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Series / The Wild Wild West

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The Wild Wild West was a 1965–69 CBS TV series that combined two then-popular genres: The Western and Spy Fiction. It follows the anachronistic adventures of two Secret Service agents roaming the Western United States during the Ulysses S. Grant administration. James West (Robert Conrad) is a borderline Ace, the ladykilling man of action, while his partner Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin) is a Gadgeteer Genius and Master of Disguise.

The duo, who move around in a private train that serves as their headquarters, battles a wild assortment of mad scientists and criminal masterminds, their most persistent foe being the Evil Genius dwarf Dr. Miguelito Loveless (Michael Dunn). Depending upon just how exacting a person's definition of Steampunk is, this series could be said to be the first high-profile example of the genre ever to appear on American live-action TV. More assuredly, it's the Ur-Example of Cattle Punk.

Following the show's cancellation, two reunion movies were produced in the early 1980s. In 1999, Wild Wild West, a big-budgeted feature film starring Will Smith as West and Kevin Kline as Gordon, was released.

In 2010 CBS announced plans for a revival series, to be helmed by Ronald Moore (Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica) and Naren Shankar (CSI), but it never made it out of Development Hell.

The series now has a recap page.


  • Actor Allusion: At the end of "The Night of the Sabatini Death," Ned Brown, one of Artie's pinch hitters in the fourth season, mentions to Jim that on his vacation he's planning to fufill his dream: to spend time alone on a desert island. The actor was Alan Hale Jr.
  • And Starring: Ross Martin got this on the pilot and every season one episode... and on some season four episodes, due to the fact that he was sidelined by a heart attack for several shows; as a result, those episodes produced/aired after the attack in which he appears (such as "The Night of the Diva") include an "And" above his credit, while the ones in which he doesn't (such as "The Night of Miguelito's Revenge"), don't.
  • Animated Credits Opening: The episodes are introduced by a short, stylized cartoon which portrays a gunslinger foiling various evildoers, followed by the actual credits superimposed over drawings of the Wanderer.
  • Applied Phlebotinum: If Artie has any kind of college degree, it's probably in this. He and the various villains come up with endless variations.
  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign: Most of the English-speaking foreigners who appear in the series.
  • A-Team Firing: Averted. The bad guys rarely come out of gunfights unscathed and even the good guys get hit on occasion (this happened most often in the third season - see "The Night of the Amnesiac," "The Night of Jack O'Diamonds" and "The Night of the Death Masks").
  • Base on Wheels: The Wanderer, the private train of West and Gordon. The duo's weapons, gadgets and disguises are stored in it.
  • Bloodless Carnage: Of the "small amount of blood" variety.
  • Bond Villain Stupidity: Almost every villain in the series puts Jim and/or Artemus into a death trap... and leaves the room.
  • Canon Discontinuity: Three different versions of a tank turn up over the course of the series - two invented by villains, one by Artie. The agents don't seem to retain any memory of the previous times such a device appeared.
  • Cattle Punk: More or less invented the genre.
  • Character Aged with the Actor: In the reunion movies.
  • Characterization Marches On: Due partially to Early-Installment Weirdness and partially to behind-the-scenes drama, the first season is noticeably different from the others in terms of Artie's characterization and the relationship between the agents.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome:
    • Jim's valet, Tennyson, disappears after three episodes as suddenly and mysteriously as he arrived.
    • Also Loveless's ladyfriend Antoinette (unlike Tennyson, she at least gets replaced. Three times).
  • Commercial Break Cliffhanger: At least Once an Episode, and usually more than once (the better to enhance the Idiosyncratic Wipes with).
  • Comic-Book Adaptation: A series of comic books based on the series were released by Gold Key. In 1990-1991, a small publisher called Millennium produced a second series based on the show.
  • Cool Train: The Wanderer, West and Gordon's mobile headquarters.
  • Costume Drama: Very much so, especially after the series went to color in the second season.
  • Create Your Own Villain: The first reunion movie features a young man seeking revenge on James West for killing his father. note 
  • 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.
  • Deception Non-Compliance: In "The Night of the Death-Maker". A group of monks at the Santa Paula Monastery make and sell wine. When their monastery is taken over by the villains, they subtly change the taste of their wine as an S.O.S. signal.
  • Diegetic Soundtrack Usage: In the second TV movie, Artemus Gordon hums the main theme from the show while getting ready in front of a mirror.
  • Disguised in Drag: Artie in the first reunion movie, and twice on the original series ("The Night Of The Freebooters and "The Night of the Green Terror").
  • Distressed Dude: The agents end up in this situation with rather astonishing frequency.
  • Easy Evangelism: If the villain has a beautiful female assistant (and they almost always do), Jim can usually get them to switch sides with five minutes of heartfelt conversation or less, regardless of how fanatically loyal they previously were. (Exceptions: Astarte in "The Night of the Druid's Blood," Antoinette in the first five Loveless episodes, Elaine in "The Night of the Vicious Valentine," and Dominique in "The Night of the Watery Death".)
  • Fanservice: For those who like guys, a frequently shirtless Robert Conrad and his penchant for sporting very tight pants. For those who like ladies, see Girl of the Week.
  • Faux Fluency: Averted for the most part, at least in Ross Martin's case. He really could speak most of the languages Artemus Gordon uses.
  • Flynning: Jim and Artie both get to indulge in this from time to time.
  • Gadgeteer Genius: Both heroes and villains fall into this category. Interestingly, occasionally the heroes' gadgets don't work properly, notably in "The Night of the Deadly Bubble" when Jim and the Girl of the Week are trapped in a room filling with steam; the explosives Jim tries to use to get out won't light because the matches are too damp. You'll just have to watch the episode to see how they escape.
  • Genre-Busting: An oddball combination of the western and the spy drama with occasional forays into sci-fi and the supernatural. It is the Ur-Example of Cattle Punk.
  • Girl of the Week: The series is inspired by the James Bond franchise, after all. Almost every episode features a beautiful young woman for the hero(es) to romance - often more than one.
  • 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. One of these stunts very nearly got him killed.
  • Gorgeous Period Dress: There is a great deal of finery to be seen on the main characters and the guest stars alike.
  • Grappling-Hook Pistol: Jim's pistol can be converted into one.
  • The Guards Must Be Crazy: Allows the heroes to escape from imprisonment numerous times.
  • Historical Domain Character: Presidents Grant and Juárez.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Every episode title begins with "The Night...", and usually "The Night of the..." (although technically season 1's "Night of the Casual Killer" is the only exception).
  • Idiosyncratic Wipes: The last shot of every act was freeze-framed into either a textured picture (season 1 post-pilot), a tinted still (early season 2) or a drawing (in the pilot, and 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 "The Night of the Arrow," "The Night of the Undead" and any episode directed by Irving J. Moore - which is pretty easy, as he helmed more episodes than anyone else). (Also, the Fade In of the series title completed the wipe.)
  • Idiot Ball: Loveless's genius is demonstrated enough times for it to not be an Informed Ability, but having encountered Artie in disguise in several episodes, he's still fooled every time... especially since Count Manzeppi, in only his second (and last) episode, immediately realises "Uncle Hansi" is actually Artie:
  • Improvised Weapon: In a pinch, the agents will often resort to any weapon-like item available - a chair, a bottle, a frying pan... even a turkey's leg bone "The Night of the Murderous Spring".
  • The Infiltration: One of Artie's primary weapons, though Jim also tries his hand at it on occasion. An infiltration of some kind seems to be required in every other episode.
  • Instant Messenger Pigeon: At least four of them - Henry, Henrietta, Annabella and Arabella.
  • Instant Sedation: Artie's bright red knockout gas. Also any such gas used on the agents.
  • Karmic Death: The fate of many a Villain of the Week.
  • Large Ham: Quite a few. Many of Artemus Gordon's assumed identities fall into this category as well.
  • Lighter and Softer: The reunion movies are very much comedies, to the point of camp, while the original series is a drama. (The reunion movies were from the writer-director team behind Support Your Local Sheriff, which explains a lot.)
  • Mad Scientist: Many of the villains.
  • The Main Characters Do Everything: James and Artemus are Secret Service agents employed by the Department of the Treasury. Technically, their job is to track down and stop counterfeiters (which they actually do sometimes - see "The Night of Sudden Death" and "The Night of the Circus of Death")... and that's it. In reality they act much more like U. S. Marshals.
  • Mean Boss: The agents tend to have these, particularly in the first two seasons before Colonel Richmond showed up. Colonel Armstrong in "The Night of Eccentrics", is a good example, but far from the only one.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Robert Conrad is very easy on the eyes, and the series does not shy away from the fact. Conrad would joke that the pants he wore on the set were so tight they would tear if he turned the wrong way.
  • No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup: Any weapon wielded by a villain far in advance of real late 19th century technology will be this, to explain why nobody ever heard of it again after Jim and Artie destroy it and kill its owner.
  • Novelization: "The Night of the Double-Edged Knife" was turned into a paperback novel, simply titled The Wild Wild West, by Richard Wormser.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Most of Artemus' disguises are this, although none of the other characters (even genius Loveless) realize that it's Artemus wearing a disguise.
  • Punny Name/Epunymous Title: The Wild Wild... James West?
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Colonel Richmond and President Grant.
  • Recurring Character: Colonel Richmond, played by Douglas Henderson, and Roy Engel as President Grant.
  • Recycled IN SPACE!:
    • It's James Bond IN THE WILD WEST!
    • Due to airing at about the same time (its success taking off just a year before WWW) and featuring similarly outlandish plots, it's also very much "The Avengers IN THE RECONSTRUCTION ERA!" (with two dudes instead of a male and female agent).
  • Recycled Premise: A number of episodes involve threats against President Grant (admittedly Truth in Television, given how prone Presidents are to death threats).
  • Recycled Soundtrack: Episodes used music from Gunsmoke (like "The Night of the Running Death") and, believe it or not, Hawaii Five-O (see "The Night of the Bleak Island" and "The Night of the Winged Terror, Part 2"). Even more bizarrely, the latter show returned the favour – the episode "Face of the Dragon" borrows music written for "The Night of the Sedgewick Curse"!
  • Repeating So the Audience Can Hear: The vast majority of the audience isn't fluent in Morse code, so when a message comes in over a telegraph it will often get a running translation into spoken English for no apparent reason.
  • 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 (unlike his portrayer Richard Kiel, who returns in another role in "The Night of the Simian Terror").
  • Rube Goldberg Hates Your Guts: Many of the death traps on the series, allowing time for the hero(es) to escape.
  • Shirtless Scene: Jim West gets a lot of these.
  • Shoe Phone: The show features exploding billiard balls, cigars that play a variety of tricks and deadly pool cues, among other things.
  • Shown Their Work: In at least one episode, the villains attempt to poison the protagonists with "prussic acid". This is, in fact, the term that was used for hydrogen cyanide during that time period.
  • Slipping a Mickey: Besides a good conk on the head, the most frequent method used to incapacitate one or both agents.
  • Special Guest: Among those who played guest villains were Ed Asner, Robert Duvall, Boris Karloff, Harvey Korman, Martin Landau, Ida Lupino, Burgess Meredith, Ricardo Montalbán, Agnes Moorehead, Leslie Nielsen and Carroll O'Connor.
  • Spies Are Lecherous: Whilst both remain perfect gentlemen, both secret service members Jim West and Artemus Gordon regularly seduce and end up with a lot of different women. Jim in particular often succeeds in causing the villain's female associates to switch sides, at least partially through seduction. Though occasionally it will turn out the Girl of the Week already has a lover, who she'll go off with or a goal she intends to do, causing her to leave at the end.
  • Steampunk: Between steam and various kinds of Applied Phlebotinum, the characters manage to invent devices many, many years ahead of their time.
  • Steampunk Gadgeteers: One of the heroes and about half of the villains.
  • Stock Scream: The same scream is used by Major Allenby-Smythe in "The Night The Dragon Screamed," Martin Dexter (in spite of his not falling at the time) in "The Night of the Tottering Tontine," O'Reilley in "The Night of the Firebrand" and Clarence (meaning Ben Wright got it twice, as he also played the Major) in "The Night of the Sabatini Death." Among others.
  • Technicolor Science: Used lavishly once the series went to color.
  • Temporary Substitute:
    • When Artie is temporarily assigned to Washington (to cover for Ross Martin's absence while he recovered from a heart attack), Jim gets a new partner, Jeremy Pike, who also happens to be a Master of Disguise and a dab hand with gadgets.
    • Pike was himself briefly replaced by Frank Harper, who was basically Jeremy Pike with a different actor.
    • Averted with Ned Brown, probably West's only partner who doesn't go in for disguises or gadgetry. Also averted with Sir Nigel Scott (not least with his being The Mole).
  • Waking Up Elsewhere: Very frequent occurrence.
  • Wig, Dress, Accent: Artemus Gordon's disguises are generally of this variety.
  • The Wild West: So wild they had to say it twice!
  • Would Hit a Girl: Seen in the opening credits sequence during three of the four seasons. In the first season the lady pulls a knife on Jim while they kiss, but then just...lets him walk away.
  • Written-In Absence: Ross Martin's health problems forced him to sit out a few episodes, which led to several substitutes.

Alternative Title(s): Wild Wild West