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Co-presented by the Directors Guild of America. Made possible by the John H. Mitchell Television Programming Endowment.

From Batman to Hill Street Blues: A Tribute to Director Robert Butler

Two police officers sitting in a car.
April 13, 2024 - 7:30 pm
Introduction by actor, producer, director Thomas Carter.

Admission is free. No advance reservations. Your seat will be assigned to you when you pick up your ticket at the box office. Seats are assigned on a first come, first served basis. The box office opens one hour before the event.

Anyone who has watched prime-time television programming from the 20th century has likely enjoyed the work of Robert Butler (1927-2023). In a landmark career spanning half a century, the prolific, influential director was responsible for helming the pilots for some of the most iconic and popular series in TV history. A master of his craft (developed as an apprentice at CBS Television City), Butler became a go-to director in the industry for expensive, high-stakes pilots, helping to create indelible television moments that became part of the pop culture lexicon — from the canted angles and stylized camp of Batman (1966) to the purposely chaotic camera movement and dynamic performances that defined Hill Street Blues (1981). 

In addition to also helming the pilots for Hogan's Heroes (1965), Star Trek (1966) and Moonlighting (1985), Butler directed episodes for a seemingly endless list of beloved television series, including The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Twilight Zone, Kung-Fu, The Waltons, Columbo and many more. In the late ’60s and early ’70s, he helmed a series of hit movies starring Kurt Russell for Walt Disney Studios, including The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes and The Barefoot Executive. In 1973, Butler directed the critically acclaimed mini-series The Blue Knight, which netted him Emmy Awards for Best Directing in Drama and Director of the Year. Among his honors (too many to list), the Directors Guild of America bestowed its inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award for Distinguished Achievement in Television Direction to Butler in 2015. 

Please join the Archive and the DGA as we pay tribute to the timeless talents of Robert Butler with a screening of his pilots for Batman (1966) and Hill Street Blues (1981). Introduced by multiple Emmy and DGA award winner Thomas Carter, director of the pilots for St. Elsewhere, Miami Vice, Equal Justice and more.

Program notes by Mark Quigley, John H. Mitchell Television Curator. Special thanks to Morgan Rumpf, Alison Russ, Directors Guild of America.

Hill Street Blues: “Hill Street Station” (pilot)

U.S., 1/15/1981

In this highly influential pilot, Robert Butler introduced a gritty new visual language to television, employing, in his words, “dirty” camera work and “messy” staging to drop the viewer inside the chaotic world of the fictional Hill Street police station. Butler would win an Emmy and the DGA’s Award for Outstanding Directing — Drama Series for his groundbreaking work, which launched one of the most acclaimed series in television history.

DCP, color, 50 min. NBC. Production: MTM Enterprises. Executive Producers: Michael Kozoll, Steven Bochco. Producer: Gregory Hoblit. Director: Robert Butler. Writers: Michael Kozoll, Steven Bochco. With: Daniel J. Travanti, Michael Conrad, Michael Warren, Veronica Hamel. Special thanks to Walt Disney Studios, Angelea Barto, Jennifer Mayo, Clara Earthly.

Batman: “Hi Diddle Riddle” and “Smack in the Middle" (pilot, parts 1 & 2) 

U.S., 1/12/1966 and 1/13/1966

In this genre-busting pilot that launched the Batman craze in 1966, Robert Butler brings comic book pages to life via canted camera angles, pop art “Pow” opticals that explode off the screen, and a camp sensibility that defined the beloved ABC-TV series — personified here by star Adam West’s immortal “batusi” dance. The two-part pilot further illuminates Butler’s expertise with complex action, hallmarks of his talent that would come into play throughout his illustrious career.

DCP, color,  50 min. ABC. Production: A Greenway production, Twentieth Century Fox Television. Executive Producer: William Dozier. Producer: Howie Horwitz. Director: Robert Butler. Writer: Lorenzo Semple Jr. With: Adam West, Burt Ward, Frank Gorshin. Special thanks to Warner Bros., Nicole Woods, George Feltenstein.