6 overlooked TV shows with Robert Conrad in the lead role

He did far more than The Wild Wild West.

As we mentioned in our obituary, Robert Conrad was the ultimate man's man on television. The actor proudly performed his own stunts, even going so far as taking a 12-foot fall from a swinging chandelier onto the hard saloon floor while filming The Wild Wild West. He was perfectly cast as the charming, pugilistic special agent Jim West on that pioneering sci-fi western. 

A decade later, Conrad was again the ideal choice to play real-life World War II fighter ace Pappy Boyington on Black Sheep Squadron. No wonder Eveready cast Conrad in commercials to tout the long-lasting power of their batteries. "Come on, I dare ya," he taunted in the ads.

But the legendary TV star headlined far more than those two favorite series. Elsewhere, he was a beefcake beach detective, a hard-hitting prosecutor, a boxer-turned-private-eye, and multiple spies. Let's take a look.

1. Hawaiian Eye

1959–63

Conrad's first major role lasted just as long as The Wild Wild West — 104 episodes — but has since been overshadowed. Warner Bros. had an immediate hit in 1958 with 77 Sunset Strip, so the studio quickly repeated the formula of mixing P.I.s working vacation destinations. Hawaiian Eye, Bourbon Street Beat and Surfside 6 formed a TV universe of crime-solvers with tans and hep talk. Hawaii had just become a state, so the timing was perfect. Conrad played Lopaka, a half-Hawaiian investigator working alongside Tracy Steele (Anthony Eisley) in Honolulu. Much of the cast — Poncie Ponce, Connie Stevens and "Bob Conrad" included — even released pop records around the time to capitalize on the popularity of the show.

Image: The Everett Collection

2. The D.A.

1971–72

Conrad's next major role following Jim West was that of Paul Ryan, a hard-boiled Deputy District Attorney that appeared in two made-for-TV movies and a short-lived series. The D.A. tales somewhat applied the Dragnet model to legal drama, from the Los Angeles setting to the matter-of-fact voice-over narration. Oh, and former Dragnet star Harry Morgan himself played Ryan's mentor. The unlikely killer of this show? The Brady Bunch! Some NBC affiliates refused to air The D.A. in competition against ABC's The Brady Bunch.

Image: The Everett Collection

3. Assignment: Vienna

1972–73

Following the flop of The D.A., Conrad returned to his most comfortable character type — a dashing, two-fisted spy. This series, a sort of James Bond meets Casablanca, cast the star as Jake Webster, a spy operating a bar in Austria. The strength of the show was its location shooting. Yep, they actually filmed it in Vienna. The pilot film had been called Assignment: Munich and featured Roy Scheider as Jake. However, the Munich Olympics massacre forced a change of location, and Scheider left to pursue a film career.

Image: The Everett Collection

4. The Duke

1979

When you hear "The Duke," you likely think of John Wayne, and Conrad was certainly as tough. This pilot cast Conrad as Duke Ramsey, a boxer who becomes a private eye in Chicago. Conrad also brought along Red West for the cast, the former Elvis Presley bodyguard who had once traded punches with Jim West on The Wild Wild West. Action maestro Stephen J. Cannell produced the show, but only a few episodes were made. The studio bundled them together and retitled it as an action film called Up Against The Odds for VHS release.

Image: The Everett Collection

5. A Man Called Sloane

1979

At the close of the Seventies, Conrad slipped back into what was essentially an modern reboot of Jim West. Here, however, he played a debonair spy named Thomas R. Sloane III, who worked for a secretive organization called UNIT. All good spy agencies need a nemesis. CONTROL had KAOS on Get Smart. UNIT squared off against KARTEL. James Bond was an obvious reference point, and the pilot's title, "Death Ray 2000," underlines that we're talking Roger Moore Bond as influence.

Image: The Everett Collection

6. High Mountain Rangers / Jesse Hawkes

1987–89

Later in his career, Conrad settled into a stereotype as a rugged mountain man. High Mountain Rangers, about a rescue squad in Tahoe, was a personal project for the veteran star. His sons, Christian and Shane Conrad, pictured here, co-starred. His daughter, Joan, served as executive producer. Conrad himself wrote and directed many episodes. His character, ex-Marine Jesse Hawkes, even got a spinoff series, essentially the same show in all but name. In 1995, Conrad returned to the mountains for a quite similar series, High Sierra Search and Rescue, though that time his character was named Griffin "Tooter" Campbell.

Image: The Everett Collection

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TCKirkham 22 hours ago
I LOVED High Mountain Rangers - it was one of the best shows of that decade, I wish CBS had given it more of a chance by putting it on another night instead of Saturday. Jesse Hawkes was ok, but I missed the rest of the cast from the original series. But it was better than nothing....:-)
TCKirkham TCKirkham 22 hours ago
I also wish they'd put both shows out on DVD or streaming somewhere, I'd love to see them again. I lost my tapes of them years ago...
MarkSpeck 8 days ago
High Mountain Rangers/Jesse Hawkes and High Sierra Search and Rescue, as well as several TV movies he did in the '80s, were all produced by his own company, A. Shane Productions. He couldn't get work from the major TV production companies due to his demanding nature, so he went ahead and founded his own company.
Jon 10 days ago
THE D.A. may have suffered against THE BRADY BUNCH, but its midseason replacement, SANFORD & SON, more or less knocked THE BRADY BUNCH off the air a couple years later.
STTOS 10 days ago
A couple comments: Am I wrong or is he wearing the same suit in #2 and #3? If I didn't know it was him I might not have recognized him in #6.
TracyStanley 11 days ago
I remember watching Sloane and High Mt Rangers, good shows.
Pacificsun 11 days ago
MeTV: glad you mentioned those shows! It would be nice if you could run a rotating trilogy (like you did with MacMillan & Wife, and McCloud, etc.) during the overnight hours. Mr. Conrad is always worth watching!
Tampammm Pacificsun 11 days ago
Awesome idea Pacificsun! I remember most of these shows, but haven't seen them in forever. Would love to see such a block of Robert's programs.
Beta6 Tampammm 7 days ago
and I wish they would keep on and on! I miss WildWildWest and anything else he was in.
Lianna 11 days ago
How could they not mention Baa Baa Black Sheep (then Black Sheep Squadron in the 2nd season)? Loved that show!
Pacificsun Lianna 11 days ago
Because they mentioned the credit in the OP
"A decade later, Conrad was again the ideal choice to play real-life World War II fighter ace Pappy Boyington on Black Sheep Squadron."
ponaja40 11 days ago
Also want to give another thumbs up to Gene’s comment. I placed the paper towels on the gasket and stuffed the inside with paper towels. Then I soaked it all with bleach. Make sure you pat down the paper towels so that there are no air bubbles between the wet paper towels and the rubber. The TAKEAWAY here folks, is to soak for AT LEAST a day. A couple hours will not cut it all. I closed the front door so the fumes wouldn’t evaporate into the air. Once I removed the paper towels I was amazed that the black mold was gone, even though I had tried scrubbing it with Hydrogen Peroxide and bleach vigorously prior.
ponaja40 11 days ago
Also want to give another thumbs up to Gene’s comment. I placed the paper towels on the gasket and stuffed the inside with paper towels. Then I soaked it all with bleach. Make sure you pat down the paper towels so that there are no air bubbles between the wet paper towels and the rubber. The TAKEAWAY here folks, is to soak for AT LEAST a day. A couple hours will not cut it all. I closed the front door so the fumes wouldn’t evaporate into the air. Once I removed the paper towels I was amazed that the black mold was gone, even though I had tried scrubbing it with Hydrogen Peroxide and bleach vigorously prior.
mancrile 12 days ago
Please bring back Wild West to the Saturday 6pm slot ! ... Conrad was a baaaaaaaad man ! ... My all time favorite show !!!!!!!! ( P.s. I haven't really watched Metv often since you took it off the air )


Kathryn 12 days ago
Robert Conrad was a fantastic actor.!! So are you going to run the Wild Wild West as a tribute?? Please bring it back! And what about these 6 shows he was in?? Couldn't you run those too in the future??
Thanks
Wes 12 days ago
I remember a TV movie he did in 1984, called “Hard Knox” which, judging by the ending, was meant to be a series pilot. Conrad played a grounded Marine pilot, and Red West was his crew chief. They took over a failing military school that was Conrad’s alma mater. I was disappointed it never went to series.
MarkSpeck Wes 8 days ago
West appeared with Conrad and Ross Martin on the morning talk show Everyday to promote the Wild, Wild West reunion movie. In that appearance, he said of his co-stars, "One of 'em is my drinking coach, the other is my acting coach, and I ain't gonna tell you which!" This clip is one of the extras in the Wild, Wild West DVD set.
Randy 12 days ago
I had the pleasure of meeting Robert Conrad in person at a premiere of his movie"MURPH THE SURF". I was just 13 a d in awe. 5 years ago I had the opportunity to recount my chance meeting with him on his radio show on CRN radio. He was a fantastic actor on some great shows. I and countless others will miss him.
Pacificsun Randy 11 days ago
Listening to those radio/podcasts he was always very appreciative (and gracious) about fans reporting on those chance encounters! Nice memory you have!
JoeSHill 12 days ago
Of the TV shows that the late Robert Conrad did, was NBC's "A MAN CALLED SLOANE", which was a unique TV series because this was the last series that QM Productions (who was sold to The Taft Broadcasting Company in mid-1979) produced, in association with Woodruff Productions with Phillip Saltzman serving as the executive producer of this NBC series. Conrad was well at home playing this character after his work on CBS's "THE WILD, WILD, WEST" from 1965 to 1970, plus returning in 1979 on the CBS movie, "THE WILD, WILD, WEST REVISITED". "A MAN CALLED SLOANE" only ran 12 episodes, and co-starred Ji Tu Cumbuka ("ROOTS") Dan O'Herlihy ("ROBOCOP") and the late Michelle Carey as the computer voice of "Effie".
Tampammm JoeSHill 11 days ago
Loved A Man Called Sloane, and was really disappointed when it was canceled so prematurely. It was an interesting and exciting series.
BrittanyDale 12 days ago
I love looking up a bunch of characters he's played... he was such an amazing actor... I'm sad he's gone
JLTitus72 13 days ago
Robert Conrad was a referee at Wrestlemania 2. The steel cage match between Hulk Hogan and King Kong Bundy.
cperrynaples 13 days ago
A comment about The DA: While the Bradys may have swung the ratings, the reason why NBC had low clearance is much more complex! Basically, in order to keep Walt Disney and Bonanza together on Sunday, the network worked out a compromise where a 2-hour movie would run on Friday and The DA would run before it on the East Coast and after on the West Coast. However, many stations found it more profitable to run their own movies, therefore there was no opening for a half-hour show! Had The DA run as an hour on another night, things might have been different!
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Dave cperrynaples 5 days ago
I remember "The Wonderful World of Disney" being on NBC, always on Sunday nights @ 7:00 PM (Eastern Time). I recall hearing that it was on ABC originally.
cperrynaples Dave 5 days ago
Actually it was at 7:30 in 1971, and didn't move to 7 until 1975, where it was up against 60 Minutes! But yes it started on ABC, moving to CBS in the '80's and then back and forth between ABC and NBC! Of course today ABC is now owned by Disney!
Dave cperrynaples 4 days ago
It's funny, I don't remember it being on @ 7:30 PM, though I take your word for it. I recall that "60 Minutes" started on CBS in the fall of 1968, and was always on Sunday nights at 7:00 PM, and I thought that "Wonderful World of Disney" always on against it on NBC. Funny that I don't remember it being on CBS in the '80s.
Yes, unfortunately, Disney now does own ABC, as it seems like ever since Disney bought it, ABC seems like just another Disney Channel.
cperrynaples Dave 4 days ago
Actually, 60 Minutes started on Tuesdays at 10, and didn't get its current time slot until 1975!
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