Wild Wild West - The Beginning

***** The following information was compiled from "The Wild Wild West: The Series" by Susan E. Kesler (Arnett Press), "Michael Garrison's Wild Wild West," an article by Robert Alan Crick in Epi-Log Journal #11, and other sources. It can be read in a harder-to-use format on the www.turner.com website

In 1965 television took a new turn in programming. What developed was a sudden trend of secret agent and spy shows (inspired by the highly successful James Bond series) that literally controlled the prime-time airwaves. The Western format that was so prominent in the '50s and early '60s was virtually being pushed aside.

One of the earliest catalyst shows in the James Bond syndrome was The Man From U.N.C.L.E.. Debuting in 1964, The Man From UNCLE was true to the concept of spy adventure and became extremely popular with the television viewing audience.

Soon the fall lineup started to look like a call sheet for international espionage, featuring such programs as I, Spy will Bill Cosby and Robert Culp, Get Smart (a spy spoof starring Don Adams), ABC's Honey West with Anne Francis, and Burke's Law, a police drama starring Gene Barry, which soon became Amos Burke, Secret Agent.

After acquiring several producer credits, former actor Michael Garrison saw the excitement behind television's new James Bond craze and decided to try a little genre mixing, bringing together the already-popular Western with the spy thriller format. He presented his idea to Hunt Stromberg, Jr., a close friend, and even more conveniently, the head of programming at CBS.

Stromberg liked the idea and discussed the program concept with Ethel Winant, associate director of program development at CBS. "Hunt wanted to do a show about James Bond in the West. He told me that when I got back to California he wanted me to write out a couple of pages of a proposal," Winant recalled. She admitted that, at first, she wasn't sure what Stromberg was talking about, and later she thought he'd forget the whole crazy idea.

But he didn't forget. "When I got back to California, Peter Robinson (head of program development at CBS) called me and said that Hunt told me to do something on James Bond in the West. I said, "Yeah, that's about it." So he said, "We'll do it...just write it out!" I made up this sort of thing about President Grant, and after the Civil War there were these terrible international spies. So we had these secret agents like Jim West, Tom East, Sam South, Hal North. Anyway, all the others got lost very soon, but Jim West remained. He would report only to the president. He worked with the classy Secret Service and used all these secret devices."

The proposal was enough to show Jim Aubrey, the President of CBS, that the project was worthwhile. He gave the authorization for the development of the pilot, and gave Garrison the go-ahead as producer. The pilot episode, The Night of the Inferno was written by Gil Ralston, a noted television writer. Ethel Winant recalled the difficulty of getting the pilot written. "It was hard because nobody knew what the show was meant to be. Was it a spoof? Well, James Bond is a spoof. Was it a Western? No, but it was in the West. It was going to be bigger than life with big villains."

In the original proposal James West did not have a partner. "In the James Bond stories, Bond goes to town and sees the guy that runs this lab, who makes his devices. Well, he couldn't have that if he was out in the middle of nowhere in the west. Where was he going to go? So, Artemus was the traveling peddler who would make West's devices, and that is what he was in the beginning; a peddler with his bag full of tricks, who brought West messages and devices.

That's how the Gordon character was created, but that didn't seem very sensible over the long run. You just couldn't have a wagon drive up. That was okay once, but not for a weekly series," Winant said. Gil Ralston developed the idea for giving James West a full time partner. "We needed a foil for him because James West is pretty square. We needed somebody that was pretty far out to work with. So, over a period of time we developed a partner that traveled with West, and could do different characters and invent devices. As I recall, Artemus came out of an early book on Greece that I owned. It was a character called Artemicio. I thought it was fun."

Most of the fascinating gadgets and devices created for James West were the result of Ralston's experiences in the armed forces. "I had spend a number of years in three survival groups for the Navy, the Army and the Marines. I went to booby-trap school for a while. A lot of those gimmicks I created for The Wild Wild West pilot came out of booby-trap school," he said.

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