The Wild Wild West is an American television series that ran on CBS from September 1965 to April 1969. The show was developed by Michael Garrison as a science fiction western to combat the spy genre that was taking hold of American TV. The show starred Robert Conrad as James West, a charming gunslinger, and Ross Martin as Artemus Gordon, a brilliant gadgeteer and master of disguise.
The basic concept of the show is that West and Gordon are Secret Service Agents in charge of protecting President Ulysses S. Grant and the United States from all manner of dangerous threats. They travel in a luxury train called the Wanderer that is equipped with everything that they need. In James Bond tradition there are women, gadgets, and arch enemies with insane ideals.
As with many series of the time, each episode began with a similar naming convention. With The Wild Wild West the convention was "The Night…" And as with other series, there were recurring villains. The most notable was Dr. Miguelito Quixote Loveless, played by Michael Dunn, as a brilliant but insane dwarf. He was first introduced in the episode called "The Night the Wizard Shook the Earth" and appeared in nine other episodes.
The writing of many of the shows began with the inventions created by the madmen villains and the episodes were developed around these devices. Some of the stories were also inspired by Edgar Alan Poe, H.G. Wells, and Jules Verne.
Robert Conrad did all of his own stunts, at least two fights per episode, and in one he fell 12 feet from a chandelier and suffered a concussion. Ross Martin said of his own role that it was a showoff's showcase because it allowed him to portray over 100 different characters during the series' run.
Then there were the gadgets. Some were recurring and others appeared just once. There was, for example, the sleeve gun, which featured a Remington derringer, as well as other things like a tiny squirt can that contained acid. There was an exploding billiard ball, a blow torch masquerading as a cigar, a thin wire capable of sawing through steel, and a cue stick sword.
The Wild Wild West: The Complete TV Series contains all 104 episodes and two reunion movies. It is contained in a rectangular box with two packages of disks. There are 27 discs and the total running time is over 85 hours. While there would not be enough room to go though all of the episodes, I will highlight my favorite from each season.
Season one, which ran from 1965-1966, had 28 episodes and was filmed all in black and white. One that stands out in my mind is "The Night the Wizard Shook the Earth" where we are first introduced to Dr. Loveless, who is planning on taking over California which he claims rightfully belongs to him. This episode also features Richard Kiel, famous for the role of Jaws in the Bond film The Spy who Loved Me. I really liked "The Night of a Thousand Eyes" in which West and Gordon investigate a theft at the U.S. Mint. I found that the theft itself proved to be very interesting. I also enjoyed ”The Night of the Puppeteer" where they are trying to prevent the assassinations of Supreme Court Justices, and "The Night of the Whirring Death" where Dr. Loveless returns to thwart West and Gordon from helping the State of California from going bankrupt. Guest stars this season included Leslie Nielsen, Katharine Ross, Martin Landau, Burgess Meredith, Keenan Wynne, and Don Rickles.
Season two, which ran from 1966-1967, also had 28 episodes. This season saw the introduction of color to the show, which gave it more of a Victorian flair. Here we have "The Night of the Flying Pie Plate" in which a girl with green skin emerges from a spaceship and claims that she needs gold for fuel. Then there is "The Night of the Green Terror" where Dr. Loveless tries to convince the local Indian tribe into believing that he is a god.
A truly great one in season two is "The Night of the Vicious Valentine" where Agnes Moorehead (Bewitched) runs a computer dating service where prominent industrialists are married off and then killed for their money. Moorehead won an Emmy for this role. Other guest stars included Victor Buono, Sammy Davis Jr., Ida Lupino, Peter Lawford, William Windom, Boris Karloff, Richard Pryor, and Joseph Campanella.
Season three, which ran from 1967-1968, included only 24 episodes. This was due to the Conrad concussion mentioned earlier. Other changes were a move away from the fantasy and more toward the western aspects as well as a move to the villains becoming more political. Because of Michael Dunn's health problems there was only one Dr. Loveless episode in season three.
The best of these include "Night of the Bubbling Death" which has West and Gordon trying to save the U.S. constitution which has been stolen. In "The Night of the Samurai," to save U.S. and Japanese political relationships, our heroes must return a sword to its rightful owner. Finally there is "Night of the Simian Terror" were they visit the plantation of a Senator whose family secret has to do with experimentation with apes.
Season four took up where season three left off for more than just finishing the episode that had to be completed because of Conrad's concussion. During the filming of "The Night of the Avaricious Actuary," Ross Martin suffered a hairline fracture in his shin and had to be "put on assignment to Washington" while he recovered. There were several replacements for his character. Then Martin had a massive heart attack, providing a further setback. He ended up filming in the last three episodes of the season and by then the series had been canceled.
While this season is by far the least of the bunch it does have a couple of moments. First is "The Night of the Egyptian Queen" where West and Gordon are on the trail of a ruby stolen from the Sun God Ra, and "The Night of the Fugitives," the one scheduled for season three where they try to expose a mining company. This episode has Conrad's fall that ended season three.
The Wild Wild West: The Complete TV Series is truly an amazing set as well as a series. The packaging is solid and well put together and looks great on the shelf. The discs come in two little boot heel packs that also look good as well. The conversion to DVD is good. The color is better than the black and white but all are acceptable. The audio is mono and seasons two through four are clearer than season one, but none presented a problem.
Primarily all of the extras come from the season one set of disks. These include audiotaped interviews with producer Fred Frieberger, writer (and "Dr. Loveless" creator) John Kneubuhl, music composer Richard Markowitz, and special effects technician Tim Smyth. Other extras include a network series promo clip (from a later season, after TWWW switched to color), a sketch by Ross Martin, a photo gallery, and even one of Conrad's notorious Eveready battery commercials from the late '70s.
There is also a disk that contains the two reunion movies. The Wild Wild West Revisited aired May 9, 1979, and More Wild Wild West aired October 7-8, 1980. The first had Paul Williams as Miguelito Loveless Jr., the son of the agents' arch-nemesis. And the second had Jonathon Winters as Albert Paradine II, who planned world conquest using a formula for invisibility.
Overall The Wild Wild West: The Complete TV Series remains remarkably fresh to this day and while many say that it remains the only series in television history to be canceled for "excessive violence," perhaps it was for the best. There was only so much that could be pulled from the series without overstaying its welcome. I very highly recommend The Wild Wild West: The Complete TV Series.