The Green Hornet (1966-1967)
Super heroes get to meet up with each other in comic books all the time but the chances to see it happen with live action super heroes on TV or in the movies - it never happens. There might be a Superman show on the air or a Batman movie but they always focus on the main character and there is never a good reason to introduce another hero into the mix.
Except in this case of course. In January 1966, a live action series based on the Batman comics became a huge hit for ABC. The show originally aired twice a week with the first episode ending in a cliffhanger that was resolved in the next show. It was campy and very comic but in an odd way. To an adult the show played like a comedy but the humor was structured in such a way that to a little kid the show played like a cool serious super hero action show. The show was a sensation with celebrities lined up to do guest spots as villains. Batman and Robin, the dynamic duo, were the real ratings deal.
Come September ABC tried out a new dynamic duo introducing another half hour super hero show - The Green Hornet. Batman had been millionaire Bruce Wayne in disguise. The Green Hornet was successful newspaper man Britt Reid in disguise. Instead of Robin, the Green Hornet had his faithful masked sidekick Kato who also served as Britt Reid's chauffeur.
There was a difference with this show though. Batman was campy. The Green Hornet played out as a straight and serious action show. But even though the shows had different tones they did have 1.) the same production company 2.) the same network and 3.) the same basic premise. Like I said, you never see a heroic team up on TV because the opportunity never presents itself. Well opportunity don't knock no louder than this! Loud enough to drown out any minor differences in tone. And the shows didn't waste any time.
One of Batman's running gags was to have Batman and Robin scaling a building and to have someone open a window, stick their heads out and say howdy! Those people were always famous and within the first month of The Green Hornet hitting the air, those people were the Green Hornet and Kato. Okay, it was just a quick throwaway cameo but it was also nice promotion for The Green Hornet on a hot show with a similar target audience. It didn't seem to help though. The Green Hornet just didn't become the hit Batman did.
In March 1967 a real full blown crossover happened with the Green Hornet and Kato returning for a second visit to Gotham City and the Batman show. My guess at why this crossover happened are the same as the first - just too good an opportunity to pass up and another chance to try and boost attention to The Green Hornet with the Batman audience.
The episode followed standard comic book protocol for the first full blown meeting between super heroes - due to some misunderstanding they have to fight each other! It has to happen. You just wanna see the big guys duking it out. The plot had both duos trying to uncover a counterfeiting ring at a stamp factory but who the hell cared! This wasn't about villains and plots! It was about coming up with an excuse for these shows to collide.
The misunderstanding was easy to stage. Sure Batman and Robin as well as the Green Hornet and Kato were heroes but they were also all vigilantes. So it was easy to get each side thinking the other had stepped over to the wrong side of the law. From there it was a short step to getting the punches flying. Only there was one complication.
Etiquette would seem to dictate that Batman and Robin win the fight. It was their show, their show was the hit... and who would want to tune in to The Green Hornet after they beat the crap out of the much loved Batman and Robin. The Green Hornet and Kato should obviously be the ones to lose the fight. One problem: Kato was played by Bruce Lee. While not yet a major film action star, Bruce Lee was a real life action hero - an expert and innovator in the martial arts. And they wanted him to take a dive and let himself get beat by Burt Ward - Robin! The boy wonder kicking Bruce Lee's ass? Get real. Bruce was not gonna let that happen.
The solution? A draw. Both teams duke it out awhile only to finally just stop and sort of go, "What are we nuts?" Then they could set about comparing notes, teaming up and saving the day!
Some people out there might actually wonder at Bruce Lee balking at loosing the fight (although I don't know who). I say I don't blame him! When you think about it, Bruce Lee had some heavy indignities heaped on him by Hollywood. An actual real life martial arts champion with charisma out the wazoo and he was forced to play sidekick to the lame white guy because he was the white guy? Can you imagine Arnold Schwarzenegger playing sidekick to Scott Baio even when he was starting out? And then can you imagine him being asked to let Fred Savage kick his butt? No way. It would never happen, it would be insulting and it would seem absurd. Well Bruce Lee's situation was actually worse than that since, I must say again, he wasn't an actor playing a fighting machine, he really WAS a fighting machine. I don't care how physically big Arnold is, I think Bruce would've thrashed him.
You might say, "Well Bruce Lee took the part of Kato knowing he was the sidekick. Fairs fair. That's the way it goes. No reason to be accusing the system of racism. Oh ho ho. Don't forget that after The Green Hornet Bruce should have had the lead role in Kung Fu, a show with an Asian hero he helped develop only to be pushed aside in favor of a white guy playing an Asian guy. He was so screwed over. And nothing sums it up for me like the thought of some studio guy trying to politely explain why Burt Ward has to kick his ass.
Racial injustice aside though (to be fair they did come up with a compromise) the episode is a TV landmark. Why? Didn't you just read everything above? Hello? Rare super hero TV team up featuring Bruce Lee! What the hell more could you ask for?Other Batman Crossover Links
Batman and The Addams Family
Batman and Hogan's Heroes
Other Green Hornet Crossover Links
The Green Hornet and The Lone Ranger
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