Entertainment

'The Wild Wild West': Network Television's Weirdest Western

Actors Ross Martin, left, and Robert Conrad, right, are shown while filming a scene of the motion picture "More Wild, Wild West," in Los Angeles, Calif., on June 4, 1980. (AP Photo/Wally Fong)

Aptly-titled, science fiction-inspired series The Wild Wild West truly was the wildest Western TV show of its time.

The CBS television series aired from 1965 to 1969. It follows the adventures of James T. West (Robert Conrad) and Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin), two Civil War soldiers turned Secret Service agents under President Ulysses S. Grant.

Jules Verne-eque gadgets that visually suited the show's 19th century setting made Agent James and his master of disguise sidekick blueprints for future steampunks' obsessions with the past. The heroes also had their own futuristic train, The Wanderer.

Our heroes' battles with Dr. Miguelito Loveless (Michael Dunn) and other foes were action-packed and often found Conrad doing his own stunts.

"For the first few episodes we tried stuntmen," Conrad told the San Francisco Chronicle. "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."

Conrad's experience with TV series also included ABC crime show Hawaiian Eye and NBC's World War II-era series Baa Baa Black Sheep Squadron.

Although creator Michael Garrison's vision for The Wild Wild West seems bizarre when compared to other popular Old West series of the time, it wasn't that out of place on network TV in the late '60s. Indeed, it fit right in with imaginative and popular shows The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Star Trek and Mission: Impossible. And don't forget that despite the creativity at play in many episodes, West, Gordon and company never took themselves too seriously.

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The Wild Wild West's cancellation after four seasons had less to do with ratings, which remained high, and more to do with pressure from Congress to cut down on television violence.

The series has had three comebacks to date. The first two came as TV movies: The Wild Wild West Revisited (broadcast May 9, 1979) and More Wild Wild West (broadcast October 7, 1980). More famously, the series went Hollywood in 1999 with a summer blockbuster film, starring Will Smith as Jim West and Kevin Kline as his trusty sidekick.

The complete series can be found on DVD for a reasonable price. From the first season on, episode titles began with "The Night of..." (for example, the series finale was titled "The Night of the Tycoons").

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'The Wild Wild West': Network Television's Weirdest Western