The classic sitcom The Munsters was a popular hit show in the 1960s until Batman‘s success led to its cancelation. Created by Allan Burns and Chris Hayward, who produced Leave It To Beaver, The Munsters originally aired at 7:30 pm on CBS from September 24, 1964, to May 12, 1966. In season 1, The Munsters was the #18 show on television, tied with Gilligan’s Island. But in its second season, ratings dropped precipitously and The Munsters was #61 – and it’s believed Batman’s 1960s show was to blame.
The Munsters starred Fred Gwynne as Herman Munster, the head of the household who is also Frankenstein’s monster. His wife, Lily, was played by Yvonne De Carlo while Lily’s father, Grandpa (AKA Count Dracula), was played by Al Lewis. Beverley Owen (later replaced by Pat Priest) played Marilyn, the Munsters’ conventionally beautiful teenage niece while Butch Patrick rounded out the Transylvanian-American family as Eddie Munster, a young werewolf. Although color television was already widespread in households when The Munsters debuted in 1964, the quirky comedy was filmed in black and white to mimic the look of Universal Studios’ classic monster movies. At its height, The Munsters earned higher ratings as the similarly-themed The Addams Family on ABC.
However, on January 12, 1966, The Munsters faced a new threat the macabre clan of monsters living at 1313 Mockingbird Lane couldn’t overcome: Batman, starring Adam West as the Caped Crusader and Burt Ward as Robin the Boy Wonder, premiered “in color” on ABC and brought splashy comic book derring-do to network television. Batman was an instant smash that kicked off a merchandising bonanza dubbed “Batmania” in 1966, but it was the superhero show’s unique twice-weekly airing schedule that gravely impacted The Munsters. Batman aired at 7:30 pm on Wednesdays and each episode ended with a cliffhanger to be resolved in the second episode that aired Thursdays at 7:30 pm – directly opposite The Munsters. With the audience more interested in seeing how Batman and Robin escaped each week’s deathtrap on Thursday nights, The Munsters‘ ratings eroded.
Butch Patrick confirmed Batman‘s deleterious impact on The Munsters‘ ratings to Daily Mail in 2019. In a look back on the series that made him a child star, Patrick said that Batman “‘just came in and took our ratings away.” The Munsters‘ popularity couldn’t compete with the bonafide pop culture phenomenon Batman became during its first season. The Munsters was canceled by CBS in May 1966, just five months into Batman season 1.
However, The Munsters‘ 70 episodes that were produced soon entered syndication and grew even more popular over the succeeding decades. With the advent of cable television, The Munsters became a mainstay of Nick at Nite on Nickelodeon and it also aired on Cartoon Network’s Boomerang. The Munsters‘ pop culture imprint endured thanks to a loyal cult following, and the gothic family sitcom enjoyed a few revivals and reboots. A sequel show, The Munsters Today, aired from 1988-1991 and ran for 72 episodes. Hannibal creator Bryan Fuller rebooted The Munsters in 2012 although his series, Mockingbird Lane, only aired as a TV movie since NBC didn’t greenlight it as a series. The Wayans brothers and Seth Meyers took a crack at rebooting The Munsters and, in 2021, Rob Zombie was hired to direct The Munsters movie, which will get a theatrical release and stream on Peacock.
Ironically, Batman‘s own popularity was short-lived as the “Batmania” fad fizzled out by the show’s second season. An attempt to bolster ratings by introducing Batgirl (Yvonne Craig) and only airing the show once a week didn’t revive the Dynamic Duo’s fortunes and Batman was canceled at the end of season 3 in 1968. But, like The Munsters, Batman also remained popular in syndication and both series continue to be pop-culture touchstones over 55 years later.