In The Wild Wild West there was gadgetry galore that had no logical place in the post Civil War setting, there was an evil dwarf named Dr. Miguelito Loveless, and there was a closet full of super-tight pants to costume lead actor Robert Conrad. When you’re fixing up an hour-long fantasy adventure Western, that’s just about all the ingredients you need.
James T. West and Artemus Gordon were undercover agents of President Ulysses S. Grant. Their ongoing assignment was to undermine the evil schemes of assorted radicals and revolutionaries who had an eye toward taking over the world. West was a reserved, suave “James Bond in the Old West” type, and Gordon was the duo’s chatty and charming master of disguise and dialect. They traveled in a well-outfitted train, and if all trains were this cool, nobody would get from point A to B any other way—it was full of all the supplies the boys needed to jerry-rig their assorted weapons and devices. Also on the scene were beautiful women, great and imaginative set pieces, and lively and dastardly villains—most famously, the diminutive Dr. Loveless.
The celebrated opening credits sequence was animated, and when the show cut to commercial, the last scene’s last frame was frozen and became a cartoon panel. All the episodes were titled “Night Of…(followed by some campy or noir-ish person, place or thing).” In one classic case of TV cross-pollination, the “Night of the Sabatini Death” episode found guest stars Jim Backus and Alan Hale Jr. (Mr. Howell and the Skipper both, God bless ‘em). At the end of the episode, Hale’s character mentions that his vacation destination is a deserted island…and a few bars from the Gilligan’s Island theme song can be heard in the background.
Despite healthy ratings, the show was cancelled in 1970 after just four years on the air. Spurred on by the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., the U.S. Congress was holding ‘violence in the media’ hearings. The then-president of CBS promised that his network would tone down its violence, and so The Wild, Wild West and the gunfight at the beginning of Gunsmoke were promptly excised from the airwaves.
Fan support remained strong over the decades, leading Conrad and co-star Ross Martin (Artemus Gordon) to re-team for two made-for-TV movie specials, The Wild, Wild West Revisited (1979) and More Wild, Wild West (1980). Even after a famously flopping Will Smith starring feature film adaptation in 1999, The Wild, Wild West still has a following today that waxes elegiac about the show’s inventiveness, the charm of stars Conrad and Martin, and the relative tautness of Conrad’s pants.
USA / CBS – Michael Garrison / 104×50 minute episodes / Broadcast 17 September 1965 – 7 September 1970
Creator/Executive Producer: Michael Garrison / Music: Richard Markowitz
ROBERT CONRAD as Major James T. West
ROSS MARTIN as Artemus Gordon
MICHAEL DUNN as Dr Miguelito Loveless
CHARLES AIDMAN as Jeremy Pike
CHARLES DAVIS as Tennyson