Batman is not only the most successful superhero in film that Warner Brothers and DC Entertainment have, he also has maintained a strong presence on TV via live action and animation. This presence continued with “Gotham” – a prequel series starring Ben McKenzie as a young detective James Gordon as the only honest cop in a strange and corrupt city – airing its’ pilot episode on Fox last night. The broadcast network issued a full season order based on the prestige of Batman alone, even if Bruce Wayne is but a child in the show (played by David Mazouz). According to “TV by the Numbers”, the debut of “Gotham” won Fox eight million viewers last night, which was enough to earn it 4th place for the time slot against heavy competition (such as the season premieres of “The Big Bang Theory”, “The Voice”, and “Dancing with the Stars”). It also scored better ratings than the season premiere of “Sleepy Hollow” on Fox an hour later.
It is difficult to gauge these numbers for the long term, considering Fox’s history of having high ratings standards and an itchy trigger finger for cancellations (as Joss Whedon knows all too well). This is far from a record even by the standards of comic book based TV shows – just in March, the season finale of “The Walking Dead” on AMC was watched by over 15.5 million viewers, and that’s a cable channel. Simply because a full season was ordered does not mean Fox would air all of it if ratings fell below a certain threshold – after all, unaired episodes are an easy way to sell season DVD sets even for shows that flopped (see “The Tick”). On the other hand, the fact that a show starring Jim Gordon was able to give powerhouse shows from CBS, ABC and NBC some run for their money, especially with younger viewers, is good short term news.
On the other hand, the CGI animated show “Beware the Batman” faces a most humiliating end to its’ first and last season on Cartoon Network. The latest animated Batman show was considered to be so important that it could be argued that among the reasons that “Young Justice” was axed after two (protracted) seasons was to clear space on the “DC Nation” block for “Beware the Batman”. The show, featuring a younger Batman fighting some of the few villains who had yet to be animated before alongside Alfred Pennyworth and Katana, debuted in October 2013 but was yanked from the network after only a few weeks. According to World’s Finest, Cartoon Network announced today that the final seven unaired episodes would be presented as a “marathon” on the “Adult Swim” block on Saturday, September 27th from 2:30 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. This airing is essentially an obligation, under the logic that the network paid to produce them, so they may as well air them once without having to bump any “important” show. For perspective, FoxKids actually treated the last eight episodes of “Spider-Man Unlimited” with more dignity in 2000, at least airing those episodes over a few months once a week. Currently, the only DC Comics cartoon “safe” at Cartoon Network is “Teen Titans GO!”, a status which has prompted Warner Brothers to turn to online channels for the next Bruce Timm vehicle.
It may turn out to be wise to give an animated Batman a break with the rise of a live action show centered around his universe. As Sony’s struggles with their Spider-Man franchise show, an audience can become “full” of a certain character after too much overuse in too short a span, and Warner Brothers has been running full tilt on Batman for a very, very, very long time.