Thus began one of the strangest appearances of any comic-book hero or group of heroes, ever produced for television. Airing February of 1979 on NBC for two consecutive weeks , it garnered low ratings and for the most part went unnoticed by both the media and the public. It's poor showing was not helped by the fact that it aired on a Thursday night between "The Waltons", past it's prime but still popular on CBS, and "Mork & Mindy", which was new and red-hot on ABC. The story-line of the first segment called "The Challenge", would’ve likely been rejected as too cartoonish if submitted as a story-line for a Justice League of America coloring book.
As the story begins, the Super-Villains have created a bomb in order to "destroy the world". Oddly enough, they're not planning to ask for any ransom, and are apparently unconcerned about how they will themselves escape. During the course of the program, the Super-Villains rob the Super-Heroes of their powers, via Mordru’s magical potion. I would assume this plot twist came about to save on the special effects budget, except that special effects were virtually non-existent already.
The Super-Heroes track down the Super-Villains at their lair through a maze of transparent schemes to stall them and idiotic sight gags. Then in somewhat tired fashion they subdue the Super-Villians (who have by this time stupidly drank some of the very potion they used to de-power the Super-Heroes), and shut off the doomsday device to canned cheers & applause. The end.
The following week "The Roast" aired. As feared, it was a superhero version of the "Dean Martin Roasts" which had been successful for NBC a few years before. Ed McMahon acted as host. The Atom, Ghetto Man (Black Lightining?) and the Captain Marvel villainess Aunt Minerva were added. For a show that was supposed to be a "pilot", the roast added a feeling of finality. Where do you go from there?
The worst part of the shows were the roasts, the laugh-track, the script, and the use of cheap video-tape. More than anything else, it resembles the "Star Wars Holiday Special" which Hanna-Barbera produced the year before. The same poor quality film-stock, tired skits, and terrible "celebrity" cameos were apparent.
Either of the other two saturday-morning show production companies, "Filmation" and "Krofft", might've done the heroes less damage. If filmed straight like "Shazam/Isis" or "Land of the Lost", even on video-tape and with the shoe-string budget, it could've made an important contribution to super-hero TV. The Hulk and Wonder Woman series had higher production values, but were still pretty silly. And if aired early friday night as a prelude to saturday morning cartoons, "Legends" could've made a decent showing. But it wasn't to be.
An element that made the program even odder, and which accounts for most of the interest the show has garnered over the last twenty years, is that Adam West and Burt Ward who starred in the ABC TV series "Batman" a decade earlier appeared in character as the Dynamic Duo. The two biggest questions about "Legends" has to be, "What exactly were the producers going for here?" and, "How did they persuade Adam West to appear in it?"
In Jerry Seinfeld's book Sein-Language, a fan of the old Superman series, Seinfeld determined that George Reeves continued playing the "Man Of Steel" year after year despite the bad scripts, the one-dimensional crooks, and the silly special effects partially out of obligation, "because he was Superman." I tend to think Adam West chose to suit-up for "Legends" despite it's obivious limitations, and to do the voice-overs for CBS's "The New Adventures of Batman" cartoons for very much the same reason -- "because he was Batman."
Both Adam West and Burt Ward had supplied voices for Filmation's "The New Adventures of Batman" cartoons for CBS just prior to this -- after re-establishing a connection with the characters "Legends" must have seemed like a natural progression. Appearing in "Legends of the Super-Heroes" on NBC made them the first actors to play the same characters on each of the three major networks. At about this time CBS announced plans for a serious Batman movie for television, "an updated internationalized version" in which West and Ward would star. It seemed the perfect time -- "Flash Gordon" was up for release in theaters and after the blockbuster "Superman" film, heroes were coming in vogue again. Sadly, in 1980 "Batman" was optioned for a feature-film which wouldn't be produced until 1989, destroying any chance of the CBS movie.
In 1979 Banna-Barbera's "Superfriends" program had been enjoying a long run that began in September of 1973. By 1979 the show was "Challenge of the Superfriends". Hanna-Barbera was producing many prime-time specials, so creating a live-action version of the Superfriends, must have seemed like a "can't miss" proposition. Superman and Wonder Woman were doubtlessly unavailable as they were being produced on film and TV, so Captain Marvel and The Huntress were substituted. Why they didn't choose to add Batgirl, is anybody's guess.
Still, in spite of all the problems, there are enjoyable things in "Legends". West at approximately 51, and Ward in his mid-30's still make a convincing Dynamic Duo. Moth-balled costume aside, Adam West appeared lean & fit. Despite the inept production, a few of West and Ward's scenes together displayed the rapport they'd enjoyed years before. Burt Ward supplied a brief moment of excitment, when he performed one of the "acrobatic punches" he'd done so many times on the series. And let's not forget Frank Gorshin as "The Riddler", perhaps the best played of all of Batman's TV villains. Gorshin, as would be expected, plays the Riddler to a tee. And surprising enough, a few of the other super-villains are quite good -- although the laugh-track immediately destroys any menace they're able to create. Rod Haase, though not given much to do as "The Flash", would go on to play the character of "Captain Avenger" in the John Ritter film, "Hero At Large"(1980). Where he still wasn't given much to do. The specials mark the only live-action appearances of Green Lantern, The Atom, Black Canary, The Huntress, and Hawkman to date. In 1997 CBS made a action/comedy Justice League pilot than never aired. Perhaps someday, someone will decide to do it right.