Dragnet (series)

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Dragnet
Dragnet title screen.jpg
Dragnet opening frame from the 1950s version
FormatCrime drama
Created byJack Webb
StarringJack Webb
Ben Alexander
Harry Morgan
Narrated byJohn Stephenson
George Fenneman
Jack Webb
Opening themeexcerpt from Miklós Rózsa's score for The Killers
Composer(s)Walter Schumann (1951-1958)
Nathan Scott (1958-1959)
Lyn Murray (1967-1968)
Frank Comstock (1968-1970)
Country of originUnited States
Language(s)English
No. of seasons8 (1951–1959)
4 (1967–1970)
2 (1989–1991 & 2003–2004)
16 (total)
No. of episodes314 (radio 1949-1957)
276 (TV 1951–1959)
98 (TV 1967–1970)
52 (TV 1989–1991)
22 (TV 2003–2004)
762 (total)
Production
Executive producer(s)TBA
Producer(s)Jack Webb
Location(s)Los Angeles, U.S.
Running time30 minutes (1951–1959; 1967–1970; 1989–1991)
60 minutes (2003–2004)
Production company(s)Mark VII Productions(1951-1954)
Mark VII Limited (1954, 1954-1959, 1967-1970)
Universal Television (1967-1970, 1989-1990, 2003-2004)
The Arthur Company (1989-1990)
Wolf Films (2003-2004)
DistributorMCA TV (1951-1959, 1989-1990)
Warner Bros. (1954)
Broadcast
Original channelNBC (1951-1959, 1967-1970)
Syndication (1989-1991)
ABC (2003-2004)
Film (1954)
Original runDecember 16, 1951 – December 4, 2004 (last run)
 
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Dragnet
Dragnet title screen.jpg
Dragnet opening frame from the 1950s version
FormatCrime drama
Created byJack Webb
StarringJack Webb
Ben Alexander
Harry Morgan
Narrated byJohn Stephenson
George Fenneman
Jack Webb
Opening themeexcerpt from Miklós Rózsa's score for The Killers
Composer(s)Walter Schumann (1951-1958)
Nathan Scott (1958-1959)
Lyn Murray (1967-1968)
Frank Comstock (1968-1970)
Country of originUnited States
Language(s)English
No. of seasons8 (1951–1959)
4 (1967–1970)
2 (1989–1991 & 2003–2004)
16 (total)
No. of episodes314 (radio 1949-1957)
276 (TV 1951–1959)
98 (TV 1967–1970)
52 (TV 1989–1991)
22 (TV 2003–2004)
762 (total)
Production
Executive producer(s)TBA
Producer(s)Jack Webb
Location(s)Los Angeles, U.S.
Running time30 minutes (1951–1959; 1967–1970; 1989–1991)
60 minutes (2003–2004)
Production company(s)Mark VII Productions(1951-1954)
Mark VII Limited (1954, 1954-1959, 1967-1970)
Universal Television (1967-1970, 1989-1990, 2003-2004)
The Arthur Company (1989-1990)
Wolf Films (2003-2004)
DistributorMCA TV (1951-1959, 1989-1990)
Warner Bros. (1954)
Broadcast
Original channelNBC (1951-1959, 1967-1970)
Syndication (1989-1991)
ABC (2003-2004)
Film (1954)
Original runDecember 16, 1951 – December 4, 2004 (last run)

Dragnet is a radio and television crime drama about the cases of a dedicated Los Angeles police detective, Sergeant Joe Friday, and his partners. The show takes its name from an actual police term, a "dragnet", meaning a system of coordinated measures for apprehending criminals or suspects.

Contents

Introduction

Dragnet was perhaps the most famous and influential police procedural drama in media history. The series gave millions of audience members a feel for the boredom and drudgery, as well as the danger and heroism, of real-life police work. Dragnet earned praise for improving the public opinion of police officers.[1]

Actor and producer Jack Webb's aims in Dragnet were for realism and unpretentious acting. He achieved both goals, and Dragnet remains a key influence on subsequent police dramas in many media.

The show's cultural impact is such that even after five decades, elements of Dragnet are known to those who have never seen or heard the program:

The original Dragnet starring Jack Webb as Sgt. Friday ran on radio from June 3, 1949, to February 26, 1957, and on television from December 16, 1951, to August 23, 1959. Webb revived the series which ran from January 12, 1967, to April 16, 1970. NBC's radio and television networks carried all three series. There were three Dragnet feature films, a straight adaptation starring Webb in 1954; a TV movie produced in 1966; and a comedy spoof in 1987. In 1982 a third TV incarnation of the series was being prepared by Webb but his death scrapped the revival. After Jack Webb's death, two Dragnet revivals were attempted; one was for weekly syndication in 1989 and the other was for ABC in 2003.

A daily newspaper comic strip version of Dragnet distributed by the Los Angeles Mirror Syndicate ran in newspapers from June 23, 1952 to May 21, 1955 (with a preview week that ran in many papers promoting its impending start). Writing was by Dragnet scripter Jack Robinson (uncredited) with art by Joe Sheiber (June 23, 1952-Sept. 20, 1952), Bill Ziegler (Sept. 22, 1952-January 9, 1954) and Mel Keefer (Jan. 11, 1954-May 21, 1955). Comics historian Ron Goulart in his book The Funnies states the frequent turnover of artists on the strip was due to Webb's desire to find someone "who could draw him as good looking as he thought he ought to be."[2]

History

Creation

Dragnet was created and produced by Jack Webb, who starred as the terse Sergeant Joe Friday. Webb had starred in a few mostly short-lived radio programs, but Dragnet would make him one of the major media personalities of his era.

Dragnet had its origins in Webb's small role as a police forensic scientist in the 1948 film He Walked by Night, itself inspired by the violent 1946 crime spree of Erwin Walker, a disturbed World War II veteran and former Glendale California police department employee.[3][4] The film was depicted in semidocumentary style, and Marty Wynn (an actual LAPD sergeant from the Robbery Division) was a technical advisor on the film. Inspired by Wynn's accounts of actual cases and criminal investigative procedure, Webb convinced Wynn that day-to-day activities of police officers could be realistically depicted in a broadcast series, without the forced sense of melodrama in the numerous private-detective serials then common in radio programming.[5]

Webb frequently visited police headquarters, drove on night patrols with Sgt. Wynn and his partner Officer Vance Brasher, and attended Police Academy courses to learn authentic jargon and other details that could be featured in a radio program. When he proposed Dragnet to NBC officials, they were not especially impressed; radio was aswarm with private investigators and crime dramas, such as Webb's earlier Pat Novak for Hire. That program didn’t last long, but Webb had received high marks for his role as the titular private investigator, and NBC agreed to a limited run for Dragnet.

With writer James E. Moser, Webb prepared an audition recording, then sought the LAPD's endorsement; he wanted to use cases from official files in order to demonstrate the steps taken by police officers during investigations. The official response was initially lukewarm, but in 1949 LAPD Chief Clemence B. Horrall offered Webb the endorsement he sought. Police wanted control over the program's sponsor, and insisted that police not be depicted unflatteringly. This would lead to some criticism, as less flattering departmental aspects, such as LAPD's racial segregation policies, were never addressed.

Radio

Jack Webb in an advertisement for Fatima Cigarettes, ca. 1951. The now defunct Fatima brand was the primary sponsor of the early Dragnet radio episodes from 1949 to 1952.

Dragnet debuted inauspiciously. The first several months were bumpy, as Webb and company worked out the program's format and eventually became comfortable with their characters (Friday was originally portrayed as more brash and forceful than his later usually relaxed demeanor). Gradually, Friday's deadpan, fast-talking persona emerged, described by John Dunning as "a cop's cop, tough but not hard, conservative but caring." (Dunning, 210) Friday's first partner was Sergeant Ben Romero, portrayed by Barton Yarborough, a longtime radio actor. After Yarborough's death in 1951 (and therefore Romero's, who also died of a heart attack, as acknowledged on the December 27, 1951 episode "The Big Sorrow"), Friday was partnered with Sergeant Ed Jacobs (December 27, 1951 - April 10, 1952, subsequently transferred to the Police Academy as an instructor), played by Barney Phillips; Officer Bill Lockwood (Ben Romero's nephew, April 17, 1952 - May 8, 1952), played by Martin Milner (with Ken Peters taking the role for the June 12, 1952 episode "The Big Donation"); and finally Frank Smith, played first by Herb Ellis (1952), then Ben Alexander (September 21, 1952-1959). Raymond Burr was on board to play the Chief of Detectives. When Dragnet hit its stride, it became one of radio's top-rated shows.

Webb insisted on realism in every aspect of the show. The dialogue was clipped, understated and sparse, influenced by the hardboiled school of crime fiction. Scripts were fast moving but didn’t seem rushed. Every aspect of police work was chronicled, step by step: From patrols and paperwork, to crime scene investigation, lab work and questioning witnesses or suspects. The detectives’ personal lives were mentioned but rarely took center stage. (Friday was a bachelor who lived with his mother; Romero, a Mexican-American from Texas, was an ever fretful husband and father.) "Underplaying is still acting", Webb told Time. "We try to make it as real as a guy pouring a cup of coffee.” (Dunning, 209) Los Angeles police chiefs C.B. Horrall, William A. Worton, and (later) William H. Parker were credited as consultants, and many police officers were fans.

Most of the later episodes were entitled "The Big _____", where the key word denoted a person or thing in the plot. In numerous episodes, this would the principal suspect, victim, or physical target of the crime, but in others was often a seemingly inconsequential detail eventually revealed to be key evidence in solving the crime. For example, in "The Big Streetcar" the background noise of a passing streetcar helps to establish the location of a phone booth used by the suspect.

Throughout the series' radio years, one can find interesting glimpses of pre-renewal Downtown L.A., still full of working class residents and the cheap bars, cafes, hotels and boarding houses which served them. At the climax of the early episode "James Vickers", the chase leads to the Subway Terminal Building, where the robber flees into one of the tunnels only to be killed by an oncoming train. Meanwhile, by contrast, in other episodes set in outlying areas, it is clear that the locations in question are far less built up than they are today. Today, the Imperial Highway, extending 40 miles east from El Segundo to Anaheim, is a heavily used boulevard lined almost entirely with low-rise commercial development. In an early Dragnet episode[6] scenes along the Highway, at "the road to San Pedro", clearly indicate that it still retained much the character of a country highway at that time.

Similitude

Webb was a stickler for accurate details, and Dragnet used many authentic touches, such as the LAPD's actual radio call sign (KMA367), and the names of many real department officials, such as Ray Pinker and Lee Jones of the crime lab or Chief of Detectives (and later LAPD Chief from 1967–69) Thad Brown.

Two announcers were used. Episodes began with announcer George Fenneman intoning the series opening ("The story you are about to hear is true; only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.") and Hal Gibney describing the basic premise of the episode. "Big Saint" (April 26, 1951) for example, begins with "You're a Detective Sergeant. You're assigned to auto theft detail. A well organized ring of car thieves begins operations in your city. It's one of the most puzzling cases you've ever encountered. Your job: break it."

After the first commercial, Gibney would officially introduce the program: "Dragnet, the documented drama of an actual crime. For the next thirty minutes, in cooperation with the Los Angeles Police Department, you will travel step-by-step on the side of the law through an actual case history, transcribed from official police files. From beginning to end—from crime to punishment—Dragnet is the story of your police force in action."

The story then usually began with footsteps, followed by Joe Friday intoning something like "Tuesday, February 12. It was cold in Los Angeles. We were working the day watch out of Robbery Division. My partner's Ben Romero. The boss is Ed Backstrand, Chief of Detectives. My name's Friday." Friday would then narrate where he or both he and his partner were going, then the time he/they arrived at the location followed by a door opening and an elaboration of the location: "I was on my way in to work, and it was 4:58 PM when I got to Room 42 ... (door opening) Homicide." ("The Big String", January 18, 1953)

Friday offered voice-over narration throughout the episodes, noting the time, date and place of every scene as he and his partners went through their day investigating the crime. The events related in a given episode might occur in a few hours, or might span a few months. At least one episode unfolded in real time: in "City Hall Bombing" (July 21, 1949), Friday and Romero had less than thirty minutes to stop a man who was threatening to destroy the City Hall with a bomb.

At the end of the episode, usually after a brief endorsement by Jack Webb for the sponsor's product, announcer Hal Gibney would relate the fate of the suspect, who was usually tried in "Department 187 of the Superior Court of the State of California, in and for the City and County of Los Angeles", convicted of a crime and sent (in most episodes) to "the State Penitentiary, San Quentin California" or "examined by [#] psychiatrists appointed by the court", judged mentally incompetent and "committed to a state mental hospital for an indefinite period". Murderers were often "executed in the manner prescribed by law" or "executed in the lethal gas chamber at the State Penitentiary, San Quentin California". Occasionally, police pursued the wrong suspect, and criminals sometimes avoided justice or escaped, at least on the radio version of Dragnet. In 1950, Time quoted Webb: "We don’t even try to prove that crime doesn’t pay ... sometimes it does" (Dunning, 210)

Specialized terminology was mentioned in every episode but was rarely explained. Webb trusted the audience to determine the meanings of words or terms by their context, and Dragnet tried to avoid the kinds of awkward, lengthy exposition that people would not actually use in daily speech. Several specialized terms such as "A.P.B." for "All Points Bulletin" and "M.O." for "Modus Operandi" were rarely used in popular culture before Dragnet introduced them to everyday America.

While most radio shows used one or two sound-effect experts, Dragnet needed five: a script clocking in at just under 30 minutes could require up to 300 separate effects. Accuracy was underlined: The exact number of footsteps from one room to another at Los Angeles police headquarters were imitated, and when a telephone rang at Friday's desk, the listener heard the same ring as the telephones in Los Angeles police headquarters. A single minute of ".22 Rifle for Christmas" is a representative example of the evocative sound effects featured on "Dragnet". While Friday and others investigate bloodstains in a suburban backyard, the listener hears a series of overlapping effects: a squeaking gate hinge, footsteps, a technician scraping blood into a paper envelope, the glassy chime of chemical vials, bird calls, and a dog barking in the distance.

Sometimes the mundane intruded. When shows ran short, directors stalled for time. In "The Big Crime", Dragnet interrupted a scene while a real-estate agent spent a full minute answering and explaining a phone call, not advancing the story but filling in time.[7]

Topics and themes

Scripts tackled a number of topics, ranging from the thrilling (murders, missing persons and armed robbery) to the mundane (check fraud and shoplifting), yet "Dragnet" made them all interesting due to fast-moving plots and behind-the-scenes realism. In "The Garbage Chute" (December 15, 1949), they even had a locked room mystery.

Promotional photo or card sent to viewers and listeners of the program during the time the show was on both radio and television.

Though rather tame by modern standards, Dragnet—especially on the radio—handled controversial subjects such as sex crimes and drug addiction with unprecedented and even startling realism. In one such example, Dragnet broke one of the unspoken (and still rarely broached) taboos of popular entertainment in the episode ".22 Rifle for Christmas" which aired December 22, 1949 and was repeated at Christmastime for the next three years. The episode followed the search for two young boys, Stanley Johnstone and Stevie Morheim, only to discover Stevie had been accidentally killed while playing with a rifle that belonged to Stanley—who'd be receiving it as a Christmas present but opened the box early; Stanley finally told Friday that Stevie was running while holding the rifle when he tripped and fell, causing the gun to discharge, fatally wounding Morheim. NBC received thousands of complaint letters, including a formal protest by the National Rifle Association. Webb forwarded many of the letters to police chief Parker who promised "ten more shows illustrating the folly of giving rifles to children". (Dunning, 211)

Another episode dealt with high school girls who, rather than finding Hollywood stardom, fall in with fraudulent talent scouts and end up in pornography and prostitution. Both this episode and ".22 Rifle for Christmas" were adapted for television, with very few script changes, when Dragnet moved to that medium. Another episode, "The Big Trio" (July 3, 1952), detailed three cases in one episode, including reckless and dangerous (in this case, fatal) driving by unlicensed juveniles. With regard to drugs, Webb's strident anti-drug statements, continued into the TV run, would be derided as camp by later audiences; yet his character also showed genuine concern and sympathy for addicts as victims, especially in the case of juveniles.

The tone was usually serious, but there were moments of comic relief: Romero was something of a hypochondriac and often seemed henpecked; Frank Smith continually complained about his brother-in-law Armand; though Friday dated, he usually dodged women who tried to set him up with marriage-minded dates.

Due in part to Webb's fondness for radio drama, Dragnet persisted on radio until 1957 (the last two seasons were repeats) as one of the last old time radio shows to give way to television's increasing popularity. In fact, the TV show would prove to be effectively a visual version of the radio show, as the style was virtually the same [including the scripts, as the majority of them were adapted from radio]. The TV show could be listened to without watching it, with no loss of understanding of the storyline.

"Just the facts, ma'am"

While "Just the facts, ma'am" has come to be known as Dragnet's catchphrase (it has been copied and parodied many times by other productions), it was never actually uttered by Joe Friday. The closest lines were, "All we want are the facts, ma'am" and "All we know are the facts, ma'am".[8]

St. George and the Dragonet, a 1953 short audio satire by Stan Freberg was a smash hit reaching #1 on both the Billboard and Cash Box record charts. In it, Freberg used the line "Just the facts, ma'am" which entered popular lexicography associated with Dragnet, in spite of the TV series never using that phrase. Freberg followed up with Little Blue Riding Hood and Christmas Dragnet.

Television

1951–59 original version

When television was interested in Dragnet, Webb bucked the prevailing wisdom which argued that radio staff could not adapt to the new medium. He insisted on hiring actors, writers, and production staff from radio as much as was feasible to work on the television version.[5] This loyalty would endear Webb to many of his Dragnet colleagues for decades to come, but more important was that it brought continuity between the television and radio series. This made it possible for a busy person to listen to the audio and get the whole story.

The pilot for Dragnet, "The Human Bomb" (adapted from the July 21, 1949 radio episode), aired on television on December 16, 1951 as a special presentation of the NBC program Chesterfield Sound-Off Time. It introduced the many close-ups that became Webb's trademark. After the pilot's success,[5] the regular series debuted in January 1952. Friday's original partner in the TV episodes (as on the radio) was Sgt. Ben Romero, played by Barton Yarborough, who died of a heart attack after only three episodes were filmed. The Romero character (who also died of a heart attack, as acknowledged on the December 27, 1951 radio episode, "The Big Sorrow") was replaced first by Detective Sergeant Ed Jacobs (Barney Phillips), and then by Officer Frank Smith. Smith was first played by Herb Ellis. After four episodes, Ben Alexander took over the role on both television and radio.

Television offered Webb the opportunity to increase the realism to a point unmatched by any other program for years. Many early episodes involved cases which had been handled by the Robbery or Homicide Divisions, which was at that time located in the ground floor of the Los Angeles City Hall. Webb had his set designers precisely duplicate the office,[5] including details such as the remnant of a notice which had been torn from the bulletin board, leaving only one corner. He insisted that Friday and his partner use badges in the then-unique shield shape used by LAPD. This led to the loan of actual LAPD badges, brought in every morning from the Office of the Chief of Police in the care of an officer who acted as technical advisor.

Webb was uncomfortable with firearms and mentioned this to the technical advisor. When an early script called for Friday to use a shotgun, LAPD detailed Jesse Littlejohn, a member of the Robbery Division's elite "Hat Squad", to teach Webb how to handle the riot gun. In the episode, Friday carries the shotgun using proper technique, but passes it to his partner rather than fire it himself. In thanks for this and assistance by other officers, Webb dropped their names into scripts, beginning a tradition which continued through the end of production of Dragnet and Adam-12; all officers' names are real, except for recurring characters and officers suspected of wrongdoing, in which cases the names were changed to protect the innocent.

Two hallmarks of the TV show came at the end of each episode:

Jack Webb thought Ben Alexander made an ideal partner. The dramatic scripts of the 1950s usually feature at least one comic interlude with Alexander to lighten the tone. Thus Frank offhandedly chats with Joe about his latest enthusiasm (favorite foods, fad diets, hobbies, home life, etc.). Alexander stayed with Dragnet through its original run, which ended in 1959. In the final episode of the penultimate season, Joe Friday was promoted to Lieutenant (still retaining the badge number "714") and Frank Smith was promoted to Sergeant. During the final season, Joe and Frank continued to work as partners, with Joe as a lieutenant and Frank as a sergeant, but the promotions seemed to make no difference in their actual jobs.

Dragnet was very successful, competing with I Love Lucy as the most popular series on television.[5] It did not end because of bad ratings, but because of Webb's decision to pursue other projects. While Dragnet was still on the air, reruns began to air in syndication in the fall of 1953 as Badge 714,[5] (the custom of the time was to rename series when they went to syndication).

Broadcast History

Ratings

1967–1970 revival

Webb and Morgan in 1968.

When Webb remounted Dragnet in 1966, he tried to get Ben Alexander to rejoin him as Frank. Alexander was then committed to an ABC police series, Felony Squad, and its producers would not release him. Webb reluctantly recast the role of Joe Friday's partner: Bill Gannon, played by movie and TV veteran Harry Morgan, a lifelong friend of Webb. Morgan in 1949 had a voice role as rooming house proprietor "Luther Gage" in the episode "James Vickers". Bill Gannon, like Frank Smith, was businesslike on duty but chatty in informal situations. Ben Alexander's light-comedy dialogues now fell to Morgan, who played some of it more broadly; in "The Big Neighbor" his ad libs cause Webb to openly burst out laughing, and in "The Weekend", Gannon's step-by-step preparation of a "garlic-nut-butter sandwich" is greeted with incredulous reactions from his friends.[citation needed]

Webb produced a TV movie pilot for the new, color version of the show for Universal Television, although it did not air until January 1969. NBC bought the show on the strength of the movie and debuted it as a mid-season replacement for the sitcom The Hero on Thursday nights in January 1967. In order to distinguish it from the original, the year was included in the title of the show (e.g., Dragnet 1967). Although Joe Friday had been a lieutenant during the final season of the original 1950s production, Jack Webb decided to revert to Sergeant with his familiar badge number, "714".[citation needed]

When real-life LAPD Sergeant Dan Cooke, who had been Webb's contact in the department during the production of the revived Dragnet series, was promoted to lieutenant, he arranged to carry the same lieutenant's badge, number 714, as worn by Joe Friday during the final season of the original series. Cooke was also technical advisor to the KNBC documentary "Police Unit 2A-26", directed by John Orland. He brought it to the attention of Jack Webb, who hired Orland to direct and film the "This is the City", a series of mini-documentaries about Los Angeles that preceded most of the TV episodes during the 1969 and 1970 seasons.[citation needed]

The remake would also distinguish itself, and gain notoriety among some viewers, for its greater emphasis than the original upon juvenile delinquency, drug abuse, student dissidence, and relations between the police department and the community. Webb would later state that an explicit goal of the Dragnet revival and his subsequent shows was to improve the reputation of local forces throughout the U.S., particularly in urban areas. The generally conservative posture of the show toward the hippie movement (the so-called "counterculture") earned the new Dragnet both appreciative fans and dismayed critics, the latter of whom deemed Webb as a rigid authoritarian who could not adjust to social change. However, most of the criticism of the counterculture on the show was not so much based on the hippies' desire for change, but more on their impatience for it and tactics for achieving it. Also, the show was decidedly positive in its assessment and depiction of American blacks and other racial minorities, in particular when the minority character was a fellow police officer, mitigating somewhat the charges against Webb of xenophobia.[citation needed] It is noteworthy that Friday's first partner on the radio show was Sargent Ben Romero, was a Mexican-American from Texas, a racial minority who was an equal to the lead white character, unusual at the time (however he was played by Barton Yarborough an apparent "Anglo").

The show enjoyed good ratings on NBC's schedule for four seasons, although its popularity did not exceed that of the 1950s version. In 1968, Webb decided to spin off from Dragnet a show based on the experiences of patrol officers. Named Adam-12, that show would go on to run seven years in its own right. Much like he had done 11 years earlier, Webb decided voluntarily to discontinue Dragnet after its fourth season in order to focus on creating, producing, and directing Adam-12 and, later, Emergency!, which portrayed the fledgling paramedic program of the L.A. County Fire Department.[citation needed]

Harry Morgan stated in an interview, at the time of the production of the 1987 movie remake, that he and Webb wore the same clothing (slacks and jacket for Webb, two piece suit for Morgan) for the entire 1967-1970 show's run, in an effort to display the Spartan lifestyle police officers led. Morgan stated that, at one point, their outfits became so threadbare, identical ones were commissioned that would match the old ones exactly, at a cost exceeding what a police officer could have easily afforded.[citation needed] This maybe was a mistake on Morgan's part since at least the jacket wore in Dragnet 1967 looked distinctive from the one he wore by Dragnet 1969.

Reruns of this version were popular on local stations, usually during the late afternoons or early evenings, in the early 1970s. In the late 1980s, they found their way to Nick at Nite and, beginning in the late 1990s, its sister cable channel TV Land. The program currently airs over many of the stations of the broadcast digital subchannel network Antenna TV. All four seasons are available on DVD and for free on-demand streaming on Hulu.com and Netflix for US residents.[citation needed]

Later in Webb's career

Webb had begun the process of bringing Dragnet back to television yet again in 1982, writing and producing five scripts. Webb was to return as Joe Friday, but since Harry Morgan was still doing M*A*S*H and had already signed up for AfterMASH he was unavailable; Adam-12's Kent McCord was tapped to play Friday's new partner (although it wasn't made clear if it was going to be a new role or the Jim Reed character McCord played on Adam-12). However, before the new series could enter production Webb suddenly died from a heart attack on December 23, 1982 and the new Dragnet was scrapped.

After Webb's death, Chief Daryl Gates of the Los Angeles Police Department announced that badge number 714 — Webb's number on the television show — had been retired, and Los Angeles city offices lowered their flags to half-staff. At Webb's funeral, the LAPD provided an honor guard, and the Chief of Police commented on Webb's connection with the LAPD. An LAPD Auditorium was named in his honor. Jack Webb's famous LAPD 714 Sergeant badge and LAPD I.D. card are on display at the Los Angeles Police Academy.

Episodes

1949 radio series

The original Dragnet started as a radio show in June 1949. A total of 314 original episodes were broadcast from 1949 through 1957. The series was broadcast on NBC and starred Jack Webb and Barton Yarborough as Friday's first partner Sergeant Ben Romero.

1951 television series

In 1951, about a year and a half in to the radio series, Dragnet branched out from radio in to television. This first run of the TV series consisted of 276 original episodes. For the first 3 episodes, Friday's partner was Sergeant Ben Romero as in the radio show. For the next 18 episodes, Friday's partner was Detective Sergeant Ed Jacobs. For the last 255 episodes, Friday's partner was Officer Frank Smith.

1967 television series

In 1967, Dragnet returned to TV as Dragnet 1967 after NBC executives saw the made-for-TV movie Dragnet 1966 (they did not release the TV-movie for public viewing until 1969). This series ran for four years and produced 98 original episodes. Officer Bill Gannon was Friday's partner for the four year run. The show's title changed each year from Dragnet 1967 to Dragnet 1970 when the series ended.

1989 television series

The show returned to television in the fall of 1989 as The New Dragnet in syndication. A total of 52 episodes were aired over two seasons. The first 26 episodes aired between October 24, 1989 and January 21, 1990, with the second season, also containing 26 episodes, airing between April 19 and September 9, 1990.

2003 television series

Film versions

Dragnet (1954)

In 1954, a theatrical feature film adaptation of the series was released, with Webb, Alexander, and Richard Boone. Dennis Weaver plays a small role as a detective captain. The film begins with the shooting of small-time hood Miller Starkie (Dub Taylor) on orders from his boss, Max Troy (Stacy Harris). Friday's and Smith's immediate superior is LAPD Intelligence Division Captain Jim Hamilton (Boone), an actual department member and the film's technical advisor. The Intelligence Division focused on the pursuit of organized-crime figures, and some of Max Troy's habits resemble those of Mickey Cohen, the well-known Los Angeles underworld boss; for example, Troy's LAPD file reads that he could be found at "Sunset Strip taverns and joints," as could Cohen. The film depicts the working relationship between the LAPD and the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office; Friday and Smith work to gather evidence that the DA's office deems sufficient to gain the indictment and ultimate conviction of Troy and his fellows. One scene contains a violent fist-fight involving the two detectives, with the close-up cinematic technique typical of Webb's style of direction. The movie's ending represents a considerable departure from most "Dragnet' stories; no arrest is made at the story's conclusion. Chester Davitt (Willard Sage), Troy's underling and Starkie's killer, is killed by other underworld figures, and Troy himself succumbs to cancer just before the detectives, having gathered sufficient evidence against him, can make the arrest.

The film earned an estimated $4.7 million at the North American box office during its first year of release.[9]

Dragnet 1966 (Aired 1969)

Dragnet 1966 is a made-for-TV movie that was not broadcast until 1969. The movie initiated the return of the Dragnet series to television as Dragnet 1967. The movie stars Jack Webb as Sgt. Friday and Harry Morgan as Officer Bill Gannon. The story focuses on a type of crime more typical of the 1960s than of the previous "Dragnet" era; the two detectives are assigned to find a voyeuristic serial killer similar to Harvey Glatman (played by Vic Perrin who had appeared in the 1954 film as an assistant district attorney).

Also appearing in the movie is Virginia Gregg, who played a role in the 1954 feature and who was a frequent guest actor in the 1951-59 series and the 1967-70 episodes.

Dragnet (1987)

In 1987, a comedy movie version of Dragnet appeared starring Dan Aykroyd as the stiff Joe Friday (the original Detective Friday's nephew), and Tom Hanks as his partner Pep Streebeck. The film contrasted the terse, clipped character of Friday, a hero from another age, with the 'real world' of Los Angeles in 1987 to broadly comedic effect. Beyond Aykroyd's effective imitation of Webb's Joe Friday (and Harry Morgan's small role reprising his earlier role as Bill Gannon, now a captain and Joe Friday's commander), this film version shares little with the previous incarnations. Although officially a remake, the film was more a parody than a true remake, and was a hit with audiences. LAPD Lieutenant Dan Cooke, who had served as technical advisor for the Jack Webb series, also served as technical advisor for this production.

Other media

A 1956 Looney Tunes short, Rocket Squad, starred Daffy Duck and Porky Pig as 'Sgt. Joe Monday' and 'Det. Schmoe Tuesday', respectively. Daffy narrated, giving a running timeline in the manner of Sgt. Friday. Unlike Dragnet, this police adventure ends with both officers convicted and imprisoned for false arrest.

In 1958, Webb authored a book titled The Badge. The book was a series of true stories told from the view of a patrolman, sergeant, lieutenant and others. It had a number of photographs and recently was reissued with a foreword by James Ellroy, the author of LA Confidential.

Remakes after Webb's death

The 1989 series: The New Dragnet

In 1989, The New Dragnet appeared in first-run syndication, featuring all-new characters, and aired in tandem with The New Adam-12, a remake of another Webb-produced police drama, Adam-12.

The New Dragnet starred Jeff Osterhage and Bernard White as the detectives, and Don Stroud as Capt. Lussen. The show lasted two seasons.

The 2003 series: L.A. Dragnet

In 2003 another Dragnet series was produced by Dick Wolf, the producer of NBC's Law & Order series and spinoffs, a series that was strongly influenced by Dragnet. It aired on ABC, and starred Ed O'Neill as Joe Friday and Ethan Embry as Frank Smith. After a 12-episode season that rather closely followed the traditional formula, the format of the series was changed to an ensemble crime drama in an attempt to boost ratings.

Retitled L.A. Dragnet, Friday was promoted to Lieutenant but received less screen time (Frank Smith was written out entirely) in favor of a group of younger and ethnically-diverse detectives (played by Eva Longoria, Christina Chang, Desmond Harrington and Evan Dexter Parke) (Roselyn Sanchez was also added to the regular cast, but only appeared in a few episodes). With the Dragnet formula no longer in place, the program had the feel of a more typical procedural drama; even still, it was canceled only five episodes into its second season. Another three episodes premiered on USA Network in early 2004, with the final two premiering in the U.S. on the Sleuth channel in 2006. In some places (such as the Netherlands) the show is retitled Murder Investigation.

DVD releases

Original Series (1951)

Many episodes of this series have become public domain, and have been released by many DVD labels.

Three collections have been released to date, two from Alpha Video featuring four episodes each and one from Eclectic DVD featuring three episodes.

Platinum Video released seven episodes from the original series in 2002. The episodes are: "Big Crime", "Big Pair", "Big Producer", "Big Break", "Big September Man", "Big Betty", and "Big Trunk". The two disc set also includes episodes from Burke's Law; Peter Gunn; Richard Diamond, Private Detective; Mr. Wong, Detective; and Bulldog Drummond.

Dragnet 1966 Pilot Movie

This movie is a bonus feature on Shout! Factory's "Dragnet 1968: Season Two" (Release Date: July 6, 2010).

Dragnet 1967-70

On June 7, 2005, Universal Studios Home Entertainment released the first season on DVD in Region 1. Because the sales numbers did not meet Universal's expectations, no further seasons were released.

On March 17, 2010, it was announced that Shout! Factory had acquired the rights to distribute the series (under license from Universal). They subsequently released seasons 2-4.

DVD NameEp #Release Date
Season 1[10]17June 7, 2005
Season 2[11]28July 6, 2010
Season 3[12]27December 7, 2010
Season 4[13]26April 12, 2011

The New Dragnet (1989)

No DVD releases to date of this remake that lasted 2 seasons.

L.A. Dragnet (2003)

Universal Studios Home Entertainment was going to release the first season of this short-lived remake on DVD on November 11, 2003, but this release was subsequently cancelled. It is not known if the set will be released at some point,[14] though it is available for viewing on Hulu.

References

  1. ^ On a March, 1953 episode, the Detroit Police Officers' Association gave Dragnet a commendation, citing the program's efforts at increasing public esteem of policemen, and furthermore describing Dragnet as the "finest and most accurate" police program on radio or television.
  2. ^ Obscurity of the Day: Dragnet
  3. ^ Crazy Like A Fox, The Los Angeles Times, 2 June 1947
  4. ^ Man Continues to Fight Police Despite Wounds, The Los Angeles Times, 21 December 1946
  5. ^ a b c d e f "Jack, Be Nimble!" Time, March 15, 1954.
  6. ^ Episode was "The Big Chance"; original air date still needed.
  7. ^ Lundin, Leigh (2009-09-20). "Thomas Carlyle". Professional Works. Criminal Brief. http://www.criminalbrief.com/?p=8890. Retrieved 2009-09-20. 
  8. ^ Mikkelson, Barbara and David (13 December 2008). "Dragnet: 'Just the Facts'". Urban Legends Reference Pages. http://www.snopes.com/radiotv/tv/dragnet.htm. Retrieved January 12, 2012. 
  9. ^ 'The Top Box-Office Hits of 1954', Variety Weekly, January 5, 1955
  10. ^ http://www.dvdempire.com/Exec/v4_item.asp?item_id=1510115
  11. ^ http://www.dvdempire.com/Exec/v4_item.asp?item_id=1536344
  12. ^ http://www.dvdempire.com/Exec/v4_item.asp?item_id=1556720
  13. ^ http://www.dvdempire.com/Exec/v4_item.asp?item_id=1569331
  14. ^ Dragnet DVD news: Dragnet (2003) DVD Cancelled | TVShowsOnDVD.com

Sources

External links