenberry didn’t follow suit on Star Trek.

     

  3. @tam: Although without Irwin Allen’s decision, we would not have had one of the best comic characters in television history: Doctor Smith. The early evil Smith was just too much of a cardboard cutout to be interesting. However, once you get to the “Oh, the pain”, high pitched scream and zingers aimed at the Robot, Jonathan Harris becomes nothing short of a genius.

  4. Actually, according to the pbs show, Harris was a big stage actor, and took over the writing of his part himself.

     

  5. thanks for the Green Hornet v Batman article. while I agree with most of it  I would respecfully like to try and fill in some blanks concerning the Green Hornet storyline  if I might  as I am in my middle 50s and remember some details about the series

    1. the reason the show was done in a serious tone was because when the shows promoters approached Van Williams to play the lead role, he told them the only way he would do it was stright

    as opposed to what his good friend (still to this very day) Adam West was called to portray

    on the Batman Series.

    2. Neither Bruse Lee or his charecter “Kato” were ever intended to be a “sidekick’ to the Hornet

    Van Williams had approached the network Exectutives about among other things, giving Lee’s charecter as well as Lee himself more of a equial say in the shows direction.

    3. While Batman was widely viewed as a comic book superhero come to life with a batcave,batmobile

    batcopter ,bat boat  the list goes on. 

    the Green Hornet took a more subtle approach by comparision, Remember the Hornet is supposed to be a no nonsence dangerious and highly intellegent Crimminal. Granted Batman had a lot more toys

    but the black Beauity, the hornet Sting sonic disrupter,the gas gun and most of all Kato who was a walking deadly weapon himself all got the point across just fine  no need for a Hornet’s Nest’ type

    operation. otherwise your a copycat of the other guy.

    4. Van had also approached the network about expanding the series to a full hour so as to help develop the chareterers and storyline each week, he also introdused the idea of having the Hornet and Kato take their act on the road so to speak and fight crime all over the world

    the network would not budge on anything until they saw a ratings spike to justify any expansion of the project.

    summery (my opinion only) the green Hornet had the potenial to be a great crimedrama series as good as any now-a-days  it was well ahead of its time and sadly lacked the following it would later receive now by( who can ever count) a huge fan base of which I am happy to say I belong to  surprice

    surprice

     

    to this very day the tv series dvds rock!    thanks

     

  6. I’m very much a fan of both television shows, although the Hornet will always hold a special place for being the first (I saw it before Batman) and for Bruce Lee.

    In the past couple of years, the Green Hornet has seen a resurgence, not just with the movie, but several lines of comic book from Dynamite, as well as a prose anthology series from Moonstone Books. (I count myself extremely fortunate to have been a part of two of the three volumes.) There was also a French Hornet piece on YouTube, I think as a pitch for something bigger that never materialized.

    At their roots, Batman and the Hornet are very dark characters. Regarding Britt Reid’s motivation, the comics have very good pathos mixed into the character’s origin story.

    Thank you for the article. I now have to go and blog about my man-love for the Green Hornet. =]

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