Adam West and Burt Ward didn't just make their names playing Batman and Robin on the hit TV series – they paved the way for a once-niche genre to transcend its humble comic book beginnings and burst into the mainstream. Now, nearly 50 years after the dynamic duo first graced the small screen, superheroes have become multibillion-dollar businesses.
And it was that original 1966 Batman series that showed how an over-the-top comedic plot featuring two crime-fighting men in spandex can capture a mass audience.
"It was bigger than life," said Ward, who played Robin to West's Batman. "For kids, it was this hero worship … For the adult it was the nostalgia of the comic book from when they were kids. And for the teenagers and college [students], it was those double meanings. There was something for everybody."
When it premiered, Batman became a prime-time phenomenon, and that bat-craze has somehow remained as strong as ever.
"I loved that pile of scripts, and I really enjoyed what we were bringing to life. But I had no idea that it would have this type of longevity, or that it would have been so successful," said West, who along with Ward will be appearing at Toronto's Fan Expo this week. "But after the first show was released and the public reacted, I knew that my life had changed."
Comic-book characters whose exploits were once confined to low-quality paper and sold for a dime an issue are now dominating popular culture and making studios rich at the box office. The most recent big-screen Batman appearances, in Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, have grossed more than $2.45-billion (U.S.) worldwide. Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy has dominated the current summer's box office, earning more than $500-million.
The fall TV season, meanwhile, will see four new comic-book properties join established superhero-centric shows such as The Walking Dead and Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
West says none of this would have been possible had it not been for the first Batman series. Despite not having a dark, grounded tone like Dark Knight, or over-the-top special effects, the light-hearted sitcom with a goofy tone has never been more popular.
In 2013, DC Comics published Batman '66 #1, a monthly comic series that features West's Batman and Ward's Robin in all-new adventures. It became one of the publisher's most popular titles. And in November, all 120 episodes of the remastered original series will be released on DVD and Blu-ray for the first time.
"Adam and I had and this connection to people, and for whatever [reason] … it worked," said Ward. "I don't know if, in 50 years from now, they [other franchises] will still have the longevity that our series had, because what we did was ignite people in a way that was so different."
One of the most heated debates among fans is over which actor has portrayed Batman best. Despite considering himself the greatest actor to have ever donned the iconic cowl, West believes the debate is moot.
"That's the thing with the Batman character – it can exist on so many levels and universes," he said. "I just feel like I'm the luckiest actor in the world to have created something with that kind of affection, regard and longevity."