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.
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?!
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!
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.
So for me, The Green Hornet wins this battle.