Why Harlan Ellison’s Batman Story Isn’t “Lost”

At San Diego Comic-Con this weekend, DC Entertainment announced Batman ’66: The Lost Episode, an adaptation by Len Wein and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez of a Harlan Ellison story for the Adam West Batman television series that would have seen the Caped Crusader do battle with Two-Face.

A Harlan Ellison-penned story for Batman? you say. How did this not end up on our televisions in 1966?

Because “The Two-Way Crimes of Two-Face” never got far enough to be filmed. William Dozier, the producer of Batman never commissioned the story. Ellison never wrote a script. “The Two-Way Crimes of Two-Face” never got past the pitch.

Now, to be fair, there are extenuating circumstances. Dozier was interested in buying the pitch. Ellison wrote an outline in anticipation of the commission. However, Ellison had, in true Ellisonian fashion, made himself unhirable at ABC. A physical altercation with an ABC executive over script changes will do that. I’ll let Mike Cecchini of Den of Geek explain the circumstances:

Why didn’t we get to see “The Two-Way Crimes of Two-Face?” Brain Movies editor, Jason Davis provided Den of Geek with some background information, which confirms the idea that Ellison’s difficulties working with ABC stemmed from a physical altercation with Adrian Samish, head of ABC’s Broadcast Standards and Practices department, which ended with Samish threatening that “Ellison will NEVER work on ABC again!” A threat Samish apparently made good on. From Mr. Davis:

Indeed, Ellison only pitched to Batman because Samish was leaving ABC; in a case of poor timing, his storyline went to the network for approval on Samish’s last day on the job. Ellison remembers sitting in executive producer William Dozier’s office as several storylines were approved while his was deep-sixed with the phrase “Ellison doesn’t work on ABC.” The vendetta evidently continued after Samish left ABC for Quinn Martin Productions, where Ellison’s superb storyline for an episode of The Manhunter (in Brain Movies, Volume 3) was cut off before going to script.

Nonetheless, “The Two-Way Crimes of Two-Face” was nothing more than a pitch and outline that met the same fate as dozens of pitches in Hollywood every single day — rejection. Contracts were not signed, a commission was not given, a script was not written. Most pitches are rejected because the producer wasn’t interested in the idea at hand. This pitch died because the sale could never be made. The end result is the same. It became something for the files.

Calling the adaptation of Ellison’s outline “The Lost Story,” then, is really something of a misnomer. Dozier, like any Hollywood producer, rejected far more pitches than he actually bought, yet no one in the industry would call those unbought pitches “lost stories.” If Les Crutchfield, a Gunsmoke writer of that era whom I’ve frankly never heard of, had pitched “The Two-Way Crimes” and it went unbought, no one would remember it or care, yet we know of this because it’s an Ellisonian idea.

There are genuinely “lost stories” which were commissioned and scripts were bought, but which, for whatever reason, were never put into production. Alan Dean Foster talked at Farpoint this year about his lost Batman script; I don’t remember the exact details, but the story involved India and Catwoman. Undoubtedly there are others. Doctor Who has lost stories that went to script and were never filmed; Stephen Fry wrote one for the second season of the revived series in 2006. The point is, Ellison’s pitch doesn’t merit being labeled a “lost story.” It never got that far.

(As an aside, I wonder if Ellison had been commissioned, would the writing of “The Two-Way Crimes of Two-Face” have gone smoothly, or would the process have been as frought as the writing of Star Trek‘s “City on the Edge of Forever” was the following year? Is it possible that in a world where “The Two-Way Crimes of Two-Face” was bought that we wouldn’t have seen “City on the Edge”? How different history would have been without the pointless Ellison/Roddenberry feud!)

I realize it’s marketing. Ellison is a “name,” and the 1960s Batman series has seen a resurgence in popularity and awareness in the last few years, culminating in the long-awaited DVD release of the series this winter. Billing this Batman comic based on vintage Ellison notes as a “lost story” from the television series will generate more interest from the punters than a more honest representation would.

Don’t take this to mean that I’m disinterested in Batman ’66: The Lost Story. I’m more than likely to buy it, but not because of Ellison and not because it’s a “lost story.” No, what attacts me to this project is the Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez artwork. That’s all DC had to say to pique my interest. 🙂

Published by Allyn

A writer, editor, journalist, sometimes coder, occasional historian, and all-around scholar, Allyn Gibson is the writer for Diamond Comic Distributors' monthly PREVIEWS catalog, used by comic book shops and throughout the comics industry, and the editor for its monthly order forms. In his over ten years in the industry, Allyn has interviewed comics creators and pop culture celebrities, covered conventions, analyzed industry revenue trends, and written copy for comics, toys, and other pop culture merchandise. Allyn is also known for his short fiction (including the Star Trek story "Make-Believe,"the Doctor Who short story "The Spindle of Necessity," and the ReDeus story "The Ginger Kid"). Allyn has been blogging regularly with WordPress since 2004.

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