The Wild Wild West
|The Wild Wild West|
Title card from the first act of the episode "The Night of the Poisonous Posey"
|Created by||Michael Garrison|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||4|
|No. of episodes||104 (list of episodes)|
|Running time||50 min.|
|Production company(s)||Michael Garrison Productions|
Viacom Enterprises (1971–1995)
Paramount Domestic Television (1995–2006)
CBS Paramount Domestic Television (2006–2007)
CBS Television Distribution (2007–present)
|Original release||September 17, 1965 –|
April 11, 1969
|Related shows||Wild Wild West|
The Wild Wild West is an American Western espionage and science fiction television series that ran on the CBS television network for four seasons from September 17, 1965 to April 11, 1969. Two satirical comedy television films were made with the original cast in 1979 and 1980, and the series was adapted for a theatrical film in 1999.
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 (1869–1877), the series followed Secret Service agents James West (Robert Conrad) and Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin) as they solved crimes, protected the President, and foiled the plans of megalomaniacal villains to take over part or all of the United States. The show 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 were accentuated even more in the 1999 film adaptation.
Despite high ratings, the series was cancelled near the end of its fourth season as a concession to Congress over television violence.
The Wild Wild West told the story of two Secret Service agents: the fearless and handsome James West (played by Robert Conrad), and Artemus Gordon (played by Ross Martin), a brilliant gadgeteer and master of disguise. Their mission was to protect President Ulysses S. Grant and the United States from all manner of dangerous threats. The 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 American Civil War (1861-1865) on Grant's staff; his "cover," at least in the pilot episode, is that of "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, returns to show business when he retires as the head of a traveling Shakespeare players troupe.
The show incorporated classic Western elements with an espionage thriller, science fiction/alternate history ideas (in a similar vein to what would later be called 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 "The"). This followed other idiosyncratic naming conventions established by shows such as 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 (Blank) Affair."
Robert Conrad starred as James West. Before The Wild Wild West, Conrad played private eye Tom Lopaka in ABC's Hawaiian Eye for four seasons, 1959-63. In November 1964, Conrad was making the film Young Dillinger (1965) with Nick Adams, Victor Buono and John Ashley (all of whom would later guest star on The Wild Wild West) when his agent sent him to CBS to audition for the West role. (Rory Calhoun was initially announced for the part.) Conrad claimed to be the 17th actor to test for the role. Others tested included Robert Horton, Ray Danton and James "Skip" Ward. Conrad also claimed that John Derek left the audition without testing.
Conrad performed nearly all of his own stunts in the series. "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." Early on he was doubled by Louie Elias or Chuck O'Brien.
On January 24, 1968, however, during filming of "The Night of the Fugitives", Conrad fell from a chandelier onto the stage floor and suffered a concussion. "A little gymnastics — chandelier work," he later explained. "I didn't chalk up properly and I went 15 feet to the concrete and fractured my skull. I was in intensive care for 72 hours, with a six-inch lineal fracture of the skull and a high temporal 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. Conrad later told Percy Shain of the Boston Globe, "I have the whole scene on film. It's a constant reminder to be careful. It also bolstered my determination to make this my last year with the series. Four seasons are enough of this sort of thing." Thereafter, Conrad was doubled for the dangerous stunts but still participated in fight scenes.
Prior to The Wild Wild West, Ross Martin co-starred in the CBS series Mr. Lucky 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. Martin told Percy Shain of the Boston Globe, "In the three years of the show, I have run a wider gamut than even those acknowledged masters of disguise, Paul Muni and Lon Chaney. Sometimes I feel like a one man repertory company. I think I've proven to myself and to the industry that I am the No. 1 character lead in films today." The industry acknowledged Martin's work with an Emmy nomination in 1969.
Martin broke his leg in a fourth-season episode, "The Night of the Avaricious Actuary," when he dropped a rifle, stepped on it, and his foot rolled over it. Martin told Percy Shain of the Boston Globe, "In the scene where I was hurt, my stand-in tried to finish it. When the shell ejected from the rifle, it caught him in the eye and burned it. We still haven't finished that scene. It will have to wait until I can move around again."
A few weeks later, after completing "The Night of Fire and Brimstone", Martin suffered a heart attack on August 17, 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 petulant and megalomaniacal dwarf portrayed by Michael Dunn. Initially he had two companions: the huge Voltaire, played by Richard Kiel; and the beautiful Antoinette, played by Dunn's real-life singing partner, Phoebe Dorin. Voltaire disappeared without explanation after his third episode, and Antoinette after her sixth. (Richard Kiel returned in a different role in "The Night of the Simian Terror".) According to the TV movie The Wild Wild West Revisited, Loveless eventually dies in 1880 from ulcers, brought on by the frustration of having his plans consistently foiled by West and Gordon. (His son, played by Paul Williams, in the TV movies, subsequently seeks revenge on the agents.)
Though several actors appeared in different villainous roles, only one other character had a second encounter with West and Gordon: Count Manzeppi, played flamboyantly by Victor Buono. (Buono played a different villain in the pilot episode.) Manzeppi was a diabolical genius of "black magic" and crime, who—like Dr. Loveless—had an escape plan at the end. (Buono also returned in More Wild Wild West as "Dr. Henry Messenger", a parody of Henry Kissinger.)
Agnes Moorehead won an Emmy for her role as Emma Valentine in "The Night of The Vicious Valentine". Other villains were portrayed by Leslie Nielsen, Sam Wanamaker, Martin Landau, Burgess Meredith, Boris Karloff, Ida Lupino, Carroll O'Connor, Ricardo Montalban, Robert Duvall, Ed Asner, and Harvey Korman.
While the show's writers created their fair share of villains, they often started with the nefarious, stylized and sometimes anachronistic 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.
- Dr. Miguelito Quixote Loveless (Michael Dunn): Ten episodes. The agents' nemesis.
- Colonel Richmond (Douglas Henderson) Ten episodes. West and Gordon's control officer in the Secret Service.
- President Ulysses S. Grant: Seven episodes. (James Gregory in the pilot; Roy Engel thereafter.)
- Antoinette (Phoebe Dorin): Six appearances. Loveless' female companion, often seen playing a piano or string instrument and singing duet with Loveless. Dorin and Dunn (Loveless) had a real-life nightclub act, "Michael Dunn and Phoebe," where they sang and exchanged banter. According to Dorin, while filming the episode "The Night of the Murderous Spring", her costume became entangled in machinery used to drag a boat she and Dunn were in under water. Dunn did not hesitate to follow her down and help her escape.
- Jeremy Pike (Charles Aidman): Four episodes. One of several agents paired with Jim during Artemus' absence in the fourth season. Appears in the final Loveless episode, "The Night of Miguelito's Revenge."
- Tennyson (Charles Davis): Three episodes. West's butler/valet during the first season.
- Voltaire (Richard Kiel): Three episodes. Loveless' giant bodyguard. (Kiel also played Dimos Buckley in "The Night of the Simian Terror.")
- Count Carlos Mario Vincenzo Robespierre Manzeppi (Victor Buono): Two appearances. A master of dark magic and leader of a handpicked teams of assassins. (Buono also played Juan Manolo in "The Night of the Inferno," the first episode, and Henry Messenger in "More Wild Wild West," the final production.)
- Frank Harper (William Schallert): Another agent who worked with Jim in the fourth season. He appears in the series' only two-part episode, "The Night of the Winged Terror." (Schallert appeared in two other episodes as different characters.)
Creation, writing and filming
In 1954, director/producer Gregory Ratoff purchased the film rights to Ian Fleming's first James Bond novel, Casino Royale, for $600. CBS, meanwhile, bought the TV rights for $1,000, and on October 21, 1954 the network broadcast an hour-long adaptation on its Climax! series, with Barry Nelson playing American agent "Jimmy Bond" and Peter Lorre playing the villain, Le Chiffre. CBS also approached Fleming about developing a Bond TV series. Fleming later contributed ideas to NBC's The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
In 1955 Ratoff and Michael Garrison formed a production company to make a "Casino Royale" film, with Ratoff set to direct and 20th Century Fox set to distribute. Production stalled when Ratoff and Garrison could not obtain financing. In 1960, Hedda Hopper reported that Ratoff's film would star Peter Finch as Bond. But Ratoff died that December, and his widow sold the film rights to producer Charles K. Feldman for $75,000. Feldman and director Howard Hawks were interested in making "Casino Royale" with Cary Grant as Bond. Eventually Feldman was offered $500,000 and a percentage of the profits to let Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli make the film with Sean Connery. Feldman turned them down, and eventually produced the spoof Casino Royale in 1967. By then, Garrison and CBS had brought James Bond to television in a unique way.
The series' pilot episode, "The Night of the Inferno", was produced by Garrison and, according to Robert Conrad, cost $685,000. The episode was scripted by Gilbert Ralston, who had written for numerous episodic TV series in the 1950s and 1960s. (Western novelist and screenwriter Clair Huffaker also worked on the concept.) In a later 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 pilot 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 later sued Warner Bros. over the 1999 theatrical film Wild Wild West, which was based on the series.)
As indicated by Robert Conrad on his DVD commentary, the show went through several 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. (Rawhide lasted another thirteen episodes before it was cancelled by CBS.)
The network then hired Collier Young. In an interview, Young 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's episodes (2-4) 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. Conrad was not sorry to see Young go: "I don't mind. All that guy did creatively was put the second 'wild' in the title. CBS did the right thing."
Young's replacement, Fred Freiberger, returned the series to its original concept. It was on his watch that writer John Kneubuhl, inspired by a magazine article about Michael Dunn, created the arch-villain Dr. Miguelito Loveless. 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 Night the Wizard Shook The Earth," the show's sixth produced, but third televised episode. The character became an immediate hit and Dunn was contracted to appear in four episodes per season. Because of health problems, however, Dunn only appeared in 10 episodes instead of 16.
After ten episodes (5–14), Freiberger and executive producer Michael Garrison were, according to Variety, "unceremoniously dumped," reputedly due to a behind-the-scenes power struggle. Garrison was replaced by Phillip Leacock, the executive producer of Gunsmoke, and Freiberger was supplanted by John Mantley, an associate producer on Gunsmoke. The exchange stunned both cast and crew. Garrison, who owned 40% of The Wild Wild West, knew nothing about the changes and hadn't been consulted. He turned the matter over to his attorneys. Freiberger said, "I was fired for accomplishing what I had been hired to do. I was hired to pull the show together when it was in chaos." Conrad said, "I was totally shocked by it. Let's face it, the show is healthy. I think Fred Freiberger is totally correct in his concept of the show. It's an administrative change, for what reason I don't know."
Mantley produced seven (15–21) episodes then returned to his former position on Gunsmoke, and Gene L. Coon took over as associate producer. By then, Garrison's conflict with CBS was resolved and he returned to the executive producer role. Coon left after six episodes (22–27) to write First to Fight (1967), a Warner Bros. film about the Marines. Garrison produced the last episode of season one and the initial episodes of season two.
Garrison's return was much to the relief of Ross Martin, 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 17, 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 assigned Bruce Lansbury, brother of actress Angela Lansbury, to produce the show for the remainder of its run. In the early 1960s Lansbury had been in charge of daytime shows at CBS Television City in Hollywood, then vice president of programming in New York. When he was tapped for The Wild Wild West, Lansbury was working with his twin brother, Edgar, producing legitimate theater on Broadway.
The first season's episodes were filmed in black and white, and they were darker in tone. Cinematographer Ted Voightlander was nominated for an Emmy Award for his work on one of these episodes, "The Night of the Howling Light." Subsequent seasons were filmed in color, and the show became noticeably campier.
The Wild Wild West was filmed at CBS Studio Center on Radford Avenue in Studio City 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.
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. It was built by the Rogers Locomotive and Machine Works in Paterson, New Jersey.
When 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 1937–38. 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 flopped horizontally without the number appearing reversed. Footage of the Inyo in motion and idling was shot around Menifee, California, and reused in virtually every episode. (Stock footage of Sierra No. 3 occasionally resurfaced as well.)
These 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 in 1965 (approximately $250,000 in 2011 dollars). The interior was redesigned when the show switched to color for the 1966-67 season.
The train interior was also used in at least one episode of Gunsmoke ("Death Train," aired January 27, 1967), and in at least two episodes of The Big Valley ("Last Train to the Fair," aired April 27, 1966, and "Days of Wrath," aired January 8, 1968). All three series were filmed at CBS Studio Center and shared other exterior and interior sets. Additionally, the train interior was used for an episode of Get Smart ("The King Lives?", aired January 6, 1968) and the short-lived Barbary Coast ("Funny Money," aired September 8, 1975).
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 in Carson City. The express car (No. 21) and passenger car (No. 4) are also at the museum.
The 1999 Wild Wild West film adaptation used the Baltimore & Ohio 4-4-0 No. 25, 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 film, the engine was sent to the steam shops at the Strasburg Rail Road for restoration and repainting. The locomotive is brought out for the B&O Train Museum in Baltimore's "Steam Days".
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The Wild Wild West featured numerous, often anachronistic, gadgets. Some were recurring devices, such as West's sleeve gun or a breakaway derringer hidden in his left and right boot heels. Others appeared in only a single episode.
Most of these gadgets are concealed in West's garments:
- Sleeve gun (a Remington Double Derringer), featured in many episodes as an unexpected concealed carry alternative to his openly carried full-sized revolver. In a some episodes the ejecting arm of the device dispensed other useful gadgets, such as a tiny squirt-can containing acid, iron climbing-claws, a knife, a pulley and various blades.
- A breakaway Remington Derringer. Usually the frame (grip and trigger mechanism) was located in one hollowed-out boot heel, while the double-barrel assembly was located in the other heel; the two pieces snapped together and locked. Bullets were dispensed from a secret compartment in his belt-buckle, or the chambers were pre-loaded.
- A breakaway blowtorch, hidden in the hollowed-out boot heels. ("The Night of the Raven")
- Lock-pick or passkey concealed under the lapel of the bolero-style jacket. ("The Night of the Avaricious Actuary")
- Throwing knife concealed in a pocket inside the back of the jacket.
- Various explosive devices (i.e. smoke bombs, impact flares, ("The Night of the Avaricious Actuary") gas grenades, anti-lock key, ("The Night of the Golden Cobra";"The Night of the Simian Terror") explosive putty, ("The Night of the Returning Dead";"The Night of the Egyptian Queen";"The Night of the Spanish Curse") acid-dissolving steel ball, ("The Night of Montezuma's Hordes"), ("The Night of the Tycoons") wood-burning chemical, ("The Night of the Deadly Plague"); impact explosive ("The Night of the Vipers") etc.) carried in his jacket pockets, belt buckle, hat, a secret compartment in his holster, and the hollowed-out heels of one or both boots. Various lengths and types of fuses were sewn into the hem of his jacket or the waistband of his pants.
- A grappling hook attachment for his rifle. ("The Night of Montezuma's Hordes")
- A grappling hook mechanism with piton ("The Night of the Juggernaut")
- A grappling hook/spindle combination silent pistol ("The Night of the camera")
- A glass cutter ("The Night of the camera")
- A flat metal barbed climbing-spike (piton), with an attached cord, cable or wire. The piton fit the muzzle of either his derringer or revolver and was fired into a wooden beam or wall. West would then use a pulley with a handle to zip-line above obstacles. The equipment was usually carried in his jacket's many inside pockets. ("The Night of the Bubbling Death"), ("The Night of the Headless Woman"), (The Night of the Fugitives)
- A set of a six shooter pistol and Winchester Carbine decorated with metal stubs. ("The Night of the Inferno", "The Night of Montezuma's Hordes", "The Night of the Cut-Throats")
- A small, hand-held motor-driven winch. When used in conjunction with the piton and wire, the winch could either hoist him upwards, to a building's roof for instance, or lower him into a pit. ("The Night of the Bubbling Death"), ("The Night of the headless Woman", "The Night of the Fugitives", "The Night of the Camera", "The Night of the Tycoons")
- A thin, telescopic probing rod (similar to a long modern-day car antenna). When extended fully, West could probe approximately ten feet around him. He used this to probe and trigger traps in the Secret Service training room depicted in "The Night of the Janus".
- A spring-loaded, swing-out knife blade (switchblade) beneath the toe-box of his boot. ("The Night of the Glowing Corpse", "The Night of the Flying Pie Plate", "The Night of the Watery Death"', "The Night of the Amnesiac")
- A glass cutter with a suction cup. A cutting arm rotated to score the glass in a complete circle and the suction cup was used to remove the cut piece. ("The Night of the Camera")
- A thin but strong wire, coiled and fitted in the inner lining of the crown of his hat; the wire had multiple uses, and was even capable of sawing through a steel bar.
- A battery-powered (or spring-driven) electric drill, that in one episode was roughly the size of a large avocado and used to assist West's escape from a metal cage.
- West's saddle horn was booby-trapped with a dynamite bullet shell. ("The Night of the Returning Dead")
- A kit bag, which when opened inflated a big balloon to shock and disorient for a few seconds. ("The Night of Fire and Brimstone")
- Bulletproof vest. ("The Night of the Thousand Eyes", "The Night of the Cadre", "The Night of the Glowing Corpse", "The Night Dr. Loveless Died", "The Night of the Arrow")
- Tear gas/smoke bombs. ("The Night of the Dancing Death")
- Package of Burnable materiel through locks or bottom of mansigned Birdcages ("The Night of the Simian Terror", "The Night of the Gruesome Games")
- A small windup noise buzzer/maker ("The Night of the Fugitives";The Night of the Sabatinii Curse")
- A put together wind up lifter ("The Night of Migheletos Revenge")
Aboard the train:
- A remote control under a revolving table that automatically locked the door of the rail car. ("The Night of the Inferno") Similarly, a concealed panel above the revolving table that would either display a blackboard ("The Night of Mighelito's Revenge) or a map of the United States ("The Night of the Vicious Valentine") but also concealed several pistols on mounted on the panel. ("The Night of the Brain"). Depending on the episode, a pistol ("The Night of the Arrow", "The Night of the Egyptian Queen") or a shotgun ("The Wild Wild West Revisted") would be hidden under the revolving table-top. One episode showed that after the statue on the revolving table-top was turned upside down, it would unlock a secret panel concealing a small wall safe. ("The Night of the Tartar")
- A metal knight statue on desk that struck a bell when hidden alarm triggered after train window broken ("The Night of the Egyptian Queen")
- A Chinese box that made a whistling sound like a firework—a "Present" From Dr. Loveless ("The Night Dr. Loveless Died")
- An early warning system on the back door of the rail car which activated rail car parlor lights. ("The Night of the Arrow)
- A mobile telegraph set concealed in a false book set on desk. ("The Night of the Bubbling death", "The Night of the Brain")
- A "Victorian" record player. (An anachronism since this was invented nearly twenty years later)
- Two pistols on a wooden swivel-stand on desk, activated and controlled by a knob on the fireplace. ("The Night of the Bubbling Death")
- The fireplace concealed a secret escape door and an emergency flare signal; it also had concealed side panels for chemicals and a primitive phone mouthpiece for communication with the engine ("The Night of the Brain") and a case of fake jewels ("The Night of the Egyptian Queen"). At least one episode shows a pistol concealed behind a side shelf door panel. ("The Night of the Feathered Fury")
- Several pistols, rifles, shotguns, and other assorted weaponry were mounted on a concealed pull-down panel on the laboratory section of the train. A sliding closet located in the same area contained clothes and other useful paraphernalia. ("The Night of the Inferno")
- A small mirrored ball hung over the desk and could be used to induce hypnotic suggestions to amiable young women. ("The Night of the Tartar")
- Overhead billiard scoring wire and beads that connected to signal lamps on the back of the railroad car to turn lights off as needed). ("The Night of the Inferno")
- Cages for two carrier pigeons (named Henry and Henrietta). In the pilot episode, the cages were located above the door in the same room where West usually dressed and equipped himself. In subsequent episodes, the carrier pigeons were usually located in a compartment above the fireplace. In one episode a carrier pigeon is carried within a valise. ("The Night of the Colonel's Ghost")
- Decorative lion heads that spew knockout gas when triggered. ("The Night of the Big Blackmail")
- A toy train set along with life-sized cutouts of West's and Gordon's heads. ("The Night of the Big Blackmail")
- A wooden model of an armored tank (based on the tank in "The Night of the Doomsday Formula"), ("The Night of the Colonel's Ghost")
- A surprise joke snake in the cigar humidor. ("The Night of the Iron Fist")
- A life-size dummy of Artemus Gordon. ("The Night Dr. Loveless Died")
- A Bunsen burner in the laboratory car that, when turned up, activates an outside distress flare. ("The Night of the Falcon")
- A miniature piano. ("The Night of the Cut-throats", "The Night of the Janus")
- A ventriloquist dummy used by Artemus Gordon to throw his voice. ("The Night of the Shedwick Curse"]
- A souvenir Aztec Goddess mask ("The Night of Montezuma's Hordes")
- An "Unwanted" Souvenir Book "Encyclopedia of Party Games" ("The Night of Gruesome Games")
- A pair of Candlesticks ("The Night of the Egyptian Queens")
- A typewriter ("The Night of the camera")
- Elastic wire in watch. ("The Night of the Poisonous Posey")
- An exploding pocket watch.
- Exploding billiard balls (the cue ball in the series' pilot episode, but sometimes other balls as well).("The Night of the Inferno" (pilot episode); "The Night of the camera")
- Cue stick with a rapier hidden inside. ("The Night of the Inferno" (pilot episode))
- Cue stick that fires a bullet. ("The Night of the Inferno" (pilot episode))
- Stage coach with two ejector seats inside and outside the coach (a nod to James Bond's 007 Aston Martin). ("The Night the Wizard Shook the Earth")
- A chemical compound invented by Gordon that could support a man's weight for 20–60 seconds ("The Night of the Glowing Corpse", "The Night of the Big Blackmail")
- An explosive compound invented by Gordon that goes off when exposed to heat ("The Night of the Juggernaut")
- An anti lock explosive ("The Night of the Golden Cobra", "The Night of the Kraken")
- A telegraph mechanism in a cane.
- A lock pick in a cane. ("The Night of the Shedwick Curse")
- A blow torch disguised as a cigar.
- A miniature blowtorch ("The Night of the Turncoat")
- A Miniature grenade ("The Night of the Doomsday Formula")
- A miniature record player that plays realistic gunshots ("The Night of Fire and Brimstone") or music ("The Night of the Doomsday Formula")
- A combination flare and whistle ("The Night of the Doomsday Formula")
- Clockwork-powered lock-picking device key opener for locks ("The Night of the Cadre"; "The Night of the Arrow";"The Night of the Headless Woman";"The Night of the Vipers")
- Rubber mask disguises (similar to Mission Impossible) for both heroes ("The Night of the Brian") and villains ("The Night of the Pelican")
- A net-throwing bazooka. ("The Night of the Big Blast")
- A cane that doubles as a mortar. ("The Night of the Bottomless Pit")
- Diving Helmet ("The Night of the Kraken")
- Gas mask with five-minute air supply. ("The Night of the Glowing Corpse")
- Gas mask. ("The Night of the Flying Pie Plate")
- Knockout gas in a cane. ("The Night of the Burning Diamond")
- Knockout gas in a ball. ("The Night of the Brain")
- Knockout gas in a box ("The Night of the Pelican")
- Knockout gas in a balloon]. ("The Night of the Cadre", "The Night Dr. Loveless Died", "The Night of the Kraken")
- Knockout gas in clay pipe ("The Night of the Deadly Bubble";The Night of the Headless Woman")
- Knockout gas in glass dejohns ("The Night of the Cadre")
- Knockout gas water in seltzer bottle ("The Night of the Feathered Fury")
- A revolver bullet/flare to illuminate a dark cave or call for help. ("The Night of the Returning Dead", "The Night of the Arrow")
- A magnetized coin that explodes when exposed to heat. ("The Night of the Watery Death")
- A cigar that when thrown to the ground produces shock and smoke effect. ("The Night of the Colonel's Ghost")
- Shock/stun smoke pellet ("The Night of the Vipers")
- Wine bottle/smoke/shock grenade. ("The Night of the Bubbling Death")
- Wine bottle/joke snake. ("The Night of the Bubbling Death")
- Wine bottle/smoke. ("The Night of the Bubbling Death")
- Escape basket. ("The Night of the Bubbling Death")
- Hammer/jimmy kit concealed in jacket. ("The Night of the Bubbling Death")
- Smoke screen escape packet. ("The Night of the Bubbling Death")
- Smoke Screen in prop human skull. ("The Night of the Underground Terror")
- Burning strips to destroy bars ("The Night of the Undead"'"The Night of the Simian Terror")
- Trick Wagon ("The Night of the Cadre", "The Night of the Fugitives")
- A mechanical wind up butterfly/bomb ("The Night of Migheleto's Revenge)
- A mechanical snake ("The Night of the Spanish Curse")
- A mechanical wind up Bomb ("The Night of the Spanish Curse")
The villains often used equally creative gadgets, including:
- A device to trigger earthquakes. ("The Night of the Human Trigger")
- Brainwashing techniques using intense light and sound. ("The Night of the Steel Assassin," "The Night of the Howling Light")
- A cyborg. ("The Night of the Steel Assassin")
- Androids. ("The Night of Miguelito's Revenge")
- A flamethrower cannon. ("The Night of the Flaming Ghost")
- An early flamethrower. ("The Night of the Circus of Death")
- Life-sized steam-powered puppets. ("The Night of the Puppeteer")
- Jars that preserved disembodied human brains to draw upon their knowledge and psychic force. ("The Night of the Druid's Blood")
- Chemical-treated clothing that burned victims. ("The Night of the Druid's Blood")
- A germ that paralyzes victims for 48 hours. ("The Night of the Sudden Plague")
- An explosive powerful enough to destroy city blocks. ("The Night the Wizard Shook the Earth")
- An metal cage connected to a lightning rod. ("The Night of a Thousand Eyes")
- The Juggernaut: a steam-powered, wedge-shaped tank with a battering ram. ("The Night of the Juggernaut")
- A potion, made from liquefied diamonds, which enabled a man to move so fast as to be invisible. ("The Night of the Burning Diamond")
- An LSD-like hallucinogen, capable of driving men into fits of killing madness. ("The Night of the Murderous Spring")
- A cathode-ray tube (television) plus prototypes of the airplane, automobile, penicillin. ("The Night the Wizard Shook the Earth")
- A torpedo disguised as a dragon capable of homing on a radio signal. ("The Night of the Watery Death")
- A force-field that disintegrates anything that comes in contact with it. ("The Night of the Watery Death")
- A drug capable of shrinking a man down to a height of six inches. ("The Night of the Raven")
- A exoskeleton suit of armor. ("The Night of the Green Terror")
- A device that triggers tidal waves. ("The Night of the Deadly Bubble")
- Automatic Barred doors ("The Night of the Deadly Bubble"; "The Night of the Undead", "The Night of the Fugitives")
- A potion to turn humans into Zombies ("The Night of the Undead")
- A sonic device that allowed paintings to be used as portals to other dimensions. ("The Night of the Surreal McCoy")
- Crystals that, when surgically implanted inside the brain and shattered by a high-pitched noise, caused the subject to turn into a criminal. ("The Night of the Cadre", "The Night of the Winged Terror — Part I", "The Night of the Winged Terror — Part II")
- A giant falcon-shaped cannon, capable of devastating a small town with a single shot. ("The Night of the Falcon")
- A giant tuning fork that created destructive sound waves. ("The Night of the Avaricious Actuary")
- A recording phonograph ("The Night of the Avaricious Actuary")
- A locomotive modified with a large battering ram to collide with oncoming trains and derail them." (The Night of the Deadly Bed")
- Re-animated human corpses (similar to Frankenstein's monster) turned into human bombs. ("The Night of the Big Blast")
- Dungeons ("The Night of Montezuma's Hordes"; "The Night of the Spanish Curse")
- A pair of revolving blades ("The Night of the Big Blackmail")
- A steam-powered piston to block entrance to safes. ("The Night of the Big Blackmail")
- A pair of large metal hands with a deadly electric field. ("The Night of the Eccentrics")
- A large, live-action periscope for spying. ("The Night of the Eccentrics")
- A flying "pie plate" (balloon filled with flares). ("The Night of the Flying Pie Plate")
- Knockout gas in a door knocker ("The Night of the Headless Woman")
- Knockout gas masks. ("The Night of the Flying Pie Plate"; The Night of the Egyptian Queen)
- Knockout gas pistols. ("The Night of the Flying Pie Plate"; The Night of the Eqyptian Queen)
- Knockout drug pistol ("The Night of the Feathered Fury")
- Stagecoaches with knockout gas tubes. ("The Night of the Masks"; "The Night of the Diva")
- Bomb gavel. ("The Night of the Poisonous Posey")
- Poison-tipped diamond. ("The Night of the Poisonous Posey")
- Revolving gun organ pipes. ("The Night of the Poisonous Posey")
- A robot suit of medieval armor. ("The Night of the Green Terror")
- Explosive glass bulbs. ("The Night of the Green Terror")
- Explosive mace head. ("The Night of the Green Terror")
- Balloon-borne powder that sets forest fires. ("The Night of the Green Terror")
- A computer-dating machine. ("The Night of the Vicious Valentine")
- A drug that renders victim immobile for five minutes. ("The Night of the Braine")
- A backwards-firing pistol. ("The Night of the Brain", "The Night of the Bogus Bandits", "The Night of the Winged Terror - Part 1")
- An ejection chair-seat. ("The Night of the Brain", "The Night of the Hangman")
- Doubles of world leaders. ("The Night of the Brain", "The Wild Wild West Revisited")
- Steam-powered wheelchair with rockets and impaling spikes. ("The Night of the Brain")
- A magnetic Sea mine ("The Night of the Kraken")
- An undersea fortress ('"The Night of the Deadly Bubble", "The Night of the Kraken")
- Copies of White House rooms. ("The Night of the Brain", The Night of the Big Blackmail")
- Windows with sliding bars/barriers. ("The Night of the Raven", "The Night of the Colonels Ghost", "The Night of the Fugitives")
- Swinging axe pendulum. ("The Night of the Deadly Blossom")
- A combination flare and whistle ("The Night Dr Loveless Died")
- Anti-ship rockets. ("The Night of the Deadly Blossom"; "The Night of the pelican")
- Circus cannon as an escape vehicle ("The Night of Miguelito's Revenge")
- Phosgene gas. ("The Night of the Shedwick Curse", "The Night Dr. Loveless Died")
- Booby-trapped knife/chair. ("The Night of the Tottering Tontine", "The Night of the Falcon")
- Armored wagon with cannon. ("The Night of the Vipers")
- Heavy iron artificial leg(s). ("The Night of the Glowing Corpse", "The Night of the Bottomless Pit")
- Bobby trapped bed ("The Night of the Inferno';"The Night of the Shedwick Curse")
- Revolving Wall/Bed ("The Night of the Shedwick Curse")
- Anti-aging serum that instead turns those who are injected with it 50 years older ("The Night of the Shedwick Curse")
- Large Bird Cage/ Prisoner cages ("The Night of the Feathered Fury", "The Night of Miguelito's Revenge"; "The Night of the Simian Terror", "The Night of the Gruesome Games", "The Night of the Diva")
- Grenades ("The Night of the Pelican")
- Miniature rockets ("The Night of the Brian", The Night of the Gruesome Games")
- Miniature grenades ("The Night of the Falcon", "The Night of the Feathered Fury", "The Night of the Tycoons")
- Bulletproof armour ("The Night of the Spanish Curse")
- An amplified drum ("The Night of the Spanish Curse")
- A $600.00 man and woman whose strength has been increased 1,000% via robotic pulley implants ("The Wild West Revisited" movie, a spoof of the popular The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman series)
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.
In an interview by Susan Kesler (for her book, The Wild Wild West: The Series) included in the first season DVD boxed set, 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 serious 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."
Session musicians who played on the theme were Tommy Morgan (harmonica); Bud Shank, Ronnie Lang, Plas Johnson, and Gene Cipriano (woodwinds); Vince DeRosa and Henry Sigismonti (French Horns); Uan Rasey, Ollie Mitchell, and Tony Terran (trumpets); Dick Nash, Lloyd Ulyate, Chauncey Welsch, Kenny Shroyer (trombones). Tommy Tedesco and Bill Pitman (guitars); Carol Kaye (Fender bass); Joe Porcaro (brushes); Gene Estes, Larry Bunker, and Emil Richards (timpani, percussion).
Markowitz, however, was never credited for his theme in any episode; it is believed[by whom?] 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 (such as "The Night of the Bars of Hell" and "The Night of the Raven") or where he supplied the majority of tracked-in cues (for example in "The Night of the Grand Emir" and "The Night of the Gypsy Peril"). 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).
The animated title sequence was another unique element of the series. Created by Michael Garrison Productions and DePatie-Freleng Enterprises, it was directed by Isadore "Friz" Freleng and animated 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 abutting a narrow central 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 from each of the corner panels. 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.
The original 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 shoots the gunman with his sleeve derringer; the gunman's hand falls limp. The Hero then quickly retrieves his own gun and puts it back in his holster.
- 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 down 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 shotgun-holding 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.
- The Hero walks away 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 of scenes. In the final season, however, a generic design was used under the end credits. 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 freeze-frame graphics were shot at a facility called Format Animation. 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; he is replaced by the villainous General Cassinello (Nehemiah Persoff) at the end of the third act .
During the first season, the series title "The Wild Wild West" was set in the font Barnum, which resembles the newer font P.T. Barnum. In subsequent seasons, the title appeared in a hand-drawn version of the font Dolphin (which resembles newer fonts called Zebrawood, Circus, and Rodeo Clown). Robert Conrad's name was also set in this font. Ross Martin's name was set in the font Bracelet (which resembles newer fonts named Tuscan Ornate and Romantiques). All episode titles, writer and director credits, guest cast and crew credits were set in Barnum. During commercial breaks, the title "The Wild Wild West" also appeared in Barnum.
Dates given in series
- "The Night of the Glowing Corpse" is set during the Franco-Prussian War of July 19, 1870 – May 10, 1871.
- "The Night of the Eccentrics" takes place four years after the execution in 1867 of Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico, i.e. 1871. This is supported by a reference to President Benito Juárez who stepped down in 1872.
- In "The Night of the Eccentrics" Count Manzeppi hums "Ride of the Valkyries" which was first performed on June 26, 1870.
- "The Night of the Man Eating House" states that Liston Day has been in solitary confinement for 30 years and later that he was arrested April 23, 1836. This would put it around 1866 three years before the Grant presidency begun.
- In "The Night of the Brain" Artemus Gordon shows James West a newspaper dated July 12, 1872. West states, "July 12, that's an interesting date, but it happens to be tomorrow." After the events described happen they again get tomorrow's newspaper and we see the date: July 14, 1872.
- "The Night of the Lord of Limbo" takes place seven years after the end of the Civil War, making it 1872.
- "The Night of the Tartar" takes place five years after the 1867 purchase of Alaska [i.e.1872]
- "The Night of the Whirring Death" opens with the caption San Francisco 1874.
- "The Night of the Returning Death" is set 13 years after the start of the Civil War i.e. 1874
- In "The Night of the Flaming Ghost", West says, "If the real John Brown had lived he'd be almost 75 years old by now." Brown was born May 9, 1800.
- In "The Night of the Arrow", a cavalry officer resigns his commission as of April 6, 1874.
- In "The Night of the Avaricious Actuary", the heading of a letter shown on screen is dated 1875.
- In "The Night of the Underground Terror", the sadistic commandant of a prison camp is said to have escaped justice for ten years, presumably from the end of the war in 1865.
- In "The Night of the Samurai," Baron Saigo says Admiral Perry took the sword over 30 years earlier. Assuming the date of Perry's first visit to Japan (July 8, 1853), that would mean the episode takes place after 1883 or some six years after the end of the Grant presidency.
- In "The Night that Terror Stalked the Town", Loveless has a headstone prepared for West, showing his birthdate as July 2, 1842
- In "The Night of the Kraken", there is an assassination attempt on Admiral David Farragut, who died in 1870,
Some episodes were considered 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 Conrad, and performed by Conrad and a stock company of stuntmen, including Red West, Dick Cangey and Bob Herron (who doubled for Ross Martin).
After Conrad suffered a concussion falling from a chandelier in "The Night of the Fugitives," the network insisted that he defer to a stunt double. (His chair on the set was newly inscribed: "Robert Conrad, ex-stuntman, retired by CBS, Jan. 24, 1968.") "[W]hen 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 hidden and waiting to seamlessly complete the action. This same ploy was often used by Ross Martin and Bob Herron. This common stunt technique is known by filmmakers as "The Texas Switch."
It was hazardous work. Hughes recalled, "We had a lot of crashes. We used to say, 'Roll the cameras and call the ambulances!'" Conrad recalled in 1994, "The injuries started at the top. Robert Conrad: 6-inch fracture of the skull, high temporal concussion, partial paralysis. Ross Martin: broken leg. A broken skull for Red West. Broken leg for Jimmy George. Broken arm for Jack Skelly. And Michael Dunn: head injury and a spinal sprain. He did his own stunts. And on and on."
Following the 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 if 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 15, 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 13, 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." Strict limits were placed on the number of so-called "acts of violence" in the last episodes of the season (and thus the series). James West rarely wears a gun in these episodes, and rather than the usual fisticuffs, fight sequences involved tossing, tackling or body blocking the villains.
In 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. Congress's concern was shared by the public: in a nationwide poll, 67.5% of 1,554 Americans agreed with the hypothesis that TV and movie violence prompted violence in real life.
After being excoriated by the two committees, networks scrambled to expunge violence from their programming. The Wild Wild West received its cancellation notice in mid-February, even before Pastore's 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 time to cancel the series because he felt that he and the stunt men were pushing their luck. He also believed 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 was—a 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. as a summer replacement for the Carol Burnett Show. These episodes were "The Night of the Bleak Island" (aired July 6); "The Night of the Big Blackmail" (July 13); "The Night of the Kraken" (July 20); "The Night of the Diva" (July 27); "The Night of the Simian Terror" (August 3); "The Night of the Bubbling Death" (August 11); "The Night of the Returning Dead" (August 17); "The Night of the Falcon" (August 24); "The Night of the Underground Terror" (August 31); and "The Night of the Sedgewick Curse" (September 7). Curiously, none of these featured Dr. Loveless.
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. 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 (FIT), filed a suit on November 12, 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 stopped broadcasting the series altogether. At that time, the show was in reruns on about 57 other local stations across the country, including WOR in New York and WFLD in Chicago.
In October 1973 the Los Angeles-based National Association for Better Broadcasting (NABB) reached a landmark agreement with KTTV, a local station, to purge 42 violent cartoon programs, including Mighty Mouse, Magilla Gorilla, Speed Racer, and Gigantor. Additionally, the NABB cited 81 syndicated live-action shows that "may have a detrimental influence on some children who are exposed to such programming without parental guidance or perspective" when they are telecast before 8:30 p.m. This list included The Wild Wild West, The Avengers, Batman, Man from UNCLE, Roy Rogers, Wanted Dead or Alive, and The Lone Ranger. In Los Angeles, such shows opened with a cautionary announcement: "Parents — we wish to advise that because of violence or other possible harmful elements, certain portions of the following program may not be suitable for young children." The NABB hoped to use the cartoon ban and warning announcement as a model for similar agreements with other local stations.
By then The Wild Wild West was running on 99 local stations. Its ongoing popularity throughout the 1970s prompted two television movies, The Wild Wild West Revisited (1979) and More Wild Wild West (1980) (see below). By the spring of 1985 the original series was still carried on 74 local stations.
In the late 1980s the series was still seen on local stations in Boston, Hartford, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles, among other cities. Significantly, WGN (Chicago), which carried the show at 10 a.m. on Sundays, became available nationally through cable television.
In 1994, The Wild Wild West began running on Saturdays at 10 a.m. on Turner Network Television (TNT), which preferred the color episodes to the black and white shows. The series was dropped from WGN soon after. Hallmark Channel aired the series in 2005 as part of its slate of Saturday afternoon Westerns but dropped it after only a few weeks.
While the series became scarce on television, each season was released on DVD, beginning with season one in 2006 and concluding with the final season early in 2008 (see below). In 2014 it was announced that the series was being prepped for Blu-ray.
In 2011 the series began running weekdays and/or weekends on MeTV, then Sundays on the Heroes and Icons digital channel. In 2016 The Wild Wild West returned to MeTV on Saturday afternoons. On January 1, 2018, MeTV began running the series weekday afternoons again, starting with second season (color) episodes. (It no longer airs on MeTV as of September 2019.) It also airs in the United Kingdom (as of 2015) on the Horror Channel on Sky channel 319, Virgin channel 149, Freeview channel 70 and Freesat channel 138.
Conrad and Martin reunited for two satirical comedy television films, The Wild Wild West Revisited (aired May 9, 1979) and More Wild Wild West (aired October 7, 1980). Revisited introduced Paul Williams as Miguelito Loveless Jr., the son of the agents' nemesis. (Michael Dunn, who played Dr. Loveless in the original show, had died in 1973.) 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".)
Most of the exterior filming took place at Old Tucson Studios where there were still many "Old West" buildings and a functioning steam train and tracks. Interiors were shot at CBS Studio Center. 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 Wild Wild West 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 original series. The Wild Wild West Revisited takes the agents to a town called Wagon Gap. This was a nod to the Abbott and Costello film, The Wistful Widow of Wagon Gap (1947), which was based on a treatment by Bowers and D. D. Beauchamp of a short story by Beauchamp.
Conrad once revealed that CBS intended to do yearly TV revivals of The Wild Wild West. Variety, in its review of the first TV movie, concurred: "A couple of more movies in this vein, sensibly spaced, could work in the future."  Ross Martin's death in 1981, however, put an end to the idea. 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."
Warner Bros. optioned the film rights to The Wild Wild West in 1992, and hired Richard Donner to direct from a screenplay by Shane Black that would have starred Mel Gibson as James West (Donner coincidentally directed three episodes of the original series). Finally in 1999, a theatrical feature-length film loosely based on the series was released as Wild Wild West (without the definite article used in the series title). Co-produced and directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, the film made substantial changes to the characters of the series, such as re-imagining James West as a black man (played by Will Smith) and Artemus Gordon (played by Kevin Kline) as egotistical and bitterly competitive with West. Additionally, significant changes were made to Dr. Loveless (played by Kenneth Branagh). No longer a dwarf, he was portrayed as a double amputee with no legs and confined in a steam-powered wheelchair (similar to that employed by the villain in the episode "The Night of the Brain"). Loveless' first name was changed from Miguelito to Arliss and was given the motive of a bitter Southerner who sought revenge on the North after the American Civil War.
Robert Conrad was reportedly offered the role of President Grant, but turned it down. He was outspoken in his criticism of the new film, which was now little more than a comedic Will Smith showcase with almost nothing in common with the original action-adventure series. In a New York Post interview (July 3, 1999), Conrad stated that he disliked the film and that contractually he was owed a share of money on merchandising that he was unpaid. He also had a long-standing feud with producer Jon Peters, which may have colored his opinion. He was also offended at the racial aspects of the film, as well as the casting of Branagh as a double amputee, rather than a little-person actor, in the role of Loveless.
Conrad took special delight in accepting the Golden Raspberry Awards for the film in 1999. It was awarded Worst Picture, Worst Director, Worst Screenplay, Worst Original Song (for the song "Wild Wild West" by Smith) and Worst Screen Couple.
In 2009, Will Smith apologized publicly to Conrad while doing promotion for Seven Pounds:
I made a mistake on Wild Wild West. That could have been better. ... No, it's funny because I could never understand why Robert Conrad was so upset with Wild Wild West. And now I get it. It's like, 'That's my baby! I put my blood, sweat and tears into that!' So I'm going to apologize to Mr. Conrad for that because I didn't realize. I was young and immature. So much pain and joy went into [my series] The Fresh Prince that my greatest desire would be that it's left alone.— Will Smith, Total Film magazine, Feb 2009 Issue 151, pp 120-125, Will Smith: The Total Film Interview, by Lesley O'Toole, Future Publishing Ltd., London England
The first season of The Wild Wild West was released on DVD in North America on June 6, 2006 by CBS Home Entertainment (distributed by Paramount Home Entertainment). Although it was touted as a special 40th anniversary edition, it appeared 41 years after the show's 1965 debut. Robert Conrad recorded audio introductions for all 28 first-season episodes, plus a commentary track for the pilot. The set also featured audio interviews by Susan Kesler (for her book, The Wild Wild West: The Series), and 1970s era footage of Conrad and Martin on a daytime talk show. The second season was released on DVD on March 20, 2007; the third season was released on November 20, 2007; and the fourth and final season was released on March 18, 2008. None of the later season sets contained bonus material.
A 27-disc complete series set was released on November 4, 2008. It contains all 104 episodes of the series as well as both reunion telefilms.
On May 12, 2015, CBS Home Entertainment released a repackaged version of the complete series set, at a lower price, but did not include the bonus disc that was part of the original complete series set. On June 13, 2016, the bonus disc was released as a standalone item.
In France, where the series (known locally as Les Mystères de l'Ouest) was a big hit, all four seasons were released in a DVD boxed set before their US release. The French set, released by TF1 Video, includes many of the extras on the US season one set, and many others. "The Night of the Inferno" is presented twice – as a regular episode in English with Conrad's audio commentary, and in a French-dubbed version. All of the episodes are presented in English with French subtitles, and several episode titles differ in translation from the original English titles. For example, "The Night of the Gypsy Peril", "The Night of the Simian Terror" and "The Night of Jack O'Diamonds" respectively translate as "The Night of the White Elephant", "The Night of the Beast" and "The Night of the Thoroughbred". Both TV movies are included as extras, but only in French-dubbed versions. The set also features a 1999 interview with Robert Conrad at the Mirande Country Music Festival in France.
In other media
The 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 (ISBN 0-451-02836-8), which adapted the episode "The Night of the Double-Edged Knife".
In 1998, Berkeley Books published three novels by author Robert Vaughan – The Wild Wild West (ISBN 0-425-16372-5), The Night of the Death Train (ISBN 0-425-16449-7), and The Night of the Assassin (ISBN 0-425-16517-5).
In 2019,Epic Press published a new novel by Joseph Covino, Jr, paying tribute to the series with a novel faithful in both style and spirit, Night of the Nobility Cult: A Wild, Wild Western.
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 the 75th volume of the French comic book series Lucky Luke (L'Homme de Washington), published in 2008, both James West and Artemus Gordon have a minor guest appearance, albeit the names have been changed to "James East" and "Artémius Gin".
When Robert Conrad hosted Saturday Night Live on NBC (January 23, 1982), he appeared in a parody of The Wild Wild West. President Lincoln states his famous quip 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).
On July 11, 2017, La-La Land Records released a limited edition 4-disc set of music from the series, featuring Richard Markowitz's theme, episode scores by Markowitz, Robert Drasnin, Dave Grusin, Richard Shores, Harry Geller, Walter Scharf, Jack Pleis and Fred Steiner, and Dimitri Tiomkin's unused theme music.
As with many television series, The Wild Wild West had several merchandise tie-ins during its run. These are listed below.
|1966||Paperback novel by Richard Wormser||Signet Books|
|1966||Board Game||Transogram Co.|
|1966(?)||Ross Martin and Robert Conrad Note Pads||Top Flight Paper Co.|
|1966||Secret "Sleeve Gun"||Ray Plastics|
|1966–1969||Gold Key Comic Books (7 issues)||Western Publishing Co.|
|1969||Lunch Box and Thermos||Alladin Co.|
On October 5, 2010, Entertainment Weekly reported that Ron Moore and Naren Shankar were developing a remake of The Wild Wild West for television, but the project apparently stalled. In December 2013, Moore told Wired that "Wild Wild West and Star Trek were two of my great loves. I watched both in syndication in the '70s. Wild Wild West was really interesting, that combination of genres—a Western and secret agent, and they dabbled in the occult and paranormal. I really wanted to do a new version for CBS. I still think it's a great property. Someday I hope to go back to it."
A fan-produced webseries titled Back to the Wild Wild West began production in November 2011, but apparently has been stalled.
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