Daily Tedium

The Four-Minute Villain

How the classic Batman TV show created a major debate around how much TV advertising was too much—and why the debate’s lessons eventually faded away.

By Ernie Smith

One of the best parts of the streaming era is that you can avoid watching a ton of commercials if you don’t want to.

And in some ways, TV is responding to this change. Last year, Turner announced it was cutting back on commercials on its cable channels, and Fox—currently the market leader in commercial clutter—is trying to do the same. These days, 15 minutes of commercials in a single hour, give or take a couple of minutes, is about average.

But in the 1960s, it was a whole different debate—and it was one centered around the live-action version of Batman, the one with Adam West. During the time that show first went on the air in early 1966, ABC wanted to add another minute of commercials to the show to cover its higher production budget, as the show aired two new episodes per week during a non-prime-time slot, at a total cost of $150,000 per week, according to TV Obscurities.

This move was highly controversial at the time, leading to boycotts in some cases, though the network added the commercial in a way that it didn’t come at the cost of the actual show. The worry, per local stations, was that the additional ad represented a slippery slope—and that soon, four minutes of ads would be standard.

The debate over the amount of commercial time was a sore enough subject with local affiliates that ABC and other networks walked away from the issue after a time (though Batman ultimately kept its fourth minute of advertising).

But the issue came blazing back into view in the late ‘70s, after the Justice Department filed an antitrust suit against the National Association of Broadcasters over the limited amount of ad time its member networks allowed. Consumer advocates, led by a Ralph Nader-chaired group, complained abut the Justice Department’s action, but in the end, the governmental pressure led NAB to repeal its rules on the issue in the early ‘80s.

And that’s why the addition of a fourth minute of commercials to Batman sounds like such a nothingburger in retrospect. These days, we have commercials for days.

Ernie Smith

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Ernie Smith is the editor of Tedium, and an active internet snarker. Between his many internet side projects, he finds time to hang out with his wife Cat, who's funnier than he is.

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