The Wild Wild West (TV series)

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A 1960s TV series which combined two then-popular genres: The Western and the Spy Drama, following the anachronistic adventures of two Secret Service agents roaming the western United States during the Ulysses S. Grant administration. James West (Robert Conrad) was a borderline Ace, the ladykilling man of action, while his partner Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin) was a Gadgeteer Genius and Master of Disguise. (Based on his work in this series, Martin the actor easily qualifies as a Real Life example of the latter.) The duo battled a wild assortment of mad scientists and criminal masterminds, their most persistent foe being the evil-genius dwarf Dr. Miguelito Loveless (Michael Dunn). Depending on how exacting a person's definition of "Steampunk" is, this series could be said to be the highest-profile example of the genre ever to appear on American live-action TV.

Following the show's cancellation, two reunion movies were produced in the early 1980's. In 1999 a big-budgeted feature film was released starring Will Smith as West and Kevin Kline as Gordon (see Wild Wild West). This film is generally considered to be very bad (or So Bad It's Good to some), except by fans of the original, who think it was much much worse.

In November 2010, CBS announced plans for a Revival to be helmed by Ronald Moore (Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica) and Naren Shankar (CSI), but nothing ever came of it. As of this writing, yet another try is being proposed for 2018.


Tropes used in The Wild Wild West (TV series) include:
  • Acting for Two: "The Night of the Torture Chamber" (the governor is kidnapped and replaced with a double) and "The Night of the Puppeteer" (the title villain turns out to be a lifesize lookalike puppet manipulated by the real (and now disfigured) thing). In the tag scenes for "The Night of the Bottomless Pit" and "The Night of the Plague" the Girl of the Week introduces our heroes to her fiancé, who in the former episode is played by the same actor who played the episode's Big Bad/her husband and was last seen sinking in quicksand and in the latter is played by Robert Conrad with a moustache.
    • "The Night of the Big Blast" has this for both Robert Conrad and Ross Martin. The episode's Big Bad, a doctor who likes to perform plastic surgery on corpses, put bombs in them, reanimate them and turn them loose after her targets, makes a double of Jim in the teaser[1] and one of Artie in the climax.
  • Actor Allusion: In "The Night of the Sabatini Death", West is temporarily teamed with Ned Brown, a character played by Alan Hale Jr.; at the end, Brown says he's going to go spend some time on a deserted island.
  • Accidental Murder: Several times, usually on part of the villain, tragically played in "The Night of a Thousand Eyes".
  • Ambiguously Jewish: Ross Martin was a Jew who was born in Poland. (He grew up in a non-English speaking household.) Though the only hints on the show are his knowledge of Eastern European languages, a scene where he explains the Hebrew meaning of a young woman's name and the episode "The Night of the Vicious Valentine" where he disguises himself as a Jewish tailor using a perfect Yiddish accent, Artie's Jewishness is Fanon.
  • And This Is For: The basic premise of "The Night of Miguelito's Revenge."
  • Animated Credits Opening
  • Backwards-Firing Gun: Miguelito Loveless hands James West such a pistol, but he sees through the ruse.
    • Also used for one of the murders in "The Night of the Tottering Tontine", and for a murder in "The Night of the Braine".
  • Bond Villain Stupidity: Almost every villain in the series puts Jim and/or Artemus into a death trap... and leaves the room.
  • Brain In a Jar: The villains in "The Night of the Druid's Blood" have several of them.
  • Breakout Villain: Dr. Miguelito Loveless debuted in the third episode, where he was caught (as he was in his second episode - from his third episode onward he was never captured again). But he was so popular (and was a good friend of Robert Conrad's in Real Life), that he returned several times a year for the rest of the series.
  • Captain Ersatz: James West to James Bond.
  • The Cast Showoff: Tough call. On the one hand, Ross Martin actually called his role "a showoff's showcase"; on the other hand, Robert Conrad really (and often literally) threw himself into the fight scenes, so much so that he was prone to splitting his pants (something not always fixed in the editing room - see "The Night of the Pistoleros").
  • Cattle Punk: More or less invented the genre.
  • Christmas Episode: "The Night of the Whirring Death"
  • Cool Train: The Wanderer, West and Gordon's mobile headquarters.
  • Creative Differences: CBS did not want the show's creator Michael Garrison to be overseeing the show because of how much the pilot had cost, which led to Garrison having a legal battle with the Eye throughout season one while the show went through seven producers - some of whom never even got to do one episode - before Garrison got control back. Eventually, Garrison did get in a producer to his liking (besides Fred Freiberger, under whose reign Loveless was created - in fact, the first episode to be shown after the pilot was a Freiberger-produced one) in the form of Bruce Lansbury... but CBS still got a Garrison-less show in the end, though not in the manner anyone would have preferred.
  • Death Trap: Most episodes, especially in season one, from the classic Descending Ceiling to a glass box specially rigged to become a Gas Chamber if escape was attempted.
  • Decoy Leader: The Big Bad in the pilot, "The Night of the Inferno", uses this.
  • Defictionalization: The creators of the series were apparently probed by the CIA, both because some of the gadgets in the show struck so close to actual gadgets used in espionage and because the boys at Langley really liked some of the other gadgets that weren't being used in Real Life at the time.
  • Diabolical Mastermind: Dr. Miguelito Loveless.
  • Diving Save: "The Night of the Gruesome Games". Artemus Gordon sees a woman about to be shot by a cannon. He runs over and pulls her out of the way just before it fires.
  • Dramatic Thunder: Especially in "The Night of a Thousand Eyes."
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Some episodes have somewhat misleading titles (like "The Night of the Druid's Blood") but a lot don't, most notably "The Night of the Grand Emir" (which does indeed take place all in one night).
  • Executive Meddling: The show was canceled due to content, not because of declining ratings. (At the end of The Sixties, CBS executives got nervous about fictional violence after all the Real Life violence of that decade.) Also, Ross Martin was sadly never allowed to fully unleash his Master of Disguise skills, thanks to worries about "confused" viewers.
    • And the show ended up being lucky to survive its first season. After the show was picked up by the network, and placed on the fall schedule, one of the biggest television corporate bloodlettings happened, taking out nearly all of the network executives who helped develop the show. The new regime, wanting to put the past regime behind them, changed the new schedule as best as they could in the short time available to them, dropping a number of shows that were developed for the new season. The Wild Wild West survived this purge, but barely, as the new executives didn't get the show, and were concerned about the show's cost, which was expensive for a show of that era. Had the show not become a hit from the get-go, it's likely it would have been canned faster than you can say Artemus Gordon.
  • Explosion Propulsion
  • Eyecatch
  • Fake Defector
  • Fake Nationality: All over the place, particularly Pilar Seurat as a very un-Chinese-looking Chinese princess in "The Night The Dragon Screamed," Paul Wallace doing an English accent that isn't even good enough to be called excruciating in "The Night of the Eccentrics" and Ricardo Montalban as a Confederate Army colonel in "The Night of the Lord of Limbo." (And this being Ricardo Montalban, he doesn't even bother with an accent.)
    • In-universe examples: "The Night of the Inferno" has Wing Fat (a Mexican pretending to be Chinese), in "The Night of the Sudden Plague" Dr. Kirby is also Chinese, and in "The Night of the Man-Eating House" Liston Day prefers to be referred to as "Diaz," since his grandfather - who came from Mexico - wanted to belong among Americans but his son/Liston's dad saw himself as Mexican, and so does Liston.
  • Foot Focus: In "The Night of the Undead", a woman walks barefoot over hot coals.
  • Giant Spider: "The Night of the Raven" plays with this trope. Technically, it's a normal-sized spider since Jim and the episode's Girl of the Week have been shrunk by Loveless. On the other hand, the movie does have a Giant Spider, albeit a mechanical one.
  • Girl of the Week: The series is inspired by the James Bond franchise, after all.
    • Exception: "The Night of the Surreal McCoy" (the only episode of the series with no female characters at all).
  • Good Old Fisticuffs: And how; Conrad has been quoted as saying it's perhaps just as well the show was canceled when it was, as making it was so physically taxing for him and the stunt crew.
    • Plus, unlike many TV stars of that time (and this time), it's clearly Conrad doing most of his own stunts.
  • Gorgeous Period Dress
  • Grappling Hook Pistol
  • Green-Skinned Space Babe: "The Night of the Flying Pie Plate"
  • Hard Head: The author of A Writer's Guide to "The Wild Wild West" has calculated that in 95 episodes, Jim was knocked unconscious by blows to the head 46 times, and Artemus 29 times.
  • Heterosexual Life Partners: Jim and Artemus, obviously.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Every episode title begins with "The Night...".
  • Idiosyncratic Wipes: The last shot of every act was freeze-framed into either a textured picture (season 1), a tinted still (early season 2) or a drawing (from mid-season 2) that took its place among the series's title design. This led to some painfully obvious posed shots (such as act 1 of "The Night of the Torture Chamber") and a tendency to advertise the upcoming freezeframes by a rapid zoom in (see any episode directed by Irving J. Moore - which is pretty easy, as he helmed more episodes than anyone else).
  • I Just Want to Be Beautiful: Kitten Twitty in "The Night of the Murderous Spring."
  • Incredible Shrinking Man: "The Night of the Raven"
  • It Will Never Catch On: Done a couple of times with Artie promoting a modern invention (basketball in "The Night of the Skulls," making films longer and charging admission in "The Night of the Big Blackmail"), only to be shot down by Jim.
  • James West Bondage
  • Karma Houdini: Rosa Montebello in "The Night of the Diva," an unrepentant snob who treats Artie like dirt for no reason at all and is generally so unpleasant that the episode's actual villain (an Expy of The Phantom of the Opera intent on kidnapping her to go with two other opera singers (s)he's abducted) is far more sympathetic. She never gets her comeuppance.
  • Karmic Death: The fate of many a Villain of the Week.
  • Knockout Gas: In "The Night of Sudden Death," gas pumped in from a gaslight lamp and an unspecified additive is used to fill a very large U.S. Mint set and knock out several people within seconds.
  • Large Ham: Quite a few, most notably Patsy Kelly ("The Night of the Big Blast" and "The Night of the Bogus Bandits") and John Harding ("The Night of the Winged Terror" parts 1 and 2).
  • Latex Perfection "The Night of the Braine"
  • MacGuffin Delivery Service
  • Mad Scientist: Dr. Loveless and many of the other villains.
  • Manchurian Agent: "The Night of the Howling Light"
  • Master of Disguise: In many episodes Gordon appears in at least one elaborate disguise, one of the more memorable being Robert E. Lee.
    • That said there are some episodes where he doesn't appear in any disguise at all, most notably "The Night of the Raven" and "The Night of the Man-Eating House."
  • Mix and Match
  • The Mole: Sir Nigel Scott in "The Night of the Bleak Island".
    • Also Silas Grigsby in "The Night of the Bubbling Death".
  • The Napoleon: Dr. Loveless.
  • Not with the Safety On, You Won't
  • Obfuscating Disability: The titular villain in "The Night of the Braine" [2] starts out in a steam-powered wheelchair, but it is then revealed that he uses it because he believes that literally every ounce of a person's energy should be devoted to thinking.
  • Pretty in Mink: A few show up, when appropriate, as in "The Night of the Whirring Death" (the opera singer episode) and "The Night of the Cossacks".
  • Punny Name/Epunymous Title: The Wild Wild...James West?
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Ross Martin's health problems forced him to sit out a few episodes, which led to the Suspiciously Similar Substitute played by Charles Aidman. It also affected at least one episode Martin did appear in; when he broke his leg while filming the climax of "The Night of the Avaricious Actuary"[3] the opening of the next episode to be filmed, "The Night of the Juggernaut," was rewritten so that Artie broke his leg when the machine attacked our heroes. (Incidentally, "The Night of the Juggernaut" aired before "The Night of the Avaricious Actuary.")
  • Recycled in Space: It's James Bond IN The Wild West!
  • Recycled Soundtrack: Episodes used music from Gunsmoke and, believe it or not, Hawaii Five-O (see "The Night of the Bleak Island" and "The Night of the Winged Terror, Part 2").
  • Retroactive Precognition
  • Reunion Show: The TV Movies The Wild Wild West Revisited and More Wild Wild West.
  • Rogues Gallery: Dr. Miguelito Loveless and Count Manzeppi are the only recurring main villains. But there's also Loveless' loyal assistants Antoinette and Voltaire - although Antoinette vanishes during season 2 and Voltaire never appears after season 1[4].
  • Romantic Runner-Up: Originally Artemus Gordon, despite saving the day or having an equal part in saving the day as Jim, rarely got the girl; many episodes in the first season end with him looking on forlornly as Jim kisses the Damsel in Distress Girl of the Week (although even then there were exceptions - both Jim and Artie get lucky in "The Night of the Torture Chamber" and "The Night of the Glowing Corpse," and "The Night of Sudden Death" is a rare example where Jim is the Romantic Runner-Up as Artie literally walks away with two ladies!). From season two onwards neither agent was lacking in female companionship.
  • Shoe Phone
  • Skeleton Key: Jim West carried one that seemed able to open almost any lock he encountered.
    • That was a lock-pick under his lapel, but you are right in that it does seem to unlock doors as easily as a key.
  • Steampunk
  • Stunt Double: Not for Conrad so much as his opponents - see in particular "The Night The Dragon Screamed" in which during the climax Ben Wright, as the Big Bad, suddenly turns into someone who isn't 15 years older than Robert Conrad and then turns into a dummy when Conrad flings him onto a bed of spikes.
    • And while Ross Martin does a lot of his own sword fighting in "The Night of the Big Blast," in some cases it's clearly not him.
  • Super Dickery: "The Night of the Turncoat", "The Night of the Skulls"
  • Super Speed: "The Night of the Burning Diamond"
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Besides Jeremy Pike and Frank Harper pitch-hitting for Artie in season four, Dr. Loveless had Belladonna ("The Night of the Bogus Bandits"), Trieste ("The Night Dr. Loveless Died") and Deirdre ("The Night of Miguelito's Revenge") as replacements for Antoinette.
  • Sword Cane: Sword pool cue actually.
  • Ten Little Murder Victims: "The Night of the Tottering Tontine", "The Night of the Bleak Island"
    • In the latter, it being from the final season, only two people get killed - and one of them is the bad guy.
  • Time Stands Still: "The Night of the Burning Diamond"
  • The Wild West
  • Wig, Dress, Accent: Artemus Gordon's disguises are generally of this variety.
  • Wouldn't Hit a Girl: Usually true, although subverted in "The Night of the Firebrand" where Jim uses an Expy of the Vulcan nerve pinch whenever the Girl of the Week is getting above herself. Averted in "The Night of the Running Death" when Jim punches out Miss Tyler - well, it would be averted if Miss Tyler wasn't a man in drag.
  • X Meets Y: James West is James Bond meets John Wayne.
  1. the real Jim isn't seen in the episode until the very end of act 3
  2. Yes, that is the correct spelling... although the onscreen title of the episode is "The Night of the Brain"
  3. which necessitated a stand-in to complete the scene - who unfortunately looked nothing like him -
  4. unlike his portrayer Richard Kiel, who returns in another role in "The Night of the Simian Terror"