When Batman: The Animated Series debuted in 1992, superhero cartoons had been in disrepute for more than twenty years. Network censors, responding to pressure from parents groups, had eviscerated the Justice League (which wound up on television as the goofy SuperFriends); and, even in the late Sixties, before Peggy Charren and her associates came out in full force, television economies meant that such straight action shows as Jonny Quest and Space Ghost could feature little in the way of fighting. In the Eighties broadcast standards had loosened as cartoons began to migrate to the first-run syndication market, but such shows as He-Man and G. I. Joe (though they had their charms) were simplistic stories of good vs. evil that were plainly designed to do little more than sell toys.
Walt Disney led the way into the "silver age" of television animation with DuckTales and Rescue Rangers, and Warner Bros. quickly followed by re-launching its own animation division. Besides Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, Warners owned DC Comics, and, after the phenomenal success of Tim Burton's gothic-noir Batman in 1989, the studio ordered up an animated spinoff series.
Based on concept sketches and background designs they submitted, Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski were picked by executive producer Jean MacCurdy to handle the new series. Batman Returns was in production as the new show went into development, and the studio insisted that, where possible, the producers follow the look of Burton's sequel. But, by and large, Timm and Radomski were free to fashion the show according to their own sensibilities, giving it a "film noir/pulp/Citizen Kane/Fleischer Superman feel." The backgrounds were painted on black to give it a dark and oppressive mood; the Gotham skyline was dominated by deco-style buildings; police zeppelins filled the air; television was broadcast in black-and-white.
Violence was still an issue, but the producers had a sympathetic buyer in Fox, whose programming head, Margaret Loesch, had a background in comic books and had tried for years to get an X-Men animated series on the air. Strict rules were laid down about guns, children in jeopardy, and implied death, but the days when Batman couldn't even make a fist were gone. Everyone understood that this Batman would not be a chummy problem-solver but a hard-edged, nocturnal crime-fighter of the sort originally envisioned by Bob Kane and Bill Finger.
Though the look of the show was quickly established, it took longer for the stories to develop, and the writing didn't begin to fall into place until Alan Burnett and Paul Dini joined the staff. Under their guidance the series added a strong psychological element that turned the exploitive stories into affecting melodramas: Two Face got a brilliant two-part origin story; the Joker balanced homicidal psychosis with baleful humor; and Mr. Freeze and the Mad Hatter were set and developed within poignant stories of romantic loss and frustration. The execution may have been "pulp," but the stories had the cold reality of a razor blade against the jugular.
The show's tone was helped immeasurably by a musical staff assembled under the direction of Shirley Walker. Walker, who had worked on Danny Elfman's score for the first Batman picture, had the use of a thirty-piece orchestra, and with it she and the staff composers gave the episodes the musical muscle of old-fashioned studio dramas. By turns urgent, menacing, heroic and achingly beautiful, the scores stroked and sustained the emotions that the scripts and visuals had called into being.
The series debuted on Fox Kids on September 5, 1992, with part one of "The Cat and the Claw" and immediately received a strong and favorable reaction. In December the series landed briefly on the network's primetime schedule, and it also picked up the Emmy for Outstanding Animated Program in 1992 for "Robin's Reckoning" and a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Writing in an Animated Program for "Heart of Ice."
aired under the title Batman: The Animated Series. Fifteen more
were produced as The Adventures of Batman and Robin after Fox asked
for Robin to be featured in every episode. The series ran on Fox until
1997, when it moved to the new Kids' WB! network and was packaged with
Superman: The Animated Series as The New Batman/Superman Adventures.