The Wild Wild West is an American
television series that ran on CBS for four seasons (104 episodes)
from September 17th, 1965 to April 4th, 1969. Two television movies
were made with the original cast in 1979 and 1980, and the series was
adapted for a motion picture in 1999 starring Will Smith. Despite
high ratings, the series was cancelled near the end of its fourth
season as a concession to Congress over television violence.
Developed at a time when
the television western was losing ground to the spy genre, this show
was conceived by its creator, Michael Garrison, as "James Bond
on horseback." Set during the administration of President
Ulysses Grant, the series followed two Secret Service agents: the
fearless and handsome James T. West (played by Robert Conrad), and
Artemus Gordon (played by Ross Martin), a brilliant gadgeteer and
master of disguise, as they solved crimes, protected the President,
and foiled the plans of megalomaniacal villains to take over all or
part of the United States. The show also featured a number of fantasy
elements, such as the technologically advanced devices used by the
agents and their adversaries. The combination of the Victorian era
time-frame and the use of Verne-esque technology have inspired some
to give the show credit as being one of the more "visible"
origins of the steampunk subculture. These elements were accentuated
even more in the 1999 movie adaptation.
agents traveled in luxury aboard their own train, the Wanderer,
equipped with everything from a stable car to a laboratory. James
West had served as an intelligence and cavalry officer in the US
Civil War; his "cover," at least in the pilot episode, is
that he is "a dandy, a high-roller from the East."
Thereafter, however, there is no pretense, and his reputation as the
foremost Secret Service agent often precedes him. According to the TV
movies, West retires from the Service by 1880 and lives on a ranch in
Mexico. Gordon, who was a captain in the Civil War, had also been in
show business. When he retires in 1880 he returns to performing as
the head of a Shakespeare traveling players troupe.
The show incorporated classic Western
elements with an espionage thriller, science fiction/alternate
history ideas (in a similar vein to steampunk), in one case horror
("The Night of the Man Eating House") and plenty of humor.
In the tradition of James Bond, there were always beautiful women,
clever gadgets, and delusional arch-enemies with half-insane plots to
take over the country or the world.
The title of each episode begins with
"The Night" (except for the first-season episode "Night
of the Casual Killer", which omitted the definite article).
This followed other idiosyncratic naming conventions established by
shows like Rawhide, where each episode title began with "Incident
at" or "Incident of," and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,
where episodes were titled "The (whatever) Affair."
Garrison and his partner at the time, Gregory Ratoff, purchased the
film rights to Ian Fleming's first Bond novel, Casino Royale, in 1954
for $600. CBS bought the TV rights for $1000, and on October 21st,
1954 broadcast an hour-long adaptation on its Climax! series, with
Barry Nelson (right) playing American agent Jimmy Bond
and Peter Lorre playing the villain, Le Chiffre. CBS also approached
Fleming about developing a Bond TV series. In 1955 Ratoff and
Garrison bought the rights to the novel in perpetuity for an
additional $6000, and pitched the idea to 20th Century Fox. The
studio turned them down. After Ratoff died in 1960, his widow and
Garrison sold the film rights to Charles K. Feldman for $75,000.
Feldman eventually produced the spoof Casino Royale in 1967. By then,
Garrison and CBS had brought James Bond to television in a unique way
via the western.
pilot episode, "The Night of the Inferno", was produced by
Garrison and cost $685,000. The episode was scripted by Gilbert
Ralston, who had written for numerous episodic TV series in the 1950s
and 1960s. In 1997, Ralston sued Warner Bros. over the upcoming
motion picture based on the series. (Wild Wild West was released in
1999.) In a deposition, Ralston explained that he was approached by
Michael Garrison, who "said he had an idea for a series, good
commercial idea, and wanted to know if I could glue the idea of a
western hero and a James Bond type together in the same show."
Ralston said he then created the Civil War characters, the format,
the story outline and nine drafts of the script that was the basis
for the television series. It was his idea, for example, to have a
secret agent named Jim West who would perform secret missions for
President Ulysses S. Grant. Ralston's experience brought to light a
common Hollywood practice of the 1950s and '60s, when television
writers who helped create popular series allowed producers or studios
to take credit for a show thus possibly denying the writers
"millions" in future royalties. Ralston died in 1999,
before his suit was settled. Warner Brothers ended up paying his
family between $600,000 and $1.5 million.
show went through several changes in producers in its first season.
This was apparently due to conflicts between the network and
Garrison, who had no experience producing for television and had
trouble staying on budget. At first, Ben Brady was named producer,
but he was shifted to Rawhide, which had its own crisis when star
Eric Fleming quit at the end of the 1964-65 season. (That series
lasted for another thirteen episodes before it was cancelled by CBS.)
The network then hired Collier Young who
said he saw the series as The Rogues set in 1870. (The Rogues, which
he had produced, was about con men who swindled swindlers, much like
the 1970s series Switch.) Young also claimed to have added the wry
second "Wild" to the series title, which had been simply
"The Wild West" in its early stages of production. Young
lasted three episodes (24). His shows featured a butler named
Tennyson who traveled with West and Gordon, but since the episodes
were not broadcast in production order, the character popped up at
different times during the first season.
replacement, Fred Freiberger, returned the series to its original
concept. It was on his watch that writer John Kneubuhl, inspired by a
magazine article on Michael Dunn, created the arch-villain Dr.
Miguelito Loveless. However, Phoebe Dorin, who played Loveless'
assistant, Antoinette, recalled: "Michael Garrison came to see
[our] nightclub act when he was in New York. Garrison said to
himself, 'Michael Dunn would make the most extraordinary villain.
People have never seen anything like him before, and he's a fabulous
little actor and he's funny as hell.' And, Garrison felt, if Michael
Dunn sang on every show, with the girl, it would be an extraordinary
running villain. He came backstage and he told us who he was and he
said he was going to do a television show called The Wild Wild West
and we would be called. We thought, 'Yeah, yeah, we've heard all that
before.' But he did call us and the show was a fantastic success. And
that's how it started, because he saw the nightclub act."
Loveless was introduced in the show's sixth produced, but third
televised episode, "The Night the Wizard Shook The Earth."
The character became an immediate hit and Dunn was contracted to
appear in four episodes per season.
ten episodes (514), Freiberger was replaced by John Mantley,
reputedly due to a behind-the-scenes power struggle. Mantley, who had
been associate producer on Gunsmoke, produced seven (1521)
episodes before he, too, was replaced. While Mantley returned to his
former position on Gunsmoke, Gene L. Coon took over the production
reins of The Wild Wild West. Coon, however, left after six episodes
(2227) to take a screen-writing assignment at Warner Bros.
By then, Garrison's conflict with CBS was
resolved, and he returned to produce the last episode of season one
and the initial episodes of season two. The producer's return was
much to the relief of Ross Martin (right), who once revealed that he
was so disenchanted during the first season that he tried to quit
three times. He explained that Garrison "saw the show as a Bond
spoof laid in 1870, and we all knew where we stood. Each new producer
tried to put his stamp on the show and I had a terrible struggle. I
fought them line by line in every script. They knew they couldn't
change the James West role very much, but it was open season on
Artemus Gordon because they had never seen anything like him before."
On August 17th, 1966, however, during
production of the new season's ninth episode, The Night of the
Ready-Made Corpse, Garrison fell down a flight of stairs in his home,
fractured his skull, and died. CBS brought in Bruce Lansbury, head of
programming in New York, to produce the show for the remainder of its run.
Wild Wild West was filmed at CBS Studio Center on Radford Avenue in
the San Fernando Valley. The 70-acre lot was formerly the home of
Republic Studios, which specialized in low-budget films including
Westerns starring Roy Rogers and Gene Autry and Saturday morning
serials (which The Wild Wild West appropriately echoed). CBS had a
wall-to-wall lease on the lot starting in May 1963, and produced
Gunsmoke and Rawhide there, as well as Gilligan's Island. The network
bought the lot from Republic in February, 1967, for $9.5 million.
Beginning in 1971, MTM Enterprises (headed by actress Mary Tyler
Moore and her then-husband, Grant Tinker) became the Studio Center's
primary tenant. In the mid-1980s the western streets and sets were
replaced with new sound stages and urban facades, including the New
York streets seen in Seinfeld. In 1995 the lagoon set that was
originally constructed for Gilligan's Island was paved over to create
a parking lot.
Before The Wild Wild West, Robert Conrad
played private eye Tom Lopaka in ABC's Hawaiian Eye (below) for four
seasons, 1959-63. Conrad claimed to be the 17th actor to test for the
role of James West. (Rory Calhoun was initially announced for the
part.) Conrad performed nearly all of his own stunts on The Wild Wild
West. "For the first few episodes we tried stuntmen,"
Conrad explained, "but the setup time slowed production down, so
I volunteered. Things started moving quicker when I took the jumps
and the spills. We started meeting the budget." He was
occasionally doubled on the more dangerous stunts by Louie Elias or
Chuck OBrien. On January 24th, 1968, however, during filming of
"The Night of the Fugitives," Conrad fell 12 ft from a
chandelier onto a concrete floor and suffered a concussion. As a
result, production of the series (then near the end of its third
season) ended two weeks early. Conrad spent weeks in the hospital,
and had a long convalescence slowed by constant dizziness. The
episode was eventually completed and aired during the fourth season,
with footage of the fall left in.
Hawaiian Eye featured private investigator
Tracy Steele (Anthony Eisley) and his half-Hawaiian partner, Tom
Lopaka (Robert Conrad), who ran a combination detective agency and
private security firm, located in Honolulu, Hawaii. Their principal
client is the Hawaiian Village Hotel, which in exchange for security
services, provides the agency with a luxurious private compound on
the hotel grounds. The partners investigate mysteries and protect
clients with the sometime help of photographer Cricket Blake (Connie
Stevens), who also sings at the hotel's Shell Bar, and a
ukulele-playing cab driver Kim Quisado (Poncie Ponce), who has
"relatives" throughout the islands. Engineer turned
detective Greg McKenzie (Grant Williams), joins the agency later on
as a full partner, while hotel social director Philip Barton (Troy
Donahue) lends a hand after Tracy Steele departs.
Eye was one of several ABC/Warner Brothers Television detective
series of the era situated in different exotic locales. Others
included Hollywood-based 77 Sunset Strip, Bourbon Street Beat, set in
New Orleans, and Miami's Surfside Six. In reality, all were shot on
the Warner Brothers lot in Los Angeles, making it easy for
characters, and sometimes whole scripts, to cross over. Although the
shows aren't spin-offs in the traditional sense, Sunset was the first
in this chain of "exotic location detective series". In
this regard, Hawaiian Eye was the most viable of the Sunset look-alikes,
lasting four seasons. The show's debut coincided with several
real-world developments that helped contribute to its longevity.
These were the granting of statehood to Hawaii, the advent of mass
tourism to the new state brought about by the introduction of
jetliners for commercial passenger flights. The program did well in
the ratings on Wednesday eveningsbut in its last season was placed on
the Tuesday schedule opposite CBS's The Red Skelton Show.
Prior to The Wild Wild West, Ross Martin
co-starred in the CBS series Mr. Lucky (above) from 1959 to 1960,
portraying Mr. Lucky's sidekick, Andamo. The series was created by
Blake Edwards, who also cast Martin in his films Experiment in Terror
(1962) and The Great Race (1964). Martin once called his role as
Artemus Gordon "a show-off's showcase" because it allowed
him to portray over 100 different characters during the course of the
series, and perform dozens of different dialects. Martin sketched his
ideas for his characterizations and worked with the makeup artists to
execute the final look and was nominated for an Emmy in 1969.
broke his leg in a fourth season episode, "The Night of the
Avaricious Actuary." A few weeks later, after completing
"The Night of Fire and Brimstone," Martin suffered a heart
attack on August 17th, 1968. (This was exactly two years after
Michael Garrison died.) Martin's character was replaced temporarily
by other agents played by Charles Aidman (four episodes), Alan Hale,
Jr. and William Schallert. Aidman said the producers had promised to
rewrite the scripts for his new character, but this simply amounted
to scratching out the name "Artemus Gordon" and penciling
in "Jeremy Pike" (his character's name). Pat Paulsen is
frequently thought of as a Martin substitute, but he in fact appeared
in one of Aidman's episodes, and his character would have been
present even if Martin appeared.
The show's most memorable recurring
arch-villain was Dr. Miguelito Quixote Loveless, a brilliant but
megalomaniacal little person portrayed by Michael Dunn (pictured
below with Richard Kiel). Like Professor Moriarty for Sherlock
Holmes, Loveless provided West and Gordon with a worthy adversary,
whose plans could be foiled but who resisted all attempts to capture
him and bring him to justice. Initially he had two constant
companions: the huge Voltaire, played by Richard Kiel; and the
beautiful Antoinette, played by Dunn's real-life singing partner,
Phoebe Dorin. Voltaire disappeared with no explanation after his
third episode (although Richard Kiel returned in a different role in
"The Night of the Simian Terror"), and Antoinette after her
sixth. In the reunion TV movie The Wild Wild West Revisited, Loveless
eventually dies in 1880 from ulcers, brought on by anger and
frustration at having his plans consistently ruined by West and
Gordon. (His son, played by Paul Williams, subsequently seeks revenge
on the agents.) Richard Kiel is best known as Jaws in the James Bond films.
several actors appeared in multiple villainous roles, only one other
character had a second encounter with West and Gordon: Count Manzeppi
(played flamboyantly by Victor Buono, who played another, different
villain in the pilot), a diabolical genius of "black magic"
and crime, who like Dr. Loveless had an escape plan at
the end. (Buono eventually returned in More Wild Wild West as
"Dr. Henry Messenger", a parody of Henry Kissinger, who
ends up both handcuffed and turning invisible with the villainous Paradine.)
Agnes Moorehead won an Emmy for her role
as Emma Valentine in "The Night of The Vicious Valentine".
Some of the other villains were portrayed by Leslie Nielsen, Martin
Landau (of Mission: Impossible fame), Burgess Meredith (the Penguin
on TV"s Batman), Boris Karloff, Ida Lupino, Carroll O'Connor
(who would later achieve TV superstar status as Archie Bunker on All
In The Family), Ricardo Montalban, Robert Duvall, Ed Asner (Lou Grant
on The Mary Tyler Moore Show), and Harvey Korman (of The Carol
While the show's writers created their
fair share of villains, they frequently started with the nefarious,
stylized inventions of these madmen (or madwomen) and then wrote the
episodes around these devices. Henry Sharp, the series' story
consultant, would sketch the preliminaries of the designs
(eccentrically numbering every sketch "fig. 37"), and give
the sketch to a writer, who would build a story around it. Episodes
were also inspired by Edgar Allan Poe, H. G. Wells, and Jules Verne.
Bond had his Austin Martin, Jim West had a
train. For the pilot episode, "The Night of the Inferno",
the producers used Sierra Railroad No. 3, a 4-6-0 locomotive that
was, fittingly, an anachronism: Sierra No. 3 was built in 1891,
fifteen to twenty years after the series was set. Footage of this
train, with a 5 replacing the 3 on its number plate, was shot in
Jamestown, California. Best known for its role as the Hooterville
Cannonball in the CBS series Petticoat Junction, Sierra No. 3
probably appeared in more films and TV shows than any other
locomotive in history and was built by the Rogers Locomotive and
Machine Works in Paterson, New Jersey.
The Wild Wild West went into series production, however, an entirely
different train was employed. The locomotive, a 4-4-0 named the Inyo,
was built in 1875 by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia.
Originally a wood-burner, the Inyo was converted to oil in 1910. The
Inyo, as well as the express car and the passenger car, originally
served the Virginia and Truckee Railroad in Nevada. They were among
V&T cars sold to Paramount Pictures in 193738. The Inyo
appears in numerous films including High, Wide, and Handsome (1938),
Union Pacific (1939), The Marx Brothers' Go West (1940), Meet Me in
St. Louis, (1944), Red River (1948), Disney's The Great Locomotive
Chase (1956) and McLintock! (1963). For The Wild Wild West, Inyo's
original number plate was temporarily changed from No. 22 to No. 8 so
the train footage could be flipped horizontally without the number
appearing reversed. Footage of the Inyo was shot around Menifee,
California, and reused in virtually every episode. Stock footage of
Sierra No. 3 occasionally resurfaced as well.
trains were used only for exterior shots. The luxurious interior of
the passenger car was constructed on Stage 6 at CBS Studio Center.
(Neither Stage 6 or the western streets still exist.) Designed by art
director Albert Heschong, the set reportedly cost $35,000 and the
interior was redesigned when the show switched to color for the
The interior of West and Gordon's train
was used in at least one episode of Gunsmoke ("Death Train,"
aired 1/27/67), and in at least two episodes of The Big Valley
("Last Train to the Fair," aired 4/27/66, and "Days of
Wrath," aired 1/8/68). All three series were filmed at CBS
Studio Center and shared other exterior and interior sets.
After her run on The Wild Wild West, the
Inyo participated in the Golden Spike Centennial at Promontory, Utah,
in 1969. The following year it appeared as a replica of the Central
Pacific's "Jupiter" locomotive at the Golden Spike National
Historical Site.. The State of Nevada purchased the Inyo in 1974; it
was restored to 1895 vintage, including a wider smoke stack and a new
pilot (cow catcher) without a drop coupler. The Inyo is still
operational and displayed at the Nevada State Railroad Museum (above
right) in Carson City. The express car (No. 21) and passenger car
(No. 4) are also at the museum.
Another veteran V&T locomotive, the
Reno (built in 1872 by Baldwin), was used in the two The Wild Wild
West TV movies. The Reno, which resembles the Inyo, is located at Old
The 1999 Wild Wild West motion picture
used the Baltimore & Ohio 4-4-0 No. 25 (below), one of the oldest
operating steam locomotives in the U.S. Built in 1856 at the Mason
Machine Works in Taunton, Massachusetts, it was later renamed The
William Mason in honor of its manufacturer. For its role as "The
Wanderer" in the motion picture, the engine was sent to the
steam shops at the Strasburg Railroad for restoration and repainting.
The locomotive is brought out for the B&O Train Museum in
Baltimore's "Steam Days".
The Inyo and The William Mason both
appeared in the Disney film The Great Locomotive Chase (1956).
The main title theme was
written by Richard Markowitz, who previously composed the theme for
the TV series The Rebel. He was brought in after the producers
rejected two attempts by film composer Dimitri Tiomkin.
Markowitz recalled that the
original Tiomkin theme "was very, kind of, traditional, it just
seemed wrong." Markowitz explained his own approach: "By
combining jazz with Americana, I think that's what nailed it. That
took it away from the serioso kind of thing that Tiomkin was trying
to do... What I did essentially was write two themes: the rhythmic,
contemporary theme, Fender bass and brushes, that vamp, for the
cartoon effects and for West's getting himself out of trouble, and
the heraldic western outdoor theme over that, so that the two worked together."
Markowitz, however, was
never credited for his theme in any episode; it is believed that this
was due to legal difficulties between CBS and Tiomkin over the
rejection of the latter's work. Markowitz did receive "music
composed and conducted by" credits for episodes he'd scored or
where he supplied the majority of tracked-in cues. He finally
received "theme by" credit on both of the TV movies, which
were scored by Jeff Alexander rather than Markowitz (few personnel
from the series were involved with the TV movies).
animated title sequence was another unique element of the series. It
was created by Ken Mundie, who designed the titles for the film The
Great Race and the TV series Secret Agent, Rawhide, and Death Valley
Days. The screen was divided into four corner panels surrounding a
fifth narrow panel that contained a cartoon "hero". The
Hero, who looked more like a traditional cowboy than either West or
Gordon, encounters cliché western characters and situations in
each of the panels. It is possible that the Hero is a concept art
design of James West before the cast and wardrobe were set and the
series concept was fully fleshed out. In the three seasons shot in
color, the overall backdrop was an abstracted wash of the flag of the
United States, with the upper left panel colored blue and the others
containing horizontal red stripes.
original Wild Wild West series animation sequence is:
The Hero strikes a match,
lights a cigar, and begins walking in profile to the right.
Behind the Hero, in the
lower left panel, a robber backs out of a bank; the Hero subdues him
with a karate chop to the back.
In the upper right panel, a
cardsharp tries to pull an ace of spades from his boot, but the Hero
draws his gun and the cardsharp drops the ace.
In the upper left panel, a
gunman points a six-shooter at the Hero, who drops his gun and puts
his hands up. The Hero then shoots the gunman with his sleeve
derringer; the gunman's hand falls limp.
A woman in the lower right
panel taps the Hero on the hat with her parasol. He pulls her close
and kisses her. She draws a knife but, mesmerized by his kiss, turns
away and slumps against the side of the frame. He tips his hat and
walks away with his back to the camera. There were two versions of
this vignette; this one appears during the first season. When the
show switched to color, the Hero knocked the woman out with a right
cross to the jaw. This variant also appears in the original pilot
episode (included on the DVD release) when the series was titled The
Wild West. Despite this, James West never hit a woman in any episode,
although he grappled with many. The closest he came was when he
slammed a door against the evil Countess Zorana in "The Night of
the Iron Fist". In "The Night of the Running Death" he
slugged a woman named Miss Tyler, but "she" was a man in
drag (actor T. C. Jones). The original animation, with the Hero
winning the woman over with a kiss, was a more accurate
representation of West's methods than the right cross. Ironically, it
is another example of the emphasis on violence of the show.
Hero walks off into the distance, and the camera zooms into his
panel. The title The Wild Wild West appears. The camera then swish
pans to an illustration of the train, with Conrad's and Martin's
names on the ends of different cars.
Each episode had four acts.
At the end of each act, the scene, usually a cliffhanger moment,
would freeze, and a sketch or photograph of the scene faded in to
replace the cartoon art in one of the four corner panels. The style
of freeze-frame art changed over the course of the series. In all
first season episodes other than the pilot, the panels were
live-action stills made to evoke 19th-century engravings. In season
two (the first in color) the scenes dissolved to tinted stills; from
"The Night of the Flying Pie Plate" on, however, the panels
were home to Warhol-like serigraphs of the freeze-frames. The end
credits were displayed over each episode's unique mosaic except in
the final season, when a standardized design was used (curiously, in
this design the bank robber is unconscious, the cardsharp has no card
and the lady is on the ground, but the sixshooter in the upper
left-hand panel has returned). The pilot is the only episode in which
the center panel of the Hero is replaced by a sketch of the final
scene of an act; in the third act he is replaced by the villainous
General Cassinello (Nehemiah Persoff).
first season's episodes were filmed in black and white, and they
were darker in tone. Series cinematographer Ted Voightlander was
nominated for an Emmy Award for his work on these episodes.
Subsequent seasons were filmed in color, and the show became
Still, some episodes were violent for
their time, and that, rather than low ratings, ultimately was the
series' downfall. In addition to gunplay, there were usually two
fight sequences per episode. These were choreographed by Whitey
Hughes and performed by Conrad and a stock company of stuntmen,
including Red West, Dick Cangey, and Bob Herron (who doubled for Ross
Martin). Hughes recalled, "We had a lot of crashes. We used to
say, 'Roll the cameras and call the ambulances.'" Conrad had
been doubled before, but after his concussion from the fall from a
chandelier, the network insisted that he defer to a double. (His
chair on the set was newly inscribed: "Robert Conrad,
ex-stuntman, retired by CBS, Jan. 24, 1968.") "When I came
back for the fourth season I was limited to what I could do for
insurance reasons," Conrad explained. "So I agreed and
gradually I did all the fights but couldn't do anything five feet off
the ground and of course that went out the window." He was
doubled by Jimmy George. Often, George would start a stunt, such as a
high fall or a dive through a window, then land behind boxes or off
camera, where Conrad was concealed and waiting to seamlessly complete
the action. This same ploy was sometimes used by Ross Martin and Bob Herron.
the tragic 1968 assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King and Robert
Kennedy, President Lyndon Johnson created the National Commission on
the Causes and Prevention of Violence. One of the questions it
tackled was whether violence on television was a contributing factor
to violence in American society. (This also included graphic news
coverage of the Vietnam War.) The television networks, anticipating
these allegations, moved to curtail violence on their entertainment
programs before the start of the 1968-69 season. Television reporter
Cynthia Lowrey, in an article published in August 1968, wrote that
The Wild Wild West is one of the action series being watched by
network censors for scenes of excessive violence, even if the
violence is all in fun. However, despite a CBS mandate to tone
down the mayhem, "The Night of the Egyptian Queen" (aired
November 15th, 1968) contains perhaps the series' most ferocious
barroom brawl. A later memo attached to the shooting script of
"The Night of Miguelito's Revenge" (aired December 13th,
1968) reads: "Note to Directors: The producer respectfully asks
that no violent acts be shot which are not depicted in the script or
discussed beforehand. . . . Most particularly stay away from
gratuitous ad-libs, such as slaps, pointing of firearms or other
weapons at characters (especially in close quarters), kicks and the
use of furniture and other objects in fight scenes."
December 1968, executives from ABC, CBS and NBC appeared before the
President's Commission. The most caustic of the commissioners, Rep.
Hale Boggs (D-La.), decried what he called "the Saturday morning
theme of children's cartoon shows" that permit "the good
guy to do anything in the name of justice." He also indicted CBS
for featuring sadism in its primetime programing (The Wild, Wild West
was subsequently identified as one example). The Congressman did,
however, commend CBS for a 25% decline in violence programming in
prime time compared to the other two networks.
Three months later, in March 1969, Sen.
John O. Pastore (D-R.I.) called the same network presidents before
his Senate communications subcommittee for a public scolding on the
same subject. At Pastore's insistence, the networks promised tighter
industry self-censorship, and the Surgeon General began a $1 million
study on the effects of television. Congresss concern was
shared by the public: in a nationwide poll, 67.5% of 1,554 Americans
agreed with the theory that TV and movie violence prompted violence
in real life.
Additionally, the National Association for
Better Broadcasting, in a report eventually issued in November 1969,
rated The Wild Wild West "as one of the most violent series on television."
After being excoriated by two committees,
the networks scrambled to expunge violence from their programming.
The Wild Wild West received its cancellation notice in mid-February,
even before Pastores committee convened. Producer Bruce
Lansbury always claimed that "It was a sacrificial lamb... It
went off with a 32 or 33 share which in those days was virtually
break-even, but it always won its time period." This is
confirmed by an article by Associated Press reporter Joseph Mohbat:
"Shows like ABC's "Outcasts" and NBC's
"Outsider," which depended heavily on violence, were
scrapped. CBS killed 'The Wild, Wild West' despite high ratings,
because of criticism. It was seen by the network as a gesture of good
intentions." The networks played it safe thereafter: of the 22
new television shows that debuted in the fall of 1969, not one was a
western or detective drama; 14 were comedy or variety series.
Conrad denounced Pastore for many years,
but in other interviews he admitted that it probably was a good idea
to cancel the series because he felt that he and the stunt men were
pushing their luck. He also felt the role had hurt his craft. "In
so many roles I was a tough guy and I never advanced much,"
Conrad explained. "Wild Wild West was action adventure. I jumped
off roofs and spent all my time with the stuntmen instead of other
actors. I thought that's what the role demanded. That role had no
dimension other than what it wasa caricature of a performance.
It was a comic strip character."
In the summer of 1970, CBS reran several
episodes of The Wild Wild West on Mondays at 10 p.m. TV critic
Lawrence Laurent wrote, "The return of Wild Wild West even for a
summer re-run isn't surprising. CBS-TV was never really very eager to
cancel this series, since over a four-year run that began in 1965 the
Wild Wild West had been a solid winner in the ratings. Cancellation
came mainly because CBS officials were concerned about the criticism
over televised violence and to a lesser degree because Robert Conrad
had grown slightly weary of the role of James West. Ever since last
fall's ratings started rolling in, CBS has wished that it had kept
Wild Wild West. None of the replacements have done nearly as well
and, as a result, all of the Friday programs suffered."
That fall, CBS put the program into
syndication, giving it new life on local stations across the country,
including WGN and WOR-TV. This further antagonized the anti-violence
lobby, since the program was now broadcast weekdays and often after
school. One group, The Foundation to Improve Television, filed a suit
on November 12th, 1970, to prevent WTOP in Washington, D.C., from
airing The Wild Wild West weekday afternoons at 4 pm. The suit was
brought in Washington, D.C., specifically to gain government and
media attention. The suit said the series "contains
fictionalized violence and horror harmful to the mental health and
well-being of minor children", and should not air before 9 pm.
WTOP's vice president and general manager, John R. Corporan, was
quoted as saying, "Since programs directed specifically at
children are broadcast in the late afternoon by three other TV
stations, it is our purpose to counter-program with programming not
directed specifically at children." US District Court Judge John
J. Sirica, who later presided over the trial of the Watergate
burglars and ordered US President Richard Nixon to turn over White
House recordings, dismissed the lawsuit in January 1971, referring
FIT to take their complaint to the FCC. FIT appealed, but a year and
a half later the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the district court
decision dismissing the suit on the grounds that FIT had not
exhausted the administrative remedies available to them. By then,
WTOP had stop broadcasting the series altogether.
At that time, the show was in reruns on
about 57 other local stations across the country. By the spring of
1973 it had expanded to 84 stations. Its ongoing popularity
throughout that decade prompted two television movies, The Wild Wild
West Revisited (1979) and More Wild Wild West (1980). The show lived
on in syndication and by the spring of 1985 the original series was
still carried on 74 local stations. In 1994, The Wild Wild West was
broadcast on Turner Network Television (TNT), which preferred the
color episodes to the black and white shows. Hallmark Channel aired
the series in 2005 and MeTV aired it in 2012.
Conrad and Martin reunited for two
television movies, The Wild Wild West Revisited (aired May 9th, 1979)
and More Wild Wild West (aired October 7 and 8th, 1980). Revisited
introduced Paul Williams as Miguelito Loveless Jr., the son of the
agents' nemesis. Loveless planned to substitute clones for the
crowned heads of Europe and the President of the United States. (This
plot is similar to the second season episode "The Night of the Brain".)
Ross Martin said, "We worked on a lot
of the same sets at the studio, including the interiors of the old
train. We used the same guns and gimmicks and wardrobes with
the waistlines let out a little bit. The script, unlike the old
shows, is played strictly for comedy. It calls for us to be ten years
older than when we were last seen. There are a lot more laughs than adventure."
More was initially conceived as a rematch
between the agents and Miguelito Jr., but Williams was unavailable
for the film; his character was changed to Albert Paradine II and
played by Jonathan Winters this explains why the story begins
with various clones of Paradine being murdered (the first film ends
with Loveless having cloned himself and placed the doubles around the
world). Paradine planned world conquest using a formula for
invisibility (recalling the first season episode "The Night of
the Burning Diamond"). Both TV films were campier than the TV
series, although Conrad and Martin played their roles straight. Both
films were directed by veteran comedy Western director Burt Kennedy
and written by William Bowers (in the latter case with Tony Kayden,
from a story by Bowers); neither Kennedy nor Bowers worked on the
Conrad was later quoted in Cinefantastique
about these films: "We all got along fine with each other when
we did these, but I wasn't happy with them only because CBS imposed a
lot of restrictions on us. They never came up to the level of what we
had done before."
series spawned several merchandising spin-offs, including a
seven-issue comic book series by Gold Key Comics, and a paperback
novel, Richard Wormser's The Wild Wild West, published in 1966 by
Signet. In 1990, Millennium Publications produced a four-part comic
book series ("The Night of the Iron Tyrants") scripted by
Mark Ellis with art by Darryl Banks. A sequel to the TV series, it
involved Dr. Loveless in a conspiracy to assassinate President Grant
and the President of Brazil and put the Knights of the Golden Circle
into power. The characters of Voltaire and Antoinette were prominent
here, despite their respective early departures from Dr. Loveless'
side in the original program.
A review from the Mile High Comics site
states: "This mini-series perfectly captures the fun mixture of
western and spy action that marked the ground-breaking 1960s TV
series." The storyline of the comics mini-series was optioned
for motion picture development. In 1998, Berkeley Books published
three novels by author Robert Vaughan The Wild Wild West, The
Night of the Death Train, and The Night of the Assassin.
When Robert Conrad hosted Saturday Night
Live on NBC (January 23rd, 1982), he appeared in a parody of The Wild
Wild West. President Lincoln states his famous line that, if General
U.S. Grant is a drunk, he should send whatever he's drinking to his
other less successful generals. Lincoln dispatches West and Gordon
(Joe Piscopo) to find out what Grant drinks. They discover that Grant
is held captive by Velvet Jones (Eddie Murphy).
January 1992, Variety reported that Warner Bros. was planning a
theatrical version of The Wild Wild West directed by Richard Donner,
written by Shane Black, and starring Mel Gibson as James West.
(Donner directed three episodes of the original series.) Donner and
Gibson instead made a theatrical version of TV's Maverick in 1994.
The Wild Wild West motion picture
continued in the development stage, with Tom Cruise rumored for the
lead in 1995. Cruise instead revived Mission: Impossible the
following year. Finally, in 1999, a theatrical motion picture loosely
based on the series was released. Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, the
film Wild Wild West (without the definite article used in the series
title) made substantial changes to the characters of the series with
Will Smith playing James West and Kevin Kline as Artemus Gordon.