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Cult TV Essentials: The Wild Wild West

The Wild Wild West was a steampunk, science fiction, western hybrid that ran on CBS from 1965-1969.  Created by Michael Garrison the show ran for 104 episodes. In 1999, a feature film based on this series was released starring Will Smith and Kevin Kline. Unfortunately, the reviews and the box office were not kind.

One of the best things about this wonderful little gem was the opening credits and theme music. They were very distinctive and highly creative. Like most shows in the 1960’s, the first episodes were shot in black and white before transitioning to color.

Mostly what made this program enjoyable was the chemistry between the two lead actors, Robert Conrad and Ross Martin. A bit of trivia for horror fans, veteran Western actor, Rory Calhoun and Farmer Vincent from ‘Motel Hell’ was originally slated for the part of James West!  Star Trek veteran producers, Gene L. Coon and Fred Freiberger also did stints on this show.

Polar opposites, James West and Artemus Gordon were Civil War veterans who end up being recruited by the newly formed Secret Service. The duo protected President Ulysses S. Grant, invented cool gadgets to thwart villains from taking over the United States and traveled in their own train called the Wanderer. This wasn’t your average mode of 1800’s transportation because it came complete with a laboratory and a stable.

One of the more prominent villains on the show was Dr. Miguelito Loveless played with diabolical relish by the wonderful diminutive character actor, Michael Dunn.  He was to West and Gordon what Moriarty was to Sherlock Holmes.

Unfortunately, the show was plagued with bad luck toward the end of its run. Health problems felled Dunn. Originally contracted to appear in four episodes per season, he ended up only being able to appear in ten episodes rather than sixteen.

In 1968, Ross Martin was sidelined by a near fatal heart attack. He was temporarily replaced by Charles Aidman, Alan Hale, Jr. the Skipper on Gilligan’s Island, and William Schallert of The Patty Duke Show fame.

Eventually Martin returned to the series. Unlike most programs that are cancelled due to poor ratings, The Wild Wild West met its demise because of concerns over its violent content. Each episode contained at least two fight sequences as well as gunplay. Most of the actors did their own stunts and were injured as a result.

Also at this time, Congress was getting involved and committees were being formed. Before you knew it, networks were asked to get rid of those programs that were deemed as offenders. The Wild Wild West was one of those casualties.

Since the series was so beloved it spawned two successful television movies. A third one was planned but Ross Martin succumbed to a fatal heart attack before official plans could be made. The show can be seen today in syndication as well as novels and comic books.

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